Off to Grand Turk
LYSA ALLMAN-BALDWIN | 12/20/2012, 2:28 p.m.
Welcome back! Last time around, we had just embarked upon the ms Eurodam ship from Holland America Line for an Eastern Caribbean adventure, departing from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to our first port--Turks and Caicos.
A Jewel in the Caribbean
The Turks and Caicos Islands archipelago, which consists of 40 islands, is located just 30 miles south of the Bahamas and approximately 575 miles southeast of Miami. Here you will find the larger Caicos Island--with the major areas of Providenciales, North Caicos, Middle Caicos, East Caicos and South Caicos, the smaller Turks Islands, which include Grand Turk and a smattering of smaller Cays (pronounced "keys").
The capital of the Turks and Caicos is Grand Turk, located on the east side of the archipelago. This stunning island is approximately seven miles long and one and a half miles wide--and is the place to come to get away from it all.
Our day in Grand Turk began with our arrival at the cruise port, one of the most unique in the Caribbean. And if your goal was to get to the beach--the finest, tawny-hued sand and crystal-clear water you have ever seen--as fast as possible, it was only a few hundred feet from the ship along an 18-acre landscaped beachfront area.
Those who love to shop only have to walk a few steps further to enter the Grand Turk Cruise Center, which offers everything from locally crafted souvenirs and gifts to beach wear and other apparel, wine and spirits, artwork and the like (a great deal of it found inside the 10,000-square-foot Dufry duty-free shop), and probably the biggest draw, the jewelry, offering every kind of bling your heart desires.
The Center also features an enormous swimming pool with an expansive, meandering design chock full of free chaise lounges just waiting to be enjoyed by all. And if a little peace and quiet is your island penchant, you have the option of renting a private poolside (or beach) cabana.
There is a lot to see and do in Grand Turk, and the Cruise Center offers a wide range of island excursion options, including 4x4 and dune buggy offroad adventures, kayaking, snorkeling, catamaran sails, land and beach horseback riding, beach excursions and historic homes tours.
A handful of us embarked upon a tour with Patsy of Patsy's Taxi & Tour Services. A long-time island resident, Patsy is a treasure trove of information, regaling us along the way with the history of the island, pointing out noteworthy stops and historical structures, giving us insight into the year-round denizens (approximately 4,500), as well as those who have come here, fallen in love with the island and built vacation homes, and more.
To really understand and appreciate Grand Turk and the Turks and Caicos, you have to go back to the late 1400s, when Christopher Columbus discovered the area--although some historical accounts say that Ponce de Leon arrived first. Nevertheless, what is known is that the islands were originally inhabited by the Taino and Lucayan Indian tribes, the name of the islands, "Turks," referring to the indigenous Turk's head cactus, and "Caicos" from "caya hico," meaning "string of islands," a Lucayan term from the Arawak language.