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Turks & Caicos Islands

The Turks and Caicos Islands are just a short flight from North Texas, making them an oh-so-convenient Caribbean destination that is ideal for families looking for a beach vacation. To add to the convenience, the official language is English, and the currency is the U.S. dollar. It would almost feel just like home if not for the turquoise water hitting the sugar-white sand. Best of all, these beaches, that have been named some of the most beautiful in the world, are not overcrowded, and you can still find many places in the islands that are completely untouched. Yes, it really is paradise.

What to Do: Of the forty islands that make up the chain known as the Turks and Caicos, only eight are inhabited, and the widest range of activity options are located in the capital of Providenciales (also known as Provo). As expected, most of these activities revolve around exploring the ocean playground that surrounds the islands, but the variety of activities is wide enough to keep any family busy. For example, Provo is home to Caicos Conch Farm (649/946-5330), the world’s only conch farm. On a 30-minute tour, you’ll learn about the life cycle of the Queen Conch and see the process of conch farming, from egg mass to fully-grown specimens with their iconic shells.

Provo offers two unique sites that help to explain the history of the island. The ruins of Cheshire Hall sit atop a hill overlooking downtown Provo and serve as the best-preserved cotton plantation in the islands. Stone-lined trails wind through about fifteen points of interest, including the Great House, a cotton press base, kitchen, cistern, well and a small modern reproduction of a slave cabin. For another look at history, visit the rock carvings at Sapodilla Hill, where shipwrecked sailors and other travelers carved names, dates, and even descriptions of their boats.

To explore some of the outlying islands, book a half-day excursion on the Atabeyra with Sun Charters (649/231-0624). On board the 69-foot schooner, families can island hop to deserted beaches with rocky outcroppings that beg for climbing explorations, or stop at Sand Dollar Point on Pine Cay to search for sand dollars. Another stop includes the nature preserve at Little Water Cay, an uninhabited island known to the locals as “Iguana Island” because of the many endangered rock iguanas that call the island home. While aboard the ship or strolling the beaches of Provo, keep an eye out for JoJo, a unique bottlenose dolphin who has been greeting visitors to the area for over 30 years.

Where to Stay: In addition to their location on Grace Bay, one of the world’s premier beaches, Ocean Club Resorts (649/946-5880) offer amenities that make this the ideal choice for a family vacation in the Turks and Caicos. Each suite offers a full kitchen, washer/dryer combo, as well as a screened-in patio and plenty of room for the whole family. Gas grills are stationed at the ready in the pool area, so that families can host their own cookout while the kids continue to swim. Plus, as a mid-priced resort among five-star luxury properties, Ocean Club is definitely one of the more affordable options on the island.

Although Ocean Club is ideal for those watching the vacation budget, the resort hasn’t skimped on amenities, including a full-service dive shop and activities concierge, so you can plan just about any adventure on land or sea that you can imagine. Kite surfing, bike tours, kayaking, and paddle board yoga are just some of the activities available. For the kids, the resort offers a scavenger hunt called Seafari, inviting kids to find native plants, invertebrates, reptiles and birds around the resort.

Staying at either Ocean Club property (Ocean Club or Ocean Club West) allows you to use amenities at both properties, so if you run out of things to do on one property you can head over to the other. On the other hand, if you are dreaming of doing nothing at all, that’s not only available – it’s encouraged. Hammocks and lounge chairs on the sugar-sand beach are ready and waiting.

Where to Eat: When in the islands, do as the islanders do – in this case that means eating lunch at the legendary Da Conch Shack (649/946-8877). The open-air restaurant features conch (of course) prepared every way imaginable and served at picnic tables on the beach. In between bites of conch fritters or conch salad, watch as conch are harvested directly from the ocean and fishermen demonstrate the techniques used to prepare the conch for the kitchen.

For a slightly more upscale – but still family-friendly – dining experience, head over to Seaside Café at Ocean Club West. With advanced reservations, families can enjoy dinner served at a private table on the beach as the sun sets over the ocean.

Editor’s Note: Speaking of sunset views, we also recommend Mango Reef (649/946-8200) for family-friendly dining right on the beach; sunset is indeed stunning. For an upscale experience off the resort, try Coco Bistro (649/946-5369), a fine restaurant nestled in a palm grove that serves some of the island’s best cuisine.

Published May 2014