Grand Turk Cruise Port Guide

On a Turks and Caicos cruise, you’ll embark at Grand Turk, the capital of the dreamy archipelago of 40 low-lying coral islands and cays. Here, dazzling white sand swirls into the iridescent turquoise shallows. Under the water, sheer-sided walls drop off into deep ocean canyons, creating spectacular conditions for scuba diving. This is a British Overseas Territory, so you’ll see English architecture blending with the bright colors of the tropics.

Grand Turk is languorous living at its best, with life operating on “island time”, iguanas basking in the sunshine, and wild donkeys wandering the streets. Come instead on a Caribbean cruise to Turks and Caicos for diving on one of the world’s finest coral reefs, horseback riding in the surf, big game fishing, and above all, relaxing on those spectacular beaches.

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Top Sights & Attractions on a Cruise to Grand Turk

Dazzling Beaches

Grand Turk is fringed by some of the world’s most exquisite coral sand beaches, many of which are protected within the Columbus Landfall National Park. Visit Governor’s Beach for pristine, pinky-white sand, clear, turquoise water, and shade under the casuarina trees. Or pair a trip to immaculate Cockburn Town Beach with a visit to the sleepy capital and lunch in a local restaurant. Pillory Beach is peaceful, with soft sand, more crystal-clear water, and some good snorkeling spots.

The Grand Turk Wall

The Turks and Caicos lie on a shallow plateau, its walls plunging to almost unimaginable depths of more than 7,000 feet. As such, the diving here is some of the best in the world, even for novices, with excellent visibility and an astonishing array of marine life. You’ll see groupers, eels, graceful angelfish, tangs in electric blue, and spotted eagle rays. Stingrays and sea turtles glide by, while nurse and reef sharks can be seen far below as you swim through canyons and rock arches.

The National Museum

The tiny Turks and Caicos National Museum is housed in historic Guinep House, one of the oldest buildings on the island. Admire artifacts from the Molasses Reef Wreck, an early 16th-century European caravel that sank on the rocks here. You’ll also find a fine collection of antique coins, bottles containing messages, and relics from the Tainos people who lived here around 700 AD. There’s also a poignant exhibit about the Trouvadore slave ship, which sank off Grand Turk in 1841.

Top Things to Do in Turks & Caicos

Explore the Island

Grand Turk is tiny—about six miles from one end to the other—so exploring independently is easy. Follow the trail to the historic Grand Turk Lighthouse, built in Britain in the 1850s and perched high on a bluff to warn ships off the treacherous northern reefs. Stop to look at the old salt pans in the center of the island. Explore laid-back Cockburn Town, where wild donkeys still wander on Front Street and tiny beach shacks serve up rum punch. You’ll still have time to unwind on the beach.

Swim With Stingrays

Join a guided snorkel tour over the coral reefs and marvel at the underwater world; snorkeling here is like swimming in an aquarium, with vast shoals of fish in rainbow colors. You’ll then head to the shallows around Gibbs Cay, an uninhabited island east of Grand Turk, where docile southern brown stingrays mill around in the warm water waiting for snacks of squid and fish, which you can offer them by hand. There’s a beautiful beach here, too, which is completely undeveloped.

Go Horseback Riding on the Sand

Experience the joy of riding along an empty beach, cantering in the gentle surf with the breeze on your face on a horseback riding tour. Most stables use sturdy and gentle island ponies, so no experience is needed. You’ll follow sandy rural trails through the scrub down to the beach as guides tell you about the island’s history. Once you’re on the sand, there’s a chance to ride your horse right into the water, or dismount and stop for a dip yourself.

Top Food & Drink in Grand Turk

Food and drink in Grand Turk is similar to that of the nearby Bahamas. You’ll find conch everywhere, fried, stewed, or as ceviche in salads. Conch fritters are a big favorite. Both chicken and fish are served “jerked”, rubbed with a sometimes hot spice mix.

Other dishes to try include crab and rice, coconut shrimp, seafood chowder, and whatever fish of the day is on the menu. Eat tasty lionfish and you’re doing the environment a favor, as this is an invasive species with no natural predators. Note that some seafood is only available fresh in season; lobster from mid-August to April and the Nassau grouper from March to November.

Culture & History of Grand Turk

Like much of the Caribbean to the south, Grand Turk was originally inhabited by the Taino people, who arrived here around 700 AD and established small fishing communities.

From historical descriptions, it’s believed that Grand Turk may have been where Columbus first set foot in the New World. Subsequently, as the island was colonized by early Spanish visitors, the Taino population was wiped out by disease and slavery. For centuries, the British, Spanish, French, and various pirates fought over the island.

Initially, Grand Turk’s wealth came from sea salt, with the salt pans that you still see today developed for commercial production. This continued until the early 20th century. Two U.S. bases were established here in the 1950s, both of which were active during the Cold War but decommissioned in 1983. Another significant landmark in history was when the capsule of Colonel John Glenn, the first American to orbit Earth, touched down in the Atlantic near the Turks and Caicos. Glenn’s first step back on dry land was in Grand Turk.

Cockburn Town is the capital of the Turks and Caicos, although the main financial center is Providenciales island. The islands’ economy today comes from offshore finance and tourism.

Much of the population consists of the descendants of free slaves, with multiple cultures, including African, Caribbean, North American, and European influencing the food, music, and faith on Grand Turk. This is quite a conservative society, so dress respectfully in shops and restaurants. If you want to make a good impression, use reef-friendly sunblock, respect the rules of the road when driving, and don’t feed or harass the wildlife.

Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos
Cruise Port Facilities & Location

The Grand Turk Cruise Center, located at the southern tip of the island, is a destination in itself, with duty free shopping, places to eat, a gorgeous beach, and one of the largest free-form swimming pools in the region. There’s even a FlowRider surf simulator if you want to hone your surfing technique.

Facilities at the terminal include car rental, a taxi stand, a tourist information kiosk, and an ATM. There are cabanas to rent on the beach, as well as clamshell beach chairs and snorkel gear. Just beyond the Beached Whale, you’ll see the Splashdown Grand Turk exhibit, a life-sized replica of the capsule in which Colonel John Glen returned to Earth after his historic orbit.

Transportation in Grand Turk

The island is only seven square miles, so you can easily explore it in a day. However, there’s little shade, and out of Cockburn Town, few sidewalks, so vehicle rental is best. Cars, Jeeps, golf carts, scooters, and bicycles are all available. Bear in mind that driving here is on the left, as Turks and Caicos is a British Overseas Territory.

Taxis wait at the cruise terminal but do not have meters, so agree on the fare in advance. There’s also a hop-on, hop-off open-sided tram that picks up at the cruise terminal and circles the island. Make sure you know the schedule before hopping off as it is your responsibility to get back to your ship on time. The best way to explore the island and return to the ship on time is to book a shore excursion.

Shopping in Grand Turk

For duty-free goods, including jewelry, you don’t need to stray beyond the cruise terminal, where there’s a big shopping complex. Otherwise, you’ll find a few galleries and craft shops along Front Street in Cockburn Town. The shop at the National Museum, also on Front Street, has authentic souvenirs including books, prints of vintage postcards, model boats, and hats.

Many visitors are tempted to take home some beautiful conch shells as souvenirs. Be aware that, as conch is an endangered species, only three mature shells per person are permitted, and export of the meat or juvenile shells is illegal.

Local Currency & Tipping Customs

The currency of Turks and Caicos is the U.S. Dollar. Most places take credit cards, but beach vendors and small souvenir stalls may not, so always carry some cash. There are a couple of ATMS in Cockburn Town and one at the cruise terminal.

Tipping culture is similar to that of the U.S. It’s normal to tip 10-15% in a restaurant, taxi, or bar, but if a service charge of 10% has already been added, it’s acceptable to leave a little less.

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