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Review of Turks and Caicos Islands From a Midwestern, Middle Income Point of View

We’ve traveled from Iceland to the Cook Islands, across Europe, many times to Mexico and the Caribbean, and stayed in every type of lodging.

Neon turquoise water of TCI taken by my husband with his new drone.

Neon turquoise water of TCI taken by my husband with his new drone.

As a family of three, and now a retired couple, we have done quite a bit of traveling. We’ve been from the Cook Islands to Iceland, California to Florida, Canada to Mexico, most of Europe, and several Caribbean islands. We’ve flown, driven, cruised, hiked, stayed in camper vans, tents, condos, and all-inclusive resorts. This trip to Turks and Caicos has been the worst vacation ever!

No doubt some of you reading this will strongly disagree. Your vacation here was the best ever! In fact, we met a Canadian couple on their 17th trip here. That's terrific. However, this is our experience.

I’m not trying to discourage travel to TCI, but be aware of definitions used in the travel literature. True, many destinations beef up their area a little bit but come on. Hopefully, these tips may help you evaluate other vacation spots as well as you “read between the lines”.

As always, please view each thumbnail photo for more information.

One of many beaches in TCI.

One of many beaches in TCI.

Let’s Define Public Beaches

Looking at the ads for TCI, you will see many, many beautiful photos of Grace Bay and other pristine beaches. According to official documentation, all beaches are public beaches.

Let’s define that for reality. You see the water in the photo, right? You see the line where the water washed up onto the sand, right? That’s the “public beach”. The dry sand is owned by either resorts or private residences. If you try to enter by walking from the road, which is another story, you are chased away by security guards.

To actually access these public beaches you would need to kayak in from Jamaica or Cuba. If you have the stamina, you may find an entry point 7 miles away and you could walk there along the waterline. I don’t have the stamina, so it’s not happening for me.

Just so you know, public parking anywhere along where beach access might be is extremely limited. We saw a sign for one public beach access in the midst of a hotel property and there was nowhere to park. They have their ways to keep the peons out.

Let’s Define Budget

Speaking of peons. From the official tourism site:

”Luxury tourism is the primary source of income to the Turks and Caicos”.

They are not kidding. Our son lives in Berlin and we live in the Midwest USA. We try to meet once a year having been successful in Cozumel, Aruba, Grand Cayman, and Iceland. We thought TCI would be a good option. We found an Airbnb that we considered affordable in a good area, so we took it. It’s fine.

Then I noticed ”budget” hotels on the tourism site and decided to check them out. The cheapest hotel for 3 people for our January dates was $540 per night! Now, that may be somebody’s definition of budget, but it isn’t ours. Especially considering no kitchen and having to eat out each meal for three people.

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Speaking of the kitchen, check out the food prices at the IGA. A box of cereal is $13 USD. Check out the thumbprints for more shock value.

Geez-o-Pete! The takeaway here is to look for an Airbnb or VRBO or something. Unless you are Jeff Bezos or Mark Zuckerberg reading this, then ignore the above and stay at an all-inclusive.

Let’s Define Safety

The following is directly from the tourism site:

  • The Turks and Caicos Islands is one of the safest countries in the Caribbean and overall crime is equatable with large North American cities such as New York or Miami.

    However, being one of the safest Caribbean countries doesn't necessarily mean a lot when you're competing with the significant crime problems of places such as Jamaica or the Bahamas.

  • Crime against tourists definitely occurs in the Turks and Caicos.
  • Although uncommon, armed invasions of rental villas are the greatest crime concern.
  • Armed robberies of pedestrians and persons are another issue
  • One local publication simply recommends that you leave the doors to your rental car unlocked to prevent the windows from being broken (the repair cost may not be covered by insurance).

Me again. I’ll tell you plainly we never felt any discomfort on Cozumel. They are happy to have tourists and they police the wanna-be thugs. We have stayed in condos there, walked far into town, and never had a concern. Here in TCI it’s just like your mother told you—be home when the streetlights come on.

And, we did leave the car unlocked when we went off somewhere. Better than paying for a broken window.

Let’s Look at Roads, Driving, and Walking

Here comes an important distinction between “can” and “may“.

By now you should have rented a compact car. Anyway, we did. Oddly, the best deal was from Hertz.

The travel brochures say that you can drive to Bonefish Point and Split Rock. This is inaccurate. You may drive there. You have permission. No one is stopping you. Whether you can drive there is up for grabs.

My husband was determined to see Split Rock. Having driven over very rough roads (think entering the Mohave Desert from Palm Springs in a Humvee) the road here was even worse.

I sling out foul words from time to time. Don’t we all? After a particular encounter with a rock that I believed could puncture the gas tank, bend an axle, and blow a couple of tires, I lost my religion. He stopped the car. I got out and began throwing rocks to the side of the road so we could get out of there without having to pay for a compact car. This was no big deal to me. My GrandDad lived on a rocky farm in clay dirt so picking up rocks was common. These were just bigger. My husband helped. Notice the photos he took of me moving rocks.

The same definition is true for walking. A phrase frequently mentioned is ”you can walk to…”. No, actually you may walk there. No one will stop you. Except for the car that slams into you because most roads are unpaved, no curbs, no sidewalks, and locals drive like maniacs. Unless you are in the Grace Bay hotel district, which is set up for pedestrians to get to the restaurants and shops, don’t count on walking.

By the way, the long, lonely road to Bonefish and Split Rock is exactly the spot warned about in the safety section. If you go, and you shouldn’t, leave well before sunset.

Clay Beach at Bonefish

A Word About Taxis

There are taxis in TCI. You can reserve them online from your phone or otherwise. As I mentioned, our son is from Berlin. As it happens, the currency in TCI is the USD. My son had no US dollars with him. The cabs, although sophisticated enough to reserve online, wouldn’t take payment online. They would only take cash. Ergo, he could not pay with his Mastercard.

He arrived a few days ahead of us so the rental car in our name was not available to him and he ended up walking 3 hours to the Airbnb in the heat, on dirt roads, with no sidewalks. He was miserable.

The lesson here is if you want to take a taxi from the airport, have a wad of cash with you.

Again, the following is directly from the "getting around" section on the TCI tourism dashboard:

  • Unfortunately, there is little enforcement of road rules by the police, and this can make driving in the Turks and Caicos unsafe and unpleasant at times. Many cars on the road are not registered, do not have license plates, lack insurance, and are driven extremely recklessly.
  • This is especially common with the operators of illegal jitney taxis, of which the Government does not regulate and chooses not to enforce the rules against. For example, these illegal taxis will stop in the middle of the multi-lane Leeward Highway to pick up passengers and it's common to see road accidents caused by these actions. You are advised to remain vigilant when driving, keep a safe distance, and be prepared to stop suddenly.

    You've been warned.


A Word About Drones

Drones are allowed in TCI. Except where they aren’t. It’s a lot like the public beaches. Many areas have posting of “no drones allowed”.

Let me save you some effort and tell you that drones are allowed on Long Beach, Providenciales off of Long Bay Road. This is truly a lovely beach and where we returned after we first found it.

  • The video above was taken at Bonefish. The bottom is slippery clay, not sand. Quite unusual.

My husband has been into photography since high school and recently became interested in purchasing a drone. He did a lot of research and decided on this model, a DJI Air 2S Fly More Combo.

This was fairly easy to learn and control. The best feature was that it stood up to the breezes at the beach and remained steady. There were a couple of days it was too windy to fly it but you expect that in an area prone to hurricanes. It functioned really well. Check it out if you're on the hunt for a mid-level drone.

Long Beach, TCI

This beach has soft, clean sand, beautiful, clear water, not too crowded, and water sports for those so inclined. Those who come and offer a jet ski ride or a kite surfing option are very polite and will leave you alone once you decline. If you book an alligator wrestle they make you pay upfront. Just sayin'.

The sand is super soft. This has pros and cons. The obvious pro is that it is very soft on your feet. One con is that you sink into it like new-fallen snow, which can make it hard to walk.

Another downside is that the same delightful breeze from the sea will pick up this powder-soft sand and get it everywhere. Your skin, your hair, and your teeth. It feels like the last step at a dental visit when they polish your teeth with that cinnamon flavored paste, but here there is no cinnamon. An upside is that when you get home and shower the fine sand acts as an expensive exfoliant, so there's that.

Long Beach off of Long Bay Road

Long Beach off of Long Bay Road

The Takeaway

We would never return to Turks and Caicos, but you and your family may believe it's the best thing ever. Obviously, the couple from Canada thinks so.

With all the misadventures we still truly loved being together as a family and staying in the condo at La Vista Azul. The view of the coast there was truly spectacular and the pool area was fabulous. I played around on my ukulele, our son worked some at his freelance job, and my husband edited some drone footage, just hanging out as a family. We will remember this trip forever.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 The Sampsons

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