When we first visited the Turks and Caicos more than 30 years ago, few people had ever heard of this British Overseas Territory tucked just south of the Bahamas, a 90-minute flight from Miami. On our inaugural visit in January 1981, we had to fly to Grand Turk, which then contained most of the archipelago’s 7,500 inhabitants, to catch a puddle jumper to the island of Providenciales, a process that took two days, thanks to the pilot initially taking off with insufficient fuel and being obliged to return!
The island had yet to be discovered and offered about 100 beds in a half-dozen inns and cottage colonies, most tucked along Grace Bay, with its beautiful and relatively deserted 12-mile white-sand beach. Today, all that has changed, with Provo being a prime example of development and corruption run rampant. (Things got so out of hand by 2009 that Britain took the unprecedented step of suspending self-rule in the islands and taking over day-to-day control of the government, alleging that the premier and other Cabinet ministers illegally sold Crown land to developers for their own personal gain. New elections are expected this year). High-rise hotels and condos now stand cheek by jowl along the beach, and the once-barren interior of the island is dotted with malls, restaurants and vacation homes. (Like that of so many other resort destinations, however, the Turks and Caicos real estate market collapsed during the Great Recession, and construction was halted on many grand hotel projects that were eventually to be managed by high-end companies such as Ritz-Carlton and Mandarin Oriental.) That said, the political brouhaha seems to have had little or no impact on tourism. The beach remains as inviting as ever, and for those who prefer a livelier vacation ambience, Provo serves up an admirable array of dining, entertainment, shopping and recreational options. Be forewarned, however, that prices for rooms, food and beverages are sky-high because everything is imported and subject to crippling duties. The airport terminal is also long overdue for a major overhaul.
Readers requiring the bells and whistles of a full-blown resort will prefer Grace Bay Club, snuggled amid 11 lushly landscaped acres right along the calm and translucent waters of Grace Bay Beach. Lodging options include an adults-only all-suite hotel with 82 units, a newer compound featuring 38 family-friendly one- to three-bedroom villas with full kitchens, and the exclusive Estate enclave with 22 custom-designed three- to four-bedroom residences. Several restaurants, pools, a comprehensive spa and a myriad of water sports round out the first-class facilities.
Grace Bay Club 88 One-Bedroom Hotel Suite, $995-$1,325. Grace Bay Circle Road, Providenciales. Tel. (649) 946-5050.
A new resort with appealing options for families is The Veranda, an all-inclusive property managed by the same group as the Grace Bay Club. Open since early 2010, The Veranda occupies a choice spot on the beach, with 800 feet of oceanfront. The 168 accommodations are located in three buildings. Studios and most of the one-bedroom suites are set within the main Veranda House, a pleasant if undistinguished four-story structure. These are nice enough, but they are decorated in a bland contemporary style, and couples will find better options elsewhere. I do not recommend them.
The two- and three-bedroom suites are a different matter. These are housed in two “villages” of charming two-story buildings, which appear to be a cross between the Caribbean and Nantucket, with creamy yellow clapboard siding augmented by balcony railings and window frames done in a complementary shade of blue-gray. The interiors come with traditional colonial-style furniture, rich fabrics, full modern kitchens, washer-dryers, flat-panel TVs, Sony PlayStation 3s and Wi-Fi.
Choicest among The Veranda’s offerings are the eight beachfront cottages, steps away from the ocean and each with its own plunge pool. These are done in the same appealing style as the “village” buildings—with the addition of a white picket fence! The interiors provide the same amenities as the “village” accommodations.
Aside from easy proximity to the beach, other attributes that make The Veranda a fine choice for families include a dedicated pool for children and an attractive Kids Club, where parents can leave children ages 3 to 12 for supervised activities. Teens can sign up for kiteboarding, scuba and other excursions.
Another plus for those with children is that meals in the main restaurant, Marin, are served buffet style— with themes from Chinese to Mexican—so all can eat at their own paces in a casual atmosphere. The other restaurant, Grill Bleu, offers an appealing multi-ethnic à la carte dinner menu that includes tandoori dishes and fresh local fish—we had an especially good yellow snapper with capers—but is better suited to grown-ups.
Those who can’t put aside their regular workouts will appreciate the fully equipped fitness center, while guests in pursuit of something more relaxing will find a full range of treatments in the Sabai Spa, with products by Elemis.
The Veranda 87 Two-Bedroom Suite, from $1,340; Three-Bedroom Suite, from $1,620; Three-Bedroom Beach Front Cottage with Pool, $3,600. Princess Drive, Providenciales. Tel. (649) 339-5050.
If you desire more seclusion and quiet sophistication on Provo, Amanyara is the perfect, if pricey, choice. The dramatically designed, cottage-style resort nestles along a seaside bluff at the island’s isolated northwest tip, a long 30-minute drive from the shops and hotels lining Grace Bay Beach. Entrance is through a temple-like reception pavilion, where a huge reflecting pool leads to a striking tower-like bar/lounge and Asian/Mediterranean restaurant set on a headland separating a lovely half-mile beach from the guest cottage pavilions.
Enhanced by exotic woods, the contemporary accommodations (reminiscent of Amankila in Bali) feature all the expected amenities, the Ocean Pavilion junior suites occupying breezy rocky outcrops that definitely afford the best sea views. Leisure choices include a snorkeling/dive center for exploring the coral reefs of an adjacent marine park, a 165-foot freshwater pool, tennis courts and a delightful fitness and wellness spa offering a full menu of massages and body treatments. The resort’s visually appealing architecture, delectable food (including many fresh seafood dishes) and charming staff will please most Aman aficionados, the only drawback being the short hike from the cottages to the main beach.
Amanyara 95 Ocean Pavilion, $1,800-$2,050. Northwest Point, Providenciales. Tel. (649) 941-8133.
For an authentic tropical getaway at half the price of Amanyara, opt for The Meridian Club, ensconced on the privately owned island of Pine Cay, a 30-minute launch ride from Provo. This is the crown jewel of the Turks and Caicos for those seeking the relaxing and timeless spirit of the old West Indies, the intimate resort fringed by crystal-clear aquamarine waters and one of the Caribbean’s last great untrammeled beaches.
In the last 30 years, we have recommended dozens of Caribbean resorts and seen most of them mushroom in size. The environmentally sensitive and purposely underdeveloped island of Pine Cay is one of those rare exceptions that has steadfastly maintained its original identity. On our latest visit, we were thrilled to see that there are still just 13 guest rooms tumbling out to the same spectacular, deserted white-sand beach, along which we happily strolled in 1981. No cars are allowed on the island, with transportation strictly limited to bicycles and electric golf carts. Adding to the timeless bliss is the total absence of room phones and TVs, though guests may avail themselves of a daily New York Times news fax. In addition, cell phones are banned from most public areas, the only concession to the digital world being an Internet room equipped with a poky computer and laptop connections for those who must.
Decorated in a cheerful tropical style with vibrant Haitian paintings and colorful handcrafted furnishings, the comfortably simple accommodations come with king beds, refrigerators, wall safes, well-stocked bookshelves and separate sitting alcoves opening onto newly screened porches. Spacious baths feature two vanity areas, indoor-outdoor showers, lounging robes and mounds of fluffy towels. Overhead fans and louvered windows circulate the island’s year-round breeze.
Under the direction of affable managers Beverly and Wally Plachta, a longtime, caring staff tends to guests’ every need in a handsome clubhouse sheltering a convivial upstairs bar/lounge trimmed by a scenic veranda. Downstairs, an informal dining room spills out to a terrace with tables beneath thatched umbrellas, a newly upgraded pool and alfresco bar. The superb kitchen is now overseen by chef Shane Coffey, who built his reputation at Alias on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and Lulu Wilson in Aspen, Colorado. For starters, we particularly enjoyed the chef’s signature kale and Parmesan salad, as well as his chilled avocado soup with sautéed shrimp, sweet chili sauce and a lime zest. Dinner entrées include a wide variety of grilled fish (chili-crusted wahoo, fresh snapper, mahi, mackerel and striped bass), plus Greek stuffed lamb loin, roasted Cornish hen, spice-rubbed steaks and more. Succulent barbecued ribs highlight the lively Saturday night jump-up.
Complementing the superlative two-mile beach and calm swimming waters, the resort provides a small flotilla of sailboats and kayaks, plus daily catamaran snorkeling forays to the nearby national park reef. A new tennis court, limited spa services and bonefishing excursions are also available. Admittedly, this tranquil and sensuous sanctuary will not appeal to everyone. But for romantic beach lovers who yearn to truly get away from it all in a uniquely unspoiled Robinson Crusoe setting, nothing quite compares.
The Meridian Club 95 Beachfront Club Room, $1,085-$1,310, all meals included. Tel. (649) 946-7758.