Grand Turk is about 7 miles long and 1.5 miles wide at its widest point, and is a total of 10.5 square miles. The island has two low parallel limestone ridges lying north to south, separated by a central valley with large areas of water.
Grand Turk is the capital of the Turks & Caicos Islands and the seat of Government. As such, it is where most of the government’s business is conducted. The most striking feature of the island is its Bermudian architecture. While the capital shares the same architectural heritage as Salt Cay and South Caicos, Grand Turk has the largest concentration and best preserved examples of 18th and 19th century buildings. A walk down Front Street gives the visitor a glimpse of what 18th century Grand Turk looked like. Front Street is delightful and with its old world charm, it makes for a romantic setting.
The salt ponds that occupy the centre of the island will also strike the visitor’s eye, and possibly the nose, as unusual. These ponds were once the factories for the country’s main industry: the manufacturing of salt. Today the salt water is allowed to freely circulate through the ponds and, with fish life, the salt ponds are a feeding ground for the country’s national bird, the pelican, and a variety of other birds. If, while walking along Pond Street, you see something dropping from the sky into the waters of the salt ponds, it is likely a pelican diving for fish.
Grand Turk also has spectacular diving grounds and reefs on the western side of the island, in waters just 900 feet west of Front Street. For the diving enthusiast Grand Turk’s diving wall makes a steep drop from shallows of 30 to 60 feet, to depths as much as 7,000 feet. The Grand Turk sea wall and the reefs that lie at the edge of the wall, are home to a spectacular variety of sea life. Dive operators in Grand Turk offer two-tank dives, night dives, PADI instruction and certification, E-6 slide processing, underwater camera rentals, dive equipment rentals, sunset cruises, snorkelling charters, and a complete range of diving services.
Grand Turk is also home to the Turks & Caicos National Museum, located in Guinep House on Front Street. The National Museum is a treasure trove of TCI cultural artifacts. The museum has also taken an active role in recording and preserving the history of the Turks & Caicos Islands. The museum, for instance, houses the remnants of the Molasses Reef Wreck, the oldest European ship wreck excavated in the western hemisphere. It also has a collection of photographs and displays that capture the islands’ history and culture. If you lack a passion for history and cultural exhibits however, the museum also sells a collection of postcards, books, and souvenirs. A visit to the museum is highly recommended.
Like diving enthusiasts, a large number of stamp collectors will also have heard of these islands. For many years, the country has been know among stamp collectors for its unusual and colourful stamps. For those with an interest in stamp collecting, a visit to the Islands’ Philatelic Bureau on Church Folly is recommended. The museum also has a collection of stamps that are of historic value.
The lighthouse at the northeastern end of the island is also of historic interest. It was built in London and shipped to Grand Turk in 1852 despite some local resistance. The northeastern end of Grand Turk has a number of reefs that caused the wreckage of many ships in the 18th and 19th centuries. The islands at the time were notorious for shipwrecking and the looting of damaged and stranded ships. The practice threatened the salt industry as ships transporting salt from the islands were reluctant to sail to the Turks & Caicos waters because of rumours of false lights being used by wreckers intent on luring unsuspecting ships onto the reefs. Once on the island the lighthouse was assembled and erected. The lighthouse, 75 feet high, sits on a hill 120 feet above sea level.
The bad luck of 18th and early 19th century sailers adds to the richness and variety of dive sites in our waters and is the good luck of today’s divers. Despite the tails of its shipwrecking past, Grand Turk is very much a Christian community. Anyone that stays on the island on a Sunday will hear the church bells ringing and see a large portion of the community attending church services.
The lighthouse hill overlooks the entrance to North Creek, an inland body of water that a growing number of historians maintain, is the closest fit to the description that Columbus gave for the island that he first encountered on his 1492 voyage to the New World. On the opposite end of the island is the Hawks Nest site. This is believed to be the side of the island where Columbus first spotted land.
Also of historical interest to anyone visiting Grand Turk is Waterloo. It was built in 1815 and it is the official residence of His Excellency the Governor. The Turks Head Inn, a hotel and restaurant located on Duke Street, was built in 1840 as a dwelling house. It has been lovingly restored and it is a fine example of the islands’ architectural heritage. Grand Turk has a number of small and quaint hotels along Front and Duke Street and the atmosphere is friendly and informal. They are generally just a few footsteps from the beach and the reefs just off Front and Duke Streets.
The atmosphere in the hotels of Grand Turk is reflective of the attitude of the people of Grand Turk. The people have an infectious friendliness and faces are generally full of smiles. It is one of the islands in the TCI where residents regularly wave and greet visitors. Most of the people on the island have lived together for many years and know each other well. The island has a real sense of community and the pace is much slower and more relaxed than that of Providenciales.
For anyone who requires an activities-packed vacation or who must be surrounded by lots of tourists, Grand Turk is not the right place. Its sense of community, and the kindness of the Grand Turk people are probably the most endearing qualities that make Grand Turk memorable.