A British Overseas Territory, the Turks and Caicos Islands are comprised of eight islands and 40 cays. They lie at the south-eastern end of the Bahamas chain, 575 miles southeast of Miami and 90 miles north of the island of Hispaniola. The islands are generally flat, with rolling hills. The highest elevation is on the island of Providenciales, which rise to approximately 250 feet.
The Islands were named from the scarlet dome of the barrel-shaped Turks Head cactus which reminds one of the Turkish fez and the Spanish word “cayos” for small islands. The two groups of islands are divided by a 22 mile wide 7000 ft. deep passage known today as “Columbus Passage.”
The islands aptly proclaimed, “Beautiful by Nature”, are the landfall Islands of Christopher Columbus’ first voyage in search of the far east. Columbus first set foot upon the island of Grand Turk in 1492 to be welcomed by the friendly and peaceful inhabitants, Lucayan Indians.
For almost 100 years during the 16th and 17th centuries, the Caicos Islands served as a hideout and haven for pirates.
Bermudans arrived in the islands in the mid 1600s and began a thriving salt business which lasted for four centuries on Grand Turk, Salt Cay and South Caicos.
The American Declaration of Independence left British Loyalists or Tories from South Carolina and Georgia without a country, causing many to take advantage of British crown land grants in the Turks and Caicos. Cotton plantations were established and prospered for nearly 25 years until the cotton bug, soil erosion and a devastating hurricane in1813 brought them to an end. A few loyalists took their slaves to Grand Turk where they entered the salt trade. The majority departed for Canada and other British territories, leaving the plantations to decay.
Slavery was officially abolished in Britain from1807 giving the Royal Navy the authority to suppress the illicit traffic. Hundreds of slaves were seized on the high seas and set free on the shores of the Bahamas. Others arrived as a result of two shipwrecks, one in 1837 and the other in 1841.
The islands were formally federated with the Bahamas by an Act of Parliament in 1799. In 1848, a separation from the Bahamas provided for a local government for the i slands. Administration of the islands were expensive, thus in 1873 they became annexed to Jamaica, remaining so for the next 90 years. In 1976, the islands were granted a new constitution and an elective form of government with a governor appointed by the Queen to represent the British interest in the Islands.
Providenciales is the most developed of all the islands, and offers alongside water sports and golf, an American Casino and tennis, as well as an inexpensive array of World Class Spas. Grand Turk harbors the Turks and Caicos National Museum and alongside Salt Cay holds the historic and cultural sites of the islands with ruins and old colonial buildings. Grand Turk and Salt Cay offer some of the best wall diving and whale-watching in the World. The lush and green island of North Caicos, boasts the largest flock of Pink Flamingos, extensive nature reserves and sanctuaries. Cave safari, craft demonstrations and model sail boat races are popular on Middle Caicos, which has the largest cave network in Bahamian region as well as some of the most beautiful beaches edged by dramatic cliffs and a rambling trail.