I just came back from Turks and Caicos with my best friend and I had the time of my life!
If you’re on a budget and you don’t want to set your bank account aflame as you explore the beautiful islands of Turks and Caicos, you’ve come to the right place.
This is the ultimate Turks and Caicos travel guide for travelers on a budget. I will thoroughly explain every nitty gritty detail of Turks and Caicos you need to know so that you will be PREPARED to take on the fourth most expensive nation in the Caribbean.
Where to Eat in Turks and Caicos
If you want to save money, you can snag an AirBnB with kitchen access. Bring a box of pasta with you and whatever spices you love. And if you have a checked bag, throw in some pasta sauce (you get to escape TSA’s 3-1-1 rule with checked luggage). Grocery stores in Turks and Caicos will likely be pricier than your hometown’s supermarket, so better to bring some stuff with you.
I’m not kidding. Sh** is expensive – I saw a small jar of almond butter for $14!
As for me, even though my AirBnB had a well-equipped kitchen, I couldn’t be arsed to cook on my vacation. I hate washing dishes. All I did was buy breakfast items that would last a week (bagel, peanut butter, green tea). Then I waited for dinner to chow down in restaurants in the neighborhood in the Grace Bay shopping area or out in Turtle Cove.
The great thing about it is that they usually give you enough food that you can take home and save for lunch the next day.
Here are the places I ate at:
1. Mr. Grouper’s – Mr. Grouper’s is most definitely my absolute favorite restaurant because of its native cuisines. I had the Blackened Grouper Sandwich with salad and I was on cloud nine! The fish was well-seasoned and soft, and the different textures of the bread, tomatoes, fish, and lettuce was explosive in my mouth! And, bonus, it’s one of the cheaper choices on the island.
2. Big Al’s – This is a burger place and it’s also a amazing economical choice. Think of it as the Johnny Rockets of Turks and Caicos. They have vegan and vegetarian options, too. On my first visit, I didn’t have a burger though – I had Big Al’s Black Bean Chicken, and it was so delicious! The chicken was grilled to a scrumptious, slightly charred taste coupled with the funky textures of corn and beans (I was able to save some for the next day, too!) Then later, a local suggested I try the A1 burger which was her favorite on the menu. I tried it and it was alright, nothing to boast about. But I loved the fries!
3. Fresh Catch – For me, Fresh Catch was a hit or miss. The first time I had Fresh Catch, I ordered the Blackened Grouper Sandwich since I was so in love with Mr. Grouper’s version of it. But not all grouper sandwiches are made equal because this one was just WAY TOO F***ING SALTY. And when I told the waiter this, he said, “Well, it’s blackened.” UM, NO because when I had the blackened grouper elsewhere, it was well seasoned, not doused in sodium! On the plus side, Fresh Catch does have an affordable menu. But if you don’t want to shave 10 years off your life, try not to eat here.
4. The Bay Bistro – I came here for lunch and never came back. Pricey menu for underwhelming food. Definitely the definition of “tourist friendly food” in a bad way. The menu seems to be finding ways not to “scare” tourists away by offering American-friendly dishes with weak attempts at injecting “island native” flavors. For example, the “Jerk Chicken Wrap” or the “Conch Pizza.”
I had the former and was not impressed. It was “OKAY.” I suppose the Bay Bistro thinks its beachfront dining makes up for the bland cuisine – well, it doesn’t!
5. Danny Buoy’s – I think Danny Buoy’s is pretty good, but definitely one of the pricier options. At Danny Buoy’s, it’s worth splurging for the pricier menu options since those menu items tend to be tastier and they give you enough to take home and save for another day. If I can remember, I had the fried fish with sweet plantains and rice. I hated the sweet sauce that came with it, shudder, but everything else was delicious – very much had that authentic Caribbean taste.
6. The Somewhere Cafe – This is a beachfront option with the most “oomph!” (F U Bay Bistro), they have live music on Sundays and Tequila Tuesdays! It’s incredible to watch the ebb and flow of the ocean while drinking your rum punch. Now I definitely wouldn’t recommend this place for the food nor economical dining. I paid $12 for a super small bowl of fruit that didn’t even have all the fruits promised on the menu! WHERE’S THE HONEYDEW?
7.The Tiki Hut – Also affordable in comparison to other restaurants in the area. I loved the look and feel of the Tiki Hut. You can choose to sit in a rustically decorated seating arrangement or sit by the marina and stare at people out and about on their yachts. I don’t remember much about the food, but that just means it wasn’t incredible, but I also don’t recall it being awful either. (Sorry no photos!)
8. Turkberry – Oh my god! The most delicious fro-yo you’ll ever have in your life in hot ol’ Turks and Caicos. A plain mango-flavored froyo cost me about $4.75 or so.
- Okeanos Juice and Smoothie Bar – I love juicing, but I hate the process. Ugh, you’ve got to cut up all fruits and veggies, peel em, throw ’em in the juicer, and then clean up the mess when you’re all done. Thank you Okeanos Juice and Smoothie Bar for doing all the work for me and just allowing me to drink my green juice in peace! My juice cost about $11.
Turks and Caicos Nightlife
TripAdvisor members will tell you that nightlife in Turks and Caicos is dead, which is true ONLY if you don’t know what days to go out and where to be!
The locals tell me that the Regent Village and Saltmills Plaza area comes alive on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. During my stay, I was at the Thursday Fish Fry, which takes place in Bight Park, so I can’t vouch for that day. On Friday, though, we were around this area at around 10 pm, and things were completely dead. Danny Buoy’s and Sandbar are supposed to be the “hot” places to check out, but was completely disappointed by the turn out.
However, locals told me that I should have stayed out much later. The locals usually work two jobs in Turks and Caicos since the island is so expensive, so they’re usually out to party by 2 or 3 a.m. Otherwise, you’re stuck “partying” with other tourists on the island who are usually boring, rich old couples in khaki Bermuda shorts.
Saturday, I did not go out because my travel buddy got a little sick, so can’t speak for that day either.
But the great thing is that I DID experience amazing nightlife in Turks and Caicos by meeting other locals who knew where the hot spots were. So here’s how to have a good time in Turks and Caicos!
1. The so-called “sketchy” places in Provo have the best clubs/lounges. Two kind locals took us out to clubs they refer to as “downtown” located in the Key Town Settlement and Blue Hills, which are near the airport. I just remember the name of one that we went to: The Lucayan Hut Beach Bar and Grill, which has an “Island Rave” every Friday night.
2. We were lucky enough to have locals whisk us away from the dead Grace Bay tourist hub and take us to hip-hop, bachata, and kompa clubs where all the young natives were dancing to their hearts desire – even on a Monday night! And let me tell you, people were certainly shaking their grove thang! There IS nightlife in Provo, but nowhere near where tourists would venture out to!
3. If you’re not brave enough to venture outside of the Grace Bay area for nightlife, the most “turn up” I’ve seen in Provo in the tourist hub is the Somewhere Cafe (a beachfront restaurant) which has live music on Sunday nights and happy hour an hour before sunset. After I had rum punch, I ate my fish tacos, danced on the beach with my friends, and enjoyed the reggae vibes! But this is ONLY on Sunday nights!
Locals also mention that Thursdays, the night of the Thursday Fish Fry in Bight Park, is one of the hottest nights in town. After having an amazing time in the Thursday Fish Fry, people head over to The Sandbar, Danny Buoy’s, and other places “downtown” to finish off the night with a bang. However, I can’t speak for this since we experienced torrential downpour on our ONLY Thursday night in Provo and had a sad, drenched ride back home!
Things to Do in Turks and Caicos
The beaches, the Thursday Fish Fry, and the Island Rave I mentioned are all free stuff to do in TCI.
But my friend and I did two pricey excursions on our trip to Turks and Caicos: Provo Ponies and the underwater semi-submarine offered by Caicos Tours.
- Provo Ponies, where you ride a horse to the beach and even into the ocean, was my least favorite excursion. When I arrived at the farm, stable – whatever you want to call it – I just felt a wave of sadness overcome me. The horses just seemed absolutely miserable – enslaved to carry people to and form the beach twice a day. I don’t know. I just felt a wave of guilt. I almost wanted to cancel and run back home, but Provo Ponies will still charge your card the full price ($106 or higher during peak season) if you decide you don’t want to do it anymore.
- For beginner riders, Provo Ponies is great for people who are quick learners and can take directions fairly quickly. There’s a lot to learn in a short amount of time, and if you don’t remember the cues to direct your horse, you could be in a pickle. And the Provo Ponies guides get frustrated easily if you don’t learn quickly – just a note.
- The great thing about Provo Ponies, though, is that for a small fee (about $10 more), they will pick you up from your hotel/resort. They also offer you fanny packs to put any valuable stuff you’d like to take with you on the ride.
- In my head, horseback riding sounded a lot more exciting. But in reality, especially if you’re a beginner, you may spend a lot more time trying to get your horse to follow directions than actually enjoying the ride. My horse in particular, Chino, was very frisky and loved to stop to eat, which the guides frowned upon (they kept telling us to steer the horses away from eating). But if you ask me, let ’em eat! I mean they have to walk around for two hours and carry our fat asses through the ocean for god sakes.
2. The Semi-Submarine Offered by Caicos Tours was totally my favorite excursion! How it works is the boat has a lower level, which has windows to see underwater. I got to see barracudas, sea turtles, and other beautiful fishy creatures.
- On the other hand, though, I highly disliked the semi-submarine guide, Lynn. I very much appreciated her knowledge of the sea and the fish that inhabit it, but 25 minutes into the tour, I noticed Lynn was using her position to “preach” about the perils of using plastic.
- About three or four times, she begged us not to use straws and plastic bags, even suggesting that we use bags made out of t-shirts instead. Once is enough, maybe even twice, but the third time felt too pushy and, dare I say it, propaganda-ish. Yes, we need to protect our oceans, but no you do not need to beat it into our minds over and over again like a broken record. It made the tour tedious.
- Overall, guide aside, the excursion was a blast and I very much salute the pilot, Alistair! Definitely recommended! It was about $70 per person.
Beaches in Turks and Caicos
I only checked out Grace Bay Beach, and it was just divine! Heavenly skis, clear turquoise waters, parasailers in the distance, translucent fish nipping at your feet – aah!
It’s not too crowded, either!
When to Vacation in Turks & Caicos
I spent one week in Turks and Caicos from April 26th to May 3rd of 2017. This is only because my birthday is on May 1st and I just wanted to celebrate turning 26 on a sunny, tropical beach and not cold and windy New York City!
But I realized that I couldn’t have picked a better time of the year to travel.
- Hotels, resorts, and AirBnBs usually jack up their prices during the winter holidays because its their peak tourist season (I know I assumed it would be the summer months too). So if you want to treat your pockets kindly, avoid traveling between December and March.
- Unless you want to experience major anxiety about Hurricane Dickwad ruining your Caribbean getaway, I suggest you NOT travel during hurricane season, which is from June to November.
- Lastly, check out event calendars like this one if you want to travel around certain cultural celebrations.
Choosing a Cheap Flight
I used SecretFlying.com to score a $310 round trip, direct flight deal from JFK to Providenciales Airport. WIN!
People will tell you that you can find cheap flights through sites like Orbitz, Kayak, Expedia, and Travelocity, but in my personal experience, that’s bullshit. They’re pricey AF.
Check out these sites, as well, in addition to SecretFlying:
Finding Cheap Accommodation
If you want to be where all the action is with all the tourist attractions and stuff (like Regent Village and Saltmills Plaza), you’re going to want to stay IN or NEAR Grace Bay, which is on the “main island” of Providenciales (also known as Provo).
The problem is that those who own these accomodations know the value of their centrally located properties, so you will find it very difficult to find something that won’t make your bank account writhe in pain.
So here’s what I need you to do. You need to think about what kind of vacation, exactly, do you want to have in Turks and Caicos?
If you just want to walk around the beach all day, gaze at the stars, and just experience the ultimate “getaway” where you are literally getting away from civilization, you’re in luck because dirt cheap accommodation awaits you.
- You can skip the main island of Providenciales and check out the other islands like North Caicos, which requires a ferry ride from Heaving Down Rock Marina (Walkin Marina) on the main island of Provo. The ferry is about $25 each way. And from North Caicos, you can drive to Middle Caicos. These islands are much quieter and aren’t as densely populated, and have awesome caves, scenic beaches, sinkholes, hiking trails, etc. Accommodation on these islands will be very kind to your pockets, but the downside is that if you’re looking for human interaction, you won’t find it here.
- You can also check out Grand Turk for affordable accommodation. I remember seeing a hostel for only $55 a night, which was in walking distance of all the cool tourist attractions. Grand Turk, I hear, has the best of both worlds – not as quiet as North and Middle Caicos because it has a cruise center that attracts ocean liner tourists, but many say it has that “old, historical town” feel where everything seems to shut down at sunset. You do, however, need to take a 25-minute flight from Provo to Grand Turk (~$135 round trip), so keep this in mind.
- Or you can stay in Provo, and perhaps seek an ocean-view property away from the tourist hubs. This will save you from paying a premium, HOWEVER, if you’d like to get around, invest in a rental car or else you’ll be spending a fortune on taxis!
But if you’re like me, and you want to be where all the action is, stay in Provo and find a place near Grace Bay! It is worth it to pay a little extra for a place that is within walking distance of all the hustle and bustle. No need to pay for taxis and you can just walk everywhere.
Find an AirBnB that is within walking distance of Grace Bay such as The Bight Settlement, Leeward Settlement, and Long Bay Hills. Walking distances are usually listed on the seller’s AirBnB posting. If not, ask!
The AirBnB I stayed in was in Kingstown (located in The Bight). It’s called D&D’s Place and I slept in the Sandpiper Room for about $100 a night. Because the room accommodates two people, I split the cost with a friend and ended up paying about $350 for 7 days (not bad!). It had a beautiful balcony, a pool, gorgeous coconut trees, I was in heaven. It certainly isn’t luxury accommodation by any means, but it gave me a nice bed to sleep in, a beautiful shared living space, and a way to enjoy Provo to the fullest!
Grace Bay Beach was a five-minute walk from the AirBnB and the Regent Village/Saltmills Plaza shopping area was about a 25-minute walk.
Getting Around Provo
There is no public transportation in Provo. Funnily enough, a local told me that the government planned on instituting a bus service on the island, but plans fell through (around Provo, you will see bus stops, but they serve no purpose).
You can rent a car, bike, vespa, or scooter to get around Provo. You can also spend an arm and a leg on taxis.
But as for me, I decided to take jitneys.
How to Get a Jitney
TripAdvisor members will stand on their soap box and tell you that jitneys are the devil and one shouldn’t dare hopping in those things because they’re “unsafe.” Jitneys, by the way, are illegal taxi services which many locals use.
I’ve got to tell you. I couldn’t have had a more polar opposite experience! Paying only $2 per ride when I didn’t feel like walking, I can’t tell you how much money I saved. Licensed taxis, by the way, cost $25 PER person no matter if your destination is 5 minutes away or 25 minutes away! That’s $50 round trip! That is ridiculous.
However, there are a few caveats I must mention when it comes to riding jitneys:
- Ethnicity plays a very important factor when it comes to jitney culture. A jitney driver will usually not honk at Caucasian travelers because they assume many of them prefer licensed taxing. But if you’re a person of color, they automatically think you’re a local and, as a result, are more likely to honk at you to signal that they are a jitney in service.
- If you liked your jitney driver, keep his number! The locals often keep a list of reliable jitney drivers in their phone if they ever need a ride – do it, too.
- Don’t get in janky cars. A local told me that you will want to keep away from “hoopties.” More because you certainly do not want to be wobbling around Provo in a car that on its last legs.
- It’s safer to travel with someone. I personally have not had a bad experience with jitneys. In fact, I’ve had very positive experiences! Even to a point where a jitney driver loved us so much, he refused payment. But for your own feelings of security, it’s best to travel with company!
- Do not freely discuss your usage of jitneys. Just shut up and take them at your own risk.
- Jitneys will not take you to and/or from the airport for obvious reasons.
Okay, now how do you get in one? It’s simple really!
- Meet a local who is well versed in jitney culture and keep their number. I was able to text locals and ask, “Hey, how much would it be from Turtle Cove to Saltmills Plaza?” And the local would tell me, “About $5 for you and your friend.” This will prevent jitneys from trying to overcharge you.
- Walk along a main road as if you’re going for a stroll. You will hear cars honking. Stick your hand out to let the driver know you’d like a ride. (Note: Jitneys pass by every 2 minutes, so they’re pretty frequent)
- The driver will pull over a couple of feet ahead of you. When you get in, let the driver know where you’re going. Be confident and don’t show any timidity. They will sniff you out as a tourist and try to overcharge you.
- Once you’ve reached your destination, just hand the driver the money as dictated by the local, say thank you, and get out. Do not sit there and say, “Um, er, um, how much is that sir?” Some will take the opportunity to say, “$10!” But, to be fair, $10 is still cheaper than paying $25 per person.
The People of Turks and Caicos
I can only speak from my own experience on the island of Providenciales.
1. If you’re kind to the locals, they will smother you with hospitality. I’ve gotten to use free hotel lounge chairs, snorkel gear, and life jackets all because I said “Good morning” to a hotel manager. I’ve also gotten free drinks and complimentary rides to the supermarket.
2. Without looking at the official stats, the island seems to be inundated with more Haitians than Turk Islander natives. I sometimes even wondered if I was on the Hispaniola, not Turks and Caicos. There was also a significant number of Dominicans, Jamaicans, and Filipinos that I’ve ran into as well.
3. Turks and Caicos is expensive, so a lot of natives work two jobs and work in the tourism industry, whether it is a hotel, resort, or restaurant.
Weather in Turks and Caicos
Keep in mind I only spent a week in Turks and Caicos during the end of April and the beginning of May.
The best way I can describe Turks and Caicos weather is bi-polar. There are times when it would start raining cats and dogs for like five minutes, and then the sun would come out. And then five minutes later, torrential downpour again!
It’s a good idea to have a “just in case” umbrella with you. I know it’s annoying to lug umbrellas around, but you will thank me later when you’re caught in Turks and Caicos’ crazy downpours.
It seems to be hottest at around 1pm to 3pm. If you’re walking around at this time, make sure to wear sunscreen; bring a parasol and a straw hat!
Sunblock works wonders. In the following photo, you’ll see that I’ve worn sunscreen on my face and chest area, but neglected to put some on my arms – the skin color contrast is INSANE! It’s kind of cool actually, but I’m pretty sure this is totally unhealthy for my skin.
Language in Turks and Caicos
English is the main language, but there is a sizable community of people who speak Haitian Creole and Spanish.
Currency of Turks and Caicos
The currency is U.S. dollar. They also take debit and credit cards without any problems if you’re American.
The main takeaway here is MAKE FRIENDS WITH LOCALS. They have invaluable information that will make your vacation to Turks and Caicos as smooth as possible. Make sure to get an island phone number – not only will you need to keep natives’ contact information, but excursion companies such as Provo Ponies and Caicos Tours require it to complete your reservation.
If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to tweet me at SweetenedCafe or DM me on Instagram at KimmiexSweetie. I don’t bite!