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Grand Turk is a tiny island located in the British Overseas Territory of Turks and Caicos. It spans seven miles in length, and a mile at the most in width. The island houses the Cockburn Town, the territory’s Capital City. The town is inhabited only by about 4,500 denizens. Tourists make headway for this place owing its sun, beach and spectacular diving reefs.
 
Grand Turk is one of 40 islands that form the Turks and Caicos archipelago. Grand Turk is the administrative and political capital of the Turks & Caicos Islands and Cockburn Town has been the seat of government since 1766. This small island is bursting with turn-of-the-century Caribbean charm.
 
It is here that Christopher Columbus first made landfall on his initial voyage to the New World in 1492. Almost 500 years later, US astronaut John Glenn “discovered” Grand Turk himself, after he became the first American man to orbit the earth. To commemorate the connection to the Mercury space program and Grand Turk there is a replica of John Glenn’s capsule Friendship 7 on display at the entrance to the airport. Today, the Turks & Caicos islands are considered one of the most beautiful in the Caribbean.
 
Grand Turk has a beautiful tropical climate, with day temperature varying from the low to high all through the year. The arid season goes on from December to April, while the rainy season kick-starts in May and carries on right through November. The rainiest months here are undoubtedly, September and October.
 
Where You're Cruise Ship Docked
Ships dock on the southwestern tip of the island, at a pier built specifically for cruise ships; the facility is owned and operated by Carnival Corp. You can walk directly into the town. There's a number of duty-free shops, jewelry stores, souvenir stands, bars and restaurants located in the cruise center. Adjacent to Margaritaville, you can even find a Flow Rider.
 
Getting Around
By Rental Car: Tony's Car Rental (649-231-1806) offers car, scooter and bicycle rentals. Car rentals start at $70 per day; open-back Jeep rentals start at $95 per day. Golf carts can also be rented on the island.
 
By Taxi: Taxi fares are set in advance -- look for posted signs; a ride from the cruise terminal to the downtown area should be around $7. The walk into town is approximately three miles, but the tourism board warns it's a very hot walk with no sidewalks, so your best bet is to take transportation.
 
By Bus: Grand Turk does not have an organized public bus system; bus stops seen around the island are, for the most part, spots for students to grab shuttles. Plan an organized excursion, or expect to rent a car or grab a taxi.
 
By Island Tram: Tram tours have a set route circling the island, but you can hop on or off at any juncture. Tickets are $25 per person, but the trams run on an irregular schedule, so be sure to catch one closest to when your ship docks. If you miss a morning tour, another might not run for two hours.
 
Hanging Around
The port is located near a tourism village packed with restaurants, amenities and jewelry and trinket stores. One of the largest pools in the Caribbean is located conveniently outside of the Caribbean's largest Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville restaurant. You also have direct access to an 800-foot stretch of beach with cabanas and changing rooms. Not long after you disembark the ship and walk onto the beach, you'll see hammocks encouraging you to pass out there for a while (and it's tempting).
 
Things To See and Do
 
Self-guided Shore Excursions & Cruise Excursions
Grand Turk Cruise Center: A world-class, beach front cruise facility nestled among nearly 18 acres of landscaped grounds. The walk from the berthed ships to the cruise center is approximately 400 ft (120 meter). At the cruise center guests can swim in the sparkling ocean waters or in one of the largest swimming pools in the Caribbean, stroll along the idyllic beach, relax in a complimentary chaise lounge on the beach or around the pool or rent a private poolside cabana for the day. Snorkel equipment, beach floats and shade umbrellas can be rented at the Beach Rental Hut on the beach.

South Beach: Those guests who prefer a quieter area will enjoy South Beach. The beach is located on the right as you walk down the cruise ship pier towards the cruise center.
 
Turks and Caicos' major claim to fame, beyond its gorgeous white sandy beaches, is the fact that it sits on one of the world's largest coral reefs. Dive operators on the island, including Blue Water Divers and Grand Turk Diving, offer diving and snorkeling programs for everyone from novice snorkelers to the most advanced divers. Don't miss Columbus Landfall Marine National Park and the Grand Turk Wall, which leads from light blue shallow waters of about 40 feet to an azure expanse that indicates a sheer drop to 7,000 feet. The Wall is known for great views of coral and other marine life. If you prefer to stay (somewhat) dry, there's also excellent fishing. Tuna, wahoo and blue marlin inhabit these same rich waters.
 
Duke and Front Streets in Cockburn Town are lined with historic 18th- and 19th-century buildings that mirror the Bermudan-style architecture (pastel-painted wood) of the salt-raking era (salinas, or salt ponds, still run throughout the city, although production was shut down in the 1950s). The area along Front street is where the first homes on the island were settled, and the area remains mostly residential. Cockburn Town is the administrative capital, too, and a walking tour takes you past the governor's house, old churches, the public library and a small plaza containing the Columbus Monument, which claims that the explorer landed in Grand Turk in 1492.
 
Don't let its small stature fool you -- the two-floor Turks and Caicos National Museum outlines the history of the islands alongside various displays highlighting maritime history. A central display explores the history of the Molasses Reef Wreck, the oldest European shipwreck discovered in the Western Hemisphere (dated around 1513), which some historians believe could be Christopher Columbus' Pinta. Guided tours and exclusive behind-the-scenes showings are available.
 
There's also an exhibit dedicated to U.S. astronaut John Glenn, whose Friendship 7 spacecraft splashed down off the coast, making Grand Turk the spot where the first American to orbit Earth returned to the planet. The museum is located inside the historic Guinep House (one of the oldest buildings on Grand Turk, named for the large guinep tree that stands out front). The museum is open "one hour after the ship arrives and closes one hour before the ship departs."
 
Check out Gibbs Cay, located on the Atlantic side of Grand Turk and just a short boat ride away. Snorkel, indulge in a barbecue lunch or feed and play with the friendly stingrays that swim right up to the shore.

The Grand Turk Lighthouse is more than 150 years old and stands on the northern tip of the island, opposite the cruise terminal. It was built in the U.K. and transported piece by piece with hopes that it would bring a halt to the many shipwrecks on Grand Turk's reefs. In its earliest years, wrecks continued -- legend has it that enterprising thieves would douse the whale oil lamps in hopes of new bounty, though written history chalks it up to the light being dim or simply going out. In 1943, kerosene light took its place; the lighthouse went electric in 1971. The old lens is on display in the museum; informative plaques surround the lighthouse, and the spot offers a breathtaking view of the ocean. A $5 entrance fee is required and gains you access to the grounds, a small shop and a clean bathroom. Tours inside the lighthouse can be obtained through Caribbean tour operator Chukka.

Shore Excursions
 Best for First-Timers: A "Hop-On/Hop-Off Island Tour" is a convenient transportation option for cruisers who want to see a little bit of everything; the shuttle stops at attractions scattered throughout the island, such as an 1800s prison in town and the lighthouse.Best for Active Travelers: After a drive through Cockburn Town, saddle up for a ride along the beach -- and in the water -- on a "Horseback Ride and Swim adventure."Best for Water-Lovers: An "Ultimate Snorkeling" excursion takes you to two different sites -- Horseshoe Reef and Round Cay. Crew identify fish and coral and provide waterproof "fish identification cards" to keep with you as you explore. Kids must be at least 8 to participate.Best for History Buffs: If you like history, space or space history, check out Grand Turk Cruise Center's exhibit dedicated to NASA's Mercury space program. This offering celebrates the 1962 splashdown of the Friendship 7 space capsule near Grand Turk and features storyboards that discuss some of NASA's accomplishments, equipment and plans.
The Best Outdoor Adventures
 
The waters here are superlative for all kinds of outdoor adventures, from diving and snorkeling to sailing, kayaking, and fishing. But watersports aren't the only game in town. You'll find prime golf and tennis facilities in Provo -- and Rollerblade hockey is all the rage with local school kids.
 
Snorkeling the islands: The snorkeling opportunities are excellent throughout the islands, whether the Caicos Cays, North Caicos, Middle Caicos, South Caicos, Grand Turk, or Salt Cay. But you don't even have to leave Grace Bay to find good snorkeling. The government has established snorkel trails at Smith's Reef (just outside Turtle Cove) and Bight Reef (right in front of the Coral Gardens resort). These reefs are right off the shoreline, providing easy access to a fragile but beautiful world.
 
Taking a beach cruise (Caicos Cays): A number of tour-boat operators offer variations on half- and full-day beach sojourns. Your trip may include a stop on Little Water Cay, a protected nature reserve inhabited by a colony of rare rock iguanas; snorkeling the coral reefs and diving for conch; or combing the beaches of uninhabited cays for sand dollars and other shells.

Riding horses on the beach (Long Bay, Provo): You don't need a whit of riding experience to thoroughly enjoy a leisurely late-afternoon trot on a beautiful beach. The gentle mounts of Provo Ponies are perfect for novices, but they don't mind kicking it up a bit for proven riders -- they love a good beach gallop, too.
Strolling Grace Bay before sunset: You'll be surprised at the long stretches of beautiful beach you have all to yourself. The sand is a little cooler, and the water takes on the pink and purple hues of the setting sun. Stop in and sink into an inviting white-cushioned perch at the Lounge or the Infinity Bar, the oceanfront bars at the Grace Bay Club, and sip a cocktail while you wait for the green flash on the horizon during sunset (seeing it is said to bring good luck).

Watching the glowworms glow: Four or five days after a full moon, millions of glowworms come out just after sunset to mate -- lighting up the shallow waters with a sparkling green glow. Take a glowworm cruise in the Caicos Cays or off any number of Caicos Bank docks. The show is over when the mating ritual ends and the female glowworms devour the males.

Hiking or biking the Crossing Place Trail (Middle Caicos): This old coastal road, first established in the late 1700s by settlers and slaves working the local plantations, has been reopened from the Conch Bar to the Indian Cave field-road section and is now a National Trust heritage site. It has heartbreakingly beautiful sections, some on bluffs overlooking the blue-green ocean shallows and rocky outcrops; others bordered by island brush that includes wild sea-island cotton, remnants of the 18th-century plantations, and elegant sisal plants. Follow hiking or biking trails; when you get hot, take a swim in the shallow coves below. Be sure to visit Conch Bar Cave, a massive aboveground limestone cave system used by Lucayan Indians some 600 years ago.

Diving the Wall off Grand Turk: You can find great scuba-diving spots throughout the TCI, including spectacular opportunities off Provo's Northwest Point and in West Caicos. But Grand Turk's electrifying dives are just some 274m (900 ft.) offshore, where the continental shelf drops off from the coral reef in dramatic fashion. Along the ledges of this sheer wall is marine life in all its eye-popping plumage.

Whale-Watching on Salt Cay: From January through April, humpback whales migrate along the 7,000-foot trench of the Columbus Passage (which snakes between the Turks islands and the Caicos islands) to the Silver Banks to mate and calf. You can actually snorkel and swim alongside these gentle 15m (50-ft.) creatures.
Finding treasures on the beach: The currents drop off a good amount of flotsam on these windward TCI beaches -- much of it worthless junk. But hey, one man's trash is another man's inspiration. Nearly every island has a visionary artist or two who dabbles in beach salvage. Of course, real treasures do wash up: In 2006, silver pieces of eight and an 18th-century spyglass were picked up on the Salt Cay beaches. And bottles containing messages have found their way here from all over the world; the Turks & Caicos National Museum has a collection of messages in a bottle. The water's edge also yields gorgeous shells, from snow-white sand dollars to queen conch shells -- but remember: Always return a shell back into the sea if something is living inside.
 
The Best Beaches
 
Surrounded by the world's third-largest coral reef, the Turks and Caicos Islands have some of the finest powdery-sand beaches and most ethereal turquoise seas in the world. Most are just minutes away from an airport, and you'll rarely have to vie for beach space with anyone else. Tour boats can whisk you to uninhabited cays where you can play Robinson Crusoe for a day. The waters are pristine and diamond-clear, and waves rarely rise above a gentle ripple -- perfect for young kids and snorkelers of all ages.
 
Grace Bay (Providenciales): These 19km (12 miles) of pale sands and azure seas are the pride of Provo; Grace Bay Beach was named the World's Leading Beach for several years running at the World Travel Awards. An increasing number of resorts and condo hotels have sprung up along the shore. Like much of the TCI, the beach is fringed by a coral reef system with fabulous snorkeling and diving.
 
Malcolm Beach (Providenciales): The traditional way to see this charming cove (often referred to as Malcolm Roads Beach) is with a 4*4 along twisting, bumpy Malcolm Roads. You can also access the beach by staying at Amanyara (the resort is adjacent to the beach) or by getting a tour-boat operator to take you there. Its waters are part of the Northwest Point Marine National Park.

Long Bay (Providenciales): The calm, shallow waters of this quiet beach on Provo's southeastern shore make it perfect for young children. Take a horseback ride on the beach here with Provo Ponies.

Sapodilla Bay and Taylor Bay (Providenciales): Part of the Chalk Sound National Park, these shallow bays along Provo's southwest coastline have soft, silty bottoms and stunning blue water.
Pine Cay (Caicos Cays): The money shot in many a photo spread of Caribbean islands is often this private island's perfect crescent of sand, ringed by azure seas. It's the front yard of the Meridian Club resort.

Parrot Cay (Caicos Cays): Another gorgeous private island, this one with a secluded beach graced by beach bums of the celebrity variety.
Sandy Point (North Caicos): Up until now, only boaters and those in the know found their way to this spectacular beach, within sight of the Parrot Cay Resort.

Whitby beaches (North Caicos): The coves of Three Mary Cays are prime snorkeling spots. Step into the shallows of the palm-fringed Pelican Point Beach (in front of Pelican Beach Hotel) and find conch shells of every size. Lovely Horsestable Beach has enjoyed its North Caicos seclusion for years (it's also a prime bird-watching spot).

Mudjin Harbor (Middle Caicos): This beach is as stunning seen from the limestone cliffs towering above as it is up close. You can explore the wind-swept coves and snorkel in the turquoise shallows below.

Bambarra Beach (Middle Caicos): Casuarina trees fringe this picturesque, untrammeled beach. Its shallow aquamarine waters are the site of the festive Valentine's Day model sailboat races, and the Middle Caicos Day beach party is held here in August.

Governor's Beach (Grand Turk): Grand Turk's most celebrated beach has great snorkeling and is a popular picnic spot under shady pines. It's in the Columbus Landfall National Park -- more about Columbus's "landfall" later -- and within sightlines of the Grand Turk Cruise Center, which welcomes mammoth cruise ships 4 to 6 days a week.

Pillory Beach (Grand Turk): The Bohio Dive Resort is set on this handsome stretch of Grand Turk beach.
The beaches of Salt Cay: This tiny island has some of the best snorkeling beaches in the Caribbean. The best slices of sand may be found on North Beach and Point Pleasant.
 
Dining
Most restaurants you will encounter in port cater to tourists and provide Americanized versions of bar food and pub grub: burgers, quesadillas and mixed salads, with some fresh seafood on the menu. But the name of the game is conch for Caribbean cuisine, and Grand Turk is no different.

John's Ocean View Bar, a more-local-than-local joint located along Front Street, provides native brews, conch and drinks at cheap prices. Get the grilled conch and ask for homemade hot sauce (it comes in a water bottle). John's doesn't have an exact address, but as a testament to the times, it has its own Facebook page. (649-243-7157) Because the island is so laid back, addresses and hours are often flexible or unlisted; unless otherwise noted, lunching suggestions are located on the main drag in Cockburn Town.
 
Outside of the immediate cruise center, Jack's Shack is where most cruisers seemed to flock for a day of drinks, local food and relaxation. Owned by Jack and Janet (the listed phone numbers are their cellphones), their website encourages you to "Follow the crew away from the crowds for a real island experience." A menu prepared by a Caribbean chef includes items like jerk chicken, spicy steamed conch, fish stews and peas and rice. The menu also has typical bar food offerings. However, vegetarian meals are not readily available, and seafood is limited. You'll find water sports gear and full resort amenities like free Internet, lounge chairs, floats, beach umbrellas, volleyball gear, showers, restrooms and storage lockers. Sign in online and print a coupon for a welcome shot of local rum. (500 yards north of the cruise center; 649-232-0099 or 649-244-9309)
 
Barbie's Bar and Restaurant is a local favorite featuring conch fritters and native island cuisine. Easy to spot from the road, but not as common with tourists, this might be your best bet for an authentic Grand Turk meal. (Churchill building, Cockburn Town; 649-946-2981)

Most of the restaurants on the island are connected with its few resorts. Secret Garden Restaurant at the Salt Raker Inn is a great place for cracked (delicious deep-fried) conch. (Duke Street; 649-946-2260)
 
The Sandbar, an outdoor bar on the beach across from the Salt Raker and neighboring Manta House, is a great spot for a quick snack, serving up quesadillas, burgers and cracked conch. (Duke Street; 649-243-2666)
The Birdcage at the Osprey Beach Hotel is open for lunch, with island dishes like spicy conch salad, fresh fish and lobster, as well as curries, pizzas, salads and key lime pie. Tables surround the pool and overlook the ocean (1 Duke Street; 649-946-2666)
 
Though there are no real "upscale" eateries on this casual island, Guanahani Restaurant at the Bohio Dive Resort is probably Grand Turk's finest, on a quiet strip of Pillory Beach. The menu changes daily; lunch offerings are eclectic -- French, Italian and American with a Caribbean twist. Entrees range from simple fresh fish sandwiches and pecan-crusted mahi mahi to jerk chicken. (Bohio Dive Resort, Pillory Beach; 649-946-2135; open for lunch daily)
 
Shopping
Turks and Caicos has not been particularly well-known for its shopping but that is slowly changing. There are no sales or luxury taxes on the islands, so jewelry and perfumes may be cheaper than at home.  Goldsmiths & Jai's in The Regent Village are great places to start for these items. Duty-free shops are found at the airport as well as hotel lobby stores,  American and Canadian residents may buy as many products made in the Caribbean as they like without paying duty taxes. You may want to apply that exemption to a few bottles Turks Head beer from the islands’ only micro-brewery or some Bambarra, the only locally produced rum!
 
There are four main shopping centers on 'Provo' that offer plenty of souvenirs and clothing:
 
The Regent Village is home to a wide array of stores including Philosophy for affordable contemporary clothing & accessories, FOTTAC for the locally produced Bambarra rum & wide range of Bambarra products, Flower Girl for Bahamian made straw hats & accessories, Art Provo for locally produced art & jewelry, Making Waves for original local art & Island Sportique for your sportswear needs.
 
Saltmills Plaza is where you will find Inter Decor for home furnishing & accessories, Big Blue for beachwear & water sport accessories plus many more stores offering a wide variety of clothing and accessores.
Ports of Call is where you will find Mama's gift shop, Night & Day boutique along with a few more store offering everything from souvenir tee shirts to fun dresses & fashion jewelry.
 
Caicos Cafe Plaza is where you will find Rumeurs offering imports from Bali from clothing to home furnishings & Goldsmiths duty free with souvenir tee shirts, accessories & a good selection of Cuban & Dominican cigars. Other high-quality locally made crafts can be found in the form of straw hats, bags, paintings, prints and jewelryin the Middle Caicos Cooperative, Bottle Creek in North Caicos or Daphne’s Native Gift Shop in South Caicos.





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