Snow storms, a hurricane and a power outage– this New York City winter has been a memorable one. By the time February rolled around, I couldn’t wait to escape Manhattan for a warmer climate. After some feverish Internet research, I found the perfect destination for a beach getaway: Turks and Caicos. A far cry from the typical Spring Break destination, this Caribbean nation is known for its pristine beaches and high-end resorts.
Rave reviews on TripAdvisor compelled me to book a Jet Blue Getaways package at the Gansevoort Resort. (Or at least that’s how I justified the splurge, as this weekend getaway cost more than twice as much as my typical week-long vacation). The Gansevoort is located on a quiet stretch of Grace Bay Beach, which ranks #2 on TripAdviser’s 2013 list of Best Beaches in the World.
The main activity on Grace Bay Beach is sitting on a lounge chair with toes buried in white sand and hands gripping a tropical cocktail. You’ll be hard-pressed to find any cultural activities or historical attractions on the island of Providenciales. Although Jake and I are normally high-energy travelers, we enjoyed the total relaxation that came with having no itinerary whatsoever.
Read on for the top 13 attractions at Grace Bay Beach in Turks and Caicos. If you have tips of your own, please leave a comment below!
Like many resorts on Grace Bay Beach, the Gansevoort has a variety of water sports equipment available for guests to use at no cost, ranging from kayaks and paddle boards to snorkels and Hobie Cats (basically lightweight sailboats). The water is very calm at Grace Bay Beach, which makes it a haven for beginner paddle boarders; as a result, our resort’s paddle boards were constantly in use. We opted to book a kayak, and spent an hour paddling around the Atlantic Ocean. The water was a bit choppy due to an impending storm, but kayaking here was a breeze compared to our prior experiences sea kayaking in Washington state and Alaska.
We were pleasantly surprised to find that a “National Parks Reef Recovery Area” was located in front of a neighboring resort, just a 10-minute walk from the Gansevoort. After putting on our gear at the water’s edge, we swam a few feet to the start of the Bight Reef snorkeling trail. It resembled a race track, with buoys and rope marking the boundary of a living coral reef. The water quickly plunged in depth, and we found ourselves swimming above colorful fish, including a venomous lion fish. The Bight Reef trail serves as a fun break from beach lounging, and is a great entry point for first-time snorkelers.
11. Conch Diving
When a coworker heard I was visiting Turks and Caicos, she urged me to book a snorkeling day trip that involved conch diving. This is a popular excursion that can be booked at any resort and typically involves eating a ceviche of fresh conch prepared right on the boat. We were hesitant about the US $89 per-person price tag and waited until the last day to book the trip. It ended up raining all day, so we missed the opportunity. It was probably for the best, since I am a vegetarian!
10. Drinking Rum
Rule #1 in Turks and Caicos: you must drink rum! It’s the basis for most tropical drinks on Grace Bay Beach (with tequila coming in a close second). We developed a taste for a local brand, Bambarra, and picked up a bottle for about US $16 at the supermarket. We may have been the only guests at the tony Gansevoort Resort to mix their own tropical rum drinks and sip them poolside in plastic fruit juice bottles, but after a few servings, all self-consciousness vanished. We even picked up a Bambarra bottle at the airport’s duty free shop on the way home.
You’ll feel naked on Grace Bay Beach without a cocktail in your hand. The drink of choice at the Gansevoort is the “Drunken Lobster”– a frosty, fruity rum blend. Most resorts serve frozen cocktails with rum poured over the top, so you can see just how much you are getting.
The Hobie Cats were in hot demand at our resort, which over-indexed on wealthy businessmen and trophy wives. Since we have no sailing background, we opted not to try out these wind-powered vessels, but we did enjoy watching the sails pass by from our lounge-chair perches.
8. Bicycling to Town
After 24 hours of beach lounging, we got a bit stir crazy and booked two bicycles at the Gansevoort. The bikes were not in high demand and the staff seemed a bit confused about where to find them. After a brief delay, we set off for the supermarket on our retro, one-speed bikes. The trip to town was largely uphill and left me panting, but it felt good to burn off some of the calories we’d consumed at the beach bars and restaurants. We rode on the sidewalk and didn’t encounter many cars until we hit the main road in town. A quiet road connecting the Grace Bay Beaches is a great place for a leisurely ride, and passes a public park with a playground and beach access.
7. Chilling on the beach
Relaxing is the ultimate Turks and Caicos activity. Most guests at our resort seemed happy to spend a full day at the beach, as long as there was a bottle of rosé wine within reach. We soon found ourselves lured into the beach bum lifestyle, hypnotized by the fine white sand that never feels hot to the touch and the warm, turquoise water. Even when the weather turned and storm clouds rolled in, we couldn’t resist walking along the beach and snapping photos of the beautiful skyline.
6. Hitting the town (er, beach)
Grace Bay Beach is peppered with eateries, ranging from upscale restaurants to homey (although hardly cheap) bars. When we arrived at the Providenciales airport, the customs agent noted our hotel and told us the Gansevoort is the place to go on Friday evenings. He warned us to get to the bar by 10 pm in order to get a spot, and described a lively scene filled with locals and foreigners. After 9 years together, Jake and I aren’t exactly hitting the clubs every weekend, but we were curious to check out the nightlife. We ate at the Gansevoort restaurant on Friday night and hung around until the start of the festivities, when the inside of the restaurant was transformed into a lounge with DJ. While our waitress promised that visitors would be dancing on the tables before long, we opted for a beach stroll instead. The next night, we had a great time at a more laid-back bar, Somewhere Cafe, where prices were more reasonable and guests were not adorned in polo shirts and loafers.
5. Building a Sandcastle
The sand in Turks and Caicos is as close to perfect as we’ve seen. Resorts at Grace Bay Beach rake the sand so you won’t have to encounter seaweed or pebbles, and the water has a soft bottom free of coral. These are ideal conditions for making sandcastles– a fun activity if you tire of sun tanning.
4. Family Bonding
We took to calling Providenciales “MILF Island,” after the fake reality show in 30 Rock, since it was packed with tan, blonde moms with six-pack abs. Resorts like “Beaches” are very popular with families, and we saw many moms, dads and grandparents playing with their kids in the sand. One very selfless mom even allowed her kids to bury her up to her chest!
3. Strolling on the Beach
Grace Bay is an uninterrupted stretch of beach that connects about a dozen resorts. Walking east from the Gansevoort, we passed a cross-section of vacation goers, from the aforementioned MILFS to amorous couples, local families and hardcore elderly sunbathers. There were plentry of photo ops, as there are no bad views of this gorgeous beach.
2. Rediscovering life’s simple pleasures
We enjoyed two days of gorgeous sunshine before the rain came. Since the beach is the primary activity in Providenciales, there isn’t much to do when a storm rolls in. Still, we enjoyed a day of lounging in our hotel room; we mixed rum drinks, caught up on the New Yorker and practiced making shadow puppets. With free WiFi available in just about every hotel and restaurant on Grace Bay, we posted Instagram pics while waiting for showers to pass.
1. Wishing You Didn’t Have to Return to Work on Monday
The top activity on Grace Bay Beach isn’t snorkeling or even drinking– it’s wishing you could extend your vacation indefinitely. As your departure date draws closer, you’ll imagine quitting your office job to become a scuba instructor, yoga teacher or bartender. You’ll picture yourself winning the lottery, buying a palatial waterfront estate, and filling your closet with white linen clothing. And then you’ll resign yourself to the fact that yes, you must return home, but at least you’ll always have the memories of Turks and Caicos!
Bonus: Scuba Diving
The scuba diving in Turks and Caicos is supposed to be amazing, but it wasn’t feasible to scuba on our brief weekend getaway. The clear water, colorful coral and proximity to shore are main draws to divers– and ensure we will return soon.
What’s your favorite beach activity?
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