North Caicos and Middle Caicos are the two largest islands. With a combined population of only about 2,500, they’re also a vast expanse of lush and partially impenetrable vegetation. Calling them quaint and slow-paced would be an understatement.
Take the village of Kew, on North Caicos. Famous for a donkey named Liza that’s known to roam the streets (alas, we never saw her), Kew is so small and unassuming that we rode right through it twice before realizing that was it.
Driving down the only two-lane highway in our beat-up rental car, we stopped at a number of beaches where we were the only two people in sight. It was an exhilarating feeling that I’d never experienced before, even though I’ve traveled to other Caribbean destinations.
Mudjin Harbour, on Middle Caicos, is one of the better-known beaches, and a highlight. Its name is a distortion of “Bermudian Harbor,” and it comprises a sequence of coves carved into the coastline and hidden from view by imposing limestone cliffs. But even more exquisite was Three Marys Cays Beach in the northwestern corner of North Caicos. It’s barely marked on the map, and there are no signs to guide travelers to it. We bumped along on dirt roads for a good half-hour and nearly got lost a few times. A trio of small, mushroomlike islets seemingly floats above the water just off the beach and provided my husband with a serendipitous snorkeling haven.
Sparsely inhabited and still somewhat wild, we found North Caicos and Middle Caicos to be lands of truly outsize fantasies, where we could even allow ourselves to dream of buying a shack on the beach one day and retiring there to write to the sound of crashing waves.
Back on Provo, we had one last mission before leaving: a trip to the coral reef. Anthony, a.k.a. Capt. Blue, who has guided trips to the reef for more than 15 years, showed us around what’s now practically his home, a water so full of life — some fish electric blue and yellow , others the colors of a rainbow — that we found it hard to believe that it wasn’t an aquarium. A nurse shark, long and dark, swam unhurriedly a few feet below us.
Capt. Blue also took us cay-hopping. Cays are small, sandy islands that sit above the reef. They lie in a nearly continuous line north of Providenciales, almost forming a natural bridge to North Caicos. Some are uninhabited, while others house lavish resorts and the mansions of celebrities such as Alec Baldwin, Donna Karan and Bruce Willis.
A cay named Little Water is home to a nature reserve and to several thousand iguanas, which walk around undisturbed and are happy to check out any tourists up close and personal, edging remarkably near their feet. (Careful, ladies: They’re attracted to red toenails!)
As we stood beneath a bright blue sky, surrounded by lush vegetation, white sand and crystal-clear water, I told Anthony that in my next life, I wouldn’t mind being born an iguana on Little Water Cay.
He laughed. “I ain’t coming back here next time,” he said. “All my life I’ve watched things from sea level. I wouldn’t mind being an eagle for a change.”
Good for him, I thought. But as for me, I couldn’t imagine ever getting tired of TCI.
Pasquali is a freelance journalist based in Washington.