ATLANTIC PARADISE AT THE FAR END OF THE BAHAMAS

Conch shells along the beach in the TurksAs the morning sun began to caress the windblown sand along the deserted beach, its warming rays were often refracted by hundreds of white objects that became more visible with each degree of sun angle. For expert shells seekers, this expanding spectacle would be like a treasure hunter finding an ancient Spanish galleon overflowing with gold!

Though many varieties of shells are found in the Turks and Caicos Islands, several species of conch shells are the most dominant. In fact, conch has always been an important part of life and survival in this tropical paradise. These huge sea snails are used as an ingredient in hundreds of delectable food dishes that are served in these islands. In modern times, however, conch has become important in jewelry-making, art work, and as an exported food.

For those who might not understand the geography, the Turks and Caicos Islands are located at the far southeast corner of the Bahamas archipelago. These gems of the Atlantic Ocean are approximately 575 miles from Miami, Florida, and are comprised of over 40 Islands and uninhabited cays, including 8 major islands: Grand Turk, Salt Cay, West Caicos, Providenciales, North Caicos, Middle Caicos, East Caicos, and South Caicos. To the south, the Caicos Bank is a shallow, pale, turquoise sea that is partly composed of swamp and tidal flats that are filled with an abundant resource of conch, lobster, and numerous species of fish. In this area, Sapodilla Bay is a popular mooring for yachts traveling through the Turks and Caicos Islands.

The most inhabited of all the islands and certainly the most visited is Providenciales, also known as “Provo”. With only 6,000 permanent residents, it’s a wonderfully friendly place to visit. Provo is also home to the only Conch farm in the world. These mollusks with their beautiful pink shells take five years to grow to their adult size. The Conch farm is open for tours during the winter months, and is a ‘must see’ location for anyone visiting.

The Ocean ClubDespite the number and diversity of lodging possibilities, I found that the Ocean Club Resorts on Provo (1-800-457-8787) are the absolute best for overall service and amenities. Both the original Ocean Club and the newer Ocean Club West are situated on the beautiful, expansive, white sands and tranquil, turquoise waters of famous Grace Bay, which is within easy sight of the waters breaking over the protective coral reef. These two properties are within a mile of each other, have their own separate identities, but offer an elegant lifestyle in a natural, tropical setting.

Restaurant service throughout the islands is done on ‘Island Time’…which is somewhat slower and certainly more laid back than what most visitors expect. Nevertheless, the food, atmosphere, and presentation seems to always be surprisingly unique in Provo.

For extremely casual dining with a fantastic view of Grace Bay, it would be hard to beat the Cabana Bar & Grille at the Ocean Club, or the Seaside Café at the Ocean Club West. Also, the Gecko Grille (649-946-5885) on the grounds of the Ocean Club is an excellent place for an elegant evening meal of Caribbean seafoods with tangy island spices that are served outside in a tropical garden.

FishingGuideEdwardMissickTravelWriterChrisMcBeathBonefishBuilt under a canopy of coconut palms in a romantic outdoor setting, the Coco Bistro (649-946-5369) restaurant offers both beef and seafood dishes with tastes that mix the continental with the Caribbean flavor. It is a perfect place to enjoy an elegant evening meal.

However, to enjoy a distinctive island experience and authentic cuisine, drive to Blue Hills Beach for lunch at Da Conch Shack (649-946-8877). This open air eatery is right on the beach, serves very fresh local seafood in an island-style, and is saturated with loud music and plenty of local flies to swat away.

Fishing Guide Edward Missick, Travel Writer Chris McBeath, and BonefishProvo is also known as one of the premier destinations in the Caribbean for snorkeling, scuba diving, eco kayaking, and fantastic bonefishing! Catch the Wave Charters (649-941-3047) is the best local bonefishing, diving and snorkeling, deep sea fishing, and boat charter concession on Provo. It is owned and operated by Edward and Erin Missick. Edward was born and raised on North Caicos Island, and has been boating in the Turks and Caicos Islands since age six when he used to tag along with his fisherman father. Now, he is considered one of the best fly and spin fishing guides in the Bahamas chain of islands. Catch a Wave Charters will also fashion any trip to the desires of their clients, including romantic days on remote islands complete with their famous Beach Barbecue and conch salad.

Big Blue Guide explains sea shellsAnother interesting and educational trip is an ecotour provided by Big Blue Unlimited (649-946-5034) utilizing sea kayaks. The excursion normally begins with a geography lesson, interesting historical facts, and an introduction to the safety and working features of kayaks by a certified guide. During the sojourn, ecological beach combing is usually followed by an interesting stop at Little Water Cay, which is known to locals as “Iguana Island.” This small, unpopulated, arid spit of sand and vegetation is the home to more than 3,000 rare and endangered rock iguanas that are exclusive to the Turks and Caicos Islands. The trip includes an exploration of nearby Mangrove Cay and Big Water Cay as well.

From Provo, the full breadth of the Turks & Caicos Islands is open to enjoy and explore, including dozens of small uninhabited cays and sister islands, many of which are tropical wilderness land. Also known for its favorable year-round climate, the average Provo temperature is a balmy, breezy 78ºF. Therefore, regardless of the season, these islands that dangle at the tip of the Bahamas chain like a shiny gold and turquoise pendant in the sun, are a joy to behold that will conjure up memories luring visitors to surely return!

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