Turks and Caicos

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Introduction to Turks and Caicos

These oddly named and misshapen islands may not be the prettiest in the Caribbean, covered as they are with cactus and thorny acacia trees. They are, however, fringed with exquisite beaches and several hundred miles of coral reef that keeps the Turks and Caicos on the world's top 10 dive list.

In 1965 the capital city's telephone operator was also the local jailer and the communications network was a hand-cranked telephone in a wooden shack. Since then, Karaoke and Club Med have arrived, but most of the archipelago remains rural and undeveloped, swinging along to its own bucolic pace.

Full country name: Turks and Caicos Islands

Area: 166 sq km

Population: 17,502

Capital City: Cockburn Town (Grand Turk)

People: Mainly African descent, plus Haitians and Dominican immigrants, and North American and European expats

Language: English

Religion: Baptist, Methodist, Anglican

Government: dependent territory of the United Kingdom

Head of State: Governor Jim Poston (representing Queen Elizabeth II)

Head of Government: Chief Minister Michael Misick

GDP: US$117 million

GDP per capita: US$7,700

Major Industries: Tourism, finance, fishing.

Major Trading Partners: US, UK

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Traveler Facts

Visas: No visas are required for citizens of the USA, Canada, UK and the EU. Most other nationalities require a visa. US citizens need proof of citizenship (a valid passport, voter's registration card or birth certificate) with photo ID. Everyone else, including UK citizens, needs a valid passport. Proof of onward transportation is required upon entry.

Health risks: sunburn, prickly heat, dehydration, heat exhaustion, heat stroke, fungal infestions, diarrhoea, Giardiasis, tetanus, jellyfish sting

Time Zone: GMT/UTC -4

Dialling Code: 649

Electricity: 110V ,60Hz

Weights & measures: Imperial



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Events

Grand Turk hosts a two-day Summerjam every June, featuring live bands and beauty contests. June brings the Queen's Official Birthday Celebrations to Grand Turk, which features the police marching band whipping up jingoistic fervor. In July, Grand Turk hosts a Rake 'n' Scrape Festival, with bands playing traditional island music; and Provo puts on its week-long Summer Festival, the biggest bash of all, with regattas, parades, partying and a Miss Turks & Caicos Beauty Pageant. Grand Turk's Carnival is a week-long festival in August with reggae and (of course) dancing.

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Best time to Visit

The only time to consider not going to the Turks and Caicos is the sweltering four months of August to November, when the daily average high is 32C (90F); when the trade winds die it nudges over 38C (100F). During the Northern Hemisphere's winter, spring and summer (December to July), the average daily high is milder. The peak tourist season is between winter and spring (mid-December to mid-April). Probably the best time to visit is between mid-April and July.



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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: US Dollar

Meals

Budget: US$5-10

Mid-range: US$10-15

High: US$15-20

Deluxe: US$20+

Lodging

Budget: US$50-100

Mid-range: US$100-200

High: US$200-400

Deluxe: US$400+

Comfortable travel in the Turks & Caicos can top US$300 a day, depending on how many of the islands you choose to visit and whether you island hop by plane or ferry. A moderate budget should fall between US$150 and $200 a day. Budget travelers can get by with self-catering and non-air-con rooms for about US$100 a day.

Credit cards are readily accepted on Provo and Grand Turk, as are traveler's checks. Elsewhere it's wise to carry cash. Foreign currency can be changed at local banks, which can also issue advances to credit card holders. There are taxes on car and motorcycle rentals and hotel rooms.

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Attractions

Grand Turk

Grand Turk is a treeless, brush-covered, bean-shaped dot of an isle. The island is dominated in the middle by several salinas, or salt ponds, often odoriferous reminders that 'white gold' was the island's most important industry until its collapse in 1962.

There are nice beaches at Cockburn Town, Waterloo and White Sands Beach. Cockburn Town, the sole settlement on Grand Turk, has been the administrative and political capital of the archipelago for more than 400 years. Today it also claims to be the business and financial centre.

Providenciales

As recently as 1964, the island of Providenciales (colloquially called 'Provo') did not have a single wheeled vehicle. In 1990 the 230-room Turquoise Reef Resort & Casino opened on Grace Bay, giving the island both its first large hotel and a long-awaited casino.

Provo is now the most developed island for tourism, boasting many resort hotels. This development darling of the chain is suddenly popular with retirees from around the world; the past decade has seen blossoming residential development, especially luxurious villas along Sapodilla Bay.

Salt Cay

Sun-baked Salt Cay, southwest of Grand Turk, is a mere speck of land, but steeped in character. It's something of a museum of 19th-century industry, with its decrepit windmills, salt sheds and smelly salinas. The country's modern history begins here in the mid-1600s, when salt traders settled.

The Bermudian traders created ponds linked to the sea by canals and sluice gates, with windmills controlling water flow. At one time, the cay was the world's largest producer of salt: in its heyday, over 100 vessels a year left the island for the US with their cargo of 'white gold'.

South Caicos

The easternmost and smallest Caicos island, South Caicos, west of Grand Turk, is an arid wasteland of scrub and sand-blasted streets roamed by wild horses and donkeys. The big attraction is scuba diving: a reef with a plummeting wall runs the length of the eastern coast.

Cockburn Harbour, the only town, is a rough-edged place with a somewhat sullen population and an appealingly shantytown feel. Corrugated-tin-and-driftwood shacks are interspersed amid modern bungalows and handsome, albeit weathered, colonial-era wooden structures left from the salt-trade era.

West Caicos

This small island, about 6 miles southwest of Provo, is renowned for its diving. The coast of this long island is fringed by the Molasses Reef, which harbours the remains of the oldest known shipwreck in the Western Hemisphere, dating from 1509.

The reefs off the west shore fall within West Caicos Marine National Park. Other prime dive sites include Elephant Ear Canyon, named for the biggest sponges found in the Turks and Caicos, and the Magic Mushroom, a sand chute to a precipice where sponges and black coral anchor the coral buttresses. Inland, Lake Catherine is a nature reserve that attracts flamingos, ospreys, ducks and waders.

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Disclaimer: We've tried to make the information on this web site as accurate as possible, but it is provided 'as is' and we accept no responsibility for any loss, injury or inconvenience sustained by anyone resulting from this information. You should verify critical information like (visas, health and safety, customs, and transportation) with the relevant authorities before you travel.

Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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