Provo is 25 miles long and about three wide. Twelve mile Grace Bay on the north shore has many hotels and condominiums but you can walk and snorkel without feeling crowded. A surge of building work has transformed Grace Bay in the last 10 years as a string of hotels and a golf course have sprung up. Away from the smart hotels, condos and villas, however, the island is dry, scrubby and nothing like as pretty as the underwater world surrounding it. The reef is superb and attracts thousands of divers every year.
The Princess Alexandra Marine Park incorporates the reef offshore. Development of the island began in 1967 although it had been settled in the 18th century and there were three large plantations in the 19th century growing cotton and sisal. The three original settlements, The Bight (meaning Bay), Five Cays and Blue Hills, are fragmented and have not grown into towns as the population has increased. Instead shopping malls have been built along the Leeward Highway (Market Place, Plantation Hills, Central Square, Provo Plaza, retail stores, restaurants, lawyers and business offices). The Office of the Chief Secretary, banks, law firms, supermarkets, and travel agents are Down Town. Turtle Cove calls itself ‘the heart of Provo’, with a couple of hotels, a marina, dive operators, boat charters, deep sea fishing, restaurants, the tourist office, hairdressing and a few boutiques.
On the south side of the island, South Dock is the island’s commercial port and here you will find the Customs Office and the Harbourmaster. The Caicos Marina and Shipyard on the south coast is many miles from shopping supplies, but it has recently changed hands and the new management is upgrading the facilities. Also on the south side is a small marina: South Side Marina. To the west, Sapodilla Bay offers good protection for yachts in all winds west through southeast. It is open to the south through southwest. Chalk Sound, a national park inland from Sapodilla Bay, is a shallow lagoon of marvellous turquoise colours, dotted with rocky islets.
At the northeast end, a deep channel known as Leeward Going Through is a natural harbour and a marina with fuel, water, ice and restaurant has been built here. There is a conch farm at the Island Sea Centre at Leeward. Hatchery tours 0900-1700, US$6 adults, US$3 children under 12, T9465330, F9465849, also gift shop.
Northwest Point, a marine park offshore, has good beaches, diving and snorkelling. In 1993 a French television company shot a series of underwater game shows here and a treacherous road was bulldozed through to the beautiful beach. They left several tiki huts which offer much needed shade for a day on the beach. Two other good places to snorkel in the Grace Bay area are just to the east of Turtle Cove, where rays and turtles can be seen on Smith’s reef near the entrance to the marina, and just west of Treasure Beach Villas, by the White House, where there is a variety of life, including grouper, ask anybody for directions.
Inland, along Seasage Hill Road in Long Bay, is The Hole, a collapsed limestone, water-filled sinkhole next to a house called By the Hole. A tunnel to the right hand side gives access to the main pool. Do not attempt to descend. Ruins of Loyalist and Bermudian settlers’ plantations and houses can be seen at Cheshire Hall, Richmond Hills and along the Bight road. On the hill overlooking the Mariner Hotel at Sapodilla Bay a pole marks the location of stones engraved with initials and dates in the 18th century possibly by shipwrecked sailors or wreckers.