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Turks & Caicos
Valerie Kerr Dineen and Miranda discover the unspoilt Caribbean in Turks and Caicos
After the wettest winter on record in Sussex (or maybe it just felt that way) we decided to go for it, and booked 2 weeks in the Turks and Caicos, a group of 7 tropical islands south of the Bahamas. Most of the tourism is centred on the island of Providenciales, which boasts what has to be one of the most beautiful beaches anywhere in the world, Grace Bay: white, powder sand and turquoise water which looks too blue to be true until you see it with your own eyes. All the big hotels are on this beach, but because it stretches the length of the north coast of the island you can easily get away from the crowds and find a perfect piece of paradise all to yourself. In the interests of economy, for our first week we stayed at a basic suite hotel close to Grace Bay. Being on the ground floor was essential as it meant we could step out of our patio door directly into the gardens. The pool was perfect for Miranda as it had steps leading in to the shallow end where she could potter happily for ages while we sat on the loungers poolside. The hotel was set in pretty gardens and most days began with a lizard hunt in the bushes watched by iridescent humming birds.
Partly due to jetlag, partly the way of life, we were usually up by 6 and on the beach by 8 for swimming and sand castles. By 9.30 we had to retreat from the heat of the sun: despite Miranda’s UV suit (an absolute essential), we just had to find shade until the afternoon. We’d hired a jeep from Scooter Bob’s (tel 946 4684) for around $65 a day (yes, you can fit a carseat in a jeep) and used the heat of the day to explore the island. There are plenty of places to visit: the pretty Leeward harbour with the world’s only conch farm, and beautiful Chalk Sound National Park. But we were on a quest to find the deserted paradise beach called Malcolm Roads. You definitely need a four-wheel drive and the track can be pretty hazardous at times but we were rewarded with the most perfect beach all to ourselves.
Eating out is a real pleasure with delicious local fish dishes and really friendly service. Nothing was too much trouble and Miranda happily sat with Po in the shady beachside restaurants while we enjoyed a leisurely lunch and whiled away the time till the cool of the afternoon. We especially liked Caicos Café on Grace Bay Road and Hemingways at Sands Resort. Dinner starts early, too, from around 6.30 and everywhere seemed more than happy to have children. The Coco Bistro on Grace Bay Road offered Mediterranean cusine and a good wine list and dining under the stars in a coconut grove. Some evenings we picked up a takeaway from the restaurants at the Ports of Call shopping centre right by our hotel and ate on the loungers outside our room.
One memorable outing was an afternoon cruise with Sail Provo up the coast and on to Little Water Cay home to rock Iguanas (which Miranda had great fun chasing). With free rum punch on offer we made a rather inelegant exit as the boat dropped us off on the beach outside our hotel at dusk ("Mummy fell in , SPLASH!")
In the second week we moved to the more luxurious Coral Gardens Hotel where we had a beautiful apartment right on Grace Bay beach. The coral reef is just a few yards from the shore and snorkelling we saw turtles, barracudas, eagle rays and parrot fish. For divers, the waters around the islands are some of the best in the world. Tim did some dives with the Coral Gardens dive team and said the water was fantastically clear. Lots of the Americans we met had come on special dive packages which are probably worth booking in advance if you plan to do a lot of diving.
So was it worth the money and effort, the trans- Atlantic flight, the burning Caribbean sun and the longhaul price tag? Well, with Virgin’s great seat-front video screens and games, the flight was bearable, and as you can see from the photos Miranda is very blonde but she didn’t get burnt once due to our strict adherence to the no sun between10am and 3.30pm rule. As for the cost, yes, it is expensive, but we felt it was well worth it to find one of the few remaining paradises in the world that is still relatively unspoilt. But hurry, because it won’t last.