Explore the Turks and Caicos Islands beyond Providenciales
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I can’t help but laugh as Rommel Forbes concludes his story on why there are no fast food chains here in Providenciales, the hub of the Turks and Caicos archipelago. “Suddenly KFC started selling pork chops. It was downhill from there. As Forbes, my driver and guide, recounts, a local businessman started a fried chicken empire franchise in the mid-90s, but operations didn’t always follow company standards. (“Our chicken had 48 herbs and spices,” he says with a wink.) Within a few years, KFC was out.
I first arrived in Providenciales, or Provo as the locals call it, around the same time, and have often visited it and its sister islands – only 8 of the 40 that make up the archipelago. are inhabited – since then. In 1996 Provo was a different place. As you walk into its famous beach, Grace Bay, you might be looking both ways and not seeing anyone. There was no footprint other than yours on its 12 miles of sand. The police station was a shipping container on wheels, no building was more than two stories high, and there was not a single traffic light across the entire 38 square mile British Overseas Territory .
In fact, there are still no traffic lights. But a lot has changed. While the Turks and Caicos can still seem quite lo-fi compared to St. Barts or the Cayman Islands, in recent years they have become one of the most popular destinations in the Caribbean, largely because it is a easy trip to three and a half. hour direct flight from New York. There is a bit of a South Beach vibe along Grace Bay, where the pools are surrounded by Balinese beds and the hotels are all “out of hotel” from each other – the most recent, the Ritz-Carlton, rises 12 stories above the sand. Almost everything is imported, so almost nothing is cheap.
Beyond its beaches, however, Provo is known for its food. And not just the hotel restaurants that whip up plates of flame-grilled steak and salt-crusted whole sea bass night after night – this is the conch capital of the Caribbean, and no one should leave without at least one. trip to Da Conch Shack, a long standing meeting place. On previous visits, I have researched all of the above, but what strikes me as the most relevant right now is the food Belongers, Islanders born and raised, eat. Forbes suggests Sweet T’s, a family-owned chicken business that opened just months after KFC closed, selling its products from a food truck. The concept was simple – wings and only chicken wings – and it was a winner. Now, decades later, Sweet T’s is doing a roaring business in a sloped-roof, pink-tiled cement kiosk next to the Ruby gas station.
Sweet T’s is at its busiest around 3 p.m., when parents stop by after picking up their kids from school. “It’s the best deal on the island,” says Forbes, and the menu on the wall confirms it: chicken starting at just $ 2, or $ 5 combos with fries and drink. This kind of take out street food is a breath of fresh air after $ 50 hotel meals. Parked in front of the building, we sit in the car to eat. When I look around, I notice that we are not alone. It’s not yet noon, but several cars across the dusty terrain have their engines running, reggae bass on the radio vibrate their tinted windows as drivers devour well-seasoned fenders. The queue at the kiosk is now a dozen or so customers, many fanning absently as the sun beats down. As my teeth pierce the crispy dough, I am happy that even after 25 years of visiting Provo, it can still surprise me.
North Caicos is only 12 miles and 25 minutes by boat from Provo, but it feels much further away. There are no banks and only one hotel in its 41 square miles, which is home to a permanent population of around 1,400. When day trippers arrive at Bellefield Landing, they take a quick tour of snorkeling a cove and spotting flamingos before scurrying off to catch the return crossing. But, of course, it takes more than a few hours to get under the skin of the place. Known locally as the “Green Island” because it rains more than others, North Caicos has traditionally fed the land, supplying most of its produce. But when foreign food imports increased in the 1980s, farmers began to move for jobs in Provo’s then booming tourism industry. The island looks like a different country from its urbanized sister, sleepy instead of smooth, tranquil rather than luxurious. When a car passes you on the single strip of road that circles the eastern shore, the driver always gives a friendly wave or honk. The low-key charm of North Caicos is slowly catching the attention of those who have realized they can buy land here at a fraction of the prices of Provo.