Welcome To Grand Turk!
It was my first time setting foot on Grand Turk in the Turks and Caicos and I really didn’t know what to expect. I had heard that the island had wonderful beaches and great waterfront bars where you could simply drink and relax. That sounded great and all, but I really wanted to explore the island while I was there. During my cruise aboard the Caribbean Princess, I had already enjoyed a beach day in the Bahamas, and swam underwater in both St. Maarten and St. Thomas. It was time for a change of pace. After doing a little bit of research, I discovered that riding scooters in Grand Turk would be the best way to see the island.
Even though Grand Turk is the largest island amongst the Turks and Caicos islands, it is still only about 7 square miles in size. The territory’s capital, Cockburn Town, is in Grand Turk, and the island’s population is around 3700 people. As Grand Turk was seemingly a small island, it seemed possible that we could ride our scooters all over the entire place and see many attractions in a day.
I had reserved a pair of scooters in advance for Robyn and myself through the company, Tony’s Rentals. There were only a couple of places in Grand Turk where you could rent scooters, and Tony’s seemed to be a reliable one. I exchanged emails with Tony in advance to secure both of the scooters for us. We were instructed to walk just outside of the cruise ship terminal gates to find Tony’s Rentals. So, Robyn and I began to walk around and at first, it was a little bit confusing as to where these gates were located. We asked one person who vaguely pointed us in one direction. After wandering around for a few more minutes, we asked a small group of taxi drivers who were standing around. One huge man who must have been a security guard or bodyguard of some sort said, “Follow me.” We followed behind the man ever so slowly and we saw the gates that Tony had referenced. Once outside the gates, we didn’t see any sort of sign or stand indicating Tony’s Rentals – there were several scooters all lined up in a row at the side of the road. “Great,” I thought, wondering if this was the real deal or some sort of scam. A friendly younger man approached us and said, “You’re looking for Tony’s Rentals. I’ve got your scooters.” He asked us if we were experienced in riding them. I had some experience riding a scooter around Bermuda a few months prior; Robyn had no experience at all. The man decided to rent us a pair of smaller scooters, which seemed logical. He pulled out a clipboard and asked us to write down our information. I noticed that the clipboard didn’t reference Tony’s Rentals at all. What was going on here? I didn’t want to borrow any random scooters with an unknown company. I really didn’t want one of the scooters to break down on the road. Furthermore, I didn’t want to be a no-show for Tony’s Rentals. He had my credit card information and there was the chance I could be charged twice if I didn’t end up with the scooters I actually had booked. Without trying to seem too skeptical, I asked if this was actually Tony’s Rentals as I didn’t see any mention of it on the form. The younger man came clean. He informed us that Tony had actually rented out all of the scooters for the day and had called him up to bring some more scooters so Tony could fulfill all of his reservations. Then, he called over another guy who had copies of our original paperwork with our names on them stating that we had reservations. I was relieved that the scooters that we were renting were legit. However, I wasn’t too impressed that all of Tony’s scooters had been rented out, even though I had reserved ours months in advance. Other people who walked up that day trying to rent some scooters were all turned away. I’m not quite sure what happened, but I’m glad that Tony’s Rentals was able to come through for us and provide us with our rental vehicles. My advice would be to definitely reserve your scooters in advance. Even though we ended up renting them from someone else in the end, I really wouldn’t have known if it weren’t for the paperwork not saying the company name at the top. This could have simply been an example of a more laid back business experience in the Caribbean.
A Wild Ride
Robyn and I got on our scooters and started to ride down the street. There was really only one main road in Grand Turk, and we still managed to get lost. But, that really wasn’t the main issue. It became apparent after riding for a short while that Robyn was afraid of riding her scooter. Riding a scooter felt completely natural to me. I had been put to the test in Bermuda, keeping to the left side of the road with some traffic, driving around a two-lane roundabout, and braking heavily as I rode down a couple of steep hills. By comparison, Grand Turk seemed very easy to ride around. There was hardly any traffic, the streets were flat, and there weren’t many bends in the road. As she was completely new to this and was out of her comfort zone, she got really freaked out. I could totally understand it, though I didn’t anticipate it when I originally chose this activity for us. I told Robyn to stay ahead of me and only go as fast as she liked, and I would keep pace to her. She could pull over to the side of the road whenever she felt uncomfortable. She kept pulling to the side of the road. Her body was all tense, her arms were shaking, and she was nearly in tears. After a while, she said, “I can’t take it anymore. I want to go back.” What could I say? I didn’t want to make her do anything that she didn’t want to do. I also wanted her to have fun! We were on vacation and even though she was trying something new, it definitely wasn’t her thing. We turned around and started to head back. After a minute, she pulled to the side of the road again. Robyn said, “You know what? This is silly. I’m not going to ruin my day. Let’s keep going.” We turned back around and were back on our way. I was really proud of her for facing her fears and forging ahead.
And what happened next? Well, we immediately saw a pair of donkeys at the side of the road. We parked our scooters and were able to get fairly close to them without the donkeys acting afraid. Yes, we did get lost even though there was only one main road. There were tons of smaller side roads and we accidentally took one of them. With that said, there really was no “wrong” way to go when you’re exploring an island. We wanted to ride all over the place and that’s what ended up happening. We saw lots of open space, countryside, small homes, and bodies of water. Eventually, we did ask a man riding a bicycle for directions to the lighthouse, which was one place we ultimately did want to visit.
There were many wild donkeys and horses in Grand Turk. These animals are descendants of those who were brought to the island during the times of salt mining in Grand Turk. When the salt industry ended on the island, the donkeys and horses were let to run free. We saw many donkeys and horses roaming around the fields or by the side of the road. The donkeys do like to cross the road, so you’ve got to watch out for them. We were warned by the local man on the bicycle that the road to the lighthouse was a bumpy one. He wasn’t kidding. This was one of the most potholed surfaces that I’ve ever seen. It almost became a game to avoid the pitted spots, whether it meant veering to the shoulder or even crossing to the other side of the road. Naturally, Robyn was put to the test. She wanted me to ride ahead so she could mimic what I was doing. This method definitely worked as she didn’t make any further stops. We forged ahead until we reached the northern most tip of the island.
Grand Turk Lighthouse
We were rewarded with the sight of the only lighthouse in the entire island chain of the Turks and Caicos, and…more donkeys! These donkeys were definitely used to being around people as they came right up to us looking for some scratches and attention. The donkeys even posed with us in some pictures. For wild donkeys, they were extremely tame.
While we didn’t go up to the top of the lighthouse, it really wasn’t necessary to view the gorgeous surroundings. The ocean was the most brilliant shades of turquoise and blue. There were a few great spots to admire the beautiful views, surrounded by lush greenery and low lying cacti.
After spending some time at the lighthouse, we got back on our scooters and kept on riding. We decided to head towards the capital, Cockburn Town as well as Front Street. As you can see…I loved riding my scooter, and Robyn had a love/hate relationship…
After driving through Cockburn Town, we made a stop at Front Street. We walked up Front Street, but there really wasn’t anything to see. There was the Turks and Caicos museum, which we decided to skip due to lack of time (we wanted to go to the Salt House instead). The view of the ocean was lovely, and I could tell there were some great beaches along this road. There were a couple of local craft stands with souvenirs, but that was about it. We didn’t end up spending much time here. “Sunnyside” was a house that was originally built on another island in the Turks and Caicos. It was moved to Grand Turk, board by board, and completely reassembled along Front Street.
The Salt House
The Salt House was located on the edge of the Town Salina on Osborne Street, functioning as both a gift shop and a museum for Grand Turk’s historic salt industry. The small museum was free to enter and provided a brief overview of the island’s salt mining heritage. At the back of the property, we walked along the ruins of the old salt canals. The Salt House also had the best gift shop on the island where I was able to find great souvenirs to bring back home. It was the main outlet for Salt Cay Salt Works, a company that produces culinary salts made from authentic Grand Turk salt. There were also prints by local artists and locally made handicrafts. We were able to find some unique gifts at The Salt House that weren’t the typical mass-produced ones that we’ve found around the Caribbean. “To be free is very sweet” – a quote by Mary Prince, a Bermudian slave who worked in the salt industry. You can read about her history at the Turks and Caicos Museum website. It is rare to have the firsthand recollections of a slave from this time period. It allows a great amount of insight into the life of a slave in Grand Turk. Mary transcribed and published her recollections in England in 1831 as part of the Abolitionist movement there.
After an afternoon of riding around Grand Turk, we returned our scooters at the gates to the cruise port. I didn’t even have to put any extra gasoline back into mine – it was still on full even though we rode around everywhere! A full day in the sunshine left us pretty thirsty, so we went for a drink at Margaritaville. Yes, it’s very touristy, but it was incredibly convenient. It was right beside the cruise port, so we could grab a quick drink before having to be back at the ship.
Though it isn’t for the faint of heart, I highly recommend renting some scooters and exploring Grand Turk on your own. There’s plenty to see and you can see the island easily in a day. It felt like a new adventure around every turn!
Our Video of Riding Scooters in Grand Turk:
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