When you’re looking for a place to get away from it all, head for a Caribbean island that’s not overrun with tourism.
I don’t typically relate to the character of Frank Costanza, George’s meddling, patience-challenged father on Seinfeld. But when my world seems to be hurtling everything at me at once, I can’t help but sympathize with Frank. Remember that episode in which he tried to channel his anger by chanting “serenity now” over and over? It didn’t work, of course, and by the end of the show he was screaming “serenity now” at the top of his lungs.
There’s a better way for overwhelmed moms to find serenity — by taking a break and getting away from it all. As an experienced traveler, I can think of no better place to do that than the Caribbean island of Providenciales in Turks & Caicos — preferably alone, with friends or with your significant other. But even if you end up taking the kids, Providenciales will still be one of your most relaxing vacations ever.
It’s not just that Providenciales is surrounded warm, turquoise waters and miles of powdery soft, white beaches. Nor is it the abundance of first-class restaurants or the friendliness of the people.
No, the biggest attraction on Providenciales is Nothing.
There’s nothing you feel you have to do while you’re there — no historic sites, no must-see tourist attractions, no casinos, no nightclub scene, and nothing much in the way of shopping.
There is nothing to disturb the serenity of your surroundings — no loud powerboats buzzing back and forth, no swarms of tourists disembarking from cruise ships, nobody walking the beaches offering to braid your hair or sell you trinkets.
If you want, you can spend your entire time doing nothing more strenuous than lying on the beach for hours, with an occasional dip in the water to cool you off. Now that’s serenity.
As soon as I arrived in Provo, I headed to my room for a nap – and it wasn’t the only one of this trip. How delicious to close the blinds in the middle of the afternoon, slip into a comfortable bed and sleep until I felt like getting up! I didn’t spend all my time lounging. One afternoon I had a taxi driver take me for a tour of the island, including a stop at a lookout at the top of Blue Mountain Drive that offered a 360-degree view of the island. Another highlight was an afternoon lunch and sail with a small group on the charter boat, Atabeyra. What a joy to sit down for several hours to enjoy good food, drink and conversation!
Part of the British West Indies, Turks and Caicos comprises some 40 islands, only eight of which are inhabited. Providenciales, or Provo, as residents call it, is the center of the country’s tourism industry (though cruise boats dock at the capital, Grand Turk Island), Provo is easily reached by direct flights from Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Miami and New York.
Most of the tourism infrastructure in Provo fronts Grace Bay and the 12-mile long Grace Bay Beach, which is ranked consistently among the world’s best beaches. The waters are calm and the beach is wide. On the residential south side of the island, the shallow waters at Sapodilla Bay make it a great beach for families with young children.
Provo has experienced a building boom in recent years of largely upscale resorts and condos, but none of them are the high-rise behemoths that overwhelm other Caribbean destinations. In fact, with the exception of a several-year period when buildings could be up to seven stories tall, the government has restricted building height to four stories.
Both of the times I have visited Provo, I’ve stayed at Ocean Club Resorts (www.oceanclubresorts.com), an all-suites resort with two properties less than a mile apart on Grace Bay Beach. Ocean Club was among the first tourism properties on the island, and developer Ron Ohliger said he selected the site because it was the perfect place to watch the sunset.
Both facilities consist of small groupings of three-story buildings with studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom suites. The grounds are beautifully landscaped, and it’s not uncommon to see a graceful crane enjoying the surroundings. All of the suites have kitchenettes, which, as we know, makes traveling as a family easier and less expensive! Ocean Club has a new Kids Clubhouse that offers half- and full-day sessions for kids 4 to 12 as well as dinner-and-a-movie sessions, so you can have some adult time.
I was lucky enough this time to be traveling on my own (serenity is much easier to achieve that way), but Provo is a family-friendly island. If your kids tire of making the rounds of the beach, ocean, and pool, take them snorkeling, horseback riding, or on a semi-submarine. There’s even the requisite miniature golf course.
With or without children, most visitors to Provo enjoy sailing. Sail Provo (www.sailprovo.com) and J&B Tours (jbtours.com) are among the more popular companies offering boat excursions. It’s also possible to charter a private boat for your family or small group.
Most sailing excursions stop at one or more of the uninhabited keys where visitors can wade along the shore and find starfish and sand dollars on the deserted beaches. Little Water Cay, known as “Iguana Island,” is a popular day-trip destination that is home to more than 3,000 rare and endangered rock iguanas.
Many of the half- and full-day cruises take visitors snorkeling in the area’s pristine waters. Nearly 1000 square miles of coral reef surround the Turks and Caicos Islands, the third largest coral reef in the world. There are even excursions where you can dive for your own conch, which is then prepared onboard for lunch. (Skip the tour of Provo’s Conch Farm, which will likely bore most kids—and many adults.)
Ecotourism is growing in Turks and Caicos, and if you’re seeking serenity, communing with nature is a great way to get there. Big Blue Unlimited (www.bigblue.tc) offers land and sea adventures, including kayaking around Provo and excursions to the extensive limestone cave system on Middle Caicos and to the flamingo nature reserve on the “garden island” of North Caicos.
Eating out is one of the great pleasures on Provo. Restaurants can be quite pricey, so if you are trying to watch expenses, check out the menus before going. Dining under the palm trees at the atmospheric Coco Bistro is worth the splurge for island-fresh seafood with a French flair. The Gecko Grille at Ocean Club Resorts is another upscale restaurant serving Continental-influenced island food. Among the other top restaurants are the hillside Magnolia at the Miramar Resort, for its breathtaking views of Turtle Cove, and Anacaona at the Grace Bay Club for the five-star treatment. If you go to these fine restaurants, leave the kids in the care of a babysitter.
For more casual dining, try the family-friendly Shark Bites for burgers, sandwiches and salads or the Tiki Hut, which has $12 chicken and ribs on Wednesday nights. Both are at Turtle Cove Marina. Don’t miss lunch at Da Conch Shack, where a fishing boat delivers the just-harvested conch to the beachside restaurant just before noon, where it will be cut from the shell, cleaned, cooked, and on your plate within minutes.
For more information on visiting Providenciales, go to the official tourism website and the unofficial “island newspaper” www.TCImall.tc.