Longing for pristine beaches with crystal clear views of ocean wildlife? If you’re visiting Turks and Caicos, you’ll find spectacular snorkeling destinations with offshore reefs and abundant ocean life in dazzling aquamarine water. In the resort areas, however, you might experience “flipper face”—that unpleasant moment when you’re channeling your inner Jacques Cousteau, only to find a stranger’s flipper whacking you in the head. Where can you escape the crowds, embrace the environment, and snorkel serenely among sea turtles and rays? Here’s a peek at four secluded beach gems in Turks and Caicos for your peaceful pleasure.
Turks and Caicos: A Superb Snorkeling Destination
When our nature-crazy family plans a vacation, one of the first considerations is: what destination will offer the best opportunity to experience wildlife up-close-and-personal? Typically, the destination involves beaches. One child plans a career in marine biology, while the other eyes veterinarian school—and both kids display fish-like comfort in the ocean. Exploring marine wildlife is high on the list of vacation priorities.
As we searched for vacation destinations with the best snorkeling, Turks and Caicos topped the results, sporting the third largest reef system in the world. We researched the area, found a resort on the most popular beach for snorkeling, and packed our suits and sunscreen.
We were ready to swim with the sharks. (Well, hopefully only the tiny, harmless variety.)
Providenciales: The Beach Resort Reality
Many of my friends love all-inclusive resort vacations. My friend Sherry, aka Melodious Traveling Mom, adored her stay at Beaches, and another good friend is vacationing there right now. My family, however, is a little…different.
We’re nature crazy and love the beach, but we also prefer to avoid crowds. While we may explore an all-inclusive resort at some point in our travels, we like to stay open to impromptu excursions, exploring the local flavor and sites of our destinations. Knowing my family and our tendency to prefer less tourism and more authenticity, I booked our stay at the Alexandra Resort and Spa, a lovely resort noted for its proximity to one of the best snorkeling beaches in Turks and Caicos, Grace Bay Beach. We could enjoy the easy access to the beach and snorkeling, while not finding ourselves tied to the resort for all meals and entertainment.
I’m very glad we opted for a non-inclusive resort, because we spent very little time there.
Grace Bay Beach: Popular with the Tourists….Very Popular
One of the biggest appeals of Grace Bay Beach is the easy snorkeling access. The lovely 12-mile stretch of sand and surf entices visitors with crystal-clear water and powdery white sand. While my family might be fish-like and swim through waves fearlessly and tirelessly, I’m a bit of a water wimp. (I blame my mother, who never learned to swim and would inhale sharply anytime I jumped into the water. Poor Mom. She didn’t mean to make me water-anxious, I know…but I’m more of a land-girl. My handle is “Garden Geek” Traveling Mom, after all.) However, I swore that I’d overcome my snorkeling anxiety, even if it killed me. Grace Bay Beach, with its easy access to snorkeling, seemed to offer the ideal solution. My husband and kids could swim farther out to explore the reef and wildlife, while I’d simply walk out into the surf to see colorful fish without the need for Olympian-level swimming skills. It seemed like the perfect solution for the adventurous—and the anxiety ridden.
But then, we saw the beach.
Honestly, sitting elbow-to-elbow with other vacationers, listening to their not-so-private cell phone chats, overhearing a tween whine because his iPad died—(“Buddy, you’re in paradise! Look around you!” I wanted to say)–it just wasn’t for us.
It was time to find the perfect, secluded beaches.
I’m almost afraid to share them here, because they felt like our own, private pieces of paradise.
But, if you’re like us and long for a Zen-like retreat from the chaos, you need to know about the gems on Providenciales that will ensure your vacation is a blissful experience.
Lovely Lower Bight Beach
If you’re looking for the perfect retreat from humanity, Bight Beach is your destination. Bight Beach is often confused with Grace Bay, as it seems to blend into it. However, here you’ll find tranquility. With none of the resorts located along the strip of serenity, we found ourselves alone on the beach each of the three times we visited. Seriously. Not once did we see one other person snorkeling anywhere near us.
It was sublime.
Bight Beach provided exactly what I hoped for at Grace Bay—a reef farther out that my family could explore, along with plenty of interesting sea life that I could enjoy by walking a few yards into the ocean. Colorful fish, starfish, and even rays were easy to follow, while the kids and my husband spotted a turtle along the reef.
For all of our out-of-the-way beaches, few amenities are available. You may want to bring drinks and snacks, as well as towels and a chair. Bight Beach does offer restrooms, while some of the other secluded beaches do not.
One of the perks that I loved about Bight Beach is the adjacent Botanical Garden. A garden at the beach? Yes, please!
Parking is free. On Thursdays, local restaurants set up tents in the parking lot, and beach goers can sample the menus of many popular chefs for very reasonable prices. We spent the afternoon snorkeling and swimming on the beach, and then wrapped up our outing with dinner in the parking lot. The Thursday fish fry feels like a farmers’ market—delicious local food prepared for you, as well as local arts and crafts for sale, which make perfect souvenirs.
Bight Beach is located on Lower Bight Road. One of the few grocery stores on Providenciales, Graceway IGA, is located nearby on Leeward Highway for drinks and snacks.
Little Water Cay: A Wildlife Lover’s Dream Beach.
One of the highlights of our vacation involved an eco adventure, kayaking through mangroves. Hugo, our guide from Big Blue Unlimited, proved incredibly knowledgeable about the ecosystem and the best places to view wildlife. While we paddled through the cove, discovering bird habitats and fish nurseries—including sightings of baby sharks—we eventually arrived at Little Water Cay, also known as Iguana Island. Here, in the protected nature preserve, the secluded beach stretches before you, with gorgeous views of the Cays and Provo.
Little Water Cay may be a popular place for kayakers, but the biggest crowd we saw consisted of the local residents: rock iguanas. Our small tour group of 12 paddled together through the cove and to the island, but then we explored on our own. Crystal clear waters offer perfect views and snorkeling opportunities, and the island residents provided great entertainment.
The price of the 3-4 hour eco tour ($115 adults/$75 children under 12) includes the entrance fees to Turks and Caicos National Trust wildlife site, a knowledgeable guide, kayaking instructions for beginners, and a drink and snack on the island. Sometimes, the price also includes a towing fee when a certain person’s kayak drifts away from the group, no matter how hard she paddles. (Mortifying.)
Big Blue Unlimited: Located in Leeward Marina. The company also rents kayaks by the hour and offers many other water sports. Call 1-649-946-5034. NOTE: Only biodegradable sunscreen is allowed on the eco adventure.
Long Bay Beach: Kiteboarder’s Playground
My husband is a water sport nut. If there’s water, he wants to sail, windsurf, swim, snorkel, kayak…anything to be in or on the water. So, when we heard that Long Bay Beach is the destination for water sports—particularly kiteboarders–he needed to check it out. I’m glad we did.
The three-mile stretch of beach offers gorgeous water, with clear views to 2-4 foot depths. Located on the southeast coast of Providenciales, the beach is sheltered from large ocean swells, making it ideal for swimming and snorkeling. The northeast trade winds, though, provide an ample boost for kiteboarding.
It takes a little effort to reach the beach. We parked and walked 10 minutes along a sandy path, but the beach was worth the trek. We watched several people kiteboard, an amazingly beautiful sport. While we weren’t the only people on the beach, it wasn’t crowded. The clear water offered good snorkeling. Do wear water shoes here when swimming: it’s quite shelly. You won’t find amenities at Long Bay Beach, so bring your towels, drinks, and snacks.
Access to Long Bay Beach is available in several locations, but the easiest choice is Long Bay North, located in the Shore Club development. Paved parking and a boardwalk provide easy access to this water sport lover’s dream beach.
Pelican Beach: A Souvenir Hunter’s Dream
When you arrive at Pelican Beach and are greeted by the resident mascot, you wonder if this is an elaborate photo op set up by the Turks and Caicos tourism department. We all laughed at the single pelican perched on the sand bar, then took many photos of him (her?)
If you’re looking for a remote beach away from the crowds with excellent swimming and snorkeling, Pelican Beach is for you. While our guidebook said that the water clarity for snorkeling isn’t great due to offshore dredging, we found the water to be incredibly clear and full of wildlife. In fact, the aquamarine color of the water proved almost as perfectly planned as the pelican perching on the sandbar.
The more adventurous members of our family played in the stronger currents, while some of us stayed in the shallows, snorkeling among colorful schools of fish and rays. Even me, the water wimp, snorkeled for hours at Pelican Beach.
Best of all, our youngest son found hundreds of empty conch shells piled along the beach and in the water. He spent hours deciding which one would become the ultimate souvenir.
During our hours at Pelican Beach, we saw two people. It’s the perfect secluded retreat. We did discover some strong currents when we visited, so be careful with young children and feeble swimmers.
Pelican Beach is located on Sandpiper Avenue. Park on the road, then head left to Pelican Beach. Again, this remote beach doesn’t offer amenities, but it does offer bliss.
So, before you book your Turks and Caicos vacation, you may want to consider which beaches are best for you—beaches with many amenities (but also many tourists) or secluded snorkeling destinations, where the only people you see are your family.
Happy serene snorkeling!