I've just spent the past nine days on Providenciales, a tropical paradise in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI). I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it is for US residents to travel to the Turks and Caicos, a British Overseas Territory consisting of eight inhabited islands and 30 plus uninhabited islands. Just 575 miles southeast of Miami, Providenciales is an accessible and family-friendly vacation destination offering natural beauty, more than 100 restaurants, abundant outdoor activities, every water-sport imaginable and a laid-back vibe. If relaxation is on your agenda, you'll find the relaxed island pace the perfect tonic to stressful and busy lives.
Here are eight of the top reasons to travel to Providenciales:
- Safety - Safety is a top priority when traveling anywhere, especially to a foreign destination with children. The Turks and Caicos have one of the lowest crime rates of any Carribean Island. The islands are known for tourism and as an offshore financial center and they take the safety of their guests very seriously. There was a large security presence at the hotels we stayed at, but we're told this is merely as a precaution.
- All beaches are public - All beaches in Providenciales are public up to the high water mark. This means you can walk along the famed Grace Bay Beach and plant yourself and your sand toys anywhere. Of course hotel and condominium facilities such as beach chairs, towels and outdoor showers are for the use of registered guests only, but you can bask along the same stretch of beach as the guests at even the most high-end resorts as long as you don't pass the no trespass point.
- The currency - The US dollar is the official currency in TCI. This means that credit card transactions don't carry the foreign currency exchange fee that is common when dealing with other currencies. On the downside, Providenciales is a pricey island. Since nearly everything needs to be imported, plan on spending more here on food and other essentials than you might at other island destinations. A 12% Government tax and 10% service fee is automatically added to most goods and services. Once you get used to the concept, it takes the guesswork out of tipping (although additional gratuities are always welcome and appreciated for good service).
- Transportation - Renting a car and exploring the far reaches of the island will add to your experience. Driving is on the left with many roundabouts and no traffic lights. Gas is expensive here (around $6.75/gallon) but if you choose a fuel efficient rental car (most of them are) even the most avid explorer won't spend much on gas. Taxis are widely available, although a more expensive way to get around.
- Language - The official language of the islands is English and the population also speaks Turks and Caicos Islands Creole which is similar to Bahamian Creole.
- Weather - During our early August visit, every day was hot and mostly sunny with the exception of a rare rain event caused by Tropical Storm Cristobal. When the sun is out in full, it gets intensely hot. Evenings didn't dip below the low 80's and we rarely needed even a light sweater. This is a trip that you can plan to leave the bulky clothing at home.
- Casual - Aside from maybe some fine dining experiences, Providenciales is a very casual island. For daytime, beachwear is in order and in the evenings most men wore khaki-style shorts and polo shirts and the ladies wore shorts or casual sundresses. It's easy to avoid dressing up if that's your desire, which sure makes packing a cinch! We didn't wear half the clothes we packed and we only traveled with carry-on luggage. Unless you're cycling or pursuing activities that require closed-toe footwear, sandals and flip flops will be your footwear of choice day and night.
- We saved the best for last: the beach! Grace Bay Beach is often voted as one of the top beaches in the world due to its soft white powdery sand that goes on for miles and warm clear blue water.