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Off to Grand Turk

LYSA ALLMAN-BALDWIN | 12/20/2012, 2:28 p.m.

The big draw for the Spaniards to stay here was the plethora of plant life, fishing--namely conch (pronounced "konk")--and salt, the latter widely used and highly prized as a preservative and culinary flavor enhancement. Today, both conch fishing (you can visit the Caicos Conch Farm here) and salt-raking remain as two of the area's biggest industries.

In addition to the Spanish, Turks and Caicos was ruled by the French, British, the Bermudians (under British rule) and as a dependency/colony of the Bahamas and Jamaica. However, they have been their own British Crown colony since the early 1960s (and they drive on the left side of the road) with the U.S. dollar as their currency. English is the primary language, although Spanish and Creole are also spoken among the islanders.

One of the most popular excursions in Grand Turk is scuba diving, particularly among its vast coral reefs to explore many of the over 1,000 shipwrecks that occurred here dating back to the mid-1800s.

As spectacular as the reefs in this area were back in the day and remain today, they were treacherous for ships, which is why even today, instead of docking on the larger island of Providenciales, the ships come into Grand Turk. The ships, devoid of modern navigational instrumentation, met their doom when approaching the shore. But it is just those reefs, which drop to an astounding 7,000 feet just a few minutes boat-ride from shore, that attract scuba divers from all over the world.

Because Grand Turk is such a boutique island, visitors can take in several sites and attractions in only a few hours time. One of the stops we made was at the Jags McCartney International Airport, where we saw the replica of the space capsule Friendship 7, in which John Glenn splashed down here in 1962.

A must in Cockburn Town, the main town on Grand Turk, is the Turks and Caicos National Museum, located in the center of town inside the Guinep House, one of the island's historic buildings. Features here include a wide range of exhibits about the island's shipwreck history, major industries, involvement in the U.S. space program, historic structures and landmarks and more. It also hosts a museum archive and museum library, research facilities and a museum shop.

St. Mary's Pro-Cathedral Anglican Episcopal Church, established in 1899, is a delightful stark-white church with vivid scarlet shutters and lines. Inside, you'll find a very peaceful sanctuary with expressive arched windows on both sides, inspiring architectural detailing and beautiful stained glass windows. St. Thomas Anglican Church, which features the same customary island white-and-scarlet facade, was built in the early 1820s by Bermudian settlers. It was the first church built on the island and the second church built in the Bahamas archipelago.

Built in London in 1852 and shipped to Grand Turk, the Grand Turk Historic Lighthouse is still in use today. Standing some 60 feet tall, it is one of the island's most recognizable landmarks on land and sea, particularly for travelers along the latter, who have used it as a beacon to indicate the shallow reef located on the northern coast of the island.

Although we had a short and sweet time in Grand Turk, we made sure to enjoy some of the island flavor at the Sandbar Restaurant, situated right on the water just across the street from its sister entity, the Manta House B&B. This little laid-back, all al-fresco sand-and-surf, come-as-you-are joint serves delicious island fare, including fresh fish and seafood, ribs, chicken, burgers, sandwiches and some of the best peas and rice in the Caribbean, plus a wide array of island cocktails.

There is such much more we could say about Grand Turk, but alas, time to get back on the ship!

Up next: Puerto Rico and St. Thomas.

Resource List

  • CAICOS CONCH FARM: 649-946-5643, www.caicosconchfarm.com
  • GRAND TURK CRUISE CENTER: www.grandturkcc.com
  • HOLLAND AMERICA LINE: 877-932-4259, www.hollandamerica.com
  • PATSY'S TAXI & TOUR SERVICES: 649-341-1504, 649-241-6713
  • THE SANDBAR RESTAURANT: 649-946-1111, 649-243-2666, www.grandturk-mantahouse.com/sandbar.htm
  • TURKS AND CAICOS NATIONAL MUSEUM: 649-946-2160, www.tcmuseum.org
  • TURKS AND CAICOS TOURIST BOARD: 646-375-8830 (USA), 649-946-2321 (Grand Turk), www.turksandcaicostourism.com

Lysa Allman-Baldwin writes for numerous online and print publications, including as the cultural travel writer for www.Examiner.com and as a senior travel writer for SoulOfAmerica.com, an Afrocentric travel website. Lysa can be reached at lallmanbaldwin@kc.rr.com.