The romance of a visit to the island of South Caicos begins the moment you set foot inside the departure lounge at Providenciales International Airport. The flight is short and spectacularly scenic. Less than 30 minutes after take-off the plane touches down at South Caicos’ modest airport, where you meet the first of the island’s famously friendly, brightly smiling residents.
South Caicos introduces itself with a rustic beauty and natural sense of order. Donkeys nod curiously at arriving guests. Egrets take a break from hunting in the shallow ponds, lifting their necks silently to observe passersby.
The landscape that unfolds in all directions of the compass is peaceful and often untouched. It’s not entirely unlike familiar vistas on Provo, yet it’s entirely refreshing. Walking up a hill to take in the view, I feel my awakened energy downshift into a calm and meditative state. The ocean breeze is soft, the seascapes stunning.
Unspoiled nature is the centerpiece here. Beach walkers may come in search of one experience, bonefish anglers another, but any time spent outdoors on South Caicos reveals the West Indies in its pristine glory.
I chose a nature cruise to nearby McCartney Cay, and veteran local waterman Captain Tim Hamilton welcomed me aboard. As we headed toward the open sea, Tim spotted our first eagle ray gliding majestically through water so clear the scene felt dreamlike. A change in color signaled turtle grass below, and soon a curious sea turtle popped up to look us over. Pelicans and osprey soared overhead.
Wild nature is not tamed at this civilized outpost, but hums harmonically with human settlement.
South Caicos wasn’t always so tranquil. By local standards, the island was once a bustling hub of activity, home to a large proportion of the territory’s mid to late-twentieth century population. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II once paid a visit here, and waves of inhabitants, from Lucayan Indians to Bermudians and Europeans, have all left their mark, if only in memory.
One constant is the annual rhythm of the local lobster and conch trade. During the open season, fishermen head out at first light and return in the afternoon with their catch heaped on deck. To watch the return of this colorful fleet, I joined other visitors on the porch of the Sunset Cafe. Located just a few steps from the island’s docks, this charming eatery routinely garners discerning praise for its local seafood dishes.
The island benefits from other dining spots, too, with options ranging from casual fare to relaxed fine dining. One standout, the Great House Restaurant, serves an amazing array of delicate dinner dishes prepared by Executive Chef Jose Francois Alias. The venue also delivers splendid sunsets overlooking the Caicos Bank.
Of course, it takes a steady stream of diners to sustain a rising culinary scene on such a small and generally quiet island, Fortunately, after years outside the spotlight, South Caicos’ appears to be building an intriguing reputation among discriminating travelers. Traffic is up.
For the modern amenities demanded by such visitors, South Caicos boasts three resorts, each with a list of signature offerings. Two of them kicked off the trend, the Ocean & Beach and East Bay resorts, opening the doors for visitors to enjoy island overnight stays. The most recent addition, Sailrock, began welcoming guests this past winter.
Sailrock attracted particular attention from the travel and real estate industry when it announced plans to construct expansive luxury villas on the island, effectively extending Provo’s thriving villa market to an island that requires guests to book either a ferry trip or an additional flight. Would this 21st century travel trend translates to a smaller destination?
So far, so good. Sailrock’s well-designed beachfront villas feature large, private, temperature-controlled swimming pools, and guests enjoy ending their days with a refreshing late-afternoon dip. Other popular amenities include socializing at the outdoor terrace with a cocktail, and massages at the resort’s well-reviewed spa.
South Caicos is quietly attracting the attention of savvy island travelers looking for a new twist on the traditional TCI vacation who are adding South Caicos to their itinerary.
And as my recent sumptuous visit confirms, it’s for good reason.