Welcome to the Turks and Caicos Islands (aka TCI), where a native cactus with a red topknot reminded 16th century explorers of a Turkish fez. The second part of the name (“Caicos”) is the indigenous word for a string of islands. Since 1783, these 40 islands have been a British Overseas Territory. Geologically, these low-lying limestone slabs are part of the Bahama Archipelago. Like the Cayman Islands and the Bahamas, TCI is a good place to find expensive hotels, white beaches, off-shore financial services and beautiful reefs to snorkel and scuba dive.
Although most visitors come to TCI on United, American, Delta, or Southwest, I flew on one of InterCaribbean‘s propjets. On arrival in Providenciales, I boarded the TC Aggressor II which was to be my home and scuba diving platform for the next week.
The best part of TCI is under water. The best way to see it is with a scuba tank on your back. TCI’s dive sites are scattered around a shallow lagoon 100 km (60 miles) in diameter. The ideal way to get to all these remote dive sites is aboard a liveaboard dive cruise.
TCI is known for clear water and healthy reefs. In 2019, TCI’s 57,000 residents hosted more than 1.5 million visitors, mostly Americans. In 2020, the number of snorkelers and scuba divers sank 80%.
Although tourism is slowly recovering, it was easy to book a last-minute dive trip at a discount. I booked a one week cruise and was thoroughly satisfied and impressed. The boat was luxurious, with air-conditioned staterooms, a hot tub on the sun deck, and lots of comfortable spaces to lounge in. The dive program was professionally run, with dive masters, guides and all the proper safety considerations. The staff was friendly and helpful, always ready to provide extra services that made our trip a delight. The weather was sunny and windy for the whole week. The food was first rate. The diving was fabulous. And the other 17 divers aboard were all fun, friendly folks.
More exposed to the Atlantic and farther north than most of the Caribbean islands, TCI is cool in March. The water temperature ranged from 23-26°C (73-79°F). Although most divers wore a full 5mm wetsuit. I got by with a 3mm shorty.
Although many of the world’s reefs are bleached out and dead due to global warming, overfishing and water pollution, TCI’s reefs are fairly healthy. One sign of a healthy reef environment is lots of sharks. We saw dozens of them. They looked well fed, so they didn’t bother us. Yay!
One of the signature dives of TCI is a wreck dive called “The Dome” where we swam through the coral-encrusted remains of an ill-fated French TV program from the early 90’s called Le Trésor de Pago Pago. This reality survival show required contestants to free dive (without air) into a metal cage 10 meters below the surface to gather bracelets from magic coral fountains. Contestants could extend their underwater searches by flirting with scantily clad mermaids for breaths of air from scuba hoses disguised as conch shells. Breathing compressed air at depth and then ascending quickly is a dangerous mix. The show was cancelled abruptly after the second air embolism. If you’d like to see a couple of minutes of this bizarre TV show, click here.
I dove 23 times in six days. Most of my dives were about 40 minutes long. My deepest dives were 30 meters. To avoid exhausting my nitrogen tolerance, I dove with Nitrox (lower nitrogen mix, higher oxygen content). This enabled me to spend more time at depth. Posing for my photo 20 meters below the surface, I took off my mask and regulator so that you could see it’s really me. If you have 24 minutes, please click here for the official video of our cruise. Watching this video will show you how much fun a good liveaboard dive cruise can be.
One of the added benefits of taking a cruise like this is making friends with other scuba divers. They tend to be athletic, well-traveled and environmentally conscious. This makes for easy friendships and good times.
Regarding the current Covid travel restrictions, getting into TCI was a headache. Three days prior to arrival, all visitors were required to fill out and submit an on-line travel application and upload documents confirming vaccinations, boosters, negative antigen tests and travel insurance. If the TCI website had been well-designed, this would have been merely an annoying assignment. At least, visitors to TCI have the satisfaction of knowing that Covid is being taken seriously.
This visit to TCI has whetted my appetite for more island hopping and scuba diving in the Caribbean. Next stop is Tortola in the British Virgin Islands.