Update: Providenciales took the #1 spot of Trip Advisor 2015 Travelers’ Choice Top 10 Islands in the World. Yay!
It’s been a few months since we returned from our week-long vacation in Providenciales. However, we have not stopped talking about this island paradise, and look forward to the day we will be able to go back to Turks and Caicos to explore the other islands.
Planning our trip to Turks and Caicos was fun and challenging at the same time. It was fun because Providenciales has so many outstanding resorts to choose from. Yet it was a little daunting because we knew absolutely nothing about the island. Our families and half of our friends had never even heard of the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI).
We write this blog post to help other travelers who are considering a trip to Providenciales (also known as Provo), or are in the stages of planning their first trip to this Caribbean island. In this post we will share our experience with hotel booking, transportation, restaurants, a few activities around the island, and budgeting.
After narrowing down our choices to a few resorts that we were interested in staying, it was time to decide from which company we would book our accommodation from. We looked into the following options:
1. Direct booking from the hotel website: We highly recommend that you “Like” their Facebook pages to learn about the most recent promotions.
2. Turks and Caicos Reservations website: Aside from their competitive pricing, we like the fact that they add perks such as a free car rental, vouchers for a spa treatment or dinner, and various outdoor activities when your booking reaches a certain dollar amount.
3. Jetsetter: This site runs “flash sales” that offer discounted hotel rooms from around the world. In the past year I have seen Seven Stars Resort, Gansevoort, and Villa del Mar as a part of the Jetsetter’s flash sales.
In the end, we purchased a seven-night stay at Villa del Mar from the Jetsetter. It saved us hundreds of dollars, and we could not have been happier with our choice. What we did when we saw discounted rooms for Villa del Mar at the Jetsetter website was call the hotel directly, and double-checked the fact that they were running a sale and working together with the travel company. After purchasing our stay, we waited a few days and confirmed our reservation with Villa del Mar.
We live in the Atlanta area, and our two options are to fly direct with Delta Airlines, or with American Airlines with a lay-over in Miami. Although the Delta flight is pricier than American Airlines, I preferred a direct flight, especially since Atlanta is only 2.5 hours away from Provo.
We did some research on Avis, Hertz, and Grace Bay Car Rentals. After debating whether to have a car for only a few days or for the entire length of our stay, we decided to rent from Grace Bay Car Rentals for the whole week.
Johnny’s US driver’s license was sufficient to get him driving on the island. For insurance coverage, we elected the one offered by our Visa Signature credit card (the card we used to pay for the rental car).
Our car was available for pick up at the airport, and after signing a few papers and receiving a map and directions to get to Villa del Mar, Johnny was off driving on the left-hand side of the road.
Cell phone usage
Our service is with AT&T. Before we left for Provo we activated the World Traveler plan. It simply reduced the charge per-minute for international phone calls. Johnny and his parents, however, ended up using face-time via WiFi that is provided by our hotel.
Credit card and ATM service
Most establishments that we visited in Provo accept credit cards as a method of payment. The only places where we had to pay cash were: The Conch Farm, Cheshire Hall Plantation, parasailing (which we did on the spot), and gift shops when the transaction is below a certain dollar amount. We were able to pay with a credit card at the gas station in Grace Bay. However, we tried filling up at another gas station on our way back from Chalk Sound and found out that they only accept cash.
Currency-wise, Turks and Caicos uses the US Dollar. However, we still made sure to use a credit card that charges no foreign-transaction fee.
When we were low on cash, we went to the ATM machine owned by Scotiabank right next to Graceway Gourmet in Grace Bay. Since our bank is affiliated with Scotiabank, there was no fee to withdraw money from their ATM (your mileage may vary).
Provo offers many great dining options. The restaurants that we tried during our stay include: Seaside Cafe, Las Brisas, da Conch Shack, Danny Buoy’s, Upstairs Bar & Grill, Fresh Catch, The Deck at the Seven Stars Resort, and Gilley’s at the airport. We also bought prepared dinners from Graceway Gourmet‘s deli department on a few occasions. A plate of rotisserie or fried chicken with two sides costs about $10.
Da Conch Shack, located in Blue Hills, is on CNN Travel’s list for being one of the World’s 50 Best Beach Bars. As soon as you arrive at the parking lot, you know you will have fun here, as the conch-shell walls themselves will put a smile on your face. The seafood was definitely fresh, although we felt that the dishes were a little overpriced. We sat on a bench right on the beach, and devoured conch fritters, grilled lobster, fried shrimp, a slice of rum cake, and washed them all down with rum punch. We left da Conch Shack not only with full stomachs, but also with brightly-painted conch shells that we bought as souvenirs from a local vendor.
We feasted on lobster dishes almost everyday when were in Provo. On average, the price of a grilled lobster tail is between $36-$37. I can not tell if it costs more during dinner time, as we rarely went out in the evening due to bad weather.
I am not sure if it has anything to do with my Indonesian upbringing, but my favorite dishes on the island come from the locally-owned Fresh Catch at Salt Mills Plaza. I love the way they seasoned their food, and my husband Johnny absolutely enjoyed the steamed fish in the picture above. A spring roll lover that I am, I gave their lobster spring rolls a try, and ended up ordering them for two days in a row.
We bought our week’s worth of supplies from Graceway Gourmet, an upscale grocery store that is conveniently located in the heart of Grace Bay (near the Seven Stars roundabout). As prices of goods in TCI tend to be a bit more expensive, we tried to only purchase perishable items that we could not bring from home. For instance, if you must use insect repellent, remember to pack it, as items like this can be very pricey.
For gifts and souvenirs, we visited the shops at Salt Mills Plaza, The Regent Village, and Ports of Call. FOTTAC (Flavors of the Turks and Caicos) at The Regent Village was one of our favorites, and this was where got a bottle of the famous Bambarra Rum for ourselves, and beautiful soaps for our mothers.
We were rather disappointed that we could not spend more time at the beach nor island-hop because of Hurricane Sandy. Instead, we used the wet and windy days to drive all over the island, and toured places such as the Cheshire Hall Plantation and The Conch Farm. On sunny days, Johnny managed to do horseback riding with Provo Ponies, parasailing, and some snorkeling.
1. Provo Ponies
Johnny reserved a spot with this company a few weeks before we left to go on our trip. They offer morning and afternoon guided rides on Long Bay Beach Monday through Friday. Johnny chose to do a 90-minute ride for $90. You can also do a 75-minute ride for $75. Of all the activities that Johnny has done on the island, he regards the time that he spent with Provo Ponies as the most memorable, and does not mind doing it again when we return to TCI in the future.
2. Parasailing with Captain Marvin’s Watersports
Johnny’s decision to parasail was made on the spot right after he finished snorkeling at the Bight Reef (in front of Coral Gardens resort). Turks and Caicos is the kind of place that you would want to admire from up above and under the water. Although Johnny was a little nervous in the beginning, he was glad to be able to scratch it off of his bucket list of things to do. We paid $75 and left a $5 tip.
3. The Conch Farm
We were rather confused about the status of this farm. Even though we heard rumors that it was closed, we stopped by out of curiosity. Not long after we got out of our car we were greeted by a gentleman who conducts tours of the facility. We had a little bit of free time before Johnny’s riding session with Provo Ponies, and thought that it would be interesting to see how conchs are raised. Although the farm was not running in its full capacity, it was still a neat experience to be able to hold a live conch, and learn how to distinguish a male from a female. Tours are $12/person, and lasted about 20 minutes.
4. Cheshire Hall Plantation
The ruins of the Cheshire Hall Plantation can be a little tricky to find. If you have a car, chances are you have passed it a few times as it is located off of Leeward Highway. At first we made a wrong turn to Hospital Road. It turned out that there’s an unpaved road right next to the Cheshire Hall Medical Center, with an obscure sign pointing to the old plantation. Our tour guide, Phillip, led us through the ruins, while explaining the origins of this former cotton plantation and its significance in the history of Turks and Caicos. The entrance fee to the plantation is $10/person.
5. Exploring the beaches of Provo
If you are on your first trip to Provo, chances are you will be staying at one of the hotels in the Grace Bay area. The crystal blue water, gentle waves, combined with the softest and purest sand that stretches for miles are all the reasons why Grace Bay is consistently voted one of the best beaches in the world.
Pelican / Leeward Beach
If you continue to walk east past the main Grace Bay area, you will find that the water gets clearer and more turquoise. The Pelican Beach near Leeward is definitely one of our favorite spots on the island, especially since there’s hardly anyone there.
Princess Alexandra National Park
The north side of the island is also home to the Princess Alexandra National Park. Smith’s Reef and the Bight Reef, which are a part of this national park, are two great snorkeling spots. It is not difficult to locate the Bight Reef, as it is only a few feet from the shore, across from the Coral Gardens resort. And since the Bight Reef is quite shallow, it makes for an excellent experience for beginner snorkelers. Smith’s Reef is located further west, near the Turtle Cove Marina. Marine life is supposed to be abundant in this particular spot. However, on the day we were there the sea was getting rough as the hurricane was approaching. Needless to say, Johnny did not get to spend much time in the water. The rocky beach at Smith’s Reef also made it a little challenging for swimming, although it did make for beautiful photographs. While sitting on the beach, we watched the Undersea Explorer pass by, which would have been a great option to enjoy the undersea world without having to fight the rather strong current.
Moving on to the southwest coast of Provo is the must-see Chalk Sound, a lagoon with the brightest turquoise water, and dotted with hundreds of small rocky islands. While in the area, we visited Sapodilla Bay and Taylor Bay. These two beaches offer the utmost serenity, and you can walk far out into the sea because the water is so calm and shallow. After a long day at the beach, Las Brisas Restaurant is the perfect place to wind down while taking in the beautiful views of Chalk Sound.
We also made time to explore Turtle Tail and the Juba Sound area. We saw a flamingo playing in the water at Juba Sound. At Turtle Tail, we would park our car at empty lots next to vacation villas to take walks on small beaches and rocky bluffs.
With so many sites to see, and not enough sunny days during the week, we did not quite make it to all the beaches on the island. For a more comprehensive list of Provo’s beaches, please click on this link, which will direct you to the Visit Turks & Caicos Islands website.
While late summer and early fall can be a great time to visit the island due to less crowds, keep in mind that a number of businesses (restaurants, smaller hotels, and shops) close during this time of the year.
The airport in Provo is small, and it can get crowded and chaotic very quickly. Some of the worse times for travel appears to be Saturday afternoons. Although our flight did not leave until 2PM, we got there at around 10 AM, were first in line for check-in, and got through security in minutes. By 11.30 AM long lines were forming everywhere, and the gates were standing room only.
We hope that the information we have written in this post can be of some use to those who are not familiar with the island of Providenciales. If you have any further questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact us or leave us a message in this blog.
Check out our Flickr page to view pictures from our trips to Turks and Caicos.
Disclaimer: we are NOT affiliated with any of the companies that we mention in this post. Additionally, all information presented here is based on our stay from October 20th until the 27th of 2012.