How to Spend 4 Days in the Turks & Caicos Islands
Turks and Caicos are a stunning set of islands in the Caribbean that the locals claim touches the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean (technically it is just the Atlantic, but the waters look so perfect and Caribbean-like that it flies with visitors!). It is just north of Haiti and the DR and to the east of Cuba. These islands are well worth the visit and have stayed relatively open despite the on-going pandemic. We spent 4 perfect nights and days in Grace Bay, soaking up the sun, burying our feet in the sand, and diving into the stunning blue salt waters. Our time was just enough to convince us we need to go back to explore more of the islands. I hope you enjoy this post and that it provides a little inspiration for your own TCI adventure!
I wrote this post during the pandemic so let me start off by saying that we were safe, healthy, and respectful of all the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of Covid-19 (masks, social distancing, and copious amounts of hand sani).
For this short trip, naturally we each only packed a carry-on. It saves time on the front and end back end of the trip, takes out the risk of losing a bag or having things get damaged, and truthfully, it's really all you need! Here are a few carryon bags we personally have and rotate between depending on the type of trip:
Turks and Caicos is primarily made up of 4 main islands (Providenciales, North Caicos, Middle Caicos, and East Caicos) which are the larger Caicos islands, and then multiple smaller islands that are the Turks islands. The islands are a British territory, with an estimated population of 55k pre-COVID making it the 3rd largest British territory.
There are multiple national parks spread across the islands so there’s no shortage of nature to explore! Not to mention many national reserves, not listed here.
Northwest Point National Park
Princess Alexandra National Park (includes Grace Bay and its reefs and waters)
Chalk Sounds National Park
English Point Beach
Columbus Landfall National Park
This island is far less commercialized than others, like Grand Cayman (check out this link for more information about visiting the Cayman Islands), so for that reason, you get more of the island’s culture in most of what you do. This also means you should set your expectations accordingly! Because with less commercialization, you will have less built-out experiences, different types of customer services, and will still pay Caribbean island prices.
A few other important and fun things to note about the island:
There’s a 12% tax applied at all resorts
Conch is a specialty of the island so try as many different conch dishes as you can! They even have Conch Cruises where you can find your own conch and the crew will break it out and put it on a salad to let you try fresh conch salad.
Grouper is also a common specialty of the island because it is always freshly caught! (A few other fish are fresh-caught too but always ask before assuming.)
About a mile off the Grace Bay shore there’s a large barrier reef with a 7000ft drop! With any picture from Grace Bay beach, you’ll see turquoise blue waters and then a hard line where it turns to dark blue — that is exactly where the reef drops. (Check out the very next picture of the beer can with the ocean in the background to see the hard blue line I’m talking about.) This means…
Snorkeling is amazing and there are tons of options
Deep-sea fishing is a short boat ride away
You can easily see the waves break on the reef from the beach
Island’s motto is “Beautiful by nature” which really holds true!
The airport is very small, so you walk off the plane and straight into the sun
It is like a bus station terminal for departures, so be prepared for that type of experience
They do have duty free and the alcohol prices are quite attractive
The local beers have hilarious names! And great stories. The story of “I soon reach” beer is pictured below for you!
Planning your trip No matter the trip, I always recommend planning ahead to give yourself the shortest wait times in airports. I feel very strongly about the extra hour or so you get with a little planning (i.e. only packing a carry-on, having global entry and pre-check, and knowing the travel requirements ahead of time). When you take longer trips, the hours don’t matter as much. But on trips that are less than a week or over a weekend, the extra hours can be great!
We also each carry a passport holder that can fit our passport, our global entry card, some cash, and our vaccine cards. Here are a few great options from Amazon.
But now for TCI specifically!
Nearly all spots on the islands accept US currency. Most spots also accept all major credit cards (except for Amex, which seemed to be hit or miss). That being said, all islanders prefer to deal in cash, so if you have the ability to keep cash on you, I recommend it!
The most popular spot to stay on the islands is Grace Bay. Most of Grace Bay is lined with hotels, resorts, and private homes. All of Grace Bay is at most a 15-minute drive from the airport on Providenciales, so if you decide to not rent a car, you won’t have a long taxi ride. If you want to visit any of the other 3 main islands, you will have to take a ferry from the Leeward Settlement area.
Depending on what you’re looking for, there are various types of resorts available. If you are into the all-inclusive thing, Beaches is a great option, sitting right in the middle of Grace Bay on Princess Drive. If you prefer quieter resorts, The Palms, Wymara, Seven Stars, or Somerset are great options (we stayed at Somerset). If you prefer chains, the Ritz is in the process of building a spot so that should be available soon too. If you prefer smaller, more boutique feels or even homes, check out Airbnb, VRBO, and of course, TripAdvisor. There are plenty of options to choose from.
There are a variety of easy car rentals that are a 3-minute shuttle ride from the airport (Dollar, Thrifty, Hertz, to name a few). We ended up renting a tiny eco-friendly car from Hertz that was $25/day and was so efficient with gas we barely had to fill up the tank before dropping it back off.
Covid Specific Info
The Turks and Caicos government requires you to fill out a handful of information on their tourism portal where you have to “apply for travel authorization”. It is all pretty standard, so just have your details squared away a week or 2 in advance and you will be good to go.
Negative PCR test (they only accept PCR tests and will not accept antigen or antibody tests. So plan ahead because you have to get these within 5 days of travel. Most urgent care spots are getting results back to patients within 2-3 days, but there is also the option to take the at-home tests from groups like Reliant Health Services.)
Health insurance that has proof of Covid coverage (This means you have to attach your policy certificate because a health insurance card is not enough. We each can request this from our US-based insurers so be sure to get this weeks before your trip as insurance requests can sometimes be processed slowly. If you end up in a last-minute bind, as we did, you can use their local health insurance group, Aura Assistance, which offers a week of coverage at $69 for TCI (and for the BVIs). As soon as you submit your purchase, they provide you with a voucher that itemizes your Covid coverage and you can simply upload that 2 page PDF to the tourism portal.)
Once you submit all the information they request through the portal, you get a confirmation number from the TCI government. They tend to approve applications very quickly! In our experience, the longest one of us had to wait was 30 minutes.
COVID Info for Re-entering the US
To adhere to the US’s requirement of a negative COVID test within 3 days of re-entering the country, you have to plan your test with the resort you’re staying at in advance. Luckily, the TCI resorts seem used to this and are happy to schedule a local health practitioner to come to administer the test. They will then email you a PDF of the negative test as proof, which you will have to print and take with you to travel. Lastly, they will give you a “document of admittance” that you have to sign stating you have a negative test. They collect this piece of paper at the gate when you check in and that is the last we heard of it.
The Somerset Resort & Grace Bay
I cannot say enough good things about the quality of this resort. The people were wonderful and kind. The rooms are spacious and clean. The pool and beach access are exactly what you’d expect from a 4-star resort in the Caribbean. We loved every minute of it! Despite all the COVID-19 restrictions (we traveled in Feb 2021) and despite being significantly under-occupied, with far less staff to save costs, the people at Somerset did a fantastic job for all the guests that were there. We felt entirely comfortable with all the health standards they followed too.
The resort offers complimentary water activities (snorkeling gear, paddleboards, kayaks, and 2 person sailing hobbies), so if you’re into that, all you have to do is ask! We were able to take the paddleboards and snorkels out during our stay, but unfortunately, we couldn’t sail like we wanted to. The water was choppier than usual due to more storms passing through and the safety boat wasn’t out during the times we tried to do it.
If you stay at one of these types of resorts, they have full kitchens in the rooms in too. We love this because we are able to buy our own food for breakfasts and lunches and buy alcohol at non-resort prices. This is a small way we try to save and also eat healthier while traveling. Our groceries for the week cost ~$350, including alcohol (beer, tequila, and rum). There are multiple grocery marts throughout Grace Bay (Grace Way Gourmet, Grace Way IGA, and Grace Way Smart to name a few) all of which have similar pricing.
If you stay anywhere on Grace Bay, you will be introduced to the numerous salesmen who walk the beach trying to get you to book a tour, try parasailing, hop on a jet ski, or purchase local-made goods. One of the best salesmen is a gentleman selling fresh coconuts with rum! He only accepts cash (although he says he’s working on getting Venmo!) and each coconut is $10, or $15 if you add rum.
Parasailing is a fun thing to try too if you’ve never experienced it. If you have, don’t bother because it is the same everywhere you go. But it gives you beautiful views of the islands, which is always nice.
Island Activities & Tours
Because of the less commercialized nature, the tours are very basic and a little cheesy. Here are a few that you can consider. But from what we could gather, you will get far more out of scheduling your own private charter for a day or half-day, than hopping onto one of the standard tours offered. If you are curious about the standard tours and activities, though, here are a few with the links to what I could find:
Mangrove Kayak Tours - there are multiple options, but the one that looked the coolest to us was the clear bottomed kayaks from My Time Tours
Watersports are available at all resorts (the full menu differs based on resort, but they all have something)
Places to Eat Out
I looked up a travel and leisure article from a few years ago to get an idea of some of the best spots for dinner on or near grace bay. Most of them were open and some came recommended by locals, which was cool! Here’s the list of the ones we were able to try and my experiences at each:
Bay Bistro This little spot is part of the resort next to Somerset, so it is a very short walk down the beach. It has beach access and there is seating outside on their patio, as well as on their porch. They were very rushed on the night we went and still sat us. The food was average, but the ambiance was nice and the staff was friendly. If you are looking for a low-key and average dinner, this is a great spot close by. For 2 people, you’re looking at a solid $200 meal if you order one drink apiece.
Hemingway’s Right past Bay Bistro, this spot came highly recommended by many people. It must’ve been due to COVID-19 and how hurt businesses are for staff and for sales, but all the food was subpar. Our expectations were also high based on the commentary, but this spot was at the same level as Bay Bistro. Both spots were priced with island resort pricing, with average food selections. We likely would not go back to either of these unless there was some substantial difference noted. However, this is also a close-by spot with a nice atmosphere of being able to eat outside on a porch, hearing the ocean. So as far as things go, we are glad we went out to both Hemingway’s and Bay Bistro rather than staying in. For 2 people, you’re looking at a little under a $200 meal if you order one drink apiece.
This restaurant blew us away. It is in the Wymara Resort and when you walk in, the resort looks like something out of a James Bond movie. It is stunning and the billowy white curtains only add to the entire experience. The dining area overlooks the pool with open trellises to view the sky. So from the atmosphere alone, this place is wonderful. The service is also exceptional. The waiters and waitresses are timely, friendly, and eager to help you choose the best options. Lastly, the food. We chose to spend 2 dinners at Stelle because the first night was THAT good. So we’ve been able to try every single seafood item on the menu, all of the veggie sides, and 2 of their desserts. We loved every minute and every bite. While Stelle is slightly pricier, it is the perfect way to spend an evening celebrating a birthday, an anniversary, or just the simple fact that you are on vacation and should celebrate the small moments. If there are 2 of you, be prepared for a $300 meal after taxes and tip and including a $60 bottle of wine.
A few other spots that we wish we had time to try but will definitely hit next time are:
Mr. Grouper’s (a local spot)
Seven (pricier spot in the Seven Stars Resort)
Grace’s Cottage (came highly recommended by a family we met on our trip who vacations in TCI frequently)
The restaurant at Amanyara (this is a splurge experience for celebrations only, or if you happen to be lucky enough to have “f***-you” money or you’ve just done an excellent job at saving up for a swanky experience)
Places to Drink
Naturally, there’s way more available without a pandemic. However, all of the resorts allow you to order drinks while you’re sitting on the beach or by the pool and many of the beach bars are open, you just can’t drink in their enclosed spaces. Because of these restrictions we mostly stuck to our resort during the day. We did walk down the beach a few times to see what we could find and ended up at Somewhere. Somewhere is your classic island bar and I can only imagine how amazing the vibe is when they are allowed to be open. They gave us drinks to go and we sipped them on the beach for the sunset – all in all, still a very solid experience!
In Case You’re Not Sold Yet…
Check out a few more pictures we took from various spots around the island, below. And reach out if you have any questions about planning a trip to TCI!
And last but not least, here are a bunch of the things we packed for this trip: