Turks & Caicos Snorkeling

By Fred – (Merion, PA, USA)
We just got back from the Turks & Caicos Islands in May 2010, 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 the 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 as 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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Galen & Nicole – May 23, 2010 – Great Providenciales Snorkeling Report

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.

Marc Ingram – Mar 10, 2011 – Provo Snorkeling

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 in the Cayman Islands, Cozumel, etc.

After hearing about the clear water and excellent snorkeling here, my wife and I visited in March 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. I saw some nice fish but basically found it disappointing!

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

I 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 and 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!

Ellen Mack – Dec 17, 2011 – Thinking Provo? Keep Looking

Thinking about visiting Provo for snorkeling? Think again!!! I just got back yesterday. 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. It is almost impossible to swim back the way you went in, you have to just go with it and go around.

The fish in this area are bigger than what we typically see in Hawaii. We did see a five foot long barracuda and 3-4 huge spiny lobsters about 15 feet down. A four foot long tuna swam by.

We did not see a single turtle.

The coral is mostly dead, though we 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 from Turtle Bay (Smith’s Reef) because the water was so choppy (lots of wind) and the shore so rocky she could not get in.

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

The islanders are the friendliest people I’ve ever encountered. Crime is practically non-existent.

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 round trip for a couple of miles.

There is 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.

Mike Conley – Jan 29, 2012 – OK, Not Great Turks & Caicos Snorkeling

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

M&A – Sep 15, 2012 – Pleasantly Surprised With Snorkeling in Provo

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 White House or 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 sea life. I hung out with an inquisitive sea turtle who came within five 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 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. Malcomb’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 4×4 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.

Eve – Nov 23, 2014 – Smiths Reef-Provo

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. I 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.

Karen – Jul 1, 2016 – Smith’s Reef Seems Underrated

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 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.

Alfredo – Nov 26, 2016 – Northwest Point: Details for Shore Snorkeling Providenciales

I shore snorkeled from the Northwest Point Resort in Providenciales in mid-August 2016. It was beautiful! I can only imagine the South Pacific to be better. Extremely healthy coral reefs starting 50-100 yards out.

Start at Northwest Point Resort (their gate is open, and there is no one to check you in or 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 to the left: this is where the first of two 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 posse’ accompanied me everywhere I went. I had two 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 five 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 from here on. Do this two more times until you hit corner three.

Look straight out and you will see sand and seagrass 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, two huge black rays, and as you heard, a 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, eight 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 seagrass 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 seagrass 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.

Anonymous – Jul 17, 2017 – Northwest Point Resort Has Beautiful Healthy Extensive Reefs

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 seagrass 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 by what you see out in the water. It is not a reef; it’s just seagrass. 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 three. And right there you can almost see the reef starting about 50 feet 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.

Victoria – Feb 15, 2019 – As of February 2019

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.

Kent – May 30, 2019 – Provo Worth the Visit

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.

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

There are a number of very negative reviews of both Coral Gardens and Smith Reef dating from 2014. In 2019 these are still not extensive, interesting snorkeling sites, but if you are in the Turks & Caicos Islands 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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