The Turks and Caicos Islands are renowned as one of the top destinations for scuba diving in the Caribbean (alongside Saba, Bonaire, and the U.S. Virgin Islands). Though Providenciales is the most famous of the eight inhabited islands within the Turks and Caicos archipelago, the entire island chain consists of 40 smaller islands and cays that are a dream for underwater adventurers to explore. The Turks and Caicos Islands are famous for their crystal-clear turquoise waters, which provide tremendous underwater visibility in the Caicos Banks' marine shallows and its barrier reef—the third-largest in the world. From the best places to snorkel with whale sharks to the most pristine beaches for off-shore diving, read on for the best underwater sites to explore off the islands of Turks and Caicos.
The Turks Island Passage separates the Turks and the Caicos islands, and a popular snorkel and diving spot is located just east of the island of Grand Turk. The Passage is a famous area for underwater explorers and is perfect for spotting sea turtles, eagle rays, and—most importantly—humpback whales. Travelers who prefer to stay closer to land can opt for that option in Grand Turk, as well, as the island offers some of the best conditions in the archipelago for shore diving.
The tiny oasis of Salt Cay is sometimes also known as “The Island Time Forgot.” The island is very remote, and, despite being a renowned diving and snorkeling destination, it’s not unusual to spot fewer than two dozen visitors on any given day. Salt Cay is an excellent spot for travelers looking to observe marine life, as the shallow waters tend to attract an influx of Humpback whales in the wintertime. The best time to visit is between January and April when over 1,500 Atlantic Humpback whales traverse these waters as they head south to give birth in the spring.
West Caicos Wall
Depart the Turk Islands and cross the Passage to explore the cliffs and reefs of West Caicos. The second-largest uninhabited island in the archipelago, West Caicos used to be known as Belle Island—and it’s easy to see why. The majority of the waters surrounding the island are protected by the West Caicos National Marine Park, making for idyllic, adventurous diving (particularly at the West Caicos Wall). There is also fabulous snorkeling to be found off the island’s cliffs—keep an eye out for decorator crabs and sponges.
If you're looking for a remote dive spot, head to French Cay, located on the southern Caicos Banks, to dive its eponymous wall. This part of the barrier reef is exposed to more sunlight than West Caicos, so scuba divers and snorkelers alike will find that the visibility is even brighter and the coral even more vibrant. While the Turks and Caicos Islands aren’t well-known for their wreck sites (unlike, say, Curaçao), you can observe some fairly recent wrecks on the horizon of French Cay—a tribute to the dangerous coral reefs below. And, thrillingly, French Cay is one of the best spots in the Turks and Caicos Islands to swim with sharks—gray reef sharks are most common, but nurse, bull, hammerhead, tiger, and lemon sharks can be found as well.
Explore the reefs at Northwest Point, a scenic coast located—ironically—on Providenciales' most northeastern point. Charter a boat (land access is limited) to visit the Northwest Point National Park; most of the top dive sites in Turks and Caicos are located in nature reserves and national parks. Be sure to dive and snorkel along the Northwest Point Wall and explore the colorful sea fan beds. However, Northwest Point is not recommended for novices as the coast’s proximity to deeper waters subjects the area to abnormal, occasionally volatile, ocean swells.
For a more accessible option in Providenciales, head to the iconic Grace Bay Beach for some off-shore snorkeling at Coral Gardens, also known as Bight Reef. Head to the Coral Gardens Resort beachfront, where you’ll find a path leading you to the snorkeling area for the Coral Gardens. Bight Reef is a marvelous site for novice and expert snorkelers alike, as the seaside setting is absolutely stunning, and the reef itself is home to an array of sea turtles, stingrays, and parrotfish.
Head 3.5 miles west of Grace Bay Beach to explore the snorkeling at Smith's Reef, located in Turtle Cove on Providenciales’ northern coast. Smith’s Reef is another snorkeling site catering to all levels of expertise, and Turtle Cove is famous for its dazzling array of colorful, tropical fish—from butterflyfish to porcupinefish, squirrelfish to queen angelfish, and more. Don’t forget to look beneath the ledges for spiny lobsters, channel crabs, and spotted moray eels lurking below.
From the most famous island in the Turks and Caicos archipelago to one of the more decidedly underrated destinations: Our net choice is the blissful serenity of South Caicos. The surrounding waters of South Caicos are home to dozens of tiny, uninhabited islands and cays. Ask a local guide to take you out in one of the local fishing boats, or consult your hosts at Sailrock Resort (the premiere luxury retreat on the island) for the best island-hopping method off the turquoise coast. The tranquil waters and untouched cliffs of this remote island paradise are sure to satisfy even the most discerning snorkel and diving enthusiasts.
Iguana Island, also known as Little Water Cay, is located in the Princess Alexandra National Park. Iguana Island is not only a paradise for—you guessed it—iguanas, but for snorkelers and divers, as well. Located off the northern tip of Providenciales, we recommend signing up for a day trip via boat—have a local guide show you the spots and enjoy some rum punch along the way. The protected, crystal-clear waters are fabulous for spotting conchs resting on the ocean floor. And, if you're looking to explore even further, head over to Mangrove Cay, another popular snorkel destination located within the Princess Alexandra reserve.