First, little about Grand Turk Island
Grand Turk Island is one of the Turks and Caicos Islands. It is only one and a half miles wide by seven miles long (6.9 sq mi). Grand Turk contains the territory’s capital, Cockburn Town. The has the second largest population of the islands at approximately 3,720 people. While the island was called upon by smaller cruise lines, it wasn’t until 2006 that Carnival Cruise Lines built a cruise terminal that has made Grand Turk a cruise destination.
Usually visitors only have a short time to visit this tiny island so it really pays to know before you go what there is to do so you can maximize your time. Whether it’s diving, touring or just chilling, Grand Turk is a great to do all three. Here are the top five things to I like to do when I hop of the ship in Grand Turk.
1. Grand Turk is a great place to just relax
Grand Turk is one of my favorite ports. Why? Because I get off the ship, hang a left and in about 15 minutes I am at Jack’s Shack ready to chill for the day on it’s beautiful beach. As you walk down the beach, just look for their dog, Toffer frolicking on the beach or swimming with a guest. He’s kind of a celebrity there. We spend the day people watching, enjoying fantastic jerk chicken and conch fritters, hunting for sea glass and just relaxing. Don’t forget to try a Turk’s Head Lager, it’s the local brew.
If you don’t want to venture far from the dock, you can hang out at Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville. Margaritaville has a party atmosphere and honestly it’s a bit pricey. If you are looking to just hang out by their pool or listen to their DJ and swill overpriced umbrella drinks all day then this is the place. The food isn’t bad. I liked the Conch Chowder.
2. Grand Turk is a fun place to just tour around
On our first trip to Grand Turk we took the hop-on-hop-off tour via Island Trams Limited. The knowledgable guides are all local to the island took us past the Grand Turk Lighthouse, the salt pools, Cockburn Town and the beautiful beaches on this tiny island. One of the highlights of our tour was seeing the wild horses, cows and donkeys that wander around the island since being turned loose when the British left the island in the 18th century. You’d think they could have rounded them up by now!
If you are more into independent touring you can rent from Nathans’ Golf Cart, Car, Jeep & Scooter Rentals call 649-231-4856 or 649-244-1280 for rental information. Just be forewarned that it takes time for a golf cart to go 6 miles so if you’re short on time, keep that in mind.
3. If water sports are your thing, this is the place!
Grand Turk is the place to get in the water and commune with nature. There are stingray adventures (they’re slimy but cute) at Gibbs Cay or if you are a diver, Grand Turk boasts one of the most beautiful coral reefs in the world and abundant sea life such as huge groupers and sea turtles. I would be remiss in not mentioning the abundance of conch on this island. Shells are everywhere and I mean everywhere you walk. Just be sure you don’t take one back on the ship because if you didn’t buy it then they will confiscate it. Dang!
4. Some interesting history in Grand Turk
If you are into the whole history thing then Grand Turk has some of that too!
Rumor has it that Christopher Columbus first made landfall on Grand Turk. From everything I’ve read (including a sign in Cockburn Town), Christopher Columbus MAY have landed here on Grand Turk, who knows? The description in his journal sounds like Grand Turk so what the heck he must have landed in Grand Turk. At least that’s what the locals want to believe and who am I to argue?
One thing that is true, John Glenn’s Friendship 7 landed near Grand Turk in 1962. Located on the south side of the Grand Turk Cruise Center, the free exhibit features amazing replicas unique to the Mercury space program, including a scaled 20-foot-tall Atlas rocket and a full-size, three-dimensional replica of astronaut John Glenn in spacesuit (get your picture taken next to “John”), and, of course, a detailed replica of the Friendship 7 capsule, which splashed into the Atlantic in 1962, a few short miles from the island of Grand Turk. Oh, and there is a gift shop next to the exhibit where you can pick up some “splashdown” souvenirs.
Grand Turk was first colonized in 1681 by Bermudians, who set up the salt industry in the islands. Back in the day, without refrigeration, salt was a big deal so the industry on the island flourished. Once refrigeration was discovered, not so much, so today the salt ponds remain as a reminder of days gone by. The large, shallow, stone-bordered ponds in the middle of Grand Turk are not just nesting sites for flamingos and other brilliant birds: They are abandoned artifacts of the salt industry, which ruled the Grand Turk and Salt Cay economies for 300 years. Visit the Salt Museum and nearby Salt Ponds on your tour around the island. It’s pretty interesting and you can pick up salt to take home for both cooking and bathing.
On our tram tour of the island we learned that the Grand Turk Lighthouse was built in 1852 to alert sailors of the shallow reef. Today the lighthouse and the caretakers cottage is a park that is part of the National Trust. The lighthouse is also a great vantage point for whale watching and when the waters are calm, getting a glimpse of some sea life such as stingrays.
Cockburn Town with it’s historic 18th and 19th century Bermudian architecture line Duke and Front Streets in the town. The town is known for its long, narrow streets and old street lamps. You can also visit the National Museum which has exhibits of shipwrecks, the history of the Lucayans, the Space Race, Turks and Caicos postage stamps, slavery and the history of the slave trade, the sisal and salt industries, royal events, as well as a general history of the islands.
5. Shopping on Grand Turk
Ok, it’s not like other ports with abundant shopping opportunities but hey, the Grand Turk Cruise Terminal has only been around since 2006 so for a nine year old port it’s not bad. There are the usual T-shirt shops and jewelry stores, a couple of galleries and a little straw market. I bought flavored salt from one of the vendors and some kick ass hot sauce that brought tears to my eyes (it was that hot!).
The thing that I recommend getting at the cruise terminal is the BOOZE! Yes, right before you take that short walk back to the ship you can stock up on every kind of adult libation you can imagine and the prices are cheap, cheap, cheap! It usually takes two people to haul back our purchases, don’t judge, some are gifts!
I’ve been to Grand Turk 3 times and each time I go there I have a great time. If it’s on my cruise itinerary again I will jump for joy and start planning to my day. Even though Grand Turk is a tiny island there always seems to be something new to try!