Grand Turk

Grand Turk is not a resort island although there are a few hotels and dive operations that concentrate mostly on the wall just off the west coast. Several times a month a cruise ship dwarfs Cockburn Town and disgorges the equivalent of the island's population to visit the sights. The vegetation is mostly scrub and cactus, and wild donkeys and horses roam freely. Behind the town and around the island are old salt pans, with crumbling walls and ruined windmills, where pelicans and other waterbirds fish. The east coast is often littered with tree trunks and other debris which have drifted across from Africa, lending credence to the claim that Columbus could have been carried here, rather than further north in the Bahamas chain. There are great sea views from the 1852 lighthouse at the extreme north of the island. Grand Turk is the seat of government and the second-largest population centre, although it has an area of only 7 square miles.

Getting there

Airlines and schedules tend to change often. Most visitors arrive in Provo and then shuttle over on a small aircraft. There are frequent inter-island flights and it is possible to turn up on the day you want to travel and catch the next flight. If coming by yacht, the harbour is in North Creek.

Getting around

Taxis are the only form of public transport. Jeeps, cars and bicycles can be rented. Distances are not great and if you are based in Cockburn Town you may not need a vehicle.

Cockburn Town

Cockburn Town, the capital and financial centre, has some attractive colonial buildings, mostly along Duke Street, or Front Street, as it is usually known. The government offices are in a small restored square with cannons facing the sea. The post office and government buildings are painted in blues, ranging from deep turquoise to almost white, nicely matching the ocean.

The oldest church on Grand Turk is
St Thomas' Anglican church
(inland, near the water catchment tanks), built by Bermudan settlers. After a while it was considered too far to walk to the centre of the island and
St Mary's Anglican church
was built in 1899 on Front Street. This is now a pro-Cathedral with the southern Bahamas and is the first cathedral in the islands. The
Victoria Library
, built to commemorate 50 years of Queen Victoria's reign, is also an interesting building.
Odd Fellows Lodge
, opposite the salt pier, is thought to be one of the oldest buildings on the island and was probably the place where the abolition of slavery was proclaimed in 1832.

The
Turks and Caicos National Museum
, www.tcmuseum.org,
is in the beautifully renovated Guinep Lodge. The exhibition on the ground floor is of the early 16th-century wreck of a Spanish caravel found on the Molasses Reef between West Caicos and French Cay in only 20 ft of water. The ship is believed to have been on an illegal slaving mission in the islands, as evidenced by locked leg irons found on the site. A guided tour is highly recommended although not essential. Upstairs there is an exhibition of local artefacts, photos, stamps, coins, a few Taíno beads, figures and potsherds. A local historian, the late Herbert Sadler, compiled many volumes on the theory of Columbus' landfall and local history. A
Science Building
, has been completed beside the museum, which houses a conservation laboratory, the only one of its kind in the English-speaking Caribbean. One recent find was a Taíno paddle buried in the peat bottom of North Creek, which has been carbon dated to AD 1100. A new Space Gallery was opened in 2002 at the museum, including photos, a starry night sky, space toys from the 1960s and personal recollections from John Glenn and Scott Carpenter's splashdown just off the shores. Also beside the museum is a new and delightful garden of native plants. The original building on the site was destroyed by fire, but the oven from the old slave kitchen and the water catchment tank have been renovated and preserved as garden features. The museum is involved in the survey work being carried out on a wreck off East Caicos believed to be that of the slave ship
Trouvadore
, which sank in 1841. Its cargo of 193 Africans, captured to be sold into slavery, miraculously survived the wrecking and were freed in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Around the island

The Governor's residence,
Waterloo
, south of the airport, was built in 1815 by a Bermudan salt merchant as a private residence and acquired for the head of government in 1857. Successive governors and administrators have modified and extended it, prompted partly by hurricane damage in 1866 and 1945, and by the Queen's visit in 1966. In 1993 the building was again renovated and remodelled; the works were so extensive they constituted a near rebuilding of the residence. Governor's Beach is one of the nicest beaches and excellent for snorkelling, with isolated coral heads rising out of the sand and a wide variety of fish and invertebrates.

Further south is an ex-USAF base, known as
South Base
, which is now used as government offices, and beyond some nice beaches on the south coast, with good snorkelling at White Sands beach by the point. US Navy, NASA and Coast Guard bases were once important for the economy of Grand Turk; John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth, splashed down off Grand Turk in the 1960s. However, the south of the island is now dominated by the Grand Turk Cruise Center, www.grandturkcc.com, with its pier for cruise ship passengers to access the beach, pool, shops, restaurant, bar, taxis and other services.

The cays southeast of Grand Turk are a land and sea national park, sheltering Turks Head cacti on
Martin Alonza Pinzon Cay
, frigate birds on
Penniston Cay
and breeding sooty terns, noddy terns and other seabirds on
Gibbs Cay
. The lagoons and red mangroves of South Creek are also a national park, with a nursery for fish, crabs and other sea life, as well as a reserve for birds.

Beaches and activities

The highlight of
diving
is the wall off Cockburn Town, which drops suddenly from 40 ft to 7,000 ft only a quarter of a mile offshore. There are 25 moored sites along the wall where you can find coral arches, tunnels, canyons, caves and overhangs. A mile east of Grand Turk is
Gibbs Cay
, where snorkellers are taken for a great day trip, suitable for all the family. As well as a pristine sandy beach and beautifully clear water, there are friendly sting rays which will come right up to you and nose around.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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