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Grand Turk Island is a must-visit destination on your cruise itinerary. This is a port when you should get off your ship to take in the stunning beaches, experience excursions, and take in the local culture. This attractive serene island has gorgeous white sandy beaches with sparkling blue waters and is packed with cultural and historical beauty. There are so many things to do in Grand Turk!
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Carnival Cruise Line noticed this too. They turned the island into a cruise port in 2006 and is only open to Carnival and its subsidiary cruise lines. Grand Turks the only cruise port on the islands of Caicos and Turks.
Grand Turk is one of those laid back islands where wild donkeys wander along the beach and in town. Located in the Atlantic Ocean, and not the Caribbean Sea, this small island is part of the islands that comprise the Turks and Caicos archipelago. Grand Turk is home to the government center at Cockburn Town. It has been the capital of the Turks and Caicos Islands since 1766 but doesn’t feel like a stuffy capital city at all.
Here are some suggestions of the best things things to do in Grand Turk:
Popular Excursion Destinations in Grand Turk
Take a taxi into Cockburn Town (pronounced Co-burn) or sign up for an excursion that will take you into and about town. Reminiscent of Bermuda’s British influence during the salt industry boom, the older houses are examples of 18th British architecture and sport typical Victorian porches and some houses even have chimneys. A taxi between the cruise port complex and Cockburn Town will set you back about $4 to $9 USD each way.
While the Caicos and Turks have several perfect snorkeling and diving spots, Gibb’s Cay is an area where animal lovers can come and have an altogether different experience — playing with gentle stingrays. Do not allow their harsh name to fool you, these underwater flying creatures are frequently as gentle as a cat. While you disembark from your boat, you will probably notice the velvety feel of friendly stingrays around your feet. Something of a symbiosis developed here, and now stingrays approach boats and people to play with them and get fed by them. The stingrays are wild, and so should be treated with the utmost respect, but Gibbs Cay provides what other islands cannot: a magical experience and a chance to interact with one of Mother Nature’s most delicate underwater creatures.
Turks and Caicos National Museum
Visit the museum on the island. Situated on Front Street at Cockburn Town, the museum is housed in one of the old buildings on the Island. It hosts the oldest excavated shipwreck ever, which was found in West Caicos. The museum has other shipwrecks too, such as the treasure hunting Spanish ship, a slavery ship, and Taino’s artifacts. Tainos were the indigenous natives of the island believed to have inhabited it between 700 AD and the 15th century. They became extinct because of slavery and diseases in the 1500s, which left the island uninhabited for over a century. The tour of the museum costs about $5.
Grand Turk Lighthouse
The only lighthouse in Turks and Caicos is found at the northern end of Grand Turk. Built in 1852, the historical structure still stands but is no longer functional and visitors cannot enter the building. However, you can pay $5 (cash) to enter the grounds. While I don’t necessarily think this is worth the entrance, this was the one spot where we saw the most donkeys. My son was really happy that he got to touch one and that alone made it worth the ride to the lighthouse.
Grand Turk Cruise Center
Relax at the Grand Turk Cruise Center
If you do not want to wander away from the cruise ship, then relax at the cruise port center. Carnival spent $50 million making this cruise port for its cruisers. The cruise port is situated in the southernmost part of the island. It’s a big complex of about 30 acres. The cruise port is designed to be a small center of luxury for your port day. There are amenities like restaurants, spas, and if you love shopping, there’re gift shops and local jewelry stores at the port. At the cruise center, you’ll find a large beautiful swimming pool. Book a poolside cabana and enjoy private time away from the crowds and a dedicated waiter. Here you can swim or hang out with other shipmates, enjoying the tropical magic that’s Grand Turk.
Hang out at Grand Turk Margaritaville
Once you’re at the port head over to the Margaritaville, it is just one and a half minutes from the pier. Once there you’ll be greeted by a big yellow parrot statue at the entrance. Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville at Grand Turk is the largest in the Caribbean. The popular dining establishment is the main restaurant at the cruise center, situated right next to the giant swimming pool and Flow Rider. It sports a swim-up bar, a trading post, and serves delicious meals in the assortment of Mexican, American, and Caribbean menus. Fill up on as much as you can and kick back and relax just some minutes away from the ship.
Try the Flow Rider
If you have wanted to hang ten, Grand Turk is the place to do it, no experience needed. At the Grand Turk Cruise Center, you can sign up for a 30-minute body and kneeboarding session on the Flow Rider, which simulates the feel of ocean waves. Enjoy the ride and do not forget to smile as photographers are on hand to capture your moment of glory, and maybe a wipe-out to laugh about later.
Learn about the Space Program
NASA’s Friendship 7 capsule splashed down near Grand Turks back in 1962. Grand Turk displays the capsule on the road between the Cruise Center and Cockburn. In 2011, a display was created in the Cruise Ship Port that explains the mission and pays homage to the Friendship 7 mission. It is just a few steps away from your cruise ship and worth stopping by.
Best Grand Turk Beaches Worth Exploring
All the beaches are public and free — so no need to pay an admission fee. You will have to pay for amenities like lounge chairs and umbrellas though. No matter which beach you go to on the island, you will find gorgeous, fine white sand and the clearest greenish blue water you’ve ever seen. It is a tropical paradise.
Cruise Center Beach
Stepping off the cruise ship is the perfect slice of beach heaven. You don’t have to go anywhere if you’re just looking to enjoy the beach. The best part about staying at the Cruise Center Beach is that you have the ability to go back on the ship to enjoy your meal plan if you’d like to save some money. Also, if you tend to get sunburned easily or want to get back out of the sun, you can easily get back on ship. Plus the Margaritaville is right there, so you’re never far from some fun. But if you want a lounge chair and umbrella – get there early!
The next beach north from the Cruise Center is Governor’s Beach. You can’t walk there through the beach due to a secure merchant dock but it isn’t a bad walk on the road and it is a cheap and short taxi ride. You won’t find the lounge chairs and umbrellas. What you will find is the same gorgeous sand and water but without all the crowds! A few vendors sell snacks and drinks out of coolers – so bring cash!
English Point Beach
Between Governor’s Beach and Cockburn Town Beach is a stretch known as English Point Beach. The access point is near the end of the airport’s runway, near the Friendship 7 capsule. This beach is a bit rockier than the others but even more secluded than the others we found. There were only two vehicles parked there when we stopped. You’ll find the same gorgeous sandand same clear water. But we saw no vendors on this beach though.
Cockburn Town Beach
If you’re going into town, you’ll be able to enjoy the beach in town.The beach is not as wide in town and there are big walls to climb down to access the beach. But again, it was even less crowded than the other beaches we saw and just as gorgeous but with the backdrop of the town behind and the added advantage of small shops to pick up snacks and drinks nearby.
Boaby Rock Point
We did not make it to Boaby Rock Point. It is supposedly the best spot for snorkeling and reputedly hard to find. It certainly proved to be so for us. Sunburned from the other beaches we already saw, we ended up skipping it once we turned around about three times when we couldn’t find the entrance.
Local Grand Turk Eats with A View
Because most visitors spend only an afternoon in Grand Turk, there are not a slew of restaurants to choose from. There are some places to grab lunch, a cold brew, and perhaps hang out for the entire afternoon.
There is a huge Margaritaville at the Cruise Center! It is perfect for those less adventurous with their food experiences and those who prefer to stay close to the ship. It is essentially the same menu as all the other Jimmy Buffet’s restaurants, but if your strategy is to go back and forth to the ship all day, it is convenient. If you are looking to use their Wi-Fi, be warned that it is slow and the good connections can be found near the router on the 2nd level. They have lots of activities to keep crowds entertained all day.
Jack’s Shack has become the afternoon escape from the crowded Cruise Center. The Shack is just a short 540-yard walk north from the cruise dock. Print out a coupon from their site to get a free shot of locally produced rum. They’re known for their delicious jerk chicken which goes for around $10, barbeque shrimp with fries, and strong cold drinks. Possibly the best thing about this restaurant is that it accepts credit cards when most other restaurants take cash only. They serve conch fritters, which are perfect. Head on over there and grab a bite while being entertained to enchanting reggae tunes.
Looking for laid back Caribbean beach cuisine? Walk a few minutes north on the beach to find Reef Shark Bar & Grill. You can’t miss the lounge chairs and umbrellas as well as water sports equipment available for rent, including kayaks and stand-up paddleboards. Plus they have free WiFi. Spend a little or a lot of time here. You can even book your equipment online ahead of time.
If a quieter luncheon is your taste, hop into a taxi to the Osprey Beach Hotel. There you will discover poolside dining with a bird’s-eye view of the ocean. They offer free Wi-Fi, too.
How to Explore Grand Turk on Your Own
The island is about 7 miles long, so it is easy to explore on your own. There are several ways to do so:
Rent a car
There are a handful of cars available for rent on the island. But you’ll need cash for the experience. There are also several 4×4’s available. All of these are substantially more expensive than renting a golf cart — unless there is a reason you need a vehicle, just relax and enjoy it!
Rent a golf cart
The most popular way to explore the island on your own is to rent a golf cart. For about $100 a day, you’ll get to ride around the town. The only thing is that we only saw one gas station in town and you do have to fill it before returning it to the center. We had the most fun driving around in our golf cart! At one point there was a small caravan of golf carts following each other from one point to the next.
Hire a taxi
As soon as you disembark from your cruise ship, you will find lots of options for exploring the island, including taxi drivers who will take you to your preferred destination. This is the perfect option if you know where you’d like to go and want to make arrangements with a driver for a specific pick up time at the end of the day.
Ride the tram
One of the tours that can be booked is an open air tram which explores the island. The 3 hour tram ride limits visitors exploration but there is an all day option which also allows more flexibility for visitors to spend more time visiting the island’s stops.
We saw a few couples walking around the island but mostly to one of the beaches near the Port and as far as Cockburn Town. We do not recommend walking for a few reasons. First, it is incredibly sunny and hot, with absolutely no cover. Second, there are a lot of donkeys around and you may have to walk around them, just in case. Third, the area just north of the Cruise Center is a secure, guarded area, so you cannot walk through the beach and have to walk around.
Grand Turk Excursions
The Grand Turk excursions listed below are not unique to Grand Turk but Grand Turk is a great place to experience them if you’d like to try them during your cruise.
If a slow horseback ride along a white sandy beach is on your to-do list, Grand Turk can be the best place to try it. Sign up at the start of your cruise to avoid disappointment as it frequently sells out. After a short van ride to the stable, guests are given a safety briefing before mounting their steed. You will don a life preserver, and your horse will be fitted with a water suitable saddle. After some time in one direction in the water, the leader gives the signal for the horses to head back. Almost in unison, the horses turn in the ocean and set their sights on a fast return trip. Hold on tight because the herd actually wants to get moving. It is a wonderful experience, both in the water and on land.
If you are a certified scuba diver, you’re in luck. Grand Turk is surrounded by the 3rd-largest coral reef in the world. A scuba dive excursion may take you inside the explosion of color that lives beneath the surface of the water. It all starts just a 10-minute boat ride away from where the cruise ships dock. Oh, and get ready to meet some of the locals on your dive as the area is home to turtles, stingrays, and a whole host of brightly colored fish.
Snorkel & Swim
Even if you aren’t a certified diver, you can explore the reef of Grand Turk with your own snorkel gear or on a snorkeling excursion. Children aged five and up can typically come along and a guide will offer safety instructions and lead you on a tour of the highlights beneath the surface. Snorkel equipment will be offered on most excursions but bring a towel and sunscreen with you from the ship. To maximize your time in port, reserve some time for hitting the beach after your snorkel so you can swap stories of what you have seen. Yes, that means it is time to brag about your barracuda sighting!
Yes, you just got off a ship. But this one is smaller than your cruise ship an promises a smooth ride. Stepping aboard a catamaran is a perfect way to explore Grand Turk’s coves and beaches, marine, and reef life. On catamaran excursions, you can sit back and enjoy ocean breezes as you take in the Instagram worthy vistas, or you can opt to snorkel the reef, swim, and just lie back and float in the crystal-clear water. You control the pace but whatever activity you select, you can count on photos and scenery that will make everybody back home green with envy.
Kayak or Paddleboard
If you are looking for a little exercise and need to get out into Grand Turk’s beautiful water, consider a kayak and stand up paddleboard (SUP) tour. Even if it is your first time trying one of these water sports, you will be in the best hands and learn good techniques from knowledgeable guides. Plus, you will be getting a workout at the same time as learning more about the history and natural side of the island. Allow time for a dip and even a snorkel and this excursion is the definition of a win-win situation.
Know Before You Go to Grand Turk Island
Grand Turk Weather
The best times to visit Grand Turk are between October and May as that is when the weather is clear and sunny. Grand Turk has tropical weather all through the year. It is hot most of the year, particularly from May to October. The cooler season starts from December to March. The average daily temperature is around 75 Fahrenheit.
Grand Turk Currency
The US Dollar is the official currency in the Turks and Caicos. However, a lot of places do not accept credit cards, so plan to bring cash to pay for your purchases, including vehicle rentals. While there is an ATM machine in port, do not count on it working or being available.
Grand Turk Beer
It has to be said but you can either pay a ton of money to drink American beer or pay very little money to drink delicious local beer. May we suggest that you try the local Turks Head beer and save the American beer for once you’re back on the ship. We stopped at one of the local liquor stores and stocked up on two of each kind — a light lager, IPA, and amber. They were a great value and really good!
Why You Should Visit Grand Turk
With beautiful weather nearly year-round (the exception obviously being the unpredictable height of hurricane season – August through November), cruise passengers have come to love their brief visit to this modest, small island. Whether you select to hang out, eat, and shop at the cruise center, venture into town, or buy a shore excursion, a port call in Grand Turk is sure to be a fun and memorable experience.
We get it that sometimes, you don’t want to do an excursion when you’re on a cruise. Grand Turk is a perfect port to just walk off the ship and relax on the beach.
We rented a golf cart and explored the island on our own during our port day in Grand Turk. Grand Turk is a beautiful island to just enjoy the beaches and relax away from the stress of everyday life.
Looking for more Caribbean port guides? Check out these destinations:
- Antigua’s Beaches
- What to do in St. Kitts
- A Port Day in St. Thomas, USVI
- A Guide to San Juan, Puerto Rico
Annick, The Common Traveler