Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI)

Nestled between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, just east of Cuba, the mesmerizing, clear, turquoise waters of this island chain draws visitors to snorkel, dive, fish or simply walk along the shore.  As the third largest reef in the world, following the Great Barrier Reef of Australia and the Belize Barrier Reef, TCI offers easy access for snorkelers.  Some 60 species of coral live in the waters off the Turks and Caicos, hard coral varieties include staghorn, elkhorn, and brain; the soft varieties include sea fans, sea whips, and sea plumes. 

Parrot fish
Flying into Providenciales (known as Provo), the largest of the eight coraline islands which make up the chain. we traveled with experienced TCI visitors, and friends, Rich and Gloria Apple.  Having visited the island three times over the past years, they led us to a few of their favorite snorkeling sites.  We were able to walk from the shore to Smith's Reef, Malcolm Road Beach reef and the Coral Garden.  Vibrant tropical fish, grouper, barracudas, sting rays and turtles were among the sea life we spotted.

Utilizing the services of Caicos Dream Tours for offshore snorkeling excursions, on two separate
occasions, we were able to experience other portions of the reef, and visit a few of the 40 cays which are also a part of TCI.  Nurse shark were seen by some of our fellow snorkelers, but we missed out on that excitement.  The "personality" of each tour was totally different.  With beer and rum punch included as beverages, the first tour turned into a raucous party.  Our second trip was comparatively sedate, but both trips were fun, and offered opportunities to visit portions of the reef we would have missed out on without a boat trip.

Enjoying local foods is an important part of any vacation, and we were lucky to obtain conch from a  conch wholesaler, fresh off the boats, to prepare sauteed and cracked conch 3 times during our week-long visit.  Lunches on the snorkeling tours included conch ceviche prepared with freshly caught conch.  In between the conch, we lunched on local grouper, at least a few times.  Seriously good food, but we experienced sticker shock at the well-stocked grocery stores.  Prices were roughly double the price in the U. S. but occasionally soared closer to triple.  Everything needs to be shipped in, so we just closed our eyes, and bought what we needed. 

Sting ray
First sighted by Juan Ponce de Leon in 1512, the islands passed through the hands of the Spanish, French and English.  Salt production was the primary income source for the island until 1960, but now the economy of TCI relies on tourism, real estate development and the exportation of seafood.

As a British Overseas Territory, Queen Elizabeth is the head of state, and she selects the Governor of the islands.  Conveniently, for American
tourist, but inexplicitly, the islands use U.S. dollars for their currency, so no need to worry about exchanging monies, just be sure to bring plenty of it!

It was a wonderful trip, and just a short hop down from Florida.  Only a 1 1/2 hour flight from Miami to this gorgeous Caribbean island, so I'm sure we'll manage to find our way back down again sometime!

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