Did you know the Turks and Caicos Islands consist of 40 Islands and cays, eight of which are inhabited?
Join the club, I didn't know anything about T&C, other than the reputation for beautiful beaches and a history of infamous pirates like Francois L'Olonnais, Blondel and Captain Dulainen, until my recent two-week holiday there.
I have learned that the main island of Providenciales (Provo to the in-crowd) is 37.5 square miles and the focal point of the Islands. It is the most developed with world-class accommodations.
Grace Bay Beach, where I stayed, is on one of the last of the Caribbean's unspoiled islands and, in time, everyone will discover the beauty of Turks & Caicos, site of the most incredible scuba diving and snorkeling in the world. (Let's not tell anyone.)
Not far from Cuba and part of the Commonwealth, T&C is flat and dry. The islands lie at the southeastern end of the Bahamas chain,
575 miles southeast of Miami. I learned the US Virgin Islands have the mountains and waterfalls we picture in the tropics.
The palm trees in T&C are a study in themselves and so dramatic in the sparse, somewhat barren landscape of uninterrupted horizon, where you can look both ways and not see another soul.
I did see flamingoes at their breeding areas, filtering small organisms through their bills. Also JoJo, the Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin, who seems to prefer swimming with visitors than with his pod.
I took a sunset cruise our first night and JoJo came out to meet us, playing in the wake of our boat. Divers report seeing dolphins in pods of hundreds.
There is much talk of Christopher Columbus and the welcome he received by the peaceful inhabitants of the Lucayan Indians.
The Spanish and slavery were followed by French buccaneers and Bermudians who began a thriving salt business in the 1600's, which lasted until the mid 20th century on Grand Turk.
I flew to Grand Turk for a day to visit the Capital and see the famous lighthouse which provides access to rare black coral, giant manta rays, sharks, and humpback whales.
I saw the new state of the art luxury cruise ship center on the southwestern shore. The historic sites I most enjoyed were the tiny churches, colored white and brightly trimmed in red or cerulean blue. Painters would delight in capturing the charming St. Thomas' Anglican Church, built in 1823.
Five hundred years after Columbus, astronaut John Glenn discovered Grand Turk himself, splashing down in the sea here after becoming the first American to orbit the earth.
I loved the National Museum and all the shipwreck stories. Stamp collectors never miss a stop at the Philatelic Bureau, as the Islands are known for their colorful and unusual issues.
It was here we discovered the Osprey Beach Hotel and this is one hideaway I want to return to. Donkeys moved freely along the road with white egrets on their backs. The cows just move freely.
North (41 square miles) and Middle Caicos (48 square miles), were memorable inland tours. I visited a farm, talked to the pigs and had lunch with Susan in her family kitchen. Jerk chicken was her speciality and my guide, Dario, and another couple from Wisconsin carried on with me to explore the cathedral-like cavern, Indian Cave.
I drove over the causeway that runs for about a mile between North and Middle Caicos. Built in 2007, the Causeway was battered by a hurricane in 2008 and is now a crumbling retaining wall. I was headed for a view of Mudjin Harbour. The beach here looks like a swath of satin against the turquoise, cobalt, lime green and blue of the water. This beach truly merits the title of the Caribbean's best. Simply a must see.
I haven't begun to describe the highlights of these truly incredible private islands. I think the population ranges in the hundreds on North and Middle Caicos.
The people have a history of friendly grace. If an uninhabited island paradise is on your wish list, Grace Bay and Providenciales is a great starting point.
The bicycles are free, go and discover the amorous extras for yourself.
Jeanette Dunagan is an Okanagan artist who has lived in Kelowna for more than 30 years. Her column appears each week in the Okanagan Saturday. Email her at