Island Duality: Middle Caicos and Provo – Exploring Turks & Caicos Two Ways

by Diana in Travel Life Magazine Fall 2018

I love islands because of the calm feeling I get near water and the solitude of being set apart. So how could I turn down a trip to Turks & Caicos, which has 40 islands—only eight of which are inhabited—with some of the most beautiful beaches on the planet. This place is about pure white sand, clear turquoise waters and a bright blue sky.

Plan your stay on the more populated Providenciales or “Provo,” with its world-famous 12-mile beach, and take a day or overnight trip to explore the more untouched island of Middle Caicos. Surprisingly, Middle Caicos is the largest Turks & Caicos island—48 square miles compared to Provo’s 38—but has less than 300 inhabitants.

Developed and undeveloped—Provo and Middle Caicos is the perfect combination island trip.

MIDDLE CAICOS – Rustic and unspoiled

To access Middle Caicos, take a 25-minute, $25 ferry from the east point of Provo to North Caicos, where you can pick up a rental car to drive along a quite road, passing small farms of cassava, corn, okra and beans, and only the occasional car. Tall trees line the road and hide the water from view.

After about 35 minutes, you will reach a mile-long causeway to Middle Caicos. Here modest mostly single-level concrete homes are clustered in three settlements, some still occupied, other boarded up or abandoned mid-construction. There is only one primary school and one resort, Dragon Cay Resort, with the island’s only restaurant, the Mudjin Bar & Grill, and seven turquoise-roofed cottages and villas, overlooking ocean and beach and palm trees and green. It is breathtaking.

As the sun sets, follow a narrow stone path from your cottage until you come to a dark hole in the ground. Peering down into a cave with a flashlight, you will see steep stone stairs that lead down to a deserted beach. Follow them. Really!

While on the island, let the guide Demitri Harvey take you on a tour of the 260,000-year-old limestone Conch Bar Caves in a national park. Wander through its underground caverns, peering above at the clusters of Cuban fruit bats that chirp, squeak and swoop if startled by your light. Here guano (or bat droppings) was mined in the 1800s, its nitrogen exported for fertilizer and explosives. The Lacayan Indians, who first settled on the island, would hide here to stay safe from hurricanes.

“It was believed to be the entrance to the underworld,” Demitri will tell you.

Next stop is Bambarra Beach, where you can wade out pretty far in shallow waters. Colourful tiki huts surrounded by large casuarina trees line the shore. Locals gather here for Sunday cookouts, and a model sailboat race is held every February.

Heading back through North Caicos to your ferry, visit the Middle Caicos Co-op, where they sell local handicrafts, like straw baskets, hats and purses made from plaiting silvertop and whitetop palm and fanner grass.

Once again boarding the ferry, you will be leaving behind stillness and a sense of what it means to be remote.

But resort life also beckons.

Provo’s white sand beaches and upscale living

The Ocean Club Resort on the famous Grace Bay Beach and its slightly higher-end sister property Ocean Club West, less than a mile away, are all-suite resorts, where many of the accommodations include full kitchens, full-sized washers and dryers, screened in porches and an uninterrupted view of the ocean. Ocean Club, where we stayed, has two pools and two poolside barbeques, a fitness centre, a tennis court, a small convenience store, the high end Opus Wine Bar & Grill and more casual beachside Cabana Bar & Grill.

Perhaps because it’s not an all-inclusive resort, there is no “packaged” feel here, no buffet line-ups or rush for the coral pink and white beach chairs that gaze out at the ocean. In fact, it feels quiet and sparsely populated, even when at almost full capacity.

Get off property by taking out one of their kayaks, paddleboards or bikes. Or simply jog along the shore, passing other low-rise resorts along the strip, each distinguished by different colour buildings, often with matching parasols on their beachfront. Although The Venetian sits on one side of Ocean Club, and a Club Med on the other, these and the other resorts along this strip feel surprisingly understated.

Take day trips to get out on the turquoise waters that surround you. A kayaking tour had us paddling across a small open channel and then winding through Mangrove Cay, which is part of Princess Alexandra Nature Reserve off the northeastern end of the island. Gnarled roots of mangroves grow out of the water, while under the water’s surface, baby sharks swim leisurely in front of our boats, and laughing gulls cry out “ha, ha” overhead.

You can also take a four-and-a-half hour snorkelling trip, aboard a 70-foot gaffe-rigged schooner, the Atebayra, to Pelican Reef. You’ll find purple coral, a plethora of blue fish—blue tang and blue chromis and midnight parrotfish—and so much more. Then continue cruising up the Caicos Cay chain, stopping on uninhabited island and wading out for sand dollars.

If in Provo on a Thursday, don’t miss the weekly Fish Fry to hear live music and check out local vendors selling everything from jewellery and t-shirts to jerk chicken and conch fritters. End the night with Froggies on Da Beach’s local gully wash (also called sky juice), a creamy gin-based drink that is sweet and intoxicating and a perfect end to a day.