|Opportunities to find big fish like groupers, as well as sharks and rays--which are becoming increasingly rare elsewhere--are still common in these islands.|
Choosing an island for your Turks & Caicos dive vacation is a study in relativity. Provo is bigger than Grand Turk, which is bigger than Salt Cay. When you pick one island over the other, you simultaneously gain something and give something up. Provo, for example, is the most developed, with captivating beaches and the greatest variety of restaurants and hotels. But longer boat rides to dive sites mean less time in the water. Dive sites are a stone's throw off Grand Turk's western shore, but there is little to do but dive your brains out. On the other hand, who would complain about that?
Where to Dive?
|What are you searching for? A Caribbean beach idyll or wall-to-wall diving? Intimate guest houses or activity-laden all-inclusives? Whatever it is, you can find it somewhere in the Turks & Caicos.|
Finding the Right Island for You
On most maps, the islands are mere dots in the blue expanse south of the Bahamas, but don't let these specks fool you--there is enough variety here to leave you racking your brain about which island to dive. Why not dive 'em all?
As you watch donkeys stroll down Main Street, you'll wonder how this could be the capital of the crown colony. True, it's the seat of power, but it's amazingly quiet and serene--think Pleasantville with palm trees. There's not a whole lot to do besides dive, so if that's your gig, Grand Turk's dive sites are very close to shore, and you can fill those logbooks and max out bottom time.
If you're looking for a little more topside to go with that dive vacation, Provo may be more in line with expectations thanks to its wider range of resort and restaurants. There is a trade-off, though, as most popular sites visited by Provo's dive operators are concentrated around West Caicos, French Cay and Northwest Point--at the very least, a good 45-minute boat ride. Provo is typically the choice of divers who demand the comfort and convenience of more popular, higher volume dive destinations.
Salt Cay makes Grand Turk look like Manhattan. If you're looking for the serenity of an island with a population of less than a hundred, this is it. All of Salt Cay's regularly visited sites are scattered along the island's protected western lee, except for the HMS Endymion, an hour's skiff ride south.
A thriving salt-raking community during the 19th century, South Caicos is perhaps the most off-the-beaten-track of the British colony's vacation spots. Most sites are within 15 minutes of the dock, and the entire eastern shore of South Caicos is protected by marine park status to a depth of 300 feet.
Both the Aggressor Fleet and Peter Hughes Diving operate live-aboards that ply Turks & Caicos waters, allowing you to sample a little bit of everything each island has to offer. You'll never be far from land, but you won't have to endure the longer boat rides common on some islands.
It's in the Water
Vis and Conditions
An arid landscape, no rivers to speak of and a remote location far from a major landmass all add up to water that's crystal clear. Place it just south of the Bahamas, and you've also got water that's bathtub warm. Now what's not to like?
Water clarity is excellent, especially during the May-to- September dry season. On average, expect anywhere from 50 to 150 honest feet of visibility at the West Caicos dive sites and at Northwest Point, usually 100-plus feet at French Cay, and 50 to 150 off Grand Turk, Salt Cay and on the Endymion wreck.
Though technically not in the Caribbean, the Turks & Caicos enjoy typically Caribbean water temperatures--ranging from the mid-70Fs in winter to low to mid-80Fs in summer. Bring at least a Lycra skin to ward off coral abrasions.
|Beyond the Turks & Caicos's beaches, the shore slopes off precipitously to a wall that plummets almost vertically into the abyss|
|Wall diving is fun and easy in the Turks & Caicos. Keep an eye on your depth gauge, start your dive into the current and enjoy the liberating sensation of weightlessness.|
Wall Diving in the Turks & Caicos
If one of diving's most addictive thrills is the rush of weightlessness, then wall diving is an overdose. Nothing compares to the feeling of soaring out over a coral wall, the bottom dropping into the abyss. And these experiences are frequent occurrences in the Turks & Caicos.
- It's easy to lose track of depth during a wall dive, so remember to glance at your depth gauge every now and then.
- Start your dive into the current, keeping the wall to your shoulder. After using about a third of your tank, turn around and head back.
- If you start your wall dive deep and then move shallower as the dive progresses, you won't see the same stuff twice.
The resorts on Provo are larger and similar to those in other major Caribbean destinations. Don't expect Nassau or Cancun, but there are large, all-inclusive resorts with fitness rooms and pools.
GRAND TURK, SALT CAY and SOUTH CAICOS
Think small--cozy, intimate guesthouses and inns. Here, you'll find the kind of resorts where people at the front desk call you by name. On Salt Cay and South Caicos, you may even eat meals family style with other guests.
The Best Diving
Our Readers' Favorite Dive Sites
"Large critter sightings" helped make the sites around French Cay--including G-Spot--the favorite Provo sites among divers who filled out our Reader Ratings surveys. West Caicos was also popular. Coral Gardens unseated The Library (now a close second) as our readers' favorite Grand Turk dive site. McDonalds and Black Forest were also frequently mentioned.
More Bottom Time for the Buck
It's widely accepted that the most dives a human being can make in one day without being bent like a pretzel is five. No coincidence, then, that you're allowed up to five dives a day on many of the Turks & Caicos live-aboard boats.
But you can maximize your bottom time with land-based dive operators, too. If you're looking to load up on nitrogen, the short boat rides from Grand Turk and Salt Cay allow you to get in two morning dives, an afternoon and a night dive, without missing a single meal at the resort. Shore diving is also possible at Grace Bay on Provo.
- WHAT OUR READERS LIKE ABOUT IT
Health of reefs and advanced diving (tie), 91.3%; marine life, 87.0%; wall diving, 86.4%.
- WHAT OUR READERS SAY ABOUT IT
"Long boat rides" to "easy diving for both beginner and advanced divers" with the "ability to see big stuff;" "well-developed infrastructure" with a variety of hotel and restaurant choices.
- REPEAT BUSINESS
87% of readers said they'd return to Provo.
Grand Turk and Salt Cay
- WHAT OUR READERS LIKE ABOUT IT
Wall diving, 95.6%; health of reefs, 93.3%; underwater photography opportunities, 89.5%.
- WHAT OUR READERS SAY ABOUT IT
A "remote place" with "awesome walls," a "great island to get in some diving and peaceful quiet time" with "short rides to dive sites and small dive groups."
- REPEAT BUSINESS
78.3% of readers said they'd return to Grand Turk or Salt Cay.
- AIR TRAVEL
Getting to Provo is easy--it's served by American Airlines twice a day from Miami, a quick hour-and-a-half flight. But getting to Grand Turk, Salt Cay or South Caicos requires boarding a smaller plane with more baggage restrictions. Try Turks & Caicos Airways, SkyKing or Interisland Airways. Hotels on these islands will likely arrange airport pickups.
It's dry, with air temperatures ranging from 80F to 90F during the day, 65F to 80F at night in summer, and 70F to 80F during the day, 55F to 70F at night in winter.
U.S. and Canadian citizens need proof of citizenship to enter the islands--a passport or birth certificate will suffice.
- DRINKING WATER
The tap water in your hotel room is safe, but many finicky divers prefer the taste of bottled water.
Leave the adapter at home--the voltage is the same as in the U.S. and Canada, 110 volts, 60 cycles.
U.S. dollars and credit cards are widely accepted in the Turks & Caicos.
- MORE INFO
Call the Turks & Caicos Tourism Board at (800) 241-0824 or (649) 946-4970, or visit them on the web at turksandcaicostourism.com.
Turks & Caicos Fish ID
Along with many of the usual suspects, you'll find a number of fish species on Turks & Caicos reefs that are less common in other Atlantic and Caribbean destinations. Here are some of the ones to look for, along with tips to help you identify them.
| NASSAU GROUPER
The Turks & Caicos are one of the best places in the world to see these reef dwellers, which have become scarce in much of the Caribbean. Look for them on shallow to mid-range reefs, often resting on the bottom.
| BROWN GARDEN EEL
Colonies of brown garden eels can be found with their heads and upper bodies extended from sand flats, waving in the current. Approach slowly, as they'll disappear into their burrows once they catch sight of you.
| BLACKCAP BASSLET
These three-inch basslets like the deep. Look for them on deep walls, flitting around recesses. The namesake black marking extends from the basslet's lip to its dorsal fin.
| QUEEN TRIGGERFISH
A starburst around the eye and two blue stripes on the face make the queen trigger unmistakable. These shy fish can be found swimming around reef tops, coral rubble and grass beds.
| INDIGO HAMLET
These pretty little hamlets are distinguished by their alternating blue and white body bars, which can look like light shimmering on the bottom of a swimming pool. Look for them near the bottom or patrolling territories on the reef.
| HORSE-EYE JACK
Also known as bigeye jacks, these silvery fish swim in groups large and small, usually in open water over reefs. Look for the yellow tail fin for a positive ID.
| BLACK DURGON
Although normally black, black durgon sometimes have a bluish or greenish cast. Pale blue lines accent the base of the durgon's dorsal and anal fins. Look for them in small groups swimming over reefs.
| LONGSNOUT BUTTERFLYFISH
These shy butterflies like deep reefs and walls, and will dart away if approached. To identify one, look for the namesake long snout and a yellow bar that runs from the upper head across the eye.
Pack It Up
ULTIMATE TURKS & CAICOS GEAR CHECKLIST
What you forget to bring to the islands can be a bigger factor than what you remember. Here's a quick checklist:
- Drop 20 or 30 bucks for a dry bag--available from most camping stores--to protect your camera and wallet on the dive boat. Though many operators claim to offer dry storage, it's hard to prevent the errant wave over the gunwale--especially on the skiffs you'll be boarding from Grand Turk or Salt Cay.
- If you're going to Provo, you'll be spending more time on a dive boat, so make sure you bring hat, sunscreen, polarized sunglasses (and neckstrap), light windbreaker, seasickness prophylaxis, towel and anything else that may make your ride more enjoyable and comfortable.