GUEST ARTICLE: Getting to Providenciales aka “Provo” in Turks and Caicos was easy – only a hop skip and a jump away from our connection through the city of Newark, NJ. It took us just under three hours to get there in our little United Air airplane. What a drastic change in scenery a few hours can make! Gone were the sprawling cold, winter grey suburbs and never ending freeways. Instead we were welcomed by a hot tropical paradise with amazing turquoise water, long white sandy beaches and quaint abodes.
The Providentiales airport is really small and we had a bit of a wait to get through their customs and immigration and then to retrieve our luggage. I was thankful we were only a small group and couldn’t imagine the wait time on a big plane.
Taxis there are big white vans that take as many customers as they can fit in with a steep price of US$15 each (and that was only for a short 15min trip?!). After going through the rigmarole of dropping others off at their hotels we finally came to ours – The Royal West Indies Resort located at Grace Bay.
Our room wasn’t quite ready so we decided to chill out by the pool bar for the time being. The resort was really beautiful with immaculate manicured grounds and nice secluded pool areas to relax in. Thankfully we didn’t have to wait around too long because we were eager to get our swimmers on and head to the beach.
Our room was superb, beautifully decorated in Caribbean Colonial style and spacious with all the creature comforts of home. Once we had on our beach gear we headed off. Grace Bay Beach most definitely deserves the title as one of the world’s best beaches. The sand was like stepping into fine baby powder, stunningly white and stark in contrast with the deep azure waters of the Atlantic. We found a couple of comfy chairs and umbrellas and settled in for the rest of the day.
The calming atmosphere was everything we were hoping for and then some. The views around us were mesmerizing with the beach stretching out as far as the eye could see and the water serene with small waves gently lapping the shore. Colorful sailboats cruised about along with the odd kayaker. The water was stunningly clear with a gorgeous sandy bottom. It wasn’t the warmest but it still felt great when we wanted to cool off, which was often because the days there were a scorcher (and this was December!).
After about four in the afternoon the temperature cooled down a little so we could go for a walkabout. We decided to go into the quaint town of Grace Bay which only took us about 15 minutes on foot. It was a nice area with all kinds of little shops.
Our room was equipped with a kitchenette so we thought we’d check out their grocery store. It had all familiars but it was stupid expensive! Like US$7 for a loaf of plain bread expensive. I even saw one of those run-of-the-mill store-baked birthday cakes with the pastel icing going for a cool US$30 – “What the?!!”
We ended up getting a few things from the deli and a couple of snacks to last us for the next 5 days. This turned out to be a good idea (we thought) so it didn’t break the bank because god knows how easy it would be to do so there. And judging by the number of other tourists in the store it seemed like we all had the same idea.
Although the walk wasn’t much the humidity still got to us and if felt like we’d run a marathon. Looking forward to a nice hot shower once we got back was but a dream. Instead we got a gush of smelly rusty colored lukewarm water. We were hoping this was just a one off but unfortunately it wasn’t but at least we could still shower (with eyes closed!). As for drinking that lovely colored tap water we heard that you could but we decided on the bottled water.
During the evenings we’d usually go for a walk along the beach to watch the sun set. We saw quite few nice looking resorts and some others that screamed Timeshare. Our neighbor “Club Med” was situated next door and they always had good music thumping away at their beach bar. The resort looked massive but with tired looking buildings and rooms that don’t get the best reviews. But I do have a friend that’s been going to Club Med Grace Bay for years and loves it, especially being an all-inclusive.
One day we decided to do a little exploring around the island and rented a car from Grace Bay Rentals (they’re the cheapest). The day was perfect for driving with nothing but blue skies under a brilliant sun. Because Provo is so small it was easy to get around.
Our first stop was to a place called Chalk Sound. We had seen it from the plane on the way in and it looked spectacular with a brilliant turquoise lagoon dotted with small rocky islets. Getting a look at the lagoon wasn’t that easy because views were obscured by homes. Thankfully there were a few spots to stop at and yes it was worth the visit the area was magnificent!
Chalk Sound had some impressive homes especially at the Silly Creek suburb where we saw one mansion called Emerald Cay on sale for a cool US$49 million! Unfortunately we also saw quite a few unfinished projects and lots of “for sale” signs. Must be the current economic crisis (or the current scandal surrounding their ex-Prime Minister who is accused of accepting bribes), which is such a shame because the area with its views are pretty incredible.
We did some more sightseeing around the west end of the island and then for lunch we stopped in at a little beach bar recommended by a friend called “Da Conch Shack.” Conch is a large sea snail and is a popular menu item cooked a number of different ways. Da Conch ‘Shack’ was just that with rustic decor and a great beachside setting. It was nice and relaxing although pretty windy, nothing like the calm atmosphere of Grace Bay.
We ordered their Curry Conch dish, which was really delicious and that’s saying a lot since I’m not the biggest Conch fan. The only downside to the place I would have to say was the bill, not the total but at the bottom we were given a ‘suggested’ tipping option that ranged from 18% – 24%?!! We thought that was pretty brazen.
We soon learned that tipping on the island was a big thing. You got great service if you did so. If you didn’t you will witness just how fast that friendly smile disappears. We experienced this at our hotel’s restaurant where we were great pals with our server until we noticed that on the bill a 10% service charge was already added so we just gave an extra 5% to make it right. Well our server didn’t like that and with a huff and rolly-eyes showed a co-worker ‘the tragedy’ right where I could see her?! (Obviously she was used to customers overlooking the already included 10%). With that experience we didn’t know if any of our interactions were genuine or just fake. I hate that, it’s ugly.
After lunch we checked out the east side of the island and came upon the Caicos Conch Farm. That looked like a great place but unfortunately we just missed out on their last tour for the day. That was a shame because we’d heard good things about it. At least we got to have a quick look at their ocean farming setup.
For the remainder of our days we just chilled out by the beach. It was hard to break away from that routine because the scenery around us was just too alluring. We had no problem just sitting there watching the day go by, it was relaxation at its best!
One evening we grabbed a couple of bikes provided by the hotel and went for a ride to an area called Leeward Estates. It was a nice area but unfortunately only half built with more abandoned projects and some still being worked on. Exploring on bikes was a great way to see the area and a lot cooler than doing the ol’ ankle express.
While we were there a meteor shower was supposed to occur over the next couple days (the Geminids). So for a few nights we laid ourselves out on the beach and anxiously awaited the stellar show. The air was deliciously warm with a slight breeze and the sky black as ink and thankfully crystal clear. We stayed out for quite some time but unfortunately didn’t see the waterfall of stars we’d hoped for but only a trickle totaling 9 meteors in all which we were still pretty happy with.
We really enjoyed ourselves in Provo. Of all the potential areas to stay we absolutely loved the beauty of the Grace Bay area. The beach is unforgettable and tops our list as one of the best we’ve ever been to. You can burn money there like crazy so make sure you have a healthy budget to work with and watch your double tipping!
This travel diary has been written by Machalle Gower, a friend who enjoys taking roads less traveled!