Salt Cay, Turks and Caicos
A trip to Salt Cay on the last week of November 2004. Prices and weather reflect the week we were there.
Salt Cay is an island that you will either love or hate. We thought it was great!! You go there to dive and relax, if you want night life or lots of people and activities try Provo. Salt Cay is about 3 square miles and has 63 inhabitants. After a week on the island you will know at least half of the people living there. Everybody waves and says hi. The buildings look like they could have been built a hundred years ago, small, pastel, tin roofed with chickens running through the yards. You get around the island by bicycle, walking, golf cart or by getting a lift. The wild donkeys and loose cattle wandering the roads and yards have right of way. If there are donkeys or cattle inside the yard, open the gate, chase them out and check to see if any of the gates are not shut tight. If they are wandering into the dive shop, just chase them out. The island is flat and dry and fresh water is precious (made by desalination). There are no room keys because there are no locks on the rooms. The island does not run on “island time”, dive boats, ferry boats, meals, etc. are all on time.
We took the Air Canada charter flight to Providenciales and the Air Turks Caicos (also called InterIsland Air) 7 passenger plane to Salt Cay. We were only allowed 40 pounds checked baggage per person and had to pay 60 cents per pound over. This covered the round trip and the flight itself was $168 US. Due to the fact the plane was late and the landing strip at Salt Cay has no lights we were not able to get to the island that night. We could have flown to Grand Turk (the landing fields there does have lights) but there were no hotel rooms available due to the people filming a movie there having taken all the rooms. So we spent the night on Provo, had a great meal at the Mango Reef Restaurant, and caught the first flight out the next morning. The afternoon flight time to Salt Cay is being adjusted to try to avoid this problem in the winter months. There are three US flights that land before the Canadian flight and the line-up at immigration was quite long and slow. There is a request to Provo airport to get a separate immigration line to speed the connecting passengers through. The 25 minute flight was at 3000 feet and gives a great view of most of the islands in the chain.
We took the Air Turks Caicos flight to Provo and then tried to check-in for our Air Canada flight. The power was out to part of the airport and the check-in was confused and busy. According to the Air Canada brochure there is a departure tax to be paid at the airport but we were never asked to pay it. There are three US flights that leave before the Canada flight, which makes for long lines and a busy airport. After you get checked in, have lunch at Gilleys (airport restaurant) before going through x-ray as the waiting room gets very crowded and has no good place to eat.
Things To Do
Bike out to the ruins on Taylor hill and see what has washed up on the the “wild” windward side of the island.
Bike out to north beach and have a mile of beach or more all to yourself to laze, swim and snorkel.
Bike down to the salinas (salt ponds) and look at the remains of the windmills or go looking for birds, especially ospreys.
Kayak through the salt mangroves.
Lay in one of the hammocks, reading a book while listening to/watching the water.
Take the ferry boat to Grand Turk with the locals on shopping day and check out the museum there. We spent two hours at the museum mostly looking at the shipwreck display. We walked the main street, had a great lunch at Water's Edge and then went back to the ferry. Don't be late – the ferry leaves on time.
Take a boat trip to a deserted island with a “stingray city” experience.
There are a limited number of restaurants but the food is good at all of them. All the restaurants have fixed time seating and reservations and sometimes dinner selection MUST be made ahead of time.
The best is Island Time Bistro, Porter who runs the place is a great character but stay away from his free 'wild' drinks if diving the next day.
Mount Pleasant Guest House makes some good fish dishes.
Pat's Place is where to go for authentic island food and if she is not to busy Pat will sit down and tell you fascinating stories of the history and life of the island.
Coral Reef Bar and Grill is a great place to grab a snack between dives or a drink afterwards. The restaurant is between the dive shop and the dive boats. It had just opened when we were there so the menu was limited.
If you are feeling really, really rich, go to the Windmills for a fancy dinner (we weren't feeling that rich).
The Green Flash was undergoing renovations when we were there, so we didn't get to try it.
If you are staying at Tradewinds the units have kitchenettes and there are a couple of small stores on the island. We made our own breakfasts and lunches. Note the stores are like variety stores with limited choices but Netty bakes fantastic fresh bread for her store.
Places to Stay
There are no large hotels on the island and nothing fancy except for the very pricey Windmills.
We stayed at the Tradewinds, which has 5 units. Each unit has its own screened porch and separate living area, and either a kitchen or kitchenette. The hammocks, beach deck and bicycles made this a fun place. It is also within walking distance of the dive shop. One big advantage to the Tradewinds is the specials they offer that include the room and diving with Salt Cay Divers – although they show an all inclusive package with meals on their web site you can get it without the meals – a better deal and the chance to try a number of restaurants.
The Mt. Pleasant Guest house has 7 rooms. This place has the advantage of having a bar and restaurant on site. They also have a room and dive packages.
There are other guest houses available, none of them large.
We dove with Salt Cay Divers (Debbie and Olly) and found them to be very good. The dives were on time, the boats were in good shape and they were willing to set the schedule to what the divers wanted to do. We switched day dives to night dives a couple of times – no problem. Because we were there in the off season there were two to five divers on the boat – usually just three of us.
Water temperature was 80 to 85 degrees.
Viz was 60 to 80 feet, reaching 100 + at one dive on Grand Turk.
Because we were there in the fall, the weather did not allow us to get out to the Endymion (they went the day we left) but we did go over to Grand Turk one day for two dives.
Most of the dives are single tank trips. You go out do a dive off Salt Cay, come back in, change tanks and go out for another dive off Salt Cay, often this will be one dive at the north end of the island and one dive at the south end. Going to Grand Turk the trip is a two tank dive.
We saw turtles on every dive but the night ones. One dive the turtle swam within inches of my outstretched arm and paced me, eye to eye, for about 5 minutes.
Kelly's Annex has patches of garden eels in 30 to 50 feet.
We saw stingrays, a 6 foot eagle ray, medium eagle ray, ocean triggers, queen triggers, etc.
Some sites had beautiful soft corals.
We saw an 8 foot pregnant nurse shark sleeping on the bottom.
Night dives were great – octopus, basket stars, brittle stars, crabs, lobster, fuzzy corals, etc.
Grand Turk – Amphitheater was very fishy and at Coral Gardens Alexander the pet grouper followed us for about 5 minutes looking for a hand out.
All the dives were good, some were very, very fishy and all the corals were in good shape.
Salt Cay is not for everyone but we liked the small, friendly island, the food and the diving. We plan on going back for another relaxing trip.