Is it too late to talk about New Year's? Oh well. It has taken me some time to get this post together (thanks stomach bug).
One week after my friends and I put down a deposit on a place in Orient Bay, St Martin (SXM), Hurricane Irma hit.
I was crushed--and not just for myself. SXM is a special place and it has been awful to know that the people there are suffering as they work to rebuild. Last year, two friends and I spent a full week on SXM and it was such a relaxing trip. I came back relaxed, a little tan and ready to start a new year.
While our rental was apparently fine, the real estate agency admitted that the surrounding area had been devastated with restaurants leveled and supply deliveries slowed.
My friends and I struggled to agree on a new destination. Flights were expensive, just about everywhere, as were accommodations. Our plans fell apart.
And then one of my terrific friends, Christy, made a suggestion: Turks & Caicos (TCI). She had gone there on her honeymoon, and was under the impression that their hurricane damage was minimal. Soon after, I searched flights, found one for $350 and talked to my friends. Ultimately three of us-Adrienne, Christine and me-went to TCI for five nights--that is until stormy weather in NYC added a sixth night for two of us.
Here are some tips if you are thinking of visiting Turks & Caicos.
We stayed at La Vista Azul and which was my fault. When we were ready to book in November, AirBNB options were thoroughly depleted, and hotels were either pretty cheap or exorbitantly expensive (like $2000-$10000 per night). Because only two of us were confirmed to travel at this point, I recommended that we book the conservative option: $1575 for five nights.
While the hotel was fine-ish, the location was not ideal and we spent a lot of money on taxis (more on that later) before renting a car for two days. Vista Azul is in Turtle Cove and Grace Bay is really where you want to stay. Additionally Vista Azul is most definitely not a resort-style experience. The two rooftop pools are small and mostly shaded each afternoon.
Our other conservative option, Ports of Call, was about $2200 for the same time period. It's the same approximate class as Vista Azul, but the Grace Bay location is so much better. You can walk to the beach, grocery store, shops, etc. Our only walkable option was Naughty Gull which was cute and convenient if pricey (an extra shot of espresso in your latte? That will be $4.).
They're beautiful, pure and simple. Because we weren't staying at a beachfront Grace Bay property, it was a little awkward figuring out how to stage the perfect beach day: chairs, umbrellas, food and drink.
In Orient Bay, SXM, most of the accommodations aren't beachfront so everyone rents chairs and umbrellas from the little beach bars and restaurants. Then you order food and drink from their servers at your leisure, and you get access to their restrooms and wifi. It's a great set-up.
Grace Bay beaches all have public access, which is wonderful, but the various resorts didn't seem to know what to do when we asked if we could use or rent their chairs and umbrellas. Ultimately it worked out but no one tried to sell us food or drink. Missed opportunity!
There are, of course, lots of beaches beyond Grace Bay but our schedule of excursions didn't allow for a ton of exploration. Next time!
Adrienne and Christine hit a home run booking our excursions. They were terrific! We did a sunset horseback ride on the Blue Hills Beach through Unique Tours. It was a lot of fun. We also took Island Vibes' full-day BBQ tour on a catamaran. Our captains, Dondre and Big Mike were terrific.
Taxis are expensive in TCI. When three of us traveled together, the trip from our hotel three miles to Grace Bay for time at the beach or dinner would run $10 per person. Given that rental cars can be found on Priceline et al for ~$40 per day, a rental car is a good investment, particularly if you're not staying in Grace Bay or if you want to explore more. My friends had a pretty easy time driving on the other side of the road--there isn't much traffic on TCI.
Rental cars in the Caribbean tend to be beaters so between that and the insurance you get through any travel-focused credit card, buying the car company's insurance isn't a must.
Food and Drink
TCI is a good Caribbean destination for dining, but I kept comparing them to the restaurants of SXM, which were largely more budget friendly for the same quality. TCI highlights included Coyaba and Coco Bistro.
On New Year's Eve, we started the night at Infiniti before moving on to Ricky's Flamingo Cafe. Ricky's ended up being a highlight between the bonfire, the fireworks and the opportunity to meet locals. Don't miss it.
Something to keep in mind: a lot of TCI spots do NOT engage in continuous service a la restaurants in the US. Additionally, bars where tourists tend to go often close down earlier than we're used to. If you want a late night, befriend a local!
Would I go back to TCI? While my heart is still in St. Martin, until the island is truly ready for visitors, I will absolutely make plans to return to Turks & Caicos.