Why I Had Mixed Feelings About South Caicos

South Caicos is an island that is slightly bigger than Grand Turk and closer to Providenciales. Like Grand Turk, it has some amazing salt salinas and its share of cool wildlife (e.g., donkeys). It feels more remote and disconnected though, since unlike Grand Turk, there is no cruise ship port. The natural beauty of South Caicos is hard to overstate and was my favorite thing about the island. However, the lack of lodging is its most significant drawback. The poor condition of Cockburn Harbour, the island’s only town, also made me wonder if the resorts there were helping the local economy.

While I was planning my island hopping adventure, I was mainly concerned with maximizing my footprint and seeing as many islands as I could. When I realized that I could squeeze in one night in South Caicos, I booked my ticket on InterCaribbean right away. My suggestion to you is: don’t do that. I highly recommend that you research lodging options before booking flights to smaller islands like Grand Turk, South Caicos, or Salt Cay. The following is a summary of what I liked, what I didn’t like, and some suggestions for anyone who has their heart set on this quiet and unusual island.

WHAT I LIKED

The majority of South Caicos has little to no development, so the natural areas outside of Cockburn Harbour are beautiful. If you rent a bike or car here, you’ll be able to see the whole island in one day. Like Grand Turk, some of the most unique and memorable parts of South Caicos are the remnants of salinas and the wild donkeys that wander the island.

Most of the island has a very rugged and dry landscape, without tall trees or dense forest.

Although I had issues with hotels which I’ll get into more below, the staff and even other guests at the East Bay Resort were all very friendly and accommodating. The bar there also made one of the best espresso martinis I’ve ever had. In terms of transportation, I was glad that East Bay provided complimentary bike rentals and complimentary airport pickup, so I didn’t have to go through the trouble of trying to rent a car on the island.

WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE

My biggest complaint about the island is that there were only three very expensive hotels here, and the cheapest one I could find (East Bay Resort) still cost a whopping $330 for a single night. Needless to say, it was a very nice hotel, but hardly worth that much money. There appears to be one cheaper hotel (the South Caicos Ocean & Beach Resort) that I would advise you to check before you shell out this kind of cash, but no rooms there were available when I booked.

The pool and restaurant at East Bay Resort, an upscale but (in my opinion) overly pricy hotel on South Caicos.

As of February 2018, there doesn’t appear to be a single Airbnb on the island. This was a pity because Airbnb hosts are generally accustomed to solo travelers and act as a bridge between visitors and their home communities. In contrast, it felt a bit weird to stay in a resort as a solo traveler, since every other guest was there with a significant other or family.

I also felt a bit uncomfortable when I saw the disparity between East Bay and Cockburn Harbour, where almost all residents of the island live. Unlike the resort, most of the homes and buildings in town look pretty run down. Whether this was due to hurricane damage or an inability to pay for upkeep, it really made me wonder if the resorts take priority for resources that come to the island at the expense of residents. There didn’t seem to be much to do in town either, which made it feel very sleepy and melancholy.

The evening sun shines through windows of an abandoned, roofless apartment building in Cockburn Harbour.

SUGGESTIONS

First, check Airbnb! My hope is that someone on the island will open one, which would give travelers a more affordable option and also contribute more to the local economy. If you don’t see any, call the South Caicos Ocean & Beach Resort and see if they have any vacancies.

The Dolphin Grill on site here is a great place to eat (and drink some tropical cocktails) if you’d rather not pay for a ritzy meal at a resort. The Sunset Cafe is essentially the only restaurant in town, although I didn’t get to try it because they are closed Sundays.

Steamed conch, peas and rice, and mac n' cheese at the Dolphin Grill.

I also suggest that you spend some time really absorbing the atmosphere of Cockburn Harbour even if you do end up staying at a resort. It’s a good opportunity to see an authentic island town and some of the challenges it faces, especially when tourism isn’t the primary industry (which I believe is fishing). You’re doing yourself a disservice if you leave the island thinking that the local community is as upscale as your hotel. You’ll also meet some of the friendliest people in the TCI who aren’t afraid to welcome a visitor to their community.

And lastly, be sure to check out the northern end of the island for some natural beauty! The single road on the peninsula runs along a calm shallow bay to the west, but try and make it over to the eastern coast as well to see some truly stunning reefs and the deep blue ocean.

Sometimes a trip can be bittersweet, which this island was for me. Even though South Caicos and Grand Turk share similarities, I must say that I had more fun exploring the latter. If you decide to come here, make sure you know what your options are for accommodation and transportation. And even if a place you visit isn’t a perfect fit, it can still be a great opportunity to learn about a new community and catch a glimpse of life in a unique corner of the world.

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