If you are an ardent follower of the Kardashians and their extravagant lifestyle, you may have noticed the famous family frequently sojourns in what appears to be an undisturbed island paradise, situated somewhere in the Caribbean.
It's the same island where Oprah Winfrey, Keith Richards and Bruce Willis have all owned homes, and where more travellers from across the United States, United Kingdom and Canada are heading to every year.
Turks and Caicos is a small archipelago of approximately 40 islands sitting north of Haiti and to the east of Cuba - and a mere 90-minute flight from Miami, Florida.
Despite its accessibility, "Turks" has been largely overlooked by both travellers and developers for many years, who favour more popular islands in the region like Jamaica, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. However, as I found out during a week-long holiday there recently, the secret is well and truly out.
Leaving New York and arriving at Providenciales Airport in Turks and Caicos a few hours later is an experience in itself. The hustle, bustle and stress of New York seemed to instantly wash off when stepping out into the glaring sunshine and tropical heat. In many ways I had no idea what to expect from this holiday: I had booked it after a few nights of surfing the internet (red wine in hand) looking for an escape and at this point, had never even heard of Turks and Caicos.
The Turks and Caicos Islands are now visited by flights coming from over 10 countries, including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Haiti, Jamacia, Cuba, the Bahamas, Antigua and the British Virgin Islands. It's made up of 40 different islands, but the most popular is Providenciales, which is home to around 30,000 people.
Exploring Providenciales is easiest with a local taxi driver who is likely to know the best beaches on offer, or where to find the secret spots you have seen on the internet and want to explore. While travelling through the island, you will see small collections of gift shops, restaurants, hotels and villas, and what I found to be a surprising number of properties being built or under development.
Experience Turks and Caicos told Newshub the British Overseas Territory saw a record US$553 million (NZ$930 million) in property sales last year. It says Turks is becoming popular among wealthy Americans wanting to own second home. It's close to the east coast of the US and Turks has no income tax, no property tax, and no capital gains tax.
The jewel in the crown for anyone travelling to Providenciales is Grace Bay Beach. The island promotes Grace Bay as "the world's best beach", and it was named exactly that by TripAdvisor in 2017. The golden sand and warm water span almost five kilometres across the northeast coast of the island. Endless hours lying in the sun and swimming at Grace Bay were my favourite part of the holiday and I knew I would miss it as soon as I returned home.
While Grace Bay is what the island markets most to tourists, there are more beaches that are just as impressive nearby. We travelled to Four Boys Beach on the recommendation of a friend one afternoon, and we were not disappointed. We deliberately chose to travel at the end of the peak tourism season, and it meant many of these smaller beaches like Four Boys were deserted, allowing us to enjoy them in all their glory.
For those looking for a bit more adventure than zoning out on the beach, Turks also offers a range of water-based activities including fishing tours, boat charters, snorkelling tours and whale-watching.
We stayed at the island's Club Med Resort (named Turkoise), which is one of Club Med's three adults-only resorts (thankfully it wasn't a 'swingers' resort as my friends tried to tell me before leaving the US). The experience exceeded most of my expectations: I was not after a holiday involving too many activities, but one where you lie in the sun recharging and using as little brainpower as possible.
One of the biggest misconceptions I had before this holiday was about 'all-inclusive' resorts, where everything (food, alcohol, and some activities) is paid for in the initial costs. I was sceptical about this to say the least and thought that there would be hidden costs around every corner. Admittedly, I was wrong.
Firstly, the food was outstanding. What I thought would be a basic breakfast turned out to have everything from cereals, fruits, and bacon and eggs to delicious omelettes and tropical smoothies. Dinner ranged from steaks and lamb chops to pastas, pizzas and delicious desserts. In between breakfast, lunch and dinner, the resort has a smaller restaurant and bar on the property nearby offering endless burgers, fries and other classic Americana fare.
I think it's fair to say one of the biggest draw cards for a resort like this is the all-inclusive alcohol package. While some 'premium' liquors came at an added cost, all traditional cocktails were included, and I dined out on Mojitos and the occasional Miami Vice (strawberries, lime juice and rum). While I was using a small Yeti drink bottle, some of the thirster guests (mostly from the US) seemed to have no shame taking up bottles that resembled 'small buckets' to refill their drinks. I soon realised my hidden cost assumptions were wrong after watching guests such as these, who were ensuring they made the most of every single dollar they had spent.
The resort went to great lengths each day with activities like aqua jogging and pool games, as well as 'stage shows' every night featuring everything from acrobatics to singing performances. On the Friday night, they transformed the pool area into an incredible outdoor restaurant where all guests wore the colour white to dinner. The bar area later became a 'nightclub' (mostly for boomers) to rock the night away. While we opted not to stick around for too long, many of the other guests would choose to stay dancing until the early hours.
While I had minimal plans to do anything adventurous, I did want to experience something that the island offered I wouldn't be able to do back home in New York. Club Med offered free snorkelling excursions and a few other water-based activities as part of its all-inclusive cost, which seemed like an opportunity to make the most of.
However, each day these activities were cancelled due to poor weather out at sea. At the same time though, it offered similar activities (with a few more frills) for a few hundred US dollars and those weren't cancelled, which seemed strange. Unfortunately, the staff at the front desk couldn't provide much of an explanation for us, so it was disappointing we didn't get to make the most of those opportunities.
Is it worth it?
Visiting Turks and Caicos was certainly worth it, and I would recommend it to others depending on what type of holiday you are looking for. As I mentioned, I was after a relaxing holiday that involved eating, drinking, and reading. If you are after exploration, adventure and a packed schedule of physical activities, this probably isn't the right place for you.
It's easy to see why so many people are now travelling to Turks and Caicos because despite the development, it often felt untouched, and it that it hadn't become overpopulated. Perhaps it's best to visit Turks before this happens in the coming years.
Our experience at Club Med was positive too and better than I had predicted. If I was to return or recommended it to others, I would suggest it would be the perfect destination to travel with a large group of friends for a getaway or to celebrate a birthday. Many of the guests we saw had travelled together and were having the time of their lives.
Mitch McCann is Newshub's US Correspondent based in New York. Mitch's recent journey to Turks and Caicos was self-funded and not sponsored or gifted travel.