Turks & Caicos - It's A LOT, but it's Worth a Visit!
When I say A LOT, I mean fiscally and through all the hoops you have to jump to get there due to COVID! This trip was almost cancelled, but thank God, I figured out how to roll with the punches. Read on for tips, itinerary, and costs. (Spoiler: it ain't cheap D:)!
Turks & Caicos Islands (TCI) is my second international solo trip, my first being Portugal, taken in January 2022 - you can read about that here. I chose TCI because flights were pretty cheap from NYC (less than $250) and because who doesn't want to be on a tropical island in the middle of winter?! I booked during Valentine's Day weekend because I'm my own Valentine.
Now, I'm big on budget travel! I don't sacrifice safety or comfort, but I will opt for a less glamorous hotel or even hostel in favor of excursions and food! And I will take public transit in favor of ride shares (unless it's super cheap like in Puerto Rico)! For a guide to budget-friendly traveling, read here. However, I found out the hard way that TCI is notoriously expensive. We'll get to that later!
To start with the first set of hoops,
Must be fully vaccinated if over the age of 17.
Negative COVID test within 72 hrs (rapid or PCR) if over the age of 2.
Must have travel insurance that specifically covers COVID-related costs. I used Trawick, and it was $10 for 3 days of coverage for me.
MUST complete and have Travel Authorization form APPROVED before you can board the flight.* Submit it online at least a full day or two before your flight. If it is still pending, they will NOT let you board, even with your proof of COVID test and travel insurance printed on hand. And they (JetBlue) will close the gate right in front of you. Trust me, I know, why? Because that is how I missed my flight for the first time in my entire life! Sadly, that's one less "Never have I ever..." for me.
*Tip: Call one of the phone numbers on the Travel Authorization site to speak to a representative who will approve your application instantly. One number didn't work, but another did, so just call until you get someone! Also check your international plan. I was charged $15 by T-Mobile, but I called and had that changed ("What! I thought it was 25 cents/min for international calls??" It is...when you are ALREADY abroad).
After rebooking my flight, I now landed in TCI on Saturday afternoon, which is apparently a VERY bad time to arrive because customs is PACKED and the airport is tiny and hot. I waited almost an hour to get through. Know that you can purchase a Fast Track for $75 to skip the line - it may be worth it if you're limited on time!
I originally planned to rent a car for $131 and fulfil my dream of driving on the left side of the road. My missed flight caused me to miss out, since I couldn't modify the rental dates, only cancel and rebook, but cars were sold out! Grace Bay Car Rentals is the only car rental onsite at the airport, but other rental car places will bring the car to the airport at your designated time and pick it up when you leave. Another rental car recommendation from others in a Facebook travel group was Scooter Bob's.
At the airport, I stepped outside and lined up for shuttle vans - tell them where you're going, and join a van full of other travelers. Our van was going to Grace Bay - the popular resort area - and the van dropped everyone right to their entrance. It took about 20 minutes and cost $34. My ride back to the airport was $28, and I'm pretty sure the guy wasn't actually a cab driver, but a friend of the bartender at a restaurant, oh well! Finally, any tour guides you meet may give you a business card so that you can contact them for a ride at any time!
As wonderful as the resorts looked, I opted to stay in an Airbnb to save $$ - a room in a private home with a couple and their young son. I wasn't thrilled with the idea of being around a young kid on vacation, but they had amazing reviews and sure enough, were awesome hosts, and the son, a respectful and inquisitive kid! I enjoyed kombucha, homemade chocolate, barbecue, played Twister with their son, and even fell asleep wine drunk on their couch! I recommend them with no hesitations! Their two cats were also a big plus!
The house was a little off the beaten path but just an 8 minute walk to the beach and very close to the supermarket and an urgent care where you can take a COVID test (more on this later). They also have a beach chair and umbrella to take! Beach chairs on Grace Bay Beach start at $10 for 1 person and $40 for 2 chairs and an umbrella behind the Seven Stars resort.
Even I, as a New Yorker, wasn't prepared for this...FOOD. IS. EXPENSIVE! Like $1 lemons, $4 avocados, and $8 carton of eggs expensive. I asked a local who confirmed it's like that all over the island, not just Grace Bay. Every meal I had (entrée and drink) cost me anywhere from $25-40 - breakfast, too! Mixed drinks were priced similarly to NYC - $12-16. So just be prepared for that around Grace Bay.
Some restaurants I went to that I recommend are: Mr. Grouper, Tribe Conscious Kitchen, and Cocovan (or its sister, Coco Bistro, if you're fancy...!)
EXCURSIONS. ARE. EXPENSIVE! I looked up excursions online but thought that if I could find a better deal in person, then I'd book. I eventually booked with a guy on the beach - an hour of jet skiing to Iguana Island with Eazy Skis ($180) and horseback riding on the beach with Unique Tours and Rentals ($168). The prices were no better in person TBH. Still I enjoyed my first jet ski ride ever, although it took me a while to get comfortable!
On the way to Iguana Island, the waves hitting my jet ski had me terrified of being thrown off! *Tip: the FASTER you go, the more control you'll have.*
For my last day, I booked in advance a clear kayak drone photoshoot with The Looking Glass. Tip: Don't save this until your last day in case of rain or clouds! The sun is essential for amazing photos! And they are flexible about bad weather. I LOVED how my photos turned out! The first photo shows the water when it's cloudy out :(
The island is pretty chill - they will pretty much pick up from anywhere, any time. Obviously, the more separate groups involved, the more organized you'll have to be. For jet skiing, it was just me, so he picked me up at the beach at my requested time and dropped me to Mr. Grouper for lunch after. For horseback riding, I met the van at the nearest resort to my Airbnb at an allotted time.
COVID Test Centers
My Airbnb was right down the block from Grace Bay Medical Center where I was able to get my rapid antigen test done for just $30 compared to $50 at the resorts! I went first thing at opening time (8-8:30 AM). Scan the QR code outside the door, and sign up while you wait to make things quicker! If at a resort, doing it there may be the easiest.
Breakdown of my itinerary:
- Landed 3:30 PM, arrived to Airbnb by 5:30 PM
- Dinner at Cocovan
- Had a drink at The Terrace on Grace Bay
- Walked onto Seven Stars Resort property (not sure I was supposed to be there) and had a little dessert in the presence of live music! Then chilled by the heated pool :)
- Breakfast at Tribe Conscious Kitchen
- Morning at Grace Bay beach
- Jet skiing to and from Iguana Island
- Lunch at Mr. Grouper
- Horseback riding on the beach
- Night in with my hosts watching the Super Bowl and drinking wine :)
- Early morning workout at Grace Bay beach
- COVID test at Grace Bay Medical Center
- Clear kayak drone photoshoot in Leeward
- Lunch (leftovers at the Airbnb)
- Headed to airport at 1 PM for my 4 PM flight :(
A whopping $1756*! For 2 days...without staying in a resort. This is news to me as I just calculated this....(help.)
*My missed flight cost me $186 in change fees, new flight booked, and cabs taken vs. having a rental car. This in included in the above total. Comment if you'd like a cost breakdown!
This may be a short itinerary, but I felt like I spent way more time than the 48 hrs I did! I highly recommend not letting time limit you from traveling! The experience is what you make it!
Overall I had a fantastic time from start to finish! It was pricier than I would have liked, but Iguana Island and the drone clear kayak photo shoot were unique enough to warrant a visit! See photos from my time in TCI here. What's your take on TCI?