Editor's Note: Those who choose to travel are strongly encouraged to check local government restrictions, rules, and safety measures related to COVID-19 and take personal comfort levels and health conditions into consideration before departure.
Paradise is so close to our borders you can almost taste it. Sitting just 575 miles off the coast of Miami sits Turks and Caicos, a British overseas archipelago made up of some 40 islands. It's a puddle-jumper flight that transports you an entire world away. It's also one of the few places currently welcoming American tourists amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Throughout much of 2020, the islands were more of a dream than a reality for many travelers as it shuttered its borders to tourists looking for a quick getaway. But now, they are not only welcoming visitors once again, they are doing so with open arms. So long as you're willing to mask up and test first.
In October, I boarded my first flight since the pandemic began to see how the Turks and Caicos islands were faring and how they were preparing to host visitors again as their high season loomed in the not too distant future. To be clear, traveling wasn't a decision I made lightly. I assessed my own risk, made plans for pre- and post-trip testing, read up on the local rules and regulations, as well as what regulations I'd have to follow when I returned home to Los Angeles, California. I spoke with my partner, my doctor, and even my own mother before deciding this was the right choice for me, and the right choice as a travel journalist to share with you.
So, what does this particular slice of heaven on Earth look like in a post-pandemic world? Here's everything you need to know about getting to Turks and Caicos and just how to make the most of your trip no matter when you go.
Testing is absolutely required
Getting to Turks and Caicos takes a bit more work than it used to, and for good reason. The islands require every traveler to present a negative COVID-19 test upon arrival, taken no more than five days before travel. Travelers to the islands must upload their documentation to the TCI portal, along with proof of insurance that will cover any and all expenses should they test positive for COVID-19 during their stay. Upon arrival in the islands, it becomes immediately apparent that they are taking things seriously. If you have your mask down below your nose for even a second in public you can expect a scolding.
Getting there is still a breeze
Getting to Turks and Caicos is easy thanks to daily flights via United Airlines, Delta, JetBlue, American, and more. For my trip, I opted for United, and also opted to upgrade to its first-class cabin to ensure even more space between myself and other travelers. This also afforded me the right to use the United Lounge pre-flight to again ensure further social distancing from others. This is most certainly not an option for all, but if you can upgrade with points or dollars, it is a change worth making for better peace of mind.
Extreme social distancing is an option at a few distinct hotels
Here's perhaps the best part about a trip to Turks and Caicos: They're already well set up for extreme social distancing.
My first stop on my journey through the islands was at Grace Bay Club in Providenciales. The all-suite resort comes with three distinct offerings: An adults-only section, The Hotel; the family-friendly section, The Villas Suites; and the luxury resort within a resort, The Estate. It's a place where every kind of traveler can find exactly what they're looking for.
The team at Grace Bay will also go above and beyond to ensure you can still make the most of your trip, including setting you up with everything from short kayak tours to full-day excursions to uninhabited islands, bike tours, or will even set you up with local excursion providers to go horseback riding down the beach, an activity I took part in and cannot recommend enough for you, too. Just let the team know what you're into before you arrive and they'll happily accommodate your every wish.
Next, I jetted off to Sailrock Resort in South Caicos. The boutique resort sits along the crystalline Caribbean waters and is a favorite among A-listers like Justin Bieber thanks to its seclusion and quieter vibe.
Each room in the resort comes with a view more stunning than the last thanks to its clifftop position offering expansive views of the water below. Though, if you truly want to have an ultra-private vacation like the Biebs, opt for an oceanfront villa, which comes with its own plunge pool atop the sandy beach. However, the hotel offers much more than just fantastic views. It is absolutely the place to stay to still find adventure on vacation. The hotel's concierge will happily help you plan a day out in the sun including snagging a scuba diving charter, fishing charters, snorkeling tours, offsite kayak tours, beach picnics, and will even let you take out its sailboats that sit on the shore waiting for you each morning. For those looking for something more low-key, book a private in-villa chef service for an unforgettable local meal.
My final stop was to Ambergris Cay, a private island that took a teeny, tiny 8-seater plane to get to, but was well worth 30-minutes of sweaty palms.
Ambergris Cay sits on the southeast corner of the Turks and Caicos Islands, surrounded by the Caicos Banks. This makes its shallow waters ultra-blue and its reef is so spectacular that it can be seen from space, according to the resort.
The island, first purchased in 1811, has remained largely untouched, save for the few upscale private homes scattered throughout, and a few beachfront villas for adventurous travelers willing to go the extra mile for solitude and luxury.
Each villa comes with its own private plunge pool as well as access to 24-hour in-room dining, meaning you could indeed go an entire vacation without interacting with another human being. But, if you do feel like being social, you can head to the island's restaurants, or head to its spa for complimentary daily treatments. And though the island is spectacular all on its own, the concierge team is also happy to take guests out for excursions to nearby private islands for a picnic lunch and quiet time without another soul for miles and miles around.
Expect the same warm welcome you always would — and then some
Perhaps the best part of the stay was seeing just how excited people were to have visitors once again.
"We are ready. To be honest, the entire island is ready for tourism to come back," Cleo Cox, manager of the South Caicos Ocean and Beach Resort, shared over a conch-filled meal at his restaurant, Dolphin Grill.
"Everybody is hurting and is waiting to get started," he added, noting this can only happen if we all still do our parts to follow guidelines, wear masks, and do everything in our power to protect the people and places we are visiting.
"This is the perfect place to relax with just the right amount of things to do," he said. Before departing, Cox waved goodbye saying, "Tell all your friends back home Cleo says hello."
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