Open any dive or travel magazine and the Turk & Caicos Islands are always in the top ten lists of best dive locations in the world. Located 575 miles south of Miami in the British West Indies, the waters around these islands are a spectacular turquoise color, looking almost too beautiful to be real. There are eight inhabited islands, and a slew of uninhabited islands that make up Turks & Caicos.
Providenciales, the largest island, is home to the large, swanky hotels that sit beach front on Grace Bay Beach–rated one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Provo Turtle Divers has been a dive operation on the island since 1970. After thirty-three years exploring the local waters, the staff at Provo Divers knows where the best dive sites are on any given day. And with the third largest reef system in the world located in the Turks & Caicos, there’s a lot of good diving to do.
On my two dives with Provo Divers, www.provoturtledivers.com we went to "Rock & Roll", a dive of 75 feet, where Caribbean reef sharks, eagle rays, turtles, an octopus, and parrot fish followed our moves. The visibility was excellent–75 to 100 feet– and the reef was very healthy with large brain corals. My second dive, "Half-Mile-Reef" found us being followed by three Caribbean reef sharks, which circled my dive group a number of times and were as interested in us, as we were in them. The visibility was excellent, and the temperature of the water for both dives was 82 degrees. I dove in a bathing suit my whole trip and was never cold.
All hotels on Providenciales are diver friendly. Hotel rates can go from very affordable to very expensive. Provo Turtle Divers will pick you up at your hotel in their "chuck wagon" and diving with their staff is always a joy.
Grand Turk Island is a much smaller, more relaxed island. There are no big hotels on this island, only charming inns that dot the beachfront of this very special place. All the inn owners love divers, and will go out of their way to make sure your dive trip is perfect. I stayed at the Osprey Beach Hotel, a recently renovated inn with some very nice rooms with balconies that overlooked the ocean. The owners are friendly and knowledgeable about the diving on the island, and the bar at the Osprey can really get going when a few divers and locals get together. Another inn is the Turks Head Hotel, the oldest inn on Grand Turk and a favorite of divers worldwide. I went diving with Oasis Divers, www.oasisdivers.com named by Rodale Scuba Diving ‘one of the top ten dive operators in the Caribbean.’
After a five minute boat ride from the Oasis dive shop, I found myself underwater at the "Coral Gardens" floating along with turtles, Caribbean Reef sharks, and two of the friendliest groupers I’ve ever met. When I say friendly I mean hold and pet them friendly! I’ve done a fair amount of diving, but I’ve never petted a fish underwater!
A picnic trip to Gibbs Cay, a small island off of Grand Turk, is a must — swim with and feed the stingrays.
And if you really want to get away from it all, take a day trip or stay a week in Salt Cay. In the winter, one can dive close enough to the humpback whales making their way around the island, to observe these beautiful creatures. Or explore the wreck of the H.M. S. Endymion. Salt Cay is a fabulous tiny island rich in island history, and a place where one can really be alone. The Windmills Hotel, located on the tip of the island, is a small beach front hotel with eight rooms made for couples needing some quality time together. Salt Cay Divers, www.saltcaydivers.tc operates a PADI dive shop on the island and will pick you up and take you diving, or you can rent a golf cart and tour the island on your own between dives.
Dive packages are available year round, including a few mentioned below:
- Salt Cay Divers on the island of Salt Cay are offering a summer special. For $699 dollars per person based on double occupancy, an 8-day/7-night lodging at the Tradewinds Guest Suites with 15 tank boat dives, unlimited shore dives and trips to both Grand Turk and Salt Cay wall dives. www.saltcaydivers.tc
- Dive Provo is offering free nights and days of diving through certain hotels on Providenciales. Starting at $760 dollars for six nights–seventh night free. For more information www.diveprovo.com
- Blue Water Divers and The Osprey Beach Hotel on Grand Turk offer a great summer deal. Bring a group of ten divers to the island and they offer one free spot on both hotel and diving for the group organizer. This includes round trip airfare from Provo to Grand Turk, welcome drinks, and taxes. This is based on double occupancy, 2 boat dives per day including tanks, weights, and instructor services, with an optional night dive.
And for you lovers of Freediving, World Champion Freediver Tanya Streeter returns to Turks & Caicos to start training for her attempt to break the Variable Ballast record in July 2003. This is the only one of four deep Freediving records that Tanya has not held– an added reason to get to the Turks & Caicos this summer. In honor of Tanya’s underwater accomplishments, The Island Thyme Bistro on Salt Cay Island created the definitive drink to honor Tayna called Tayna’s Deep Blue. Stop by and try this unique drink, the owners might even give up the recipe in the name of science.
For more information on diving and hotels packages in the Turks & Caicos go to www.turksandcaicostourism.com