Just back from a scubadiving tour of Grand Turk in the Turks & Caicos Islands (TCI), which is a British Overseas Territory or Crown Colony. The TCI consists of 40 islands & cayes, only eight of which are inhabited. The population totals appx. 30,000 residents & the island of Grand Turk is home to about 3,000 folks. Many residents are descendents of slaves brought in to rake the salt pans or pick cotton on the plantations. While the economy relies heavily on tourism, the crime rate in the TCI is one of the lowest in the Carribean. All the islands are casual-dress, language is English & the official currency is the U.S. dollar - bring plenty of these, as the islands are somewhat expensive compared to Mexico or Belize for example & credit cards are not accepted at some establishments on Grand Turk.
The average year-round air temp varies from 80 - 90 degrees F & thanks to fairly constant trade winds, humidity is not as bad as some Carribean destinations. The islands average 350 days of sunshine. Water temp varies from 74 - 84 degrees F. When I was there (April / May) the water was 80 - 82 F.
My buddies & I get together each April to visit what for us is a new dive location. For this trip, we all met up at Miami International Airport & stayed at the Airport Hotel which is located in Concourse E. The next morning we flew to Providenciales & from there had to puddle-jump to Grand Turk on Air Turks & Caicos. NOTE: Their baggage policy only allows 44 pounds checked without charges. It's getting tough out there!
The islands are located 550 miles SE of Miami, below the Bahamas & east of Cuba on the verge of the Atlantic Ocean. We stayed at the Osprey Beach Hotel, which is north of the TCI capitol of Cockburn Town. No need for a rental car, as all amenities are within walking distance from Osprey Beach & taxis are easy to come by. The hotel has an excellent white sandy beach & the rooms are air-conditioned with kitchenettes & large enough for scubadiving photographers who have to spread things out every day to dry.
A dedicated pier for cruise ships is located at the far south end of the island. The boats hit each Monday & Friday. The other five days of the week Grand Turk is a sleepy little island with not much going on (at least when we were there) except day to day life. However, when the cruise boats hit, the island lights up with activity. The bars that were empty all week are suddenly full & at the cruise pier, Margaritaville overflows with partiers.
My group dove with Oasis Divers which is a short walk up the beach from the hotel. Dale & her husband run the operation & Mackie runs the boat & serves as divemaster. It's a very tight operation that caters to photographers. My group had the boat all to ourselves all week, which is rare if you are familiar with diving. In fact, except on cruise ship days we seemed to be the only divers on the island. The reefs are in very good shape considering some of the recent hurricane activity in this part of the world. Generally the currents were light, which makes for easy diving & a good amount of bottom time. The water was so clear I had to filter my strobe for virtually all shots.
The above-water photo subjects include a number of historic structures built in the 18th & 19th centuries, with most still in use today. An island tour includes a photogenic lighthouse & a number of shallow salt pans which today provide a feeding ground for a wide variety of birdlife, including flamingos.
Overall, it was a good trip, with the exception of the airlines & Miami International Airport, which is still as disorganized as I remembered it from previous years. Any time I can avoid MIA, I do, but sometimes 'you can't get there from here'. As you all know by now, the airlines are nickel & diming their customers at every turn, so as a frugal scubadiver I now rent a lot of scuba gear I used to haul, so I have room for the camera equipment. The gear provided by Oasis Divers was excellent & I wouldn't hesitate to rent from them again.
Photo credits: Conchasdiver.