Shores fringed with miles of pristine, turquoise waters. Soft, white sand beaches that stretch for miles. And turquoise clouds?
Yes, looking up from the soft sands of Grace Bay, the cloud bottoms were actually turquoise.
“How can that be?” I mused as my eighteen-month old son stood holding a striped blue and white beach chair, his tiny feet immersed in the sugary white sand crystals that for the moment, were my refuge. He stared at the gentle waves on the beach, ready to run into the surf, arms outstretched with a little boy smile. I gazed at the endless blue water before me, and then up to the cottony clouds that were indeed tinted with a brilliant shade of aqua.
My question was answered. The breathtaking aqua water color was reflected …mirrored…on the bottoms of the clouds. Yet another affirmation as to why the Turks & Caicos Islands are still my favorite beach destination.
Nestled between Miami and Puerto Rico, the Turks and Caicos Islands have often been called “the forgotten islands”. Not easily forgotten are the miles of uncrowded white sand beaches, abundant reefs, excellent diving wrecks and some of the oldest coral communities known to man. Over thirty islands make up the Turks & Caicos, but only about eight of them are inhabited.
Provo – Venturing Out
Providenciales was originally named “La Providentielle” after a French ship allegedly wrecked near the island. Survivors washed ashore in the azure waters, and later the Spanish renamed the island Providenciales. Now a British territory, it is known by many as just “Provo” and has become one of the premier diving spots in the world.
Hotel accommodations in Provo are secondary to the incredible scenery, water and beaches. But after years of being somewhat unknown, Provo has grown and offers a wide variety of places to stay. Families with children can enjoy Beaches, and singles and couples will relish Club Med, The Palms, and the two Ocean Clubs nestled on a picturesque, crescent beach of Grace Bay. Most of the hotels share Provo’s signature stamp of powder white beaches that stretch for miles against striking aquamarine-colored waters.
This was our second trip to Provo. Our first was when we wed on the beach in Provo. Now a few years later, we were accompanied by our 18 month old son and his Grandma. We returned partly because Provo is a destination wonderful for all ages, due to its mild climate, safe and friendly accommodations, and calm, beautiful waters. But the adventures and sights beyond the hotel made us want to come back even more.
After settling into the hotel for just a day, we headed to Scooter Bob’s Jeep rental located at the Turtle Cove Inn. Even though the thought of trekking to remote beaches on rough-terrain roads with a toddler and Grandma seemed a bit venturesome, the most magnificent sites of Provo beckoned us for a second time. We rented the Jeep and some snorkel gear and gathered the locals’ directions to the most scenic and remote spots on the island. We were on our way to what has turned out to be three of my most favorite places in the world.
I first caught a glimpse of Chalk Sound on our flight to Provo when we got married in 1999. From my plane window, I couldn’t take my eyes off of what looked like a turquoise mass of water dotted with tiny islands. I had never seen a color like that. It looked like a small aqua sea sprinkled with tiny masses of land, and it looked shallow. I could also see that it looked accessible by road and I knew I absolutely had to see it up close.
We drove the Jeep through town, winding down steep paved hills past historic architecture that was lightly splashed with pinks, corals and blues. Provo’s old world charm is somewhat misleading, as the island is one of the most advanced offshore banking and finance centers in the world and the home of many accountants, lawyers and bankers.
I knew we were getting closer as I saw the clouds’ turquoise bottoms becoming more and more vivid. Everyone in the Jeep was content. My husband was driving. Grandma was in the back seat with the wind in her hair, and my son entertained himself with his milk cup and board book. I was in the front with our pencil-scratched directions and map, and I felt a childlike excitement as we neared the Sound.
We rounded a bumpy paved turn. “There it is,” I gasped in a quiet, “we’ve finally arrived’ voice. My mother-in-law leaned out the Jeep window as we parked, taking in the beautiful site of this electric-blue ocean lake sparsely flecked with tiny mounds of land.
Chalk Sound lay before us. The three-mile bay still looked mystically tranquil…not a ripple and not a wave. This shallow blanket of azure water is at the most 20 feet deep, and studded with perhaps a hundred tiny islets, some the size of a house and some only the size of a beach towel. The small islands were formed about 3000 years ago when the Caribbean sea rose to its present levels. The bottom of the Sound is completely visible through the clear water and is an unblemished white, made up of heavy sand and silt. The vast lagoon is surrounded by majestic cliffside villas that overlook the calm water.
Chalk Sound is eerily quiet. Unless a car passes, you will only hear the wind and perhaps some muffled ocean waves from the sea that lies beyond the Sound. Every now and then, white caps appear in the far distance.
This is one of the most enchanting and ethereal places I have ever seen. There seems to be a calm but intense battle between the quiet of the Sound and its snow white floor and the loudness of the almost electrifying turquoise water. Above, the clouds stood still scattered in the blue sky with their tinted bottoms.
My only regret? Not bringing a raft so that I could float between the turquoise clouds and peaceful water. I will definitely pack one next time.
Sapodilla Bay Beach
Not the easiest to find and our directions were a bit scanty, but this is also a definite must-see if you are staying in Provo. The entrance to the beach is very easy to miss. “You’ll see a lane just before a big white house,” said Scooter Bob, and he was right. Turning left immediately before this home, a pebbly sand road took us to a small, remote and uninhabited beach.
Often referred to as the “children’s beach”, there were no waves in the calm water. The white coralline sand felt like velvet under our feet. We waded out about 100 yards and the water still only lapped at our waists. The sand below my feet was soft, white, pure and almost heavy. I bent down to pick up a handful of the thick, wet sand and watched it pass from my fingers and drop back into the clear water.
Homes with moored sailboats surrounded the protected cove and beach, but no one was in sight. Once again everything was still except for white-capped waves in the far distance. A villa was perched just behind the beach and I wondered who was lucky enough to live there. A walk to the east took us to Sapodilla Hill where old carvings of sailors’ names still exist from the days they were shipwrecked. A few are now on display at the airport, and I felt a comfort that perhaps they were overlooking and protecting this peaceful cove.
Northwest Point Beach
One might call us zealous attempting to visit this tiki-hut bejeweled beach at Northwest Point. This was our second trip to what many call Malcolm’s Road Beach, but now the roads leading to the beach had deteriorated from the previous years of rains that had washed through. The bulldozed roads to the beach were not clearly marked and they were completely deserted. Some of the route took us high on hills, overlooking the ocean. “Just drive toward the water,” said a local at Scooter Bob’s.
The rocky road dipped and turned more than we remembered, and at one point, we stopped and got out, gazing at a deep ravine in the road. We brainstormed a way to traverse the Jeep through and around the gully without popping a tire on the straggly boulders that feebly lined the road. Further down the road, large broken boulders blocked our way and we drove to the side, between scrub brush and cacti to get around the rocky obstacles. My mother-in-law nervously urged us to turn back, confident that we were the only brave travelers that had ever passed this way. But with the ocean in view and the turquoise clouds almost mapping the line of the beach, we forged ahead. We had done this before and survived, and finally, we arrived again.
There was little room to park on the sand dune hill, but we inched our Jeep next to only one other. I am fairly sure that my mother-in-law felt a sense of relief, seeing that others decided not to turn back on that awful road. “I can’t believe someone else is here,” she said as she climbed down from the Jeep. “See?” I laughed. “We weren’t so crazy after all.”
The breathtaking seascape was below us, and it was a worthwhile reward. Down a small hill of rolling sand dunes lay a stunning beach with crystal clear water that was remarkable for snorkeling and abundant with white rock coral and small, colorful fish. The beach and view were wondrous, and I felt like I was on the edge of the world as I peered beyond the tiki huts that edged the tip of Northwest Point, to the sparkling blue water and white-tipped waves.
We took turns snorkeling and swimming and for a bit of shade, walked under the wind-battered huts left over from an old French game show once filmed here. The story is well known in Provo, yet I still wonder how they managed to get the host, contestants and game show gear down Malcolm’s Road. Perhaps, they came by ship.
These islands aren’t as much of a secret anymore. More hotels are building. I am happy to report that the road to Northwest Point is now partly paved due to the addition of resorts like Amanyara, an upscale resort featuring lavish pavilions and private villas. The drive will be smoother next time and the beach is still public, but the tiki huts are now gone. Despite the new hotels and increasing popularity, the magnetic blue waters and uncrowded beaches still remain.
On the way back to our hotel, we stopped at Sharkbite on Turtle Cove Marina for some conch chowder and watched ocean birds swoop down on the chartered fishing boats from our outdoor deck table. Just beyond Sharkbite and the marina is a dirt road leading to Smith’s Reef, one of the best snorkeling sites on the island. As I sipped on a refreshing drink, I watched with a bit of envy as some cars headed down the lane toward the beach. But I felt fulfilled, having seen my three favorite places in the world once again.
Our day was ending as we returned our Jeep to Scooter Bob’s. My son was contently sleeping, his sun-kissed hair tousled and sandy from the beach, and we were jubilant having shared the beauty and wonder of Provo with his Grandma. Captivated for a second time, I know that I’ll come back. I must see the color and serenity of Provo’s wonders like Chalk Sound again. I don’t believe there is anywhere like it in the world. And the next time, I will gaze even longer at the turquoise clouds, and the incredible waters that give them their hue.
About the author: Linda Treese is a freelance writer whose articles on topics such as travel and parenting have been featured in several publications on the East Coast. She is currently a travel writer and also working on several children’s books. She resides in the Washington, D.C. area with her husband and two young children and enjoys the outdoors, travel and volunteering with her therapy dog.