Turks and Caicos Islands (CNN) — You won’t find butler service or a sunset concierge on North Caicos or Middle Caicos. What you will find is powdery sand, blissful quiet and just enough off-beach activity to interest the less languid day tripper.
These side-by-side islands are accessible via a 25-minute ferry ride from Providenciales, the Turks and Caicos Islands’ international gateway and tourism hub. Provo, as it’s known, is an easy direct flight from many US East Coast cities (less than two hours from Miami; just over three hours from New York).
The rugged, sparsely populated islands make an ideal day trip or overnight complement to a longer stay in the islands.
A coastal stunner
Arthur, who’s about 70, traces his roots back five generations to slaves brought to the islands by Loyalists around the time of the American Revolutionary War.
He talks about the islands’ original inhabitants, the Taino Indians, the arrival of Columbus and European colonists, the establishment of Loyalist cotton and sisal plantations run by slave labor and the farming and fishing economy that followed the failed plantations on North and Middle Caicos.
Arthur will tailor tours to visitors’ interests and also organizes boating expeditions on the waters around the islands.
Guided tour or not, Mudjin Harbor Beach is Middle Caicos’ don’t-miss stop.
A sun-toasted crescent punctuated by sea caves on one end and a dramatic offshore rock formation known as Dragon Cay on the other, Mudjin Harbor is arguably the archipelago’s most scenic spot.
Mudjin Harbor is not far from the causeway that links Middle Caicos to North Caicos, so if your aim is to soak up the scenery from one spot, beelining your way across North Caicos from the marina, crossing the causeway and parking at Dragon Cay Resort is a winning strategy.
Farther down the road past Mudjin Harbor, Middle Caicos’ Bambarra Beach offers an often-deserted sandy paradise where the surf is calmer for swimming and trees along the shoreline shade picnic tables with daydreamy views.
Off the water
Wade’s Green Plantation gives visitors a look into the era of Loyalist plantations.
Located in the North Caicos settlement of Kew, not far from the ferry dock on the island’s western side, the plantation was founded by Wade Stubbs in 1789 to grow cotton and sisal. Stubbs, a Loyalist, was awarded land by the British monarch after he lost his Florida property during the American Revolutionary War. He owned more than 300 slaves.
The plantation was only in operation for 30 years before a variety of issues including insects and soil degradation shut it down. Many Turks and Caicos Islanders have ties to the original plantation families.
Guided tours (call +1 649-243-6877 for access) involve a walk through several of the ruined limestone buildings, including the great house and the kitchen, as well as information about plants including sisal, guinea grass and moringa.
Donna Gardiner uses hand-picked and locally grown moringa, mint and fever grass to make tea blends with healthy benefits at Caicos Tea Company.
The company, founded by Donna Gardiner, produces artisan bush teas based on blends handed down for generations — including the popular Caicos Sunshine. The teas are also available in Provo gift shops and hotels.
Refreshments with a view
Gardiner’s parents established Pelican Beach Hotel in Whitby, North Caicos, and its Barracuda Beach Bar is a prime spot right on the beach for a cold beer or rum punch.
Serving a tasty fish sandwich and other local specialties, Last Chance is open for lunch everyday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and for dinner by reservation. Most North and Middle Caicos restaurants are only open regularly for lunch because many visitors are day trippers.
The cottages of Dragon Cay Resort are among the few buildings on the Middle Caicos coast.
The undeveloped coastline is what makes North and Middle Caicos so special. That means few hotels, stores or restaurants. You won’t find glitzy resorts — nor will you run into crowds of sunseekers.
Unspoiled beauty and simple relaxation are the real treasures here.