9.01.2010

How we spent our summer vacation: Providenciales, Turks and Caicos


I'm wondering if I should post this or not. Why? Because we are having doubts about returning. And we've always loved it here. So let me tell you about it......

Providenciales, Provo for short, has always been one of our favorite Caribbean islands. It's small, 38 square miles, and is the most developed island in the Turks and Caicos chain. We've been going there for about 20 years. It's convenient for us in South Florida, taking only 70 minutes by plane from Miami.
 



Up until the 60's, Providenciales was inhabited by less than 500 people. There were no cars and few roads. In 1966, a group of men secured an agreement with the government granting them thousands of acres of Providenciales land in exchange for roads and an airstrip. Infrastructure was slowly added to the island as more developers arrived. In 1984 Club Med built a resort on the then-deserted Grace Bay beach. This sparked a truly amazing surge of development which continues to this day.

We love staying on the 12-mile Grace Bay beach; it's been referred to by Conde Nast as the “world’s best beach” and is the location for a number of lovely hotels and condominium resorts. But to be honest, we're thinking the Grace Bay area of Provo is completely over-developed. How can the island's fairly recent (by comparison) infrastructure keep up? Who is buying all these condos? Perhaps Europeans as Provo draws a  large number of European tourists, although it seems to us rather a lot of rooms are vacant. And, there are lots of bargains to be had for hotel rooms, especially in the summer. So they must be hurting somewhat. In the winter, all bets are off. Just for fun, I'm going to watch to see if we are emailed "deals" on hotel rooms this December. So, the building continues....even on the relatively undeveloped northwest point of the island,  an Aman hotel, Amanyara, opened up a couple years ago.


The island itself is not terribly attractive, made up of rugged hills and ridges, covered with prickly pear cactus and scrub. The main draw is the beaches anyway; absolutely gorgeous white sand and clear, turquoise water. My kids are divers and spend half of every day under water; the other half, they go snorkeling. There's every imaginable water sport available. And for golfers, there's a golf course on the island at the Provo Golf Club.


Because we're foodies, I'm pleased to report there are some excellent restaurants on Provo. However, while the hotel rooms are air conditioned, the restaurants are not. And in the summer, it's HOT. One hopes for some nice ocean breezes. There are all kinds of restaurants to choose from. You will find pizza joints as well as fine dining and there are a couple well stocked grocery stores for those who want to save money and eat in.

Here are the best of the best as far as we're concerned (not in any particular order):



     Grace's Cottage
     O'Soleil
                                                     
     Coyoba ( Divine lobster)

 
     Caicos Cafe, an old favorite     (Which has just been sold; we don't know if it will remain a restaurant.)



     Coco Bistro


     Anacaona at Grace Bay Club     (The best food and look at the fun way the waiter delivered our champagne!
     The last photo on the right is an infinity bar.)  


       Da Conch Shack (Fun, fun, fun. And the conch is fresh and delicious.
       That's my lovely daughter!) 
                     
     Amanyara (Divine. What else is there to say?)


As I mentioned, we like to stay on Grace Bay, mainly for the beach. And while there are many hotels on this island, here are three we love and a fourth for dreaming (and honeymoons):

Grace Bay Club $$$$

The Palms $$$$

The Sands $$

And of course,

Amanyara $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$.......................

As you know, water sports were not possible for me what with the cast on my arm. But we did find a plastic cast cover so I could at least take a dip. It couldn't go under water, but I could cool off. (No, my ortho guy does NOT do waterproof casts, if you can imagine a Florida doctor not doing waterproof casts!) So I walked, did a lot of sitting on the beach under a tiki hut and we ALL did a lot of reading. Here are just a few well worth your attention:

Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain (He's always entertaining!)

But Beautiful: A book about Jazz
by Geoff Dyer (If you enjoy jazz, you'll love this!)
The Old Man and the Boy
by Robert Ruark (Thanks for the recommendation, James of Man of the 50's.
Shadow Catcher
by Marianne Wiggins
A Change of Climate
by Hilary Mantel
Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and the Dawn of the
Modern Woman by Sam Wasson (For movie-lovers)
Stettin Station by David Downing
One More Theory About Happiness: A Memoir by Paul Guest
Answered Prayers: The Unfinished Novel by Truman Capote (No wonder his old friends were all mad at  him!)

The sand on the Grace Bay beach is firm and easy to walk on, so I walked miles every morning. We all got lovely tans, albeit mine, on my left arm, looks a bit peculiar now that the cast is off. (Yes, the cast is off. I now have a brace for 3 weeks.) The weather was perfect: hot and sunny. Very little rain.  Doesn't this sound marvelous?


So why are we thinking we might not return?


1. The dive group we have always used, Big Blue, has decided to only do charters. The price is exorbitant of course, but there are enough celebrities and well to do visiting these islands to warrant it. We can't afford it. There are, of course, other dive groups, but the kids were very disappointed with them this year. The right dive shop is really important. Big Blue was fabulous. What a disappointment.

2. The price of dining out has gone through the roof. A dinner for three was easily $300, with tax and tip. We saved money by eating in for breakfast and lunch and I suppose you could do the same for dinner (many with small children did)....but where's the fun in that?


3. The overrun from all the development is killing the reefs. This is not a particularly environmentally-friendly island either. I hope they are trying, but I don't see the situation improving too much. I don't want to think about what is dumped in the ocean and they burn garbage and trash (including plastic) on one end of the island...you can see the smoke.


4. Crime. A problem here. The first night, someone siphoned half a tank of our gas. Then, while talking to our many old friends on the island we discovered: robberies at several hotels (there is one man, whose name everyone knows, who has formed a gang and they are the main perpetrators); one of our favorite chefs was shot three times (and survived) during a robbery; another was hit with a gun butt and needed 11 stitches. Know what? We don't need this. There are other islands that don't have these problems, or at least not to this extent. It makes all of us sad, but there it is. 


I hope my review hasn't been a total downer, I really didn't want it to be; with caution, we were perfectly safe and if the diving issues do not concern you... which was one of our main complaints, please look into Provo for a vacation. It's child-friendly, we've always loved it and will always have fond memories of our years there. It's been fascinating to watch this island develop.

If you want more general info about Provo, check this NY Times aritcle...
http://travel.nytimes.com/travel/guides/caribbean-and-bermuda/turks-and-caicos/providenciales/overview.html


Note: not one of us brought a camera! So we used a little Kodak. As a result, I don't have food photos and in the end, used lots that were online at restaurant and hotel sites.

60 comments:

  1. Quite a vacation my friend! The island sounds really nice, but I see why you are considering not returning, between $300 meals and getting shot at I think that I would find a more peaceful spot.

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  2. Barbara the place look really beautiful, but I understand was so cost, x gloria

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  3. Sorry there were some low spots on your trip. but I an glad you enjoyed the book.Thank you for the link.

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  4. Very nice! lUCKY!! iS THE PRETTY BLONDE IN THE PICTURE YOU?

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  5. Whoa.. shootings, killing the reefs?? Not a happy place, and it's so sad when that happens. Glad you are ok. Maybe time to begin research for a new paradise??

    It's funny about the camera. Until the blog I rarely took pictures of anything!! Now I still forget I should take them... oh well!

    Hope you're home and well!

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  6. Sounds so nice, too bad about the over developing! Very pretty daughter :) Sounds like a great a vaction, in spite of some of the negatives.

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  7. I can see why you're tempted to stay! Wonderful photos--makes me realize how much I need a break!

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  8. Glad to hear you had a nice trip & that you got your cast off - YAY! It must be hard to watch such a special place you really love develop into something less than stellar. Your reviews and photos looked fabulous though. Welcome back & hope to see you soon:)

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  9. Hi Barbara,

    Sounds like you had a lovely vacation, even with your arm in a cast and the dive problems.
    The walking and reading must have been fabulous. We went to a lunch when Anthony Bourdain was out in NZ, he is such an interesting man. Look forward to reading this book.
    I can see why you would be wanting to look elsewhere for your next vacation.
    Robberies and shooting, would not make it a safe place.
    Your daughter is beautiful and thanks for sharing your holiday with us.

    Enjoy the rest of the week
    Hugs
    Carolyn

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  10. I am so glad that you managed to have fun despite the cast. Looks like a wonderful holiday, though I'm sorry the place wasn't what it once was. Nothing wrong with finding a new destination though.
    Glad you've posted this, as I've never heard of Provo before.
    *kisses* HH

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  11. It's quite a shame that the islands have changed so much, I'm most dismayed by the pollution in the ocean, killing of the reefs and crime. The place remains beautiful, I hope that someday it returns to the state you remembered it.

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  12. Wow, lucky you! I can imagine that those islands are not always as heavenly as they seem (the case with many other touristy places)...

    Cheers,

    Rosa

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  13. Sorry to hear you were a little disappointed this time around--but thank you so much for taking us on a little virtual vacation, I needed that ;)

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  14. My goodness, Barbara, the place is heavenly! Wish I was there too. I'm sure you had a fabulous time there. Btw, those photos are gorgeous. thanks for taking us along your trip. Have a wonderful day.
    Cheers, kristy

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  15. Such a shame when places become over developed. We used to love the Abacos. Have not been back in a long time, but I think they are still relatively unspoiled. Great post.

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  16. sounds like one awesome vacation, although I'm sorry to hear all of the negatives that have developed. At least you got one good (maybe last?) summer in!

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  17. Barbara, what a shame that things on Provo have changed so much in recent years. Your daughter is lovely and I would have hung out at da Conch Shack too.

    We lived in the northern Bahamas for ten years. While Abaco where we were has changed considerably in the last thirty years since we've been going, it's changes are mostly for the good. Lovely upscale homes have replaced falling down shacks and the restaurants have improved. There are no high rises or gambling (thankfully). There's a little crime, but mostly petty. Also Abaco has done a great job (thanks to x-pats and locals) to preserve their gorgeous reefs. I can only hope Provo gets a grip on it before it's too late. Thanks for taking us along. I feel like I've been on vacation too.
    Sam

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  18. What a beautiful place! How sad that there are issue that take the pleasure out of what should be a fantastic vacation. And the prices...yikes!

    I would head straight for the Conch Shack.

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  19. I understand your disappointment. Some of the best things remain untouched and it sounds like there is some overkill on Provo. I'm sorry to hear about the fading reefs, pollution and crime. That is definitely not what you need while vacationing.

    Your daughter is a beauty and I'm glad to hear that you were able to getting some major reading done. It sounds like a pretty relaxing time:)

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  20. I still have spells where I'm not sure the Outer Banks handled their growth & development as well as they could have. Of course, check back with me on Monday, when we'll all know what Earl did and my local friends will have phone and/or email again...

    We love fine dining when we're on vacation too. It's one reason we rarely go to the beach with our friends; I do eat breakfast in most days (but must have a Duck Donut, hot and fresh!), but we eat lunch and dinner out.

    Will be interested to see what you sort out about your next vacation.

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  21. Sounded like it was an ok vacation overall but with all the issues your describe I totally understand why you wouldn't want to come back there.

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  22. The pictures are beautiful, but I'm sorry about the problems. You are correct when you say that the right dive shop is KEY--it can make or break your experience!

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  23. Hey Barbara, that's too bad about Provos. They need to do something about that band of thieves as well as the environmental issue. I feel like so many places, including our entire state, don't realize that the beautiful environment is why people come and spend their money. If it isn't properly conserved and cared for, why would people want to pay large amounts of $$$ to come visit a place that's dirty or becoming polluted.
    Too bad really-looks like Provos has a lot of potential...

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  24. Wow what a beautiful spot!!!Too bad about all the trouble...thanks for sharing. xoxoox

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  25. such gorgeous pictures, but i'm sorry to hear about the downsides! it sounds like you still had a lovely time though!

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  26. It's been almost 20 years since I've been to the Turks and Cacios Islands, and aside from the gorgeous beaches, part of the charm was the simple rather unsophisticated life style. Money, it has so many drawbacks.
    Mimi

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  27. What a shame! It's terrible when once wonderful places are spoiled by tourism.

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  28. What a lovely vacation you must had!! Waw!! What a stunning place!

    I have never been there,..maybe 1 day!

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  29. gal, you did some reading, eating, and money-spending on your vacation, didn't ya! thanks for sharing. :)

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  30. Despite some dissapointments, it seems that you had a nice vacation with your lovely daughter! Thank you for the reading list!

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  31. Your photos are gorgeous, Barbara! The restaurants all look charming -- I know what you mean about wishing for an ocean breeze though! :) That infinity bar literally took my breath away!

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  32. Although I'm sorry that your vacation this time was marred slightly in the ways you described I really enjoyed my virtual visit to Provo.
    The Aman resort looks stunning, we once stayed at the Amandari on Bali and it was wonderful as you can imagine.

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  33. Oh my. I think that my Travel Bug is flaring up again!!!

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  34. what a fabulous review! i loved how you detailed all the restaurants :-) your daughter is gorgeous and looks so happy. Naturally i am thrilled to see all your books too, i will be stopping by amazon after and learning about a few~ i just read a book last night you might enjoy as a foodie, check out keeping the feast.

    thanks for the honest opinion at the end, i am sure its hard to have enjoyed the island for so long and see how progress can turn things amuck...

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  35. It looks beautiful but yes those concerns that you have mentioned do seem like dealbreakers for sure, especially when combined together :(

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  36. Hi Barbara, sounds like you had a good vacation overall with a few hitches. The photos look so lovely but yikes, the prices!

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  37. That's probably the best and most realistic review that I've read on ANY vacation spot. I haven't been to Turks and Caicos; I'm usually drawn to a cooler climate. I'll be interested to know where you all decide to vacation if your switch locations.

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  38. It's such a gorgeous place! It's too bad about what is happening there. But it sounds like you all had a lovely time. Enjoyed seeing the photos.

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  39. Judging from the photos alone, it looks like an amazing, heavenly place but going from your descriptions, I may consider going elsewhere! At least you can say you experienced the beauty of the island.

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  40. what a beautiful Island, but it does sound like they have their challenges!
    Hope you have a great labor day weekend!

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  41. The restaurants sound divine and the snippet of white sand beach looks gorgeous. How sad to vacation in such an area and not be able to swim or dive. It is a shame the island has been over developed. We've watched the same thing happen the the Keys and Sanibel Island. We no longer go. It is just to sad. I hope you are having a great day. Blessings...Mary

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  42. Sitting on a white sand beach sipping local island cocktails and Anthony Bourdain in my lap (book that is) would be the perfect way to spend a few weeks.

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  43. What a wonderfully honest description of the things they have gone awry and hopefully, will be addressed. I still looks like a beautiful (and your daughter is too)get-away!

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  44. Your review was perfectly balanced, but I wouldn't go back either. Glad your cast is off now!

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  45. Hi Barbara,
    I'm glad you had fun and were SAFE!! I haven't been in to Turks and Caicos in about 12 or 13 years and I must say it was the only vacation in my entire life that I did not like and could not wait to leave. And I love to travel anywhere anytime. so It was strange, I can't even remember where we stayed but the service and food was horrible. We could not wait to get home and were smiling as we walked through customs in NYC. I do know it was not where you stayed or at least I don't think it was???, I don't think it was open 13 years ago. I have wanted to try it again but now I'm not so sure. Thanks for such a great honest review. I must say though it looks gorgeous and the food sounds great, but very expensive and I have a big family!
    Hope your arm/wrist is better. Have a great Labor Day Weekend!!
    xoxo
    PS, the Travel/packing post I did was based on a car trip up to Saratoga NY, when I fly I pack much less but when we drive the sky is the limit :)

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  46. Barbara...it's so nice of you to have put together this post for us...especially since you were on the fence about it. I shall be sharing this with my dear travel agent who's always telling me I should take a trip there.

    Your unfortunate let down made me think of when I had returned to the Island of Capri off the Amalfi coast after 20 years...and boy what a disappointment. I certainly couldn't recommend it anymore.

    I do want to thank you for showing us around some of the 'plushy' places ;o) ...it's nice to dream.

    Ciao for now,
    Claudia

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  47. I was actually relieved to see that a place like this (which I had always dreamed of visiting) is not without its own set of problems!

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  48. Sorry to hear about some of the disappointing aspects to your trip--I've had some similar thought when we've returned to our favorite place in Hawaii--over the years, things have changed, and not all for the better. But I'm glad you got to enjoy yourself overall. YOu certainly got some gorgeous photos!

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  49. You lucky duck!! I'm just a little bit jealous :) It looks absolutely beautiful!!

    Sues

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  50. wow, I can't imagine a better way to spend your time - looks gorgeous!

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  51. Coco Bistro would be my top favourite place to dine! No wonder you don't want to come back!

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  52. It is always a bit sad when our favorite places get too expensive, crime ridden or even worse....too touristy! Sounds like you had a wonderful trip regardless of the changes. Grace Bay Beach does sounds very beautiful. Love that list of books you read!

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  53. Although I have been to many other places in the Caribbean this area has managed to elude me. Your story is not sad at all it is very informative and I'm sure you saved many people much time and money. So great work!

    Ultimately it's sad that the people no longer have an Island to call home because of the development. I have discovered that boutique hotels and the like are stressing and polluting the crystal blue aquifer with waste and at the same time cannot sustain them. I would stick with the mom and pop hotels or pass altogether.

    Cheers

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  54. Too bad about the price jumps of everything...looks like a nice spot though. The atmospheres of the various restaurants look great.

    I agree about the importance of a great dive shop...they can make or break your experience. Hopefully you can find another one.

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  55. lovely place to be!

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  56. Now, THAT is a resort. Wow, simply breath-taking. I don't think I'd ever want to leave if I checked in there. ;)

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  57. Thanks for all your great information. Yikes, the cost of dinner would be enough to stay away. Your daughter is beautiful. She takes after her mother I see!

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  58. What a great review. I loved your photos and you practically had me sold on going to Provo. Too bad about the negative points -- sounds like development has hurt it.

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  59. I have always wanted to visit that island!
    You should be a travel planner ;)

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  60. Oh goodness, what a completely splendid vacation you had! Wow, those are beautiful eateries. Amanyara is complete luxury. Holy moly! The beaches look so beautiful and calm. And HA to the waiter with the champagne on his head! That's talent!

    It's a shame, after 20 years, things have changed enough to make you not want to return.

    Anyhow, I'm glad to hear you had a wonderful summer. And equally glad to know that your wrist is mending nicely. I'm going to have to come back and really look at all the wonderful recipes I've missed. right now, it's near dinner time, and you've got my stomach grumbling!

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