With stunning turquoise waters and sugar-fine beaches, the Turks & Caicos might be some of the most underrated Caribbean islands for families. We recently visited Providenciales, or Provo as the locals call it, and are here to report that if you’re looking for a laid back family escape that is less about cruise ships and more about the life aquatic, you’ve found your next trip. Read on to find out why.
1. The Water
Always dreamed of those turquoise waters you’ve seen in postcards? Even on a cloudy day the water in the Turks and Caicos Islands is more brilliant than almost anywhere in the world. And with water temps ranging from 74-78 in the winter and 80-84 in the summer, the ocean is perfect for floating in all day long. All. Day. Long.
Families can opt to stay at Grace Bay Beach, one of the most beautiful around, with plenty of amenities to make your vacation as breezy as the tropics. But unlike other popular beaches, Grace Bay never feels overcrowded, which means you can have your own little piece of paradise while you're here.
2. Stunning Coral Reefs
When staying along Grace Bay Beach, snorkeling excursions can be easily arranged through your accommodations. We loved the in-depth knowledge our local operators at Island Vibes had of the ecology and history of the island. The boat pulls right up on the beach down from Ocean Club Resorts for boarding. (Seriously. Right onto the beach!). You don’t have to be an experienced snorkeler, life vests and instruction are provided. Most excursions also take you past the world's only conch farm and along over to Half Moon Bay where you'll meet the resident iguana population. Typically Bight Reef (also known as Coral Gardens) is the best for beginners.
At the reef you'll find a bevy of Nemo-like colors and creatures, including brain coral, eagle rays, parrot fish and more. You can also be on the lookout for JoJo the dolphin.
Good to know: Remember to use reef-safe sunscreen (and plenty of it). You will want it to be free of oxybenzone and octinoxate, both of which cause lasting and significant damage to corals and reefs. While the Turks & Caicos have not yet banned sunscreens that harm the coral reefs (like Hawaii has) locals are currently hard at work campaigning to ban it.
3. The Mangroves
Book with WaterPlayTCI and your local guide will school you on the subtle beauty and stunning importance of the mangrove forests, while you glide quietly past baby sea turtles, baby lemon sharks, colorful fish, endless jellies and hidden conchs. You'll also find an array of bird species. Our excursion, which was bright and early on a calm day, required minimal skill and stamina, making it easily suitable for all ages.
WaterPlayTCI is family-owned and operated by a mom and dad duo who have a young child themselves, so they know all about making kids comfortable with the water. If you want something a little more adrenaline-pumping you can also arrange kiteboarding and windsurfing lessons as well as catamaran rides and snorkeling excursions with them.
4. Your Home Away from Home
Grace Bay Beach and surrounding area is home to many hotel and resort options, which can actually feel daunting when booking your vaycay. We highly recommend Ocean Club Resorts, which includes two sister properties (Ocean Club East and Ocean Club West) about a mile apart from one another on Grace Bay Beach (there’s a shuttle service between the two).
We love this resort because it a condominium resort: each suite is actually individually owned which means it's got way more flare than a cookie-cutter hotel room. Rooms feel more like apartments, with a variety of configurations to fit every family group’s needs. Sizes range from studio to 3-bedrooms, which makes it well suited to multi-generational travel as well. All rooms includes a full kitchen with all of the equipment you need (pots, pans, dishes, silverware) making it much easier for families with young kids to keep the right stuff on hand. Ocean Club West is located closer to shopping, including the nearby market, Graceway Gourmet, open 7 a.m. - 9 p.m. You'll find all the things you will need for your vacation, plus some sweet local products. You can borrow a folding shopping trolley from the front desk.
You'll find lots of perks offered at both locations, and guests at either property can use amenities on site at the both.
Guests at the resort will find plenty of places to lounge on the beach (you'll know the property by the pink umbrellas), gorgeous pools with a lazy river vibe, on-site dining options, spa services, free wi-fi, bicycles that can be signed out at the front desk, and tennis courts.
The resort also offer complimentary kayaks and stand-up paddleboards and kids can ask for a Seafari adventure packet upon check-in. If you are looking to explore other islands your concierge can help arrange an island hopping boat trip, too.
Tip: If you are in Provo around the full moon, be sure to ask about going on a Glow Worm Tour, a phenomenon unique to the Turks & Caicos and shallow areas of the Western Atlantic. Odontosyllis enopla (Bermuda glow worms) glow green. You can kayak out to see them!
5. Giving Back
Their amazing views and well-appointed rooms are not the only reason to stay at Ocean Club Resorts. The resort encourages every guest to Pack for Purpose. Essentially, you check out the list of needed school supplies for local kids and dedicated a portion of your luggage space to bring something they'll need. Leave it with the concierge at check in, and use that extra space for a memento or two from your travels. Win, win.
6. Unique Culture
Make sure your visit overlaps with the Thursday Fish Fry: a bustling outdoor gathering at the Bight (Children's) Park, where locals and tourists alike mingle to enjoy delicious food, music and artisan wares. Trust us, you and the kids will never forget this! Nearly everyone on the island comes to Fish Fry; it’s a place to connect, eat and be part of this unique island community.
Fuel up on a conch salad and some fried plantains from Froggies (there’s a reason there’s a line...it’s so worth the wait), grab a rum punch for mom and dad, and let the kids pick out a souvenir, all while listening to local music. There’s a stage and dance area, but the marketplace isn’t huge so you can enjoy the music throughout the market. Chat with the locals, let the kiddos dance the wiggles out, meet other visitors and stay to the end: each night the Fish Fry ends in a Junkanoo—a traditional parade of costumed performers.
7. The Food
If it's not Thursday evening and you're not at Fish Fry devouring a conch salad prepared by Froggie, you should not miss the cuisine right on site at Ocean Club West and Ocean Club East. Eat like a foodie at Ocean Club West's Asian-inspired Solana which has a super-fresh Sushi bar and serves until 10 p.m. They also have a poolside menu, so you can keep that lounge thing going all through lunch. Cabana Bar & Grill (at Ocean Club East) often features live music and is beachside. Also at Ocean Club East, put on your shoes and jacket and head to the Opus Wine-Bar-Grille for a more refined dining experience.
8. It's Easy
Traveling in the Turks & Caicos is a relatively care free adjustment for families; the islands are on Eastern Standard Time, the currency is the US Dollar and the outlets are standard 120v and don’t require an adapter. Cars do drive on the left here as in the UK, but you might find your rental car still has the driver’s seat on the left side as well (as in standard US cars). However, you can easily arrange a taxi from the airport and do all you want without a hired car, especially for your first trip. All visitors must hold a round trip ticket, and can stay for 90 days. You will need a passport.
The Turks & Caicos is safe and offers a relaxed, family-friendly vibe. As a general rule of thumb: remember to pack more sunscreen (reef-safe!) then you think you'll need and fewer clothes.
Good to know: Tropical storms can move in and out of the island quickly. Most resorts are closed Sep.-Oct. (hurricane season) to make any necessary repairs and allow their employees time off.
9. The People
While it may not be the closest island getaway, Providenciales and the Turks & Caicos islands have a uniqueness to them that makes them well worth the added cost and plane time. A trip here will expand your child's mind and heart: the people of the Turks & Caicos have a calm and gentle way that kids will instantly respond to. Across the island we found committed, big-hearted people working to make their home and their planet a better place. If you want a truly unique, incredibly warm vacation where you're allowed to be part of the secret, start booking your trip to Provo today.