THE TURKS & CAICOS ISLANDS
A tranquil and unspoilt diving paradise
Season: Year-round diving
Visibility: 30-50 metres
Water Temperature: 25-29°C
Turks and Caicos Explorer (departs Saturdays from April and October)
Turks and Caicos Aggressor (departs on Saturdays from May to January)
Diving: Manta Rays, walls, coral gardens, swim-throughs, caves, shore diving
In the Turks Island Passage, which links the turbulent waters of the Atlantic Ocean to the warm, tropical Caribbean Sea, a string of small islands trails off the end of the Bahamas. These are the Turks and Caicos Islands. To the west lies Cuba, to the south lies Hispaniola. Only eight of these 30 islands and small coral cays are inhabited. Several hundred years of salt producing industry have left their mark. Vegetation is sparse on these low-lying islands as, in the past, almost every tree and palm was chopped down in an attempt to discourage rain, as year-round desiccating winds and low humidity converted trapped sea water into natural salt.
Gin clear water shading from deepest cobalt to pale turquoise surrounds the islands with their many largely-undiscovered dive sites that have, as a consequence, remained in a near pristine condition. The government are making every effort to conserve and protect their wonderful natural resource and have established several marine national parks.
A fascinating parade of interesting marine life passes through the waters of these islands, including the awesome sight of the Humpback Whale migration. Between February and April the humpbacks migrate through the Turks Island Passage to reach their breeding grounds on the Mouchoir and Silvers Banks on the north coast of the Dominican Republic. Divers frequently hear the beautiful and eerie sounds of calling whales (and Turks & Caicos Aggressor offers special whale charters to snorkel with these fantastic creatures). In the summer months these blue tropical waters hold Manta Rays. As the Great Blue Herons come to feed at the pools, wild dolphins leap and dance offshore amongst the waves. The Turks and Caicos Islands are nature lover’s islands, where the adventurer and the escapist will find peace and tranquillity.
THE CAICOS ISLANDS
Both Turks & Caicos Explorer and Turks & Caicos Aggressor explore a wide range of dive sites around the west coast of Providenciales, the west coast of West Caicos and French Cay. The dive sites are characterised by steep walls and superb sponge populations (especially Elephant Ear Sponges and Crimson Rope Sponges) along with a good variety of Caribbean reef fish and the chance to catch up with turtles, Caribbean Reef Sharks and Nurse Sharks.
At French Cay some of the favourite dive sites include Double D, a popular wall dive which is overgrown with hard coral and sponges There are two huge coral mounds teeming with fish. Look out for the resident Spotted Scorpion Fish which often poses for photographers and keep an eye open for the Spotted Eagle Rays which often ‘fly’ through this area. G-Spot is another section of well-preserved wall with many huge deep water gorgonians and orange Elephant Ear Sponges growing at the wall’s edge. A shallower dive often taken in the afternoon is Rock and Roll. The top of the wall here is around 12 metres and there are good populations of barrel sponges, and elkhorn and pillar corals. Juvenile barracuda and lobsters can be spotted during the day. This shallow site is often a great choice for a night dive. Around 7 kms south-east of French Cay is West Sand Spit, where the wall starts at 12 metres and is covered with huge coral formations – pillar corals, barrel sponges and deep water gorgonians. Look out for Nurse sharks, French Angelfish, Ocean Triggerfish and some large stingrays.
The northwest point of Providenciales is where you will find Black Coral Forest, a superb wall which starts at around 15 metres and drops away to a stunning 100 metres! Search under an overhang in which at least 5 species of black coral are growing. Shark Hotel is named for the Caribbean Reef Sharks that can regularly seen cruising the wall. The wall levels off at 30 metres at a plateau covered with plate corals. At around 25 metres you will find a chimney that cuts through the reef with an exit at around 20 metres on the deep wall. The top of the wall has many pillar corals.
Off the coast of West Caicos one can find one of the most diverse dive sites at Driveway. The boat is moored in 10 metres of water, offering the options of swimming to the wall over the Driveway, a large sand chute, or cruising on top of the wall in shallower water where there are many interesting isolated coral heads. There are anemones here growing in only a metre of water. At Rock Garden Interlude the wall is divided into sections with large and beautiful sponge formations. Here you can encounter turtles and spotted scorpion fish. The sand flat on top of the wall has several interesting coral heads and also garden eels. Vertical walls are found off the coast of many islands and it is here that unusual and magnificent corals and sponges thrive. A huge 3-metre diameter Orange Elephant Ear Sponge growing on the reef wall gives its name to Elephant Ear Canyon. Three species of the rare and highly prized black coral can be found overhanging the hollow cut in the reef wall at Amphitheatre. A school of Horse-eye Trevallys cruises through the corals searching for food. A 5-metre column of coral grows vertically from the ocean bed dwarfing the usual 2-metre formations at Driveway. Fascinating growths of corals and sponges occur here and there is always a healthy population of Yellowtail Snappers, Yellow Goatfish, Queen Angelfish and surgeonfish.
Many lucky divers will experience the joys of encountering Bottle-nosed Dolphins or Spotted Dolphins, either above or below the water. These playful characters sometimes stay with the boat for a long time and there can be few more gloriously spontaneous delights than leaping into the water with them and allowing the dolphins to show off like children in a playground, leaping above the waves or diving suddenly into the deeps, or merely besporting themselves to show their sleek undersides and graceful movements in the water. Beautiful Spotted Eagle Rays ‘fly’ in these waters and there are frequent meetings with eerie large Great Barracudas that lurk in cuts in the reef or in the shadow of the boat, while Southern Stingrays shuffle over the sand flats. Large, friendly, dark-banded Nassau Groupers often come to greet the divers and hang around watching these unusual visitors to their watery world. Hawksbill Turtles flap serenely by at many of the dive sites and have even been known to follow divers on occasion. During the late summer months Nurse Sharks gather to mate in the shallows of French Cay. If the weather is right there may be the opportunity to snorkel here and witness this wonder of nature.
Turks & Caicos Explorer II operates from Turtle Cove Marina in Providenciales for 7 nights cruises, departing on Saturdays almost throughout the year.
Turks & Caicos Aggressor operates out of the harbour at Turtle Cove Marina, Providenciales for 7 nights cruises in the northern and western Caicos Islands, departing every Saturday between April and January.
COMBINATIONS: If you are travelling to Turks & Caicos via Miami, you can combine a visit to the islands with any other Caribbean destination. Talk to us about the possibilities.
TURKS & CAICOS EXPLORER II: From $1895. Includes: 7 nights cruise on Turks & Caicos Explorer II on a twin/share basis with full board (except dinner on Friday evening), including soft drinks and alcoholic drinks; 5 full days of diving (up to 4 or 5 dives daily, including night dives) plus one or two dives on the last day. Reductions for non-divers and extra weeks. A port charge of $85 (subject to change) is not included in the package price and will be collected on board. Dinner on the last night is not included, but guests will go as a group to one of the local restaurants. Airport transfers are not included; taxis are freely available. Single Occupancy Supplement: 65% of the cruise cost (but you can avoid paying the supplement if you are willing to share a cabin).
TURKS & CAICOS AGGRESSOR II: From $2495. Includes: airport transfers; 7 nights cruise on Turks & Caicos Aggressor on a twin/share basis with full board, including soft drinks, wine, beer and spirits; 5 full days of diving (up to 4 or 5 dives per day, including night dives) plus one or two dives on the last day. Reductions for divers 65 or over, non-divers and extra weeks. A local bed tax of $45 (subject to change) is not included in the package price and will be collected on board. Dinner on the last night is not included, but guests will be provided with guidance about good local restaurants. Single Occupancy Supplement: 50% of the cruise cost (but you can avoid paying the supplement if you are willing to share a cabin).
FLIGHTS: Example price: from about $450 return from Miami to to Providenciales.