The nationwide vaccine rollout and the recently issued go-ahead from the CDC permitting vaccinated adults to visit indoors with unvaccinated family members has ignited our plans for a long-awaited reunion with family and friends. And if, like us, you’re eyeing a Caribbean destination for that reunion, allow us to suggest the Turks and Caicos Islands.
An archipelago of 40 islands (only nine of them inhabited) less than 600 miles south of Miami, the TCI’s tourism hub is Providenciales (Provo, to those in the know). This 38-square-mile sliver of limestone offers a clutch of chic villas (we recently stayed at the new Beach Enclave Grace Bay) and hotels (the Ritz-Carlton Turks & Caicos debuts on Grace Bay in July), all set against a backdrop of bone-white sand and impossibly blue water. And its low density (only 35,000 people live here) means that social distancing comes easily.
Like many of its Caribbean neighbors, Turks and Caicos has competently contained the spread of the coronavirus and reopened to international visitors last July. If you’re considering a trip to Provo or any of the other islands in the chain, here’s what you need to know.
Make a Plan
A trip to the TCI—and almost every other Caribbean country—now necessitates advance planning. You have to apply online for permission to enter through the TCI Assured program. Go to turksandcaicostourism.com to start the process, which requires your passport information, COVID/health status, and details about the length and location of your stay.
Crucially, you’ll also have to upload negative results from a PCR test taken within five days of arrival, as well as proof of medical insurance that covers COVID-related treatment (a dozen suggested companies are listed on the website). Note that unlike the application process for other islands, the TCI doesn’t allow you to start your application in advance, save it, and then upload your test results when you get them. The entire process must be done simultaneously.
However, processing time is swift, and my approval certificate (which you have to present at airline check-in) came within 24 hours of my application.
Pro Tip: Be sure to print copies of your hotel reservation, COVID test results and travel authorization. You’ll have to present them at both airports, and although you can show them on your phone, this way you avoid having to pass your (potentially germy) mobile to (potentially germy) strangers.
Observe the Protocols
Once you’re on-island, you’ll find pandemic protocols similar to those at home. You’ll be expected to maintain a six-foot social distance and to wear a mask in public places, except when you’re poolside or on the beach. (Grace Bay, Provo’s marquee strand, is 12-miles long so distancing is a cinch.) There’s currently no quarantine requirement, but there is a daily curfew on Provo, between 11 p.m. and 5.a.m.
Savor Local Flavor
Stores are open, as are restaurants, where a dine-in restriction was recently relaxed as local infection rates continued to decline. At classic Provo restaurants such as Da Conch Shack and Bugaloo’s Conch Crawl you can dine with your toes in the sand at beachfront picnic benches, and Coco Bistro, set in a grove of coconut palms strung with fairy lights, is still one of our top picks for a romantic dinner a deux.
H2 Getting Around
Since there’s no quarantine, visitors are free to responsibly move around the islands; car rentals are permitted and there are no restrictions against ferrying from, say, Provo to neighboring North Caicos. But even if you choose to stay on Provo, there are still socially distanced activities that give you a taste of the TCI, safely.
In the Leeward neighborhood on Provo’s eastern tip, Big Blue Collective’s four-hour Kayak Eco Tour (bigbluecollective.com; $145 per person) takes a maximum of eight adventurers through the fascinating red mangroves on neighboring islets and to Little Water Cay, a sanctuary for thousands of endangered rock iguanas. Beach bums will be happy to know that Grace Bay is open, and we’re thrilled to confirm that its silky sands and Windex-blue water is as alluring as ever.
Be Good to Go
As of January, travelers returning to the United States by air have been required to show proof of a negative COVID test result obtained within three days of departure. Handily, there are several local labs that offer pre-departure testing (find a list on turksandcaicostourism.com), and Provo resorts including Amanyara, Beaches Turks & Caicos, Grace Bay Club, Seven Stars Resort & Spa, and The Shore Club provide testing on-site.
At Beach Enclave Grace Bay in-villa testing was included in the rate. Private-island resorts such as Ambergris Cay, COMO Parrot Cay and Sailrock Resort on South Caicos also offer testing; check their websites for details and pricing.
(Before booking flights and resorts, be sure to review the policies, protocols, and latest news for Turks and Caicos as well.)