• Photo: Ramunas Bruzas / Shutterstock

Grand Turk

Grand Turk is a unique treasure, different from all the other islands in the chain. White-walled courtyards, impressive churches, and bougainvillea-covered colonial inns date back to the early 1800s. Waves crash over the seawall and wash the small jetties that reach out into the harbor; it is not difficult to imagine the small sloops moving about, carrying their precious salt cargo out to the waiting ships bound for North America. Grand Turk is the island of contrasts, where present meets past.

Just 7 miles (11 km) long and a little more than 1 mile (2½ km) wide, Grand Turk has a resident population of approximately 2,500. It's the capital of the Turks and Caicos, with the seat of government, as well as the Crown’s representative, residing here. Once a thriving U.S. Navy base, it is now a laid-back community filled with charm. Vacationers looking to simply relax will find much to like about Grand Turk, taking delight in the authentic ambience.

It has been a longtime favorite destination of divers eager to explore the 7,000-foot pristine coral wall that begins its descent only 300 yards offshore. Diving in Grand Turk means seeing Goliath groupers, spotted eagle rays, larger reef shark, and humpbacks from January through April.

On shore the tiny, quiet island has several white-sand beaches. There's also the country’s national museum, a historic lighthouse, and several simple, unpretentious beachside bars.

Tourists can also see the Carnival cruise port that opened at the southern end of the island in 2006 and brings more than 700,000 visitors per year. There are a variety of high-end shops and the Caribbean’s largest Margaritaville-themed bar and restaurant. Despite the dramatic changes this could have made to this peaceful spot, the dock is pretty much self-contained, about 3 miles (5 km) from the tranquillity of Cockburn Town. Surprisingly, the influx of tourists has generally had a positive effect on the island, bringing about prosperity and revitalization.

The 2008 visit by Hurricane Ike that devastated Grand Turk is now just a distant memory. Except for several boarded-up buildings dotted across the island, you’d never know it happened.

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