Grand Turk

Two great explorers made history on Grand Turk: Christopher Columbus discovered the New World here in 1492. 470 years later, John Glenn landed here after becoming the first American to orbit the world. Make your own memories as you encircle Grand Turk, the capital of Turks and Caicos Islands.

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1 Ship Docked at Cruise Center in Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos Islands

The Oosterdam has just arrived at the southwestern tip of Grand Turk, a part of the Turks and Caicos Islands in the North Atlantic Ocean. This cruise ship is one of over 300 docking annually at the Grand Turk Cruise Center and disembarking over a million passengers. The 14-acre, $50 million terminal was opened in 2006 by Holland America Line’s parent, the Carnival Corporation. As the sign says, “Welcome to Grand Turk.”

Grand Turk Cruise Center, Marina, TKCA 1ZZ, Turks and Caicos Islands
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2 Beach at Cruise Center in Grand Turk in Turks and Caicos Islands

When you disembark from your cruise ship after docking at Grand Turk, you only have to walk about 400 feet before finding a free chaise lounge with your name on it. This palm-tree-lined beach is gorgeous. It is only surpassed by the aquamarine water lapping along the shore. If you get too warm during your nap, then cool off by snorkeling. Before returning to the ship, treat yourself to a massage on the beach.

Grand Turk Cruise Center, Marina, TKCA 1ZZ, Turks and Caicos Islands
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3 Shopping at Cruise Center in Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos Islands

The Cruise Center at Grand Turk is a shopaholic’s dream come true. You will find 45,000 square feet of retailers, ranging from low-end souvenir shops to high-end jewelry stores. About 25% of the merchandise is duty-free. You can also arrange excursions and island transportation here. Surprisingly, although the island is a British Overseas Territory, their official currency is the U.S. dollar.

Grand Turk Cruise Center, Marina, TKCA 1ZZ, Turks and Caicos Islands
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4 Margaretville Trading Post at Cruise Center in Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos Islands

A Parrot Head is an avid fan of singer Jimmy Buffett. This cartoonish statue of Henry balancing precariously on one foot atop a cooler appears to have sampled too many of the 52 types of margaritas served at the Grand Turk Cruise Center. This bar, restaurant and souvenir store is Buffet’s largest entertainment complex in the Caribbean.

Margaritaville Grand Turk, Grand Turk Cruise Center, Marina, TKCA 1ZZ, Turks and Caicos Islands
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5 Swimming Pool at Cruise Center in Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos Islands

The daytime average temperature in Grand Turk is 84° Fahrenheit so plan on getting hot. Most island visitors solve this vacation inconvenience by sitting on a shaded beach, swimming in the Atlantic or snorkeling among the reefs. If you do not like seawater and prefer your salt around the rim of a margarita glass, then spend part of your day at this enormous pool adjacent to Margaretville. Shaped like a lagoon, it has separate sections for families and adults. Both admission and the lounge chairs are free.

Margaritaville Grand Turk, Grand Turk Cruise Center, Marina, TKCA 1ZZ, Turks and Caicos Islands
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6 Splashdown Exhibit at Cruise Center in Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos Islands

Next to the Cruise Center is this display of an astronaut wearing a space suit, a model of a Mercury-Atlas 6 rocket and a red and white parachute as it guides a space capsule into the sea from its final descent of 21,000 feet. Splashdown Grand Turk celebrates John Glenn’s 1962 historical three orbits around the earth in Friendship 7. After traveling 65,763 nautical miles in almost five hours, he entered the Atlantic near Grand Turk. This 3,500 foot exhibit, which opened in 2011, tells the story of Project Mercury, the Mercury 7 astronauts and highlights of NASA’s accomplishments.

Splashdown Grand Turk, Grand Turk Cruise Center, Marina, TKCA 1ZZ, Turks and Caicos Islands
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7 South Beach at Cruise Center in Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos Islands

As you disembark your cruise ship at Grand Turk, the two most popular spots to go are the beach on your left and the shopping straight ahead. The beach less traveled is on your right. For some reason the loungers on South Beach are the last to be grabbed. So if solitude under a swaying palm tree sounds appealing, silently slip over here and enjoy your day.

South Beach, Grand Turk Cruise Center, Marina, TKCA 1ZZ, Turks and Caicos Islands
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8 People Walking the Beach near Cruise Center in Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos Islands

You have been on a cruise ship for days. You have eaten too much and been on too many excursions. What sounds idyllic is to walk barefoot along a golden beach while enjoying the tropical sun. This long stretch of sand near the Cruise Center is the perfect place. So remove your shoes, grab your partner’s hand and start strolling.

South Beach, Grand Turk Cruise Center, Marina, TKCA 1ZZ, Turks and Caicos Islands
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9 Pirate Ship near Cruise Center in Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos Islands

The Spanish were infamous for plundering colonies of indigenous people in the New World and sending the treasures back home aboard galleons. Pirates were equally infamous for attacking those ships. From 1690 until 1720, numerous pirates hid among the Turks and Caicos Islands. One swashbuckling crew who settled on Parrot Cay was particularly interesting. Their captains were a redheaded, Irishwomen name Anne Bonny and her English sidekick in terror Mary Read. This pirate ship replica is a casino located along the beach a short distance from the Cruise Center.

Papa J Tours, Unnamed Road, Cockburn Town TKCA 1ZZ, Turks and Caicos Islands
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10 Shipwreck on Governor’s Beach in Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos Islands

Some experts estimate the beautiful yet treacherous reefs around Grand Turk may have claimed nearly 1,000 ships although few remain today. This rusted cargo ship, the Mega One Triton, washed ashore during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The eyesore mars the otherwise pristine sand of Governor’s Beach, so named because the governor’s residence (Waterloo) is only a few steps away. This gorgeous beach shaded by casuarina trees is about a mile from the cruise dock and typically far less crowded.

Governor's Beach, TKCA 1ZZ, Turks and Caicos Islands
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11 Friendship 7 Replica near Airport in Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos Islands

John Glenn made history when he became the first American to orbit the earth before splashing down off the coast of Grand Turk on February 20, 1962. This full-scale replica of his nine foot capsule is appropriately located near the airport. A U.S. Air Force plane transferred it back to the Florida. The original spacecraft is now on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington. D.C.

JAGS McCartney International Airport (GDT), Grand Turk Island TKCA 1ZZ, Turks and Caicos Islands
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12 Rugged Shoreline at English Point in Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos Islands

There is a long story behind this rough shoreline at English Point. It started 200 million years ago when a large section of the continental crust broke away from Africa to form the Americas. Along the way, smaller remnants became embedded to form some of the islands in the North Atlantic and Caribbean. 100 million years ago, Turks and Caicos became part of a massive coral reef system. During the ice age, much of the Caico’s Bank submerged, leaving behind an archipelago of small islands consisting of limestone and calcified coral. This evolution has created the world’s third largest coral reef just offshore. Diver’s affectionately call the 7,000 foot underwater drop The Wall.

Columbus Landfall National Park, Beach Access Pond St, Cockburn Town TKCA 1ZZ, Turks and Caicos Islands
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13 Beer Bottle and Fishing Net at English Point in Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos Islands

This beach at English Point is about half way between the Cruise Center and Cockburn Town. It is located at the end of the airport’s main runway off of Duke Street. Despite having a lovely patch of golden sand, it is rarely visited by tourists. Judging from these items left behind, it seems to be the perfect place to enjoy a cold beer while watching the rolling surf after a day of fishing. If you have a few extra beers, stay for the sunset.

Columbus Landfall National Park, Beach Access Pond St, Cockburn Town TKCA 1ZZ, Turks and Caicos Islands
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14 Secluded Tropical Nirvana in Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos Islands

Five main beaches stretch contiguously along the western shoreline of Grand Turk. The most popular are (from south to north) Cruise Center, Governor’s and Pillory Beaches. They are also the most crowded. If a secluded paradise is more your style, just look for signs along Duke Street reading, “Columbus Landfall National Park Beach Access.” They are your pathway to a tropical nirvana. Enjoy the view!

Columbus Landfall National Park, Beach Access Pond St, Cockburn Town TKCA 1ZZ, Turks and Caicos Islands
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15 Queen Conch Shell on Beach in Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos Islands

Visitors to Grand Turk will be delighted to find conch shells washed up on shore, especially on remote beaches. This queen conch is proudly featured on the Turks and Caicos flag and coat of arms. The marine snail is capable of laying 500,000 eggs at a time yet only one on average reaches maturity. They taste like a clam and are often served as conch fritters or part of a salad. As an endangered species, it is illegal to export the animal or shell except from the Caicos Conch Farm.

Columbus Landfall National Park Beach, Access Pond St, Cockburn Town TKCA 1ZZ, Turks and Caicos Islands
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16 Turks Head Inne in Cockburn Town, Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos Islands

Bermuda-born Jonathon Glass constructed this and several other buildings in Cockburn Town during the 1830s using scrape timber and masks from shipwrecks. At first the residence of the island’s salt overseer, it later was the island’s first hotel, the home for various doctors, a guest house for the British governor and owned by the American Consulate. During the 1960s, Alex Astwood opened it as the Manta House. After a restoration in 2010, it became a boutique hotel called the Turks Head Inne.

Duke St. Turks Head Inne, Cockburn Town, TKCA 1ZZ, Turks and Caicos
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17 Grand Turk Inn in Cockburn Town, Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos Islands

This is an example of British West Indies architecture, a style popular in several Caribbean colonies. This was the simple yet elegant Methodist Manse (pastor’s residence) when it was built along Front Street during the 1860s. Starting in 2004, a new firm named Lee & Astwood began to restore it. The architects have since been credited with several restorations of historic island properties. The Grand Turk Inn is now an intimate guesthouse with five suites. This porch provides awesome views of the Atlantic Ocean.

Grand Turk Inn, Front St, Cockburn Town TKCA 1ZZ, Turks and Caicos Islands
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18 Cannons on Front Street in Cockburn Town, Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos Islands

Front Street is the main road through Cockburn Town. It offers lovely scenery of historic, pastel-colored colonial landmarks on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other. These cannons facing the sea are in a town square next to the government offices. When you are there, stop into the post office to view the collection of the island’s beautiful postage stamps.

Hon. N. J. S. Francis Building, Front St, Cockburn Town TKCA 1ZZ, Turks and Caicos Islands
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19 Parliament Building in Cockburn Town, Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos Islands

Grand Turk is the capital city for the Turks and Caicos Islands, a British Overseas Territory. The head of state is the monarch of the United Kingdom who appoints a local governor to a four-year term. A premier and 15 members of the assembly are elected officials while another four seats are appointed. Their offices and meetings are held in the Francis Building, renamed in 2005 after Nathaniel Francis. He was a deputy minister of public works and a Chief Minister during the mid-1980s.

Hon. N. J. S. Francis Building, Front St, Cockburn Town TKCA 1ZZ, Turks and Caicos Islands
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20 Osprey Beach in Cockburn Town, Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos Islands

Osprey Beach is located in Cockburn Town in front of a hotel by the same name. If you are not their guest, you can still enjoy a stroll along the sand or a swim in the aquamarine water because all beaches on the island are public. There are also public restrooms and a restaurant here. This is a great place to cool off while touring the town.

Duke St & Robert Alley, Cockburn Town TKCA 1ZZ, Turks and Caicos Islands
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21 St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral in Cockburn Town, Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos Islands

The island’s oldest church – St. Thomas Anglican – was built near the salt pans. As the population of Cockburn Town grew, this second Anglican church was built on Front Street in 1899. St. Mary the Virgin Pro-Cathedral is part of the Anglican Diocese of the Bahamas. About 10% of the island’s population is Anglican.

St. Mary's Anglican Pro-Cathedral Church, Duke St, Cockburn Town TKCA 1ZZ, Turks and Caicos Islands
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22 Cycling on Front Street in Cockburn Town, Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos Islands

This woman cycling on Front Street is looking out over the Columbus Landfall National Park. Below the 1,280 acres of water is a fringing reef, home to spectacular coral and marine life. The island is justifiable proud of its 26 moored dive sites. You can also snorkel just offshore of this beach parallel to town.

Duke St & Osborne Rd, Cockburn Town TKCA 1ZZ, Turks and Caicos Islands
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23 Victoria Public Library in Cockburn Town, Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos Islands

In 1887, this public library was dedicated to Victoria, the Queen of the United Kingdom, to celebrate her golden jubilee. It officially opened two years later. Nearby is a plaque from 2002 honoring the 50th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II. Both monarchs reigned for over 60 years.

Victoria Public Library, Duke St, Cockburn Town TKCA 1ZZ, Turks and Caicos Islands
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24 Her Majesty’s Prison in Cockburn Town, Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos Islands

This jailhouse opened in the early 19th century for the confinement of wayward slaves. After slavery was abolished in 1834, its cramped cells were reserved for criminals often from different islands. When a new incarceration facility was built in 1997 – also called Her Majesty’s Prison – this old prison was closed. It now attracts tourists on days when a cruise ship is in port.

Her Majesty's Prison, Pond St, Cockburn Town TKCA 1ZZ, Turks and Caicos Islands
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25 Sightseeing Options in Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos Islands

Grand Turk is only seven miles long and 1.5 miles wide so it is easy to get around. And with only about 4,500 people, there is not much traffic. For such a small island, however, it offers many sightseeing options. Of course you can book an excursion from your ship or arrange for a tour by bus or taxi at the Cruise Center. Self-guided options include renting a car or jeep, a bicycle, scooter or golf cart (just remember to drive on the left side of the road). Charter boats are available for snorkeling and day cruises. Or consider seeing the sights on a buggy, horseback, Segway or helicopter.

Middle St & Murphy Alley, Cockburn Town TKCA 1ZZ, Turks and Caicos Islands
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26 Salt Pier in Cockburn Town, Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos Islands

The waterfront along Cockburn Town is accented by an old wooden salt pier. This is where ships were loaded with salt beginning in the late 17th century. By 1725, as many as 1,000 salt rakers worked in the 227 acres of salinas. The quality of Turks Island salt was so exceptional it was exported across the world until the early 1960s.

Front St & Market St, Cockburn Town TKCA 1ZZ, Turks and Caicos Islands
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27 Masonic Lodge in Cockburn Town, Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos Islands

The Separation Act of 1848 gave the Turk Islands some autonomy from Bahama. Soon afterwards, Frederick Forth became the first president. After he was replaced in 1854, he founded this Free Mason’s Lodge. Initially it was called the Turks Islands Forth Lodge. This historic building is easy to find at the intersection of Front Street and Freemason Alley. Just look for the Freemasons’ unmistakable symbol: the letter G inside of a compass and square.

Masonic Lodge, Front Street, Freemason Alley, Cockburn Town TKCA 1ZZ, Turks and Caicos Islands
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28 Sunnyside in Cockburn Town, Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos Islands

This Bermudian-style home was originally built in 1875 on Sail Rock Cay, one of the islands in the Turks and Caicos archipelago. When it was purchased by Mary Jones, she had it reassembled along Front Street on Grand Turk. At the time of this writing, the private residence was for sale.

Sunnyside Cottage, Front St Cockburn Town TKCA 1ZZ, Turks and Caicos Islands
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29 National Museum in Cockburn Town, Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos Islands

This charming building was called the Guinep House after the tree out front when it was constructed for a shipbuilder in 1825. The support beams were originally ship masts. It was donated to the Museum Trust in 1990. The highlights of the National Museum are informative exhibits and artifacts from the Wreck of Molasses Reef, America’s oldest discovered shipwreck. Some believe it was the Niña, part of Christopher Columbus’s fleet, which sank in 1513. You will also find other maritime and historic displays including the Natural History Gallery upstairs. Plus the museum maintains the island’s archives.

Turks and Caicos National Museum, Front St, Cockburn Town TKCA 1ZZ, Turks and Caicos Islands
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30 Pastel Coral Kiosks in Cockburn Town, Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos Islands

Cockburn Town has been the capital city of the surrounding 40 islands since 1766. Its buildings are a time capsule of British West Indies and especially Bermudian architecture from the 18th and 19th centuries. Most have colorful storm shutters to protect against high winds and wooden jalousie windows to let in the gentle ocean breezes. Along the shoreline are these pastel-colored kiosks constructed from coral and stones. The merchants specialize in local crafts and souvenirs.

Front St & West Rd, Cockburn Town, TKCA 1ZZ, Turks and Caicos Islands
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31 Sea Fan on Guanahani Beach in Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos Islands

If you get goosebumps when you step foot on Guanahani Beach, it could be because of the gentle surf lapping against the sand or your excitement over finding a sea fan washed ashore. Or maybe it is because when Christopher Columbus discovered the New World on October 12, 1492, he called the island Guanahani. Local experts believe he set foot on this beach and was greeted by Lucayan Indians. Other islands also claim this historical distinction.

Bohio Dive Resort, Grand Turk Cockburn Town TKCA 1ZZ, Turks and Caicos Islands
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32 Wild Donkey in Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos Islands

Starting in the 1700s, Bermudians arrived on the island seasonally to rake salt from the salterns. They used donkeys to pull loaded carts from the evaporation ponds to the piers where the salt was loaded onto ships. During the offseason, the donkeys were free to roam. This created a huge population of wild donkeys. Unfortunately for tourists, many of the feral donkeys may be gone by the time you arrive. Grand Turk’s local government is rounding them up before their ride to the Dominican Republic to work on farms. Progress is also being made to establish a permanent donkey sanctuary to care for the remaining animals.

Historic Lighthouse, Lighthouse Rd, Grand Turk Cockburn Town TKCA 1ZZ, Turks and Caicos Islands
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33 Grand Turk Lighthouse in Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos Islands

This 60 foot, cast iron lighthouse was designed by Alexander Gordon, built in London and assembled along the northern coast of Grand Turk in 1852. The beacon’s Argand oil lamps and then Fresnel lens were managed by keepers for 120 years before it was automated in 1972. This popular landmark is a historic site protected by the Turks and Caicos National Trust.

Historic Lighthouse, Lighthouse Rd, Grand Turk Cockburn Town TKCA 1ZZ, Turks and Caicos Islands
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34 Windward Coast of Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos Islands

The east side of Grand Turk is the windward coast. It is practically devoid of development except for the ruins of former resorts. Very few tourists venture here. However, there are access points along Lighthouse Road where it is worth stopping and walking down to the beach. What you will see is wave after wave of turquoise water slapping against a natural shoreline. This seafront has probably not changed much during the last several millenniums.

Lighthouse Rd, Grand Turk Cockburn Town TKCA 1ZZ, Turks and Caicos Islands
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35 Methodist Church in Cockburn Town, Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos Islands

Although less than 10% of the island’s population is Methodists, they have one of the prettiest churches on Grand Turk. This white-washed façade with red-roof accents was built in 1930 along the shoreline of the Red Salina, a salt pan in Cockburn Town. It replaced an earlier church destroyed during “The Hurricane of the Century” in 1926. The category 4 event had winds of 150 MPH while dropping 10 inches of rain. The island is the victim of a major hurricane (sustained winds over 100 MPH) about every seven years.

Mission Folly & Pond St, Cockburn Town TKCA 1ZZ, Turks and Caicos Islands
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36 Red Salina Salt Pan in Cockburn Town, Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos Islands

The Red Salina is one of seven inland ponds on Grand Turk where salt was harvested for 300 years. In recognition of its critical role, it and the adjacent Town Pond received Protected Area Status as Areas of Historical Interest in 2011. They have become parks and a wildlife reserve. Bird watchers enjoy walking along the salt pan paths for the chance to see American flamingos, brown pelicans, egrets, ospreys and stilt sandpipers.

Mission Folly & Pond St, Cockburn Town TKCA 1ZZ, Turks and Caicos Islands
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