33 Fun Facts About Turks and Caicos Islands

by Janis on December 23, 2015

Grand Turk from the balcony of a cruise ship, Turks and Caicos IslandsWe’ve visited Grand Turk in the Turks and Caicos Islands several times, but we’ve never ventured past the beautiful beach, shops and pool located around the cruise ship port. In anticipation of a return visit, we did a little background research on this destination.

33 Fun Facts About Turks and Caicos Islands

1. The Turks and Caicos Islands (also known as TCI) are two groups of tropical islands in the Atlantic Ocean located southeast of the Bahamas, north of Haiti and east of Cuba about 600 miles from Miami.

A map showing the Turks and Caicos Islands' main towns and islands. Image by Kelisi via Wikipedia.

A map showing the Turks and Caicos Islands’ main towns and islands. Image by Kelisi via Wikipedia.

2. The Turks Island Passage, which is more than 7,200 feet deep, separates the Turks Islands from the Caicos Islands.

3. About 40 islands with a total land area of 948 square miles (roughly 2.5 times the size of Washington, DC) make up the Turks and Caicos.  Only eight of the islands are inhabited.

4. Just over 50,000 people are estimated (in July, 2015) to live in Turks and Caicos. The largest percentage of residents live on Providenciales in the Caicos Islands.

Chalk Sound, Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands. Photo by Tim Sackton.

Chalk Sound, Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands. Photo by Tim Sackton.

5. Turks and Caicos Islanders are mostly descendants of African slaves who were brought in to work the salt pans or the cotton plantations. The expatriate population consists of British, Canadians, Americans, French, Bahamians, and immigrants from nearby Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

6. English is the official language of Turks and Caicos Islands. Many locals also speak Turks and Caicos Islands Creole.

7. While the islands are British, the US dollar is the official currency of Turks and Caicos.

8. As a British Overseas Territory, Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom is the chief of state of the Turks and Caicos Islands. The Queen is represented by a governor that she appoints, on the advice of the Foreign Office.

9. Residents of Turks and Caicos Islands who are 18 and older vote in legislative elections every four years. The leader of the majority party is appointed premier by the governor. Premier Rufus Ewing, appointed on November 13, 2012, is the current head of the Turks and Caicos government.

10. The Turks and Caicos became a British overseas territory in 1973, but the islands have a complicated history with control passing from Spain, to France, to Great Britain during the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries.

11. The Taino Indians — who arrived from other Caribbean islands sometime between 500 to 800 AD – were first inhabitants of Turks and Caicos.

12. Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de León was the first European documented to sight the islands in 1512. (Some argue Christopher Columbus arrived earlier, but there is no proof.)

The Turks and Caicos National Museum

The Turks and Caicos National Museum is located in a colonial-era Guinep House on Front Street in the capital of Cockburn Town, on Grand Turk Island. Photo by TampAGS, for AGS Media.

13. The oldest excavated European shipwreck in the Northern Hemisphere (circa about 1513) was found off West Caicos on Molasses Reef. Artifacts from this wreck can be seen at the National Museum on Grand Turk.

14. Many locations in the Turks and Caicos Islands accumulate natural sea salt. The local Tainos took advantage of this and traded gathered salt for honey, fruit and vegetables with natives from Hispaniola, even before the Europeans arrived.

15. Bermudian salt collectors settled the Turks Islands around 1680. The settlers established a booming salt trade on Grand Turk, Salt Cay and South Caicos.

16. After the American Revolutionary War, many Loyalists fled to British Caribbean colonies including the Caicos Islands where they were the first settlers in 1783. Once in the Caicos, they attempted to recreate their plantation lifestyles by attempting to grow cotton and sisal.

17. In 1799, both the Turks and the Caicos island groups were annexed by Britain as part of the Bahamas. For many years the islands were governed indirectly through Bermuda, the Bahamas, and Jamaica. When the Bahamas gained independence in 1973, the Turks and Caicos Islands received their own governor and have remained a separate autonomous British Overseas Territory ever since.

Historic Lighthouse Park on the northern tip of Grand Turk Island.

Historic Lighthouse Park on the northern tip of Grand Turk Island. Photo by TampAGS, for AGS Media.

18. The islands’ salt trade declined due to ships’ difficulty in navigating to the island. In 1852, the Grand Turk Lighthouse was built to alert sailors of the shallow reef, helping preserve the salt trade. Today the historic lighthouse and its keeper’s house are managed by the National Trust.

19. There are two stories as to how the islands got their name. Many believe that the Turks in Turks and Caicos is derived from the indigenous Turk’s Head “fez” cactus, a small stubby cactus capped with a spiny structure resembling a Turkish Fez hat, and the Lucayan term caya hico, meaning ‘string of islands.’

In the other version, Islamic corsairs or ship raiders in the Mediterranean were often referred to as “Turks”, and the term became a synonym with pirate. Early map makers combined this with a version of the Lucayan word cayo hico meaning ‘string of islands.’ In other words, they were warning that the Turks and Caicos were islands with pirates, which they were for several decades around the turn of the 18th century.

Flag of the Turks and Caicos Islands20. The Turks and Caicos flag features three common elements from the islands: a conch shell, a spiny lobster, and Turks Head cactus.

21. The Turks and Caicos economy is based on tourism, offshore financial services, and the exportation of seafood – primarily spiny lobster, conch and other shellfish.

22. More than a million visitors arrived to TCI in 2013, with approximately 70 percent of them visiting via a cruise ship.

23. The weather in Turks and Caicos is usually sunny 350 days a year, with average temperatures ranging between 80 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Annual rainfall averages between 21 and 40 inches.

24. The Turks and Caicos Islands have the third largest barrier reef system in the world and several of the world’s top dive sites.

Beach near Grand Turk Cruise Center, Turks and Caicos Islands25. There is more 230 miles of beach in the Turks and Caicos, most of it soft white sand. The ocean water is warm for swimming —averaging 82 to 84 degrees in the summer and 74 to 78 degrees during the winter.

Turks & Caicos Dive Map & Reef Creatures Guide

26. Unlike other Caribbean destinations, nudity on its beaches is prohibited in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

27. Although the islands are surrounded by ocean water, there are no lakes or rivers in the Turks and Caicos. Islanders depend on rainfall to collect fresh water.

28. From 1952 to 1984, the United States maintained a missile tracking station on Grand Turk, used by NASA during the early days of the American space program. Before modern satellite GPS, these bases would broadcast radio navigation signals for ships and aircraft.

Astronaut John Glenn outside of his Mercury spacecraf

Astronaut John Glenn outside of his Mercury spacecraft, which he nicknamed Friendship 7. Photo by NASA.

29. On February 20, 1962, after orbiting the earth three times in his Mercury “Friendship 7” spacecraft, American astronaut John Glenn splashed down in the ocean near Grand Turk Island. There is a replica of the Friendship 7 capsule located on John Glenn Drive outside of the airport entrance in Grand Turk.

30. Turks and Caicos cuisine is based primarily around seafood, especially conch (pronounced ‘conk’), a large mollusk farmed for its meat and shell. Conch fritters and conch salad are two common dishes.

31. Between January through April each year, Caribbean humpback whales migrate through the Turks head passage in the Turks and Caicos Islands as they travel from the northern waters of Canada’s Bay of Fundy to the Silver Bank off the Dominican Republic where they mate and calve.

32. Ripsaw music – which uses a handsaw being scraped by a knife blade along the saw’s teeth as the primary instrument — originated in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

33. In 1917, Canadian Prime Minister Robert Borden suggested that the Turks and Caicos join Canada, but this suggestion was rejected by British Prime Minister David Lloyd George. Since 1917, the Turks and Caicos Islands have considered joining Canada on three additional occasions, in 1974, 2004, and as recently as 2014.

Learn more about the Turks and Caicos Islands with these resources:

Fodor’s In Focus Turks & Caicos Islands

A History of the Turks & Caicos Islands

Laws Of The Turks And Caicos Islands

Check out these other Fun Facts posts:

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