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Tranquil Turk; Grand Turk Island

Grand Turk Island is an island in the Turks and Caicos Islands, a chain of islands in the Caribbean under British Rule, just southeast of the Bahamas. The island derives its name comes from a species of cactus on the island, the Turk’s Cap Cactus, which has a distinctive cap, reminiscent of a Turkish fez. Grand Turk is the largest of the Turks Islands (the smaller of the two archipelagos making up the Turks and the much larger Caicos). At 6.9 square miles, and with a population just under 4,000, Grand Turk houses the territorial capital, in Cockburn Town, as well as a Masonic Temple, the Turks and Caicos Museum, and the Governor’s Mansion, on the Grand Turk Beach.

Originally settled by the same natives as many other Caribbean Islands, according to Wikipedia, in 1841, a Spanish ship engaged in the slave trade was wrecked off the coast of East Caicos, one of the larger Caicos Islands. One hundred and ninety-two captive Africans survived the sinking and made it to shore where, under British rule, the slave trade was illegal. These survivors were apprenticed to trades for one year then settled mostly on Grand Turk Island. For several decades around the turn of the 18th century The Turks and Caicos were pirate hideouts. In 1680, Bermudian salt collectors settled the Turk Islands and you can still see the large salt flat impounds as you come into port today.

In 1962, John Glenn’s Friendship 7 Mercury spacecraft splashed down near Grand Turk Island and today, a replica of the Friendship 7 is on display in Grand Turk at the entrance to the Grand Turk Island JAGS McCartney Airport. There has been (disputed) speculation over the years that Grand Turk may have also been the first land sighted by Christopher Columbus’ “New World” discovery in 1492.

Grand Turk, Caribbean Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

There are no ziplines, colorful nightlife, jewelry stores, duty-free liquor stores, or other traditional cruise line retail establishments inland and in the heart of Cockburn town (though there is now a well-developed – outlet-mall style development right at the cruise dock itself at the Southeastern End of the island. The town itself is laid-back, local, and most certainly doesn’t reek of high dollar shopping and restaurants. Indeed, apparently until only very recently, only the exclusive, small ship lines such as Silversea even made port at Grand Turk. In more recent years, however, the Carnival Corporation (Carnival, Holland America and Princess are all within the Carnival “umbrella”). If you want nightlife or an upscale resort experience, the Caicos Island of Providencialesapparently is the “in place.”

Grand Turk, Caribbean Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

We took a taxi into Cockburn Town and “downtown” was a little strip of rather timeworn buildings along the beach, with a bit of local color showing as small “trinket” sale huts and food establishments on the beach. The community had a decidedly rural and “poor” quality to it, though a large (and from the photographs at the cruise terminal, elaborate) “visitor center” was under construction.

Grand Turk, Caribbean Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

A gorgeous Caribbean Sunset closed out our visit to Grand Turk on a quiet, picturesque, quintessential Caribbean. I didn’t have my camera or tripod (a terrible admission for a photographer), but it is a scene I will remember until my next (perhaps) visit to Grand Turk.

Grand Turk Beach, Caribbean Copyright 2012 Andy Richards


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