Getting ever so close to touching down at Providenciales International Airport, the first thing that strikes me is the mesmerising landscape of Turks & Caicos: a mixture of emeralds, aquamarine, and deep blue waters protecting the reefs surrounding the island. It also happens to be the most beautiful day. The Caribbean Ocean is resplendent and clear, and the white sand dotted with palm trees looks inviting-even from my airplane window seat. Perhaps more impressive than the postcard-perfect view in front of me might be reflecting on the resiliency of the island and the people – Turks and Caicos bounced back very quickly following two consecutive category five hurricanes that hit the island in the autumn of 2017. Compared to other Caribbean islands like Puerto Rico and British Virgin Islands, where power may not be restored until late 2018 into 2019, Turks and Caicos fared well.
The archipelago, made up of Turks islands and Caicos islands, are separated by in total by 20 miles and in some places 1,828-metre-deep water. As I land on the most populous island, Providenciales (or “Provo” to locals), I make my way through the small airport and hop in the back of a taxi. I take in the lush scenery as we zoom on our way. Although the island is flat, it does not take away from the beauty of the trees that shade the different bays and beaches as we round corners and halt at traffic lights. We pass Turtle Cove, a landlocked and shallow pond lined with villas, yachts, and restaurants with names like Mango Reef and Magnolia Wine Bar, and I make a mental note to return there.
Grace Bay has been named “Best Beach in the World” by TripAdvisor twice and I can barely contain my excitement as I pull up to my accommodations that I will be staying at for four nights; Ocean Club Resorts West. Planted right on Grace Bay Beach on the Western side of the island, Ocean Club Resorts West is comprised of all-suite units, from one to three bedrooms’ with full kitchens, and washer-dryers – a very ideal setting for families. Stepping out onto the inviting balcony, I see it is equipped with wooden racks for drying clothes under the light island breeze, as well as cleverly placed screens to protect from bugs. The furniture instantly makes you feel like you are in a cosy seaside cottage: elegant wicker chairs; white painted wooden beds; tropical paintings; and crisp white linens and drapes seduce you into an afternoon nap.
After settling into my luxe accommodations, I decide to embrace my adventurous side and get certified to scuba dive through the Professional Association of Dive Instructors (PADI). Located conveniently next door to my accommodations at Ocean Club Resorts, the Club Med Turkoise resort’s on-site dive shop assigns me an upbeat diving instructor, Victoria Roberts, who offers a private diving course that requires a couple hours of instruction in the morning for three days. My first day, I got comfortable with my dive equipment alongside Victoria in the four-metre deep Club Med pool. The next day, I am ready to complete the ocean dive requirements portion of my PADI certification in the deep blue sea. The warm, 22C degree waters of the lapping waves envelop me like my favourite blanket as I descend with my dive equipment into West Caicos’ “Piranha Cove” dive site. Ten meters below the surface, Victoria and I encounter some of the usual marine suspects at this dive site: Hawksbill turtles, black durgon, conch, and honeycomb cowfish. A few minutes ride away at our second dive site, “Crocodile”, I spot a shy reef shark; longjaw squirrelfish; stoplight parrotfish and an imposing grouper.
Back at Ocean Club West, I take advantage of the property’s range of sporting equipment and facilities, including complimentary bikes, paddleboards and kayaks, a fitness centre, and tennis court where you can practise your swing. After working out for an hour, I feel hunger start to take hold and I visit the property’s new al fresco restaurant, Solana, which has been allocated some of the $6.5 million in upgrades the property has made over the past few years. For dinner under the stars, I decided to indulge in the Duck and Truffle appetiser, which comes with an onion soubise and mango salsa; and for the main course, I savour the Seafood Bolognaise, a mixture of linguini pasta, scallops, shrimp, lobster, and fish in a tomato sauce.
After my early dinner, I charter a private yacht with the Sun Charters (www.suncharters.tc; +1 649-231-0624) yacht company and embark on a Bioluminescent Tour, which leaves from the Leeward Canal on the island. We head out with the captain, Matthew at the helm, to find the nesting area of the glowworms, responsible for the brilliant, bioluminescent colours in the sea at sundown. Glowworms are one inch long and the females leave a green phosphorescent egg trail to attract the males to fertilize. The males swim through trails and grab females, and then they retreat under the sea and go dark. For a couple hours we sail out into the sea, excitedly find and watch the worms while sipping Champagne, and marvel at the free light show. The luxe and comfy bean bags on the deck of the ship were made for watching the constellations as the boat rocks gently back and forth on the way back to the marina.
The next day, I decide to take a day trip to the five-star, ultra-luxurious, COMO Parrot Cay that reopened in December of 2017 following restoration after the hurricanes. A 30-minute boat ride from the main island of Provo lands me on the property’s private, 1,000-acre island – a secluded, former banana and coconut plantation. Nothing starts the day off better than a massage to wake up the muscles and reinvigorate the senses, so I decide to visit the Wellness by COMO Shambhala spa. A tour of the facilities is gracefully given by the professional staff, unveiling a sweeping yoga room aired by natural breezes, nine treatment rooms, an outdoor Jacuzzi garden, a Pilates studio, double massage rooms and Japanese baths – all planted quaintly in low-lying pavilions, which overlook the verdant North Caicos Channel and the surrounding wetlands. I take in the diverse selection of treatments and decide to indulge in the spa’s Hot River Stone Massage, a therapeutic massage utilising hot, oiled river stones. The round peace-inducing instruments glide along my muscles and transport me into a glorious state somewhere between wake and sleep. After leaving the spa feeling like jelly, I visit the property’s new COMO Beach Club, which was bumping with Caribbean classics, and also afforded exceptional views of the wide expanse of calm seas. I lounge in one of the elegant, white padded lounge chairs while sipping a couple of rounds of beach-inspired cocktails.
Back on the main island, I have dinner at Opus, a white tablecloth, upscale restaurant located at Ocean Club Resorts. Dinner is arranged by candlelight with an outdoor wooden patio and lights running up and down the trees planted in the sand. I choose the watermelon salad to start, and for an entrée, the freshly caught snapper seasoned with lemon capers and shallot butter. I sit back, sip a glass of red wine, and enjoy the local band playing island tunes, a part of the restaurants “Live Music Under the Trees” program.
I begin the next day discovering why Turks & Caicos is one of the leaders in conch sustainability. Conch, the edible marine snail with beautiful conical shells is found throughout the Caribbean, but especially in abundance in the Turks & Caicos. The peach-and-cream coloured conch are so popular, it is even illustrated on the national flag. Queen Conch has been severely depleted throughout the species’ range as a result of overfishing and poaching. However, the Caicos Conch Farm on Provo – the only one like it in the world, provides conch to both the local and international markets and works to stimulate economic growth while protecting wild conch stocks from exploitation. My guide, Danver Fortune, leads me around the farm to view conch in various rooms at the beginning phases of development, as well as along the vast enclosures of plots of shallow seas where the conch grow at its final stage.
Afterwards, I pay a visit to one of Provo’s most popular local beachfront restaurants, Da Conch Shack & Rum Bar. The venue is a modern interpretation of the locals’ wooden shacks, which are usually thrown up to protect the cooking area, with picnic tables under trees. At Da Conch Shack, the cuisine is freshly caught from the sea and I happily choose a few appetizers to hold me over before dinner with a toast to the island’s staple: conch fritters and conch ceviche. I wash my delicious choices down with the local rum, the Bambarra 8 Year Reserve.
I end the day with a beautiful dinner at the upscale Seven restaurant located at the Seven Stars Resort (www.sevenstarsgracebay.com; +1 866-570-7777), a popular venue for romance and special occasions, with dim lighting and pretty touches of wildflowers on the tables. Edwin Gallardo hails as executive chef from Philippines and decided to choose from delectable menu items like pumpkin ravioli and seafood bisque starters, and samples the mahi-mahi as an entrée. While taking in the romantic vibes surrounding me and sipping from my glass of champagne, a British gentleman leans over from the next table over and asks am I enjoying the food. I respond with, “the food, the island, and the luxurious vibes: I am enjoying every minute.”
OCEAN CLUB WEST
COMO PARROT CAY