Looking for some midwinter attention? Post some bright and sunny beach pics on your Instagram story. Who doesn’t daydream about sipping coconut-infused libations under a swaying palm when they’re stuck in traffic on a dreary, cold morning commute?

No wonder Jenna Cooper’s photos from her December visit here were so popular with her 350k+ followers. But if you track this social media sage, you already know that her focus extends beyond the usual postcard images: She’s passionate about finding — and highlighting — hidden gems.

We joined Jenna as she popped into small shops and businesses, sharing stories online about the people she met along the way. It was fun watching her explore, but here’s the best part: Between meeting a local musician, visiting a handmade-jewelry shop and strolling the beach at sunset, we got to witness Jenna connect to the true spirit of our islands. That feeling followed her home, too.

Here’s her story…

Upon arrival, Jenna took a huge breath of what she described as “happy air.”

by Jenna Cooper (@jennacooperfit)
I only started traveling in the past couple years. Before that, I was living in a small town in Indiana, and had never even been on an airplane. After some big life changes – I sold everything in my apartment, moved to a new state and was cast on a reality tv show – I began chasing my dreams of seeing the world and experiencing the travels I had always dreamed about.

Tasting new foods, swimming in faraway waters, breathing in the same air as passionate explorers who are out fulfilling their dreams was exciting. In recent years, I explored Cuba, snorkeled in Hawaii and danced in Paris. I left a piece of my heart in each destination, and will never forget who I met and what I learned. But, of all the alluring places I have had the pleasure to visit so far, Turks and Caicos has been by far the most magical.

At the spa, on the water, cuddling puppies, Jenna found plenty of fun ways to soak up the best of island life.

When I first arrived, I took a huge breath of what I can only describe as “happy air.” I’m not sure if it was the beautiful beach scene that I had only seen previously on computer screen wallpapers, the aesthetically pleasing plates of fresh seafood or the brilliant sunbeams reflected in the eyes of all the kind people who greeted me, but I was instantly spellbound.

It was truly art. The native plants and birds were thriving, each fulfilling their part of the lifecycle. You could feel the shifting moods of the water throughout the day as it displayed various shades of blue and turquoise depending on the sun rays and clouds. Everyone was so friendly, always smiling like they knew something I didn’t. Sounds dramatic, I know, but it felt like another world. A world I wanted to live in.

I was beginning to understand the importance of taking a deep breath, reveling in my surroundings and realizing that embracing this beauty and wonder completely can lead to a sense of fulfillment that is rarely uncovered. It felt like this is how life is supposed to be.

The Shore Club was the perfect spot to stay, relax, swim, eat and enjoy the days in paradise.

During my trip, I stayed at The Shore Club and it was amazing. Each day started with an incredible sunrise, breakfast and relaxing time at the beach or pool…and ended with a hot bath, fluffy white robe, and sweet dreams of what the next day would bring. The Shore Club’s Dune Spa was one of my favorite amenities. I received an incredible massage in an oceanfront bungalow, while the sea breeze brushed over my back, inviting me to stay and enjoy another day of paradise.

But with all the bliss that I enjoyed at the resort, I wanted to get to know this magical place much deeper! Taking some advice from the Turks and Caicos Magazine, I spent time exploring the island.

From beach hopping to sampling the local food, there is so much to see and do around the island.

I sought out the best-kept-secret beaches, sampled food from some of the top-rated restaurants (my favorites included Da Conch Shack and Coco Bistro), and visited local shops with brilliant gifts and handmade jewelry (I recommend stopping by The Wellington Collection in the Saltmills Plaza). I also had the pleasure of viewing the beauty of the sea during a snorkeling boat tour with Caicos Dream Tours.

If I can offer some additional advice to anyone planning a trip to TCI soon I would say: It’s worth it to rent a car (Grace Bay Car Rentals was awesome), wear comfortable shoes, bring lots of coral safe sunscreen and prepare for total relaxation.

This was the vacation of a lifetime, but one of the best parts was when I returned home. At first I was focused on how much I missed the little piece of paradise I had connected with so deeply. However, as I returned to the marathon of everyday life, I noticed that I hadn’t really left the spirit of the islands behind. I found myself slowing down, taking deep breaths and awakening all my senses.

Turks and Caicos is officially my happy place, and I can’t wait for my next wide-eyed and sandy-toed experience on these enchanting islands.