Diminutive Grand Turk may be the administrative capital and seat of government for the Turks and Caicos Islands, but don’t let that deceive you – a visit to this low-lying beach-fringed island is like stepping back in time. With a 20 mph speed limit, donkeys and horses that roam freely, and colonial architecture lining the streets, it offers a glimpse of the Caribbean of times gone by.
up the Old World charm of the capital, Cockburn Town. Built by salt producers from Bermuda in the late 16th Century, its quiet streets are lined with charming examples of colonial and Bermudian architecture, many converted into guesthouses and small hotels. If you have time, make a stop at the museum to see the collection of messages in bottles that have washed up over the years.
Grand Turk Lighthouse at the northern tip of the island. Built after the RMS Medina foundered on a nearby reef, the lighthouse was pre-fabricated in England, shipped in pieces and assembled on the clifftop in 1852. Unfortunately, you can’t go inside, but the views from the coastal footpath and the secluded beach below more than makeup for it.
the underwater wall. The Turks and Caicos islands are famed for their diving, and just a short boat ride out from Grand Turk’s shore, the seabed drops dramatically from 50 to 7000 feet. As well as dizzying topography, you’ll enjoy incredible visibility and marine life that is both diverse and abundant. Expect to cruise through the blue alongside turtles, rays, sharks and more.
over to tiny, pristine Gibbs Cay, where friendly stingrays approach swimmers as soon as they arrive. Tours usually include lunch prepared for you right on the beach while you snorkel in the crystal-clear water.
at the Turks Head Inne. This lovingly restored boutique hotel dates back to the 1830s, has oodles of historic charm and is only steps from the beach. Built around a courtyard, rooms retain their elegant sash windows, wood floors and antique furniture, and balance them with spacious modern bathrooms, fast wifi and all the mod cons. www.turksheadinne.com
at the size and power of humpback whales. These huge creatures pass close to the island on their annual migration and sightings from January to April are common. Several operators run whale watching tours, and, if you’re lucky, you may be able to snorkel alongside these giants of the deep.
a trip over to nearby Salt Cay. Once a busy salt-producing island, today it’s a sleepy backwater with no paved roads and a population of around 100. Rent a golf cart to explore the complex system of salt ponds and windmills, be mesmerised by the luminous turquoise waters of North Bay, and keep an eye out for passing whales if you climb to higher elevations.