My fin-clad feet dangle in the Caribbean Sea as I sit on the back of a 72-foot yacht called Sanity, trying to find the nerve to jump into these exotic teal depths to snorkel the world’s third largest barrier reef, just beyond Providenciales (Provo, as it’s fondly known by local residents) in the alluring Turks and Caicos, a country of some 40 islands and cays, only eight of which are inhabited.
“The pool is open,” Mike, our captain aboard Provo Elite Charters, joked minutes earlier as we set anchor. “The saltwater, it’s like therapy.”
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I know. Yet I sit, at war with myself, as my friends drop in, one after another. I don’t want to miss out—a water fanatic who grew up along the seacoast—but I’m no snorkeller (can’t master the breathing), and I don’t want to meet my Waterloo.
“I’ll carry the mask, when you use it, you’ll just have to hold your breath when you look down. I’ll be with you the whole time,” says Tim, a crew member who senses my turmoil, who gives me courage to dive into the now.
Ode to living in the moment
Within minutes, I’m looking down at underwater life, bobbing in the warm waves, floating on my back, and blissfully thinking this getaway to the Turks and Caicos, an archipelago at the end of the Bahamas chain, is nothing short of a revelation. An ode to living in the moment.
“I wondered how I’d keep busy here, it’s so quiet,” the words of my lunch server come back to me. “But you go down to the water, and before you know, it’s 4 o’clock.”
Fun in the sun
We’re six ladies from across Canada and the U.S. who’ve flown in to recharge at Ocean Club Resorts, two, all-suite sister properties along world-renowned Grace Bay Beach. The easy condominium-style resort makes a great base, to daydream and detox a cluttered mind. I wake in my beachfront unit (think full kitchen, living room, washer, dryer and screened balcony) to see palms and the resort’s signature pink umbrellas in the creamy sand.
I drift to sleep at night with a symphony of waves hitting shore. In the morning, employees shake coconuts from the trees. I run down to the shore to sink my toes into the crystal-clear water, walk the beach, order eggs benny at the oceanside Cabana Bar & Grill, and surrender to a perfect Swedish massage at Spa Tropique, an onsite, but independent business.
The vibe’s decidedly mellow, no matter your inspiration – lounging by the beach or pools, marveling at dreamy sunsets, or arranging activities on and off island. The stand-out? Unfailingly kind employees. Take the morning I asked directions of a young groundskeeper. He not only pointed the way, he walked me there, and waited to make sure I took the right turn.
Chill with the iguanas on their own island
More than sand and sunshine, the Turks and Caicos, a British Overseas Territory, just over an hour’s flight from Miami, is wonderfully exotic and eco-friendly. For me, the entire trip is made when I visit an island populated only by iguanas. Yes, that’s correct, iguanas. Little Water Cay, known locally as Iguana Island, is home solely to the rock iguanas transplanted there for their protection. With powder white sand and truly the bluest water I’ve ever seen, it takes my breathe away. The iguanas are pretty charming too. These big lizards used to cover most of the islands in the Turks and Caicos but are now endangered. Visitors to the island (easily accessible from Provo by boat tour operators) are forbidden to feed the iguanas, basking in the sunshine and posing for photo ops.
The same, but not
The Turks and Caicos, home to about 35,000 people, is renowned for its exquisite landscape and the warmth of its people. It’s at once foreign, and at once not. English is spoken, electrical outlets are North American. The currency is the U.S. dollar, and traffic drives on the left, like the U.K., though strangely most steering wheels are on the right. Don’t expect malls. Or fast food chains. Instead think tranquility. “This island has the perfect world. We have more time for ourselves,” says Mahesh Kanthode, or MK, restaurant manager at Ocean Club West’s Solana! who two years ago packed his bags and left India for here. “You have to experience it. These are the best waters,” he says. “You come here, and you spend time for yourself. That’s what everyone says to me, that’s what people like. That’s why people come back.”
Then again, it could be the rum. I’m a convert, and I don’t even drink rum, which MK says during a guided tasting at Solano! helps the body feel more relaxed after a long day. Pleasantly buzzed, er, I mean relaxed, we explore signature flavours and favorite blends under a balmy December sun during an afternoon that starts with Bambarra Reserve, proudly made in the Turks and Caicos. With its strong notes, it pairs well with fruity drinks and is often the base of a standout rum punch. The smooth Guatemala Zacapa Sistema Solera 23 follows and finally, the popular, very fine Diplomático, so smooth it’s recommended you don’t use ice.
Add water, turtles and mangroves
“There’s another one!” someone shouts as a sea turtle swims quietly past our group paddling through the mangroves on a guided kayak tour with WaterPlayTCI, exploring underwater life and a fascinating eco-system. “We don’t usually see this many,” says guide JB, who expertly maneuvers on his SUP, stopping at times to point out jellyfish, conch, and even a few baby lemon and nurse sharks in their habitat. In some places, the mangroves grow so close, we use our paddles against the shrubby bush to push through. At another spot, JB stops and asks if anyone wants to step out to feel feet sink a few centimeters into the almost quicksand-like bottom.
Glittery white lights, hand-painted turquoise tables, and seaside views greet diners at Provo’s new beachfront restaurant, Omar’s Beach Hut, opened this past April on Fisheries Row in Five Cay. Run by the charming husband and wife team of Omar (a transplanted Jamaican lured here 21 years by his brother) and Sonia, the colourful eatery has made a name for itself with authentic local cuisine, Caribbean fare and a relaxed atmosphere. Their landlord owns the Fresh Fish Market, so they get dips.
For a tiny island nation, there’s no shortage of good food. We take most meals at Ocean Club, where restaurants share the grounds, but are independently operated. Solana! nailed it with its Caicos grilled snapper and its fish tacos (oh, the fish tacos!); while Opus, Ocean Club East’s fine dining restaurant, with a candlelit mahogany bar and impressive wine list, wowed with a menu ranging from red Thai curry to South Caicos lobster tail with garlic jerk butter. My last night, I follow my server’s recommendation and try the grouper, served lightly blackened with mango cilantro salsa. “It’s fresh, it’s local,” she says. And here in the Turks and Caicos, I’m all about the now.
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