Due southeast of the Bahamas, the Turks and Caicos Islands aren’t the typical “go-to” beach getaway for most of America to go swimming or snorkeling. This coral archipelago has it all: crystalline turquoise waters, white sand beaches, luxurious resorts, delectable dining, stunning wildlife and thrilling adventure. No doubt a trip here will consist of long, carefree days soaking up the sun, lounging in the soft sand and dipping your toes in the gentle surf — and that’s more than enough for a great vacation. But variety is the spice of life, and like any Caribbean isle worth its sea salt, the spice is abundant here. If you’re planning to visit, here are a few ideas for where to wander and what to discover.

SNORKEL THE REEFS

Just like everyone’s first instinct with a pile of leaves is to jump in, so is the case for crisp, clear-blue ocean water. The stretches of shoreline here are exceedingly clear and enchantingly blue, making it the prime place to go for a swim … or snorkeling. Specifically, try snorkeling at either Bight Reef or Smith’s Reef. At Bight Reef (also known as the Coral Gardens), you’re bound to find turtles, stingrays and a spectrum of colorful fish that most dive sites could only dream of — not bad for a spot that starts right off the beach. At Smith Reef, you’ll have your pick of ecosystems depending on which beach you launch from. Some sections are coral heads (right off the beach), some are lush seagrass beds and some are large reef networks (farther offshore). Eagle rays and lobsters frequent this reef in addition to the aforementioned stingrays, turtles and tropical fish.

PARTY AT THE THURSDAY NIGHT FISH FRY

The Thursday Night Fish Fry is what every neighborhood block party or jamboree strives to be. Every Thursday evening, from 5:30 to 9:30, scores of restaurant and souvenir vendors set up shop in Stubbs Diamond Plaza in the Bight for a night of great food and fun. A live band and cultural performances are the evening’s entertainment, with the grand finale being the Junkanoo — a procession of costumed masqueraders dancing to drums, cowbells and other native instruments. All in all, it’s an island-wide congregation celebrating all things Turks and Caicos. What’s not to love?

EXPLORE IGUANA ISLAND

Little Water Cay, a small island just off the coast of Providenciales, is often known by its other name: Iguana Island. The name comes from the fact that the native Turks & Caicos rock iguana is flourishing here, compared to the inhabited islands where domesticated dogs and cats wiped out the lizards. You can visit with a local guide on a boat or kayak and stroll the paths and boardwalks for a game of to try to spot iguanas. You’ll quickly find that the local scaly denizens are abundant, and wholly unphased by your visit.

TOP 5 BEACHES

No matter how incredible this article makes it seem, no one is flying to Turks and Caicos primarily for Iguana Island. Turks and Caicos is a beach vacation through and through — you know it, we know it, what kind of travel professionals would we be if didn’t at least touch on it? Here are our picks for the top five beaches (in no particular order) to check out for yourself.

• Taylor Bay Beach – Tucked into a scenic cove, the water here is calm, shallow and mesmerizingly tranquil. Bonus points that it’s typically far less busy than nearby Sapodilla Bay.

• Governor’s Beach – Named after the nearby governor’s mansion, Governor’s Beach is a strip of pristine peach-white sand with shallow, clear water on one side and a shady casuarina grove on the other. You can expect to find vendors selling souvenirs and
refreshing drinks whenever a cruise ship is docked on the island.

• Leeward Beach – This beach is a hidden gem; it can be more difficult to access than others, but the results are priceless. Swimming conditions are superb, and thanks to less development and less traffic, you might find that you have this stretch of
paradise all to yourself.

• Grace Bay Beach – This is the world-famous, hallmark beach of the Turks and Caicos Islands. An extensive barrier reef about a
mile offshore helps ensure the beach stays flawless; there are no rocks or seaweed strewn among the pillow-soft white sand. With nearly all the luxury resorts making their home on Grace Bay Beach, this one is more crowded than some of our other choices — but all the better to people-watch.

• Long Bay Beach – Long Bay checks all the same boxes as the beaches above — turquoise water, white fine-grained sand and few swells. Its key distinction is it is the premier place to kiteboard. Due to northeast trade winds, you’ll almost always find onshore or side-on wind, and due to the shallow water, you’ll be able to stand without drifting downwind. This is the top choice
if you prefer your beach days to be more active and adventurous.

DELVE INTO THE CONCH BAR CAVES

The perfect foil to break up a string of beach days, a trip to the Conch Bar Caves is a respite from the sun and an adventure that you won’t soon forget. As an underground karst cave system stretching for 15 miles, it’s one of the largest in the Caribbean. A tour through the cave will introduce you to underground lagoons, stalagmites and stalactites, Lucayan Indian artifacts as well as a whole host of subterranean fauna and flora including bats, crustaceans and isopods.

KAYAK & PADDLEBOARD THE WETLANDS

Turks and Caicos isn’t just a collection of flawless beaches; these islands are also home to a stunning network of mangrove wetlands, flat water lagoons and tidal channels. These waterways act as nurseries for plenty of sea life; renting a kayak or paddleboard is the perfect way to explore them. On a good day, expect to spot conches, barracudas, stingrays, juvenile sharks and turtles. Best of all, enjoy the abundant birdlife serenading you as you paddle.

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