Discovering and supporting local gems in Turks and Caicos
Serene white sand beaches. Tropical cocktails garnished with slices of fresh fruit. Catamarans floating through turquoise water. Images like these tend to be the first to come to mind when thinking of the Turks and Caicos Islands. But this tropical destination, which has stringent COVID protocols, has much more than luxury resorts to offer travelers.
The pandemic was particularly hard on small businesses and the global travel industry has been nearly decimated, which is why it is extra important to make sure travel experiences bring money to local economies at the grassroots level. A recent getaway to Turks and Caicos offered a surprising way to experience both a bit of glamor and support the local economy at a grassroots level.
While looking to experience the best of Turks and Caicos and simultaneously support the hard-hit local economy on my trip , I decided to embark on a “Beach Crawl” with CheapCaribbean tour agency. The experience is similar to a pub crawl but the focus isn’t on hopping from bar to bar in search of the next alcoholic beverage. Yes, there is plenty of rum punch to be drunk, but this concept centers around various ways guests can experience Turks and Caicos‘ best local beaches. Turks and Caicos Islands Tourism Board, the Seven Stars Resort, and several local tour operators and restaurants worked collaboratively to offer a variety of excursions including a private boat charter with lunch, a North and Middle Caicos Island Tour, a conservation tour of Iguana Island with sea-kayaking, and an off-road adventure. As a first-timer in Turks and Caicos, I had no idea what to expect but was blown away by the knowledge of every local guide our group toured with and the stunning scenery we were shown. All of the activities showcased a unique and captivating side of this beautiful destination that I now can’t wait to revisit.
It’s important to know that tours and excursions truly run on “island time,” meaning it isn’t uncommon for drivers to show up to collect guests a few minutes late. Nearly all of our drivers were either early or late, but remaining flexible insured that I had a fantastic time.
Local businesses getting a boost
By far, my favorite part of the entire Beach Crawl experience was visiting the local businesses I had never heard of and wouldn’t have likely found online. While on Providenciales island, one of the most popular Turks and Caicos Islands, we were driven along the beaches to enjoy a variety of TCI delicacies at Omar’s Beach Hut, Conch Shack, and Bugaloo’s. These three restaurants and bars had very different atmospheres and offerings, but they were all operated by TCI locals with a long history of outstanding hospitality and stunning beach views. Conch Shack is a favorite amongst tourists thanks in large part to its pastel-painted aesthetic, but Omar’s and Bugaloo’s also have a great reputation with visitors. For me personally, however, it was a yellow concrete eatery along a rural-looking road on North Caicos that was the most noteworthy: Miss B’s.
While on North Caicos, we took a break from the beach hopping to grab lunch at Miss B’s Restaurant. Miss B’s is located in a yellow building as bright as the disposition of the woman who owns and runs it. Miss B makes everything fresh, from locally-sourced ingredients using traditional island recipes. Stopping at this eatery is an add-on to the Beach Crawl package, but it’s worth the money to taste Miss B’s famous conch salad. Conch is a staple of the Caribbean diet. The sea snail’s meat is removed from its shell and added to a zesty array of bell peppers, orange and lime juice, onions, and jalapenos. Miss B’s exact recipe is a secret, but it’s the best on North Caicos. This roadside restaurant is a real local secret that travelers might not otherwise know exists.
Beyond food, the activities also encompass a cultural and historical element. Guests have the option of touring Wade’s Plantation led by the Turks and Caicos National Trust. The National Trust hopes that tours here will give visitors insight into how slavery affected the islands’ culture. Participating in this tour directly supports these efforts to preserve important island history and The National Trust as an organization. Note: Pack your bug spray! It’s a mosquito frenzy in this area, so you’ll want to protect yourself from the dinosaur-sized insects.
The Iguana Island and Mangrove Tour by Big Blue Collective was another highlight of the overall experience. We woke up early and were driven to Big Blue Collective’s office to be fitted for life jackets and were given a brief overview of the sea critters we might expect to see: baby sharks, sea turtles, and lots of iguanas. We spotted all of them as we paddled throughout the intricate maze of Turks and Caicos’ signature mangroves (a tropical shrub that grows in saltwater). Although most people would be alarmed to see a shark in the water while kayaking, our guide informed us that sharks are a sign of a healthy reef. The fact that we were able to see wild sea turtles and baby sharks in their natural habitat meant that the waters we were paddling in were clean and that conservation efforts, like limiting the number of boats and kayakers on the water at any given time, are proving effective. Big Blue Collective as a company is dedicated to keeping Turks and Caicos’ waters pristine and passing along environmental awareness to guests of their tours is part of their mission. It felt wonderful learning about the exact ecosystem I was kayaking through from someone who knew the islands inside and out.
Eventually, through sheer determination and a lot of upper-body work, we paddled our way to Iguana Island. Iguana Island is a local nature reserve formally referred to as Litlle Water Cay. It’s a popular place for tourists to paddle to in search of iguanas, though finding them is not hard. Some of these spikey-backed creatures grow up to 30-centimetres in length. They aren’t shy either! While we rested on the island and had a quick snack break, droves of iguanas came out from the shade, darting across the sandy banks near our group. Our kayaking guide, a 23-year-old conservationist, outlined the efforts that Turks and Caicos have gone to protect the iguanas and the natural environment, but I couldn’t help but stare at the nearly 20 iguanas that had appeared around us, patiently waiting for anyone in our group to drop a bit of food.
My time in Turks and Caicos wasn’t all sweat and sand and sneaky iguanas. Romance was in the air. Getting to experience the islands alongside my partner made for one heck of a lover’s holiday. Trying local delicacies, letting our skin soak up the sun, and dipping in and out of the ocean all felt a bit extra special given the wildly idyllic environment we were in. I left wishing I could have bottled up every deep red and purple sunset we shared. It truly was a week of I’ll never forget.
Disclaimer: The author was hosted on a Beach Crawl by CheapCaribbean. All opinions remain her own.
Tara Tadlock is a travel writer + blogger documenting her slow, adventure travels across 42 countries (and counting) on SillyLittleKiwi.com. Growing up in a military family, she’s always lived life with a boarding pass in one hand and a camera in the other. Tara loves finding the best coffee and vegetarian food anywhere she goes, learning about culture and customs straight from locals, and cuddling any dog within reach.