Covid has affected tourism numbers throughout the world, but for some destinations, the number of visitors is actually increasing.
Turks and Caicos saw one of its busiest summers on record in 2021. Compared to pre-pandemic statistics in 2019, the destination saw an increase of over 18% in June with 54,188 visitors; an increase of 19% in July with 56,022 visitors; and an increase of 15% in August with 41,734 visitors. These numbers are impressive given the covid situation around the world.
There are several factors that contributed to the increase in visitors, including the islands’ handling of tourism during covid. Protocols in place during covid meant travelers had to show: proof of vaccination; a negative covid test; and travel insurance. This limited the transmission of covid on the island for both travelers and residents. On May 1, 2022, most of these requirements were lifted (proof of vaccine is still required) and tourism is expected to continue to grow in 2022. The island is already seeing solid bookings for this summer season.
More than 80 percent of the adult population is vaccinated—making the Turks and Caicos Islands one of the most inoculated countries in the world. A fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine is currently being administered throughout the country, prioritizing those aged 60 and older or who are immunocompromised.
Another reason Turks and Caicos is attracting so many visitors? It offers world-class diving.
For many diving enthusiasts, Turks and Caicos is a bucket-list trip. “The diving in Turks and Caicos is some of the best in the western hemisphere—it is what these islands are known for. It’s the third-largest barrier reef in the world,” says Julie Andersen, Global Director of Brand for PADI. “There are stunning coral formations, many of them on steep walls. Fish life—including spotted eagle rays—is plentiful and healthy.”
What makes diving in Turks and Caicos so unique? The underwater conditions—low current, clear water, consistent water temps higher than 75 degrees—make it ideal. “With the walls, wrecks, diverse marine life, and even swim thrus, it’s perfect for advanced divers,” says Andersen. “It’s also a fantastic place to go with non-divers who are interested in trying scuba diving for the first time—many of which end up getting certified themselves.”
The Turks and Caicos Islands are situated on an expansive underwater plateau that rises 7000 feet from the ocean floor, with most of the islands being located directly on the north edge of this plateau. That means incredible wall structures, healthy coral, and a lot of incredible marine life in all shapes and sizes. “The reefs are plentiful and, given the wall structure, you’ll see robust and dense coral species at deeper depths that you may have never seen before,” says Andersen. “The massive orange elephant ear sponges surrounded by contrasting, bright purple gorgonian coral with a Caribbean reef shark gliding above in crystal clear blue water is a vision I’ll forever have in my mind as my happy place.”
Divers have the chance to encounter large migratory species, such as humpback whales, sharks, turtles, rays, and dolphins. From January through March, many pelagic species use the channels between the islands as watery “highways.” Grand Turk, as well as the neighboring island of Salt Cay, are two of the best destinations in the world for swimming with humpback whales. From January to April, mothers come to these shallow waters to calve.
Andersen says: “I loved the colorful fish in all shapes and sizes, the incredible schools of horse-eyed jacks, the constant Hawksbill turtle sightings and of course, meeting JoJo—the resident, wild dolphin and national treasure who often welcomes divers to the islands. Some of the best dives I had here were during sunset. It is when the reefs begin changing and you see both the nighttime and daytime creatures roaming about in such hectic numbers that you don’t know where to look.”
Provo—short for Providenciales—has a plethora of dive sights including the famous Grace Bay.
Dive Provo offers two-tank boat dives to sights including Grace Bay, Northwest Point, West Caicos, French Cay, Pine Cay and Sandbore Channel. For divers taking advantage of multi-day dives, the company will create an itinerary of different dive sites. For example, in Grace Bay—a popular dive site in the summer with varied topography—highlights include Graceland, where reef sharks often can be spotted and the Aquarium, where enormous schools of snapper and other fish continuously circle at the top of the wall.
Travelers who want to explore multiple dive sites during the day and want luxury accommodations have a variety of options on the island including Point Grace. Unlike a lot of the large hotels on the island, this boutique property has only 28 rooms and focuses on one-, two-, three-, and four-bedroom suites. A big draw after several days of diving (and wearing the heavy tanks) is the Thalasso Spa.
While many visitors know Provo, it’s the most-visited of the islands, the sister islands offer a wealth of diving opportunities.
The Turks and Caicos Islands consist of 40 islands and cays, nine of which are inhabited.
Andersen notes that there is a lot of diversity between the islands in terms of development, feel, and, of course, underwater topography. If you are looking for a more remote, “castaway” style of island life, some of the smaller islands definitely fit the bill. PADI has 13 Dive Centers in the Turks and Caicos on four different islands.
East Bay Resort located on the island of South Caicos, one of the sister islands, has valet diving services through Reef Divers South Caicos. Divers meet with an instructor to create an itinerary depending on their interest level: wall diving, marine life, shallow dives, overheads, or formations. The company provides all the gear and rinses, dries and stores everything after each dive, so it’s ready to go for the next excursion. Diving possibilities include the Admiral Cockburn National Park, the dramatic walls of Grand Turk as well the coral reefs of East Caicos. There are over 25 dive sites in this area. Divers have a chance of seeing a variety of marine life including sharks, turtles, rays, eels and large schools of fish.