When you think of the TCI, you’re probably imagining the soft powder-white sands and blue beaches, or maybe some heart-thumping action adventure. However, there’s a rich history behind TCI tourism, and the things to do on Turks and Caicos extend far past the beaches, too. Today, Big Blue Collective takes a walk through time with you, exploring the area’s unique history- and its impact on the islands today.
Built on Salt: The ‘white gold’ of TCI tourism
Wherever you roam on the islands, especially on the less inhabited ones, you’ll spot the remnants of the salt industry. Whether it’s the salinas of Grand Turk, or an in-island excursion through the salt-enriched history of South Caicos, you can’t miss the impact that the European salt boom left on the TCI. Take any Turks and Caicos tour, and you’re bound to spot the shallow seawater ‘pools’, man-made to help the water evaporate quickly and leave the precious salt behind. There’s even evidence of this in prehistory, when the original TCI natives- the Taino- would travel to the area on salt gathering expeditions. However, as the Bermudas rose in prominence in the 17th century, so did the area’s salt industry, under the watchful eye of European settlers. In the most advanced areas, you’ll spot gates, pumps, split levels and more, all designed to help the early settlers extract the ‘white gold’ from the local sea. If you’re looking for things to do in the Turks and Caicos, let us help you craft a salt tour to explore all these fantastic relics, and help you learn more about this unique industry and the people who staffed it.
A legacy of…well…guano
Alongside salt, the TCI once had a short-lived but earnest export industry in bat guano, or ‘cave earth’. Rising to prominence in the late 1800’s, several of the large caves of East Caicos, as well as the more famous Conch Bar Cave and Indian Cave of Middle Caicos, were the site of guano ‘mining’. This product was then shipped to the sugarcane plantations of the Caribbean to bolster soil fertility. Despite no longer being the most prominent of the islands, you’ll spot the remnants of a somewhat sophisticated rail system on East Caicos which was tied to this unique method of making money. The wild donkeys you will spot on your in-island excursion can also thank the industry for their ancestors, who would assist miners in pulling the rail carts.
Salt wasn’t the only commodity the early settlers wanted the TCI to give them, though. The larger islands, with thicker vegetation, were seen as a great source for the cotton and sisal industries. Many Turks and Caicos tours will take you to the still-famous sites to explore them for yourself. From ruins which have literally been flattened, to plantation houses that almost look like you could move in today until you look closely, there’s a rich history for you to explore- Provo, North Caicos and Middle Caicos all have fantastic sites to visit. While Provo may well be the most urban island in modern TCI tourism, in ironic history the ‘plantation islands’ were never as people-heavy as the salt producing islands.
The plantation ruins on some of the more isolated islands are also accessible through Big Blue Collective Eco-tours, too.
Of course, many of the brave souls who ventured to the islands faced hard lives of work and struggle- TCI tourism wasn’t really a thing back in this era, after all! As they settled on the islands, they tried to add a touch of home to the wilds surrounding them. Be it the quaint British Bermudian Colonial architecture of Grand Turk and the other ‘salt’ islands, the proud lighthouse still protecting the water, or the small graveyards that litter areas of each island, the long history of settlers to this area will be discovered. In some areas, the land surrounding these graveyards was also used to quarantine the sick and save the healthy from the water-borne diseases the settlers couldn’t yet understand. Explore the stories of these buildings– and the people who once called them home- with our in-island tours and excursions.
The mists of prehistory
If you’re looking for things to do in Turks and Caicos, you may be hoping to take your historical revue even further back in history, to the original and somewhat mysterious inhabitants of this Caribbean paradise. There are a few sites in the islands where evidence of the Taino natives who once inhabited the chain can be found, but they are limited and not developed to a ‘tourism’ scale. However, they make an excellent in-island excursion to add to Big Blue Collective’s many eco-tour packages, so if you have a particular interest in this are do be sure to speak to us.
While by far the most of the modern interest in the Turks and Caicos was driven by TCI tourism, from action-adventure water-and-wind sports to indulgent beach holidays at Provo’s many fantastic resorts, there’s still some modern influences at play on the island. You can explore both South Caicos and Grand Turk for U.S Naval and Coastguards stations, abandoned now for several decades. While not perhaps part of the standard Turks and Caicos tours, these abandoned and somewhat eerie facilities make a perfect exploration point for spelunkers, thrill-seekers and those who love the beauty of these old buildings, as well as those interested in the U.S military history in the area.
If you’re looking for exciting things to do in the Turks and Caicos, be sure to add a little history to the mix- you’ll be captivated and fascinated by the many different stories you can uncover.