By Ben Kilbey
Sometimes when on holiday you yearn for culture, history and an abundance of places to go sightseeing. Other times you just want a beautiful beach and plenty of fine dining and diving. If it is the later you are looking for then welcome to Providenciales, or Provo as it is more affectionately called. Provo is the most tourism friendly island in the Turks and Caicos island chain and its 5-star product continues to grow and grow. Turks and Caicos are said by some to boast the finest beaches in the world. Gin clear waters lick sands that feel like cake-mix between the toes. Cooling winds gently tickle the ocean, which in certain areas such as Grace Bay, are as flat as a pancake. Like the ocean the geography of Provo is also flat and as the tourism product grows so to does the infrastructure. There are no mountains to trek or hills to hike. That isn’t the purpose of the island, no way. Provo is all about the beach and what lies beneath the brilliant blue waters.
The Turks and Caicos Islands are surrounded by a rich and vibrant coral reef system said to stretch some 200 miles long and 65 miles across. This is big business for the island network with dive sites to suit all tastes and abilities. Famed for its wall dives Turks and Caicos plays host to some vivid colours and large tube corals. In the summer it is possible to skip a wetsuit and dive in swimwear as the ocean temperature is a bath like 82-84 degrees Fahrenheit. Winter waters can see a drop to between 74-78 and as many dives involve multiple depths a light wet suit is recommended. Visibility on dives is outstanding, up to 200ft. This is prime reasoning for coming to the Turks and Caicos, to experience some of the best diving in the Caribbean.
The original dive operators on Provo are Art Pickering’s Provo Turtle Divers. A slick set up and expert staff allow for a seamless introduction to what the waters off of Providenciales offer. Captain Murray, a thick accented Australian originating from Sydney picked the Cathedral for our dive. Located roughly 10 minutes from the beach of Grace Bay the site gets its name from the shape that it produces. Guide Mikey was expertly knowledgeable and with the help of an underwater writing pad pointed out the rare and the wonderful. A chance eyeball-to-eyeball encounter with a hawksbill turtle gave an added dimension to the deep wall dive which finished with a gentle float across a richly decorated coral garden. The occasional Barracuda would amble past as teems of tropical fish of various species dined on the crackling coral. In the distance large Nassau Groupers could be spotted.
Back on dry land one option is to hit the beach or instead take a kayak trip through the lush red mangroves with a stop off at Little Water Cay to spot the resident Rock Iguana (Cyclura carinata). Big Blue Unlimited touts itself as the Turks and Caicos Islands’ only diving and eco adventure company. The company discloses that is was formulated in 1997/1998 during the International years of the reef and ocean, with the overall mission statement being to provide visitors with unique adventures that educate yet have minimal impact on the surrounding environment. If you are lucky enough to get Donny, a Canadian wild for saving the world and a massive Franz Ferdinand fan, then being educated about the islands ecological history and why the environment needs to be saved becomes an absolute pleasure. Donny knows his stuff and is quick to highlight the importance of taking care of what Mother Nature has given to us - and what we are quickly destroying.
The stop at Little Water Cay allows for some time to unwind and walk the board walks set up to allow for great viewing of various Iguana breeds from across the Caribbean. Sam our host was quick to point out that leaving the board walk could lead to the lose of some fingers. Iguanas do not like to have their personal space invaded and so therefore it is best to stick to the wood and take in what the educated guide has to offer. Back in the Kayaks and it is on towards the mangroves which have adapted in shallow waters to turn salt water into drinking water and survive floating on mass along the waters surface. Their roots support a vibrant fish population where youths hang out for protection, nutrition and to get to grips with their environment. If you are lucky it is even possible to sea adolescent sharks.
At first glance Provo looks like having not much else but a class beating beach to offer. However when you scratch a little deeper and break the surface a whole new world engulfs you and envelops your senses. So what are you waiting for? Dive in.
For more information on Turks and Caicos visit: www.turksandcaicostourism.com
For more information on Provo Turtle Divers visit: www.provoturtledivers.com
For more information on Big Blue visit: www.bigblue.tc