The three islands generally visited by divers - Grand Turk, Salt Cay and Providenciales - have three distinct personalities, but share one trait: awesome wall diving. The Turks & Caicos archipelago consists of two island chains that sit atop two limestone banks separated by the 6,000-foot-deep Turks Island Passage. Six islands rise above the submerged Caicos Bank, including Providenciales and West Caicos. To the east are the islands of Grand Turk and Salt Cay, in the Turks Islands.
Providenciales, commonly called Provo, is perfect for divers who like to play both above and below the water; the island offers a wide array of resorts, restaurants and activities. On Provo's north shore, the 14-mile barrier reef bordering on Grace Bay is one of three main diving areas on the island, as are Northwest Point, a national marine park off the west coast, and uninhabited out islands like West Caicos. At least once a week, most of Provo's dive operators make the hour-long trip to West Caicos, 10 miles southwest of Provo. Here, divers find a dizzyingly steep drop-off. Choice sites include Elephant Ear Canyon, packed with tube sponges and black coral (though the giant elephant ear sponge for which it's named is gone). Provo's renowned Northwest Point offers more than a dozen sites including Amphitheater, which boasts a pageant of fish - parrotfish, clown wrasse, angelfish - plus chance encounters with Caribbean reef sharks.
On Grand Turk, one site, McDonald's, is named for the graceful coral arch on the wall's lip, a gateway to the site's showy drop-off. McDonald's is emblematic of the diving off Grand Turk - shallow reefs that give way to a striking wall. Along the way, you'll encounter hawksbill turtles, good-sized Nassau groupers, healthy corals and mammoth sponges.
Tiny Salt Cay, eight miles southwest of Grand Turk, is home to only about 70 people. You can stay on Salt Cay and dive nearby sites, or make the trip from Grand Turk if your operator is willing and able. Dive sites here include the HMS Endymion, a historic wreck 16 miles south of the island, Kelly's Folly, whose undulating coral gardens slope down to a precipitous drop-off, and Northwest Point, where black corals cling to the wall and tiger groupers hang out in cracks.
Between February and April, hundreds of migrating North Atlantic humpback whales pass in close range of Grand Turk and Salt Cay and operators offer snorkeling encounters with the animals.
Weather: Between June and October temps are in the high 80s, and there's a chance of brief showers; from November to May temps are between 80 and 84 and there's little rain.
Average Water Temp: In summer, the water is 82 to 84 degrees; in winter, expect temps between 74 and 78 degrees.
Average Visibility: From 50 to 150 feet.
Travel Savvy: A valid passport is required. Visitors are allowed to stay for 30 days; there is a departure tax of $35.
Destination Links: www.turksandcaicostourism.com.