Turks & Caicos Snorkeling

by Fred
(Merion, PA, USA)

We just got back from the Turks & Caicos Islands which we had chosen to visit specifically because of the reported excellent beach snorkeling. It's true, with a reservation or two.

We stayed on Providenciales ("Provo"), which is the main tourist island. It's very similar to the Bahamas, being composed of coral, sand and gravel. Lots of nice places to stay and dine, although most are pretty pricey.

The snorkeling off the beach is limited to two relatively small areas, both on Grace Bay, which is the principal beach on the north shore where the best hotels are located. One area is at the Coral Gardens resort, the other at the point at west end of the bay. All beaches are public, so both areas are freely accessible. The two reefs are similar, with lots of good coral (although some is bleached) and lots of fish plus an occasional turtle and ray. Unfortunately (or fortunately), the reef off Coral Gardens is half roped off to prevent snorkeler access while the coral regenerates.

We also went on a half day snorkeling sail on a catamaran which took us to a reef offshore from a nearby uninhabited island, where the snorkeling was also good. The uninhabited beach was gorgeous, too.

Overall, I'd say the snorkeling at Provo is equally good as at Caneel Bay on St. John. At Provo, it would probably be good to plan on taking boat trips to broaden the snorkeling experience, given the limited beach snorkeling. Besides the sailing catamaran trip, there are several power boat snorkeling trips.

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May 23, 2010
Great Providenciales Snorkeling Report
by: Galen & Nicole

Fred, thanks for that great review. We are sure many folks will find it useful. Fred asked for advice before leaving for his trip and got many more answers about the best snorkeling in Providenciales.

Mar 10, 2011
Provo snorkeling
by: marc ingram

After reading the previous post here, I set off to explore the Coral Gardens and Smith Reef areas. I have snorkeled all over the Caribbean Sea including Saint John, Grand Cayman, Cozumel, etc.

After hearing about the clear water and excellent snorkeling here, my wife and I came here (3-2011) and stayed at the Comfort Suites. I walked 35 minutes along the beach to reach Coral Gardens. Much of the coral was bleached and the area had a rope around it-some nice fish but basically disappointing!

Another 20 minutes west is the White House, jumped in there and found another small bleached out reef with a few fish.

Kept going west and found Smith's Reef by the yacht harbor. An easy, shallow area but more dying coral and not many fish.

Very disappointing so far, it is day two of six. The prices are the HIGHEST in the entire Caribbean, $3 for beer IN THE SUPERMARKET! If I wanted to pay that I would go to Grand Cayman (another British protectorate) and at least get excellent snorkeling!

Dec 17, 2011
Thinking Provo? Keep looking!
by: Ellen Mack

Thinking about Provo for snorkeling? Think again!!! Just got back yesterday (12/16/11). SO disappointing. The largest area to snorkel from the beach is directly in front of Coral Gardens resort. And yes, most of it is roped off to protect the coral. You snorkel around the edges, around a burly rope you can’t help but get washed into all the time.

You can get a pretty strong current here, wind waves as Grace Bay is protected, almost impossible to swim back the way you went in – have to just go with it and go around.

Fish in this area are bigger than what we typically see in HI. Did see a 5’ long barracuda (!) and 3 or 4 huge spiny lobsters about 15’ down. A 4’ long tuna swam by.

The coral is mostly dead, did see some purple fan coral and branch coral.

We heard the boat ride snorkel trips are not worth the extra money as it’s no better than Coral Gardens. A woman we met walked all the way over here from Turtle Bay (Smith Reef) because the water was so choppy (lots of wind) and the shore so rocky she could not get in. Did not see a single turtle.

So snorkeling is largely a bust, the island is SUPER expensive and unless you have a lot of money for parasailing or boat excursions there is nothing to do.

The islanders are the friendliest people I’ve ever encountered. Crime is practically non-existent. But if you want to do more than sit on a beautiful beach or pay for dive excursions there is nothing to do.

You must rent a car for convenience only, to get you to and from dining and the grocery store. Cabs are the other way of transportation and they will run you average $25 RT for a couple of miles.

Lots of confusion about the Gecko shuttle so let me set it straight: there is no Gecko as of a few years ago. There is no public transportation. Walking along the beach to some restaurants between hotels is OK, but most are too far to walk from wherever you are staying, which limits the dining diversity.

If you’re looking for Caribbean snorkeling destinations, KEEP LOOKING! Provo is a bust.

Jan 29, 2012
Ok ,not great
by: mike conley

I spent the week in Turtle Bay. I found the best snorkeling out at Malcomb's Beach. You need a 4-wheel-drive to get there. Another spot is near Turtle Bay down Cherokee Rd. to the end, park and walk to the beach 100yds, take a left and look for dark water 300yds west. The glass bottom boats take their paying customers here. If you love eating tuna go to Maganolia's on the hill at Turtle Bay overlooking the bay, very romantic and the best tuna I've had.

Sep 15, 2012
Pleasantly Surprised With Snorkeling
by: M&A

After all the negative comments we read about snorkeling in Provo, overall the island still was our primary choice for other reasons.

However, I found the snorkeling to be better than expected, although not at the primary two locations Smith and Whitehouse/Coral Gardens. There is definitely a lot of dead coral, and it isn't as vivid as other places, but I think the reviews are pretty harsh. Don't come here specifically for the snorkeling, but it can still be a lot of fun.

We stayed at a villa on Grace Bay near Beaches Resort and Coral Gardens. There is a wonderful small reef right in front of the house with a lot of living coral, beautiful purple fans, and other sealife. I hung out with an inquisitive sea turtle who came within 5 feet of me, saw some huge spiny lobster, barracuda, and gigantic tuna.

The farther out you get, the better. Even Coral Gardens was cool, but not near the ropes; head out near the edge of the area in the deeper water and you will find some good stuff. Just have to make sure there is good visibility.

I'm not new to snorkeling and sure I've been better places, but I was pleasantly surprised by the quality. Malcom's Beach is the best, but it's a pretty serious dirt road for about 25 minutes. However, we did it in our tiny Kia mini-car without issue, even when it poured torrential rain on the way back. Granted I'm a experienced 4x4 guy, it was easy to negotiate the little rental car.

Smith Reef was the only disappointment, and the comments about rough surf are pretty true. Boats also come in pretty close which isn't that safe. I found it too shallow and not nearly as colorful as the other areas.

We heard there is excellent snorkeling at Northwest Point as well, but it's even more of a trek and sounded difficult to enter the water.

Oct 25, 2012
What about Salt Cay?
by: Cary Bennett

Has anyone been to Salt Cay? Any idea if conditions are any better around Salt Cay as compared with Grand Turk?

Oct 25, 2012
...Salt Cay
by: Cary Bennett

My reason for all of the questions is that a couple nights ago, while doing some research, I found out that you can swim with the Humpbacks off of Salt Cay. I had previously believed that the only other places that this was allowed was on Tonga, and another place off Costa Rica (Silverback) that is so far offshore, that it requires a trip on a live aboard.

Needless to say, I got really excited to learn that this could be accomplished so "close" to home!! (However, I am dying to make a trip to Fiji and Tonga, so, I may not tell Gary that we can fly a couple of hours away and do it!!! LOL)

But, back to Salt Cay....so, if we are going to make the trip to swim with the Humpbacks there, we would also like to experience some reef snorkeling as well.

Feb 21, 2014
What about for experienced snorkelers?
by: Trish

We have snorkeled all over the BVI/USVI/St Martin (best in Virgin Gorda) and, in addition to simply getting brief escapes from snowy upstate NY, snorkeling is our main interest when selecting Caribbean trips. I was in Provo about 15 years ago when it was pretty undeveloped; found it ok but with sub par snorkeling.

Given that we have just a week (and it is last minute) we want ease of airport access and are looking at Provo again.

I remember going to Malcolm's Pt (I remember the rough road then; and the remote pleasure as well as an abandoned film set/resort but not good snorkeling?).

Also spent a day in remote Iguana Island, which was absolutely deserted then. Again, lovely but not a snorkeling place.

So, does anyone know how easy/hard/expensive it is to get to the outer/other islands (on dive/snorkeling trips)? Is it worth it? I saw a post that said it cost them $235 apiece!

Let's face it, the world's reefs are dying everywhere so expecting great living spans of healthy coral is becoming a fantasy as long as we live the way we do.

Any input from your trips is most welcome! Thanks.

Jun 17, 2014
Heading to Provo this week
by: JTR

Trish, did you end up going back to Provo? Heading there later this week and would be interested in learning from your experience.

Neither my daughter nor I are experienced at all. Any help anyone?

Thanks all!

Jun 17, 2014
Beginner Tips
by: Nicole & Galen

JTR, since you are beginners I would like to suggest you read our snorkeling tips pages. They are full of good info for folks who are just starting out snorkeling.

As for tips on Provo, we have not been, but hopefully some of our site visitors can help you out.

Nov 23, 2014
Smiths Reef-Provo
by: Eve

I have snorkeled all over the world. All my retirement money goes toward putting on a mask and being in heaven.

I have been to Provo several times and agree that if you get away from the ropes at Coral Gardens you can see some stuff, like turtles and Queen Triggers.

Smiths Reef this April proved, by far, to be the best snorkeling I have ever had in these islands. Had the reef to myself most days and saw such amazing stuff, although there was a rough current. I experienced hour after hour of beauty and hope others have the same experience.

Jul 01, 2016
Smith's Reef Seems Underrated
by: Karen

I just returned from a week of snorkeling Smith's reef on Providenciales (June 2016). I had only snorkeled maybe 10 times before this but those experiences were on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and the Big Island of Hawaii. I have never snorkeled elsewhere in the Caribbean.

That said, I thought Smith's Reef was great shore-based snorkeling and I was sad to have to leave unexplored areas after my week long stay was over.

The reef is somewhat broken up into patches and is surrounded by grass so it can be hard to find the really great spots. This may be why it doesn't get more attention. It is true that there was more than a little dead coral but also tons of beautiful live corals, purple trees and fans and large yellow brain coral everywhere. The place was teaming with life too. I saw eagle rays, nurse sharks, eels, huge barracuda, turtles, lobsters, puffer and box fish, trumpetfish and loads of parrotfish and colorful small ones everywhere.

Nov 26, 2016
Northwest Point: Details For Shore Snorkeling Providenciales
by: Alfredo

I shore snorkeled from the Northwest Point Resort in Providenciales in mid-August. It was beautiful! I can only imagine the South Pacific to be better. Extremely healthy coral reefs starting between 50 to 100 yards out.

Start at Northwest Point Resort (their gate is open, and there is no one to check you in/out so you can park here). Walk out the boardwalk between the pool and the beach to get a look at where to go. Look off to the right and about 200 yards down the coast, the beach goes from straight to curving up/left: this is where the first of 2 fantastic reefs are.

It is a 10-15 minute walk. When your walk takes you to the only set of rocks, this is your entry point (the rocks are actually beached reefs). After you are in the water, go straight out 100 yards and explore away! There are gorgeous columns of healthy hard corals! An average of 75%+ of the coral was living. Enormous amounts of colorful fish and a 'fish possee' accompanied me everywhere I went. I had 2 hours to snorkel and EASILY could have doubled that.

Site #2 is even better but is truly remote and because of this, a bit scary because I was alone and there was a reef shark as big as me hanging around 100 feet away from me for about 5 minutes; maybe I was in her territory?

From the boardwalk, look left, the coastline disappears around the corner to the left. Start walking and go for a full 20 minutes and start counting. When you get to the first place where the coast jaunts off to the left, that is point one about 5-7 minutes away from the boardwalk. As you go around the corner, there is nothing but remote beach/ocean from here on. Do this two more times until you hit corner three.

Look straight out and you will see sand/sea-grass and a wall of rock. That wall is about 150 feet out and is the edge of the reef. This reef is spectacular. Extremely healthy with tons of corals, giant anemones, enormous amount of fish varieties, 2 huge black rays, and as you heard, 1 Caribbean Reef Shark keeping an eye on me from a distance before disappearing.

The coral formations were varied and beautiful. One of them was half the size of a football field, 8 feet tall stretching from the floor to just under the water surface so I could just slide over it. It was as if it were giant Lincoln Logs randomly pieced together with caverns beneath, ones you could peer into from the surface and see the floor 8-10 feet down with schools of fish swimming through.

If you go to Google Maps satellite view and look up Northwest Point Resort, I will describe exactly where these two fantastic reefs are.

To find the reef out to the right/east of the resort, use the map and follow the white roads. There is one bright white road south/southeast of the resort which like the hands of a clock, is at a 1:00 angle and leads right to the beach. It is about 2000 feet away from the hotel. It points right at the jumble of rocks and the reefs. There is a fantastic oval shaped reef surrounded by white sand beds. I snorkeled over this for a good hour and saw huge, 100% living brain corals the size of small cars. The closer you are to the shore, the less nice the reefs are, you have to be in about 8-10 feet of water to see the great ones.

For the other reef to the left/west of the resort, again follow the map. There is another bright white road which takes you right to the beach. And voila, that is where this other great reef is at!

To tell what is what, the darkest colors are sea-grass beds, white is sand, and the reefs are grey. The reefs stick up from the sea bed and due to moving currents, are typically surrounded by white sand beds or dark sea-grass beds. From the shore you can sometimes see a difference in the way water moves over the shallowest reefs as the waves are smoother and sometimes just break just a bit over them.

Jul 17, 2017
Northwest Point Resort has beautiful healthy extensive reefs
by: Anonymous

I shore snorkeled in three places at Northwest Point Resort in July, 2016. There are very healthy and extensive living reefs alive with fish, rays, corals, invertebrates, sponges, and "gulp," even a Caribbean Reef Shark.

Here are some directions. Find your way to the resort. Park and find the pool. Walk out to the beach. Straight out about a football field out is a good reef. You'll swim over a lot of sea grass then the grass clears up and the reef begins. The other reefs are so much better.

Again, start at the beach where the boardwalk drops you off in the sand. Look to the right. The beach goes straight for about 1/4 mile then veers to the left. Right there in that elbow is where a fantastic reef is. Again it is 100 yards out. It is comprised of several reefs so you have to swim up and down the coast and out to find them all.

The third reef is the best of them. It is to the left of the resort. Walk down the beach until it turns the corner and you can no longer see the resort. Don't be fooled what you see out in the water. It is not a reef; it's just sea grass. So don't stop here keep going until you go around another corner. And one more time do the same walk until you hit one more corner so a total of 3. And right there you can almost see the reef starting about 50 ft from the shore.

This reef is absolutely beautiful. I saw many huge rays, tons of fish both big and tiny and this is where I saw a single Caribbean Reef Shark about the size of a grown man.

Feb 15, 2019
As of February 2019
by: Victoria

The corals off the beach in Providenciales have mostly recovered from the hurricanes in 2017. There are still some signs of damage however, I have not seen any signs of bleaching in the last several years. There is a company renting sea scooters and snorkel gear called Webfooters at both Smith's Reef and the Bight Reef (Coral Gardens). This allowed us to see some of the coral heads that are a bit farther out without getting tired. I think it is still worth it to go snorkeling on Provo.

May 30, 2019
Provo Worth the Visit
by: Kent

We just came back (May 12-19, 2019) from Provo and if you like blue water and great beaches with some good snorkeling I think it's worth it. I have some other places I want to snorkel and therefore won't probably go back but I can't complain about the snorkeling.

Bight Reef at Coral Gardens was the only place we went from shore and we loved it. Great fish including barracuda, trumpetfish and Queen Angelfish. I also got some great pictures of turtles.

We went on a boat tour to French Cay, about 18 miles south of Provo. The reefs in this area were not nearly as good as those along the north shore.

We went on another boat tour with Big Blue Collective. Well worth spending a little extra money to go with them.

Dec 14, 2019
Update on Coral Gardens & Smith Reef
by: Anonymous

There are a number of very negative reviews of both dating Coral Gardens and Smith Reef from 2014. In 2019 these are still not extensive, interesting snorkeling sites, but if you are in TCI they are pleasant to visit. Smith is much more natural and deserted. Not a great atmosphere at Coral Gardens, but the general beach atmosphere at Smith Reef is very wild and pleasant.

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