It is said that lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice, but Grand Turk boasts of hosting not one but two historically significant first landings. The charming, slow-paced, refreshingly peaceful island is famous for John Glenn’s splash landing event and Christopher Columbus’ landfall in the New World. We’ve got a ton of things to do in Grand Turk which are detailed further below to complement its interesting history.
This beautiful sleepy island has gorgeous white sandy beaches with blue sparkling waters and is packed with historical and cultural beauty. Carnival cruise lines must have noticed this too when they decided to turn the island into a cruise port in 2006. Due to that fact, Carnival Cruise Line turned the island into a cruise port in 2006, and it has been open to Carnival and its subsidiary cruise lines like Princess and Holland America ever since. It is the only cruise port on the islands of Turks and Caicos.
So, if you are planning on going on an eastern Caribbean cruise itinerary with any of these cruise lines and Grand Turk is one of your port visits, then read this list and create the ultimate Grand Turk must do bucket-list.
About Grand Turk Island
Grand Turk is the largest island in the Turks and Caicos series of Islands. The island is sparsely populated and has about 4000 residents who are mostly of Dominican and Haitian descent. It used to be a salt producing town and evidence of the salt industry from the late 1600’s to early 1900’s is still available in some parts of Cockburn Town.
The largest salt formations can be seen at Hawkes Nest Salina, located near the cruise port, or at the Red Salina salt pond. For a deeper understanding of the salt industry history, visit the Salt House Shop to view a historical exhibit of Grand Turk’s salt industry.
Cork Burn town (pronounced as co-burn) is the capital of the islands and it’s where all the administrative tasks of this British territory, take place.
Significant Historical Occurrences on the Island
In 1962 John Glenn splash landed off the west coast shores of the Grand Turk. He did so in his Friendship 7 Mercury spacecraft after being on a mission orbiting the earth. There is a replica of the spacecraft near the entrance of Grand Turk’s airport.
You will learn everything on this historical event at the Friendship 7 space program exhibition located at the cruise center. It was built in 2012 to commemorate 50 years since the splashdown. There are beautiful monuments and murals erected at the exhibition.
The island also is among the three islands believed to have been Christopher Columbus’ landfall sites in the new world. Therefore, in order to honor this great event, if it actually happened on Grand Turk, the island has a national park called Columbus national park reserve. Most of the western to southernmost parts of the island are found under this reserve including the cruise port and Cockburn town.
Things to do in Grand Turk Island
1. Explore the History of the Town
When cruising the eastern Caribbean itinerary, you will encounter many beautiful sand and sun beaches and you can choose to be a beach bum on any of those islands, but when you come across a historically rich island with some picturesque scenes such as Grand Truck, sparing a few hours of your beach day to explore the island will be just as good as soaking in the sun at the beach or even better.
Some of the historical sites at the Grand Turk Island that you should go visit include:
2. Her Majesty’s Prison
Visit an 18th-century prison, and explore how prisoners used to be treated in the ancient days. Located on Front Street on old Cock Burn town, Her Majesty’s Prison is a tourist attraction that shows the history of the Grand Turk, from architecture to culture and way of life.
The 50-60 person capacity prison used to hold petty offenses criminals back in the day until it was shut in 1994. Visit this site for $7 per person when in the port, and learn about prison break attempts, drug trafficking route and other interesting historical facts about the island.
3. Grand Turk Light House
Another tourist attraction is the islands’ lighthouse. Standing 60 feet tall and the first of its kind, it was built in 1852.
It was fabricated in England and then assembled at the island. The lighthouse was built as a guiding beacon for ships, after both the British and US governments experienced sizable losses, from the capsizing of their ships at the northern end of Grand Turk. This was caused by the north reef which is a shallow treacherous reef.
The lighthouse is located north of the cruise port center, and you can access it only by vehicular means. The lighthouse is not functional and for $3 per person, you can gain access to the grounds around the lighthouse.
Tip: Save your money and just admire it from the parking lot.
4. Turks and Caicos National Museum
Visit the only museum on the island. Located on Front Street at Cockburn town, the museum is hosted in one of the oldest buildings on the Island.
It hosts the oldest excavated shipwreck ever, (the molasses reef wreck) which was discovered in West Caicos. The museum has other shipwrecks too like the treasure hunting Spanish ship, a slavery ship, and Tainos artifacts.
Tainos were the indigenous natives of the island believed to have inhabited it between 700AD and the 15th century. They became extinct due to slavery and diseases in the 1500’s and actually left the island uninhabited for over a century.
The tour of the museum will cost you about $5. While at the museum, also visit the gift shop, it sells amazing souvenirs to remember the place by.
Grand Turk Weather
The best times to visit Grand Turk are between May and October as that’s when the weather is nice and sunny. Grand Turk has a tropical weather all throughout the year. It’s hot most times of the year especially from May to October. The cooler seasons start from December to March. The average daily temperature is about 75 Fahrenheit.
Grand Turk Cruise Port
5. Relax at the Grand Turk Cruise Center
If you don’t want to wander away from the cruise ship, or plan on making a lot of trips to and from the ship, then just relax at the cruise port center. Carnival spent $50 Million creating a cruise port for its cruisers. The cruise port is located in the southernmost part of the island. It is a large complex of approximately 30 acres and features the largest Margaritaville in the Caribbean.
The cruise port is designed to be a little center of luxury for your port day. There are amenities such as restaurants, spas and if you love shopping there are gift shops and local jewelry stores on the port.
At the cruise center, you will find a big beautiful swimming pool. Book a poolside cabana and enjoy private time away from the crowds and a dedicated waiter. Here you can swim and hang out with other shipmates, enjoying the tropical magic that is Grand Turk.
In front of the complex is the cruise center beach known as the SunRay Beach. It has nice warm clear waters and a white sandy beach. There are plenty of sun loungers on this beach, grab one and enjoy the beach for free.
In case you booked an excursion; you don’t need to go far as the cruise center also acts as the launch point for all excursions.
To enjoy more of the island, head to the northern direction from cruise center beach and enjoy beaches in a less populated area. To get to the best beach on the island, you will need to take a taxi to Governor’s beach. Located one mile away, governor’s beach has the whitest sandy beaches and clear blue waters in Grand Turk. Although it is normally secluded and very private, if there are more than one cruise ships docked, you might want to arrive early to get a nice area under the shelter of trees.
6. Hang out at Grand Turk Margaritaville
Once you are at the port head over to the Margaritaville, it’s just one and a half minutes from the pier. Once there you will be greeted by a large yellow parrot statue at the entrance.
Jimmy Buffets Margaritaville at Grand Turk is the largest in all the Caribbean. The famous, Jimmy Buffet’s dining establishment is the main restaurant at the cruise center. It is located right next to the giant swimming pool and Flowrider. It features a swim-up bar, a trading post and serves delicious meals in the assortment of American, Caribbean and Mexican menus. Fill up on as much as you can and kick back and relax just a few minutes away from the ship.
Tip: If you are planning to visit the Margaritaville, do so early to get good seating and avoid crowds.
7. Jack’s Shack
Jack’s Shack is another great restaurant to eat at. This hidden gem is located a few yards from the pier, at the end of cruise center beach. If you want to escape the crowds, this is the place to be. It’s less crowded than Margaritaville and other food joints located near the pier.
They are best known for their delicious jerk chicken which goes for about $10, barbeque shrimp with fries and cold strong drinks. One great thing about this restaurant is that it accepts credit cards when most other restaurants take cash only. They also serve conch fritters which are great. The service is good and the atmosphere fantastic. Head on over there and grab a bite while being entertained to enchanting reggae tunes.
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Explore Grand Turk
8. Cockburn Tour
Experience the rich history of Cockburn Town. Located on the west coast of Grand Turk, north of the cruise center, Cockburn town is the capital of Turks and Caicos.
Visit historical heritage sites such as Her Majesty’s prison, the Turks, and Caicos museum or simply get amazing $20-15 minute massages.
The town maintains houses that have beautiful 1800’s British architecture with the Victorian era designs. Every once in a while you will meet with a wild donkey or horse, which were used as transport animals in the salt industry era.
9. Gibbs Cay
Gibbs Cay is probably the most popular destination for cruisers on Grand Turk.
The island is uninhabited and bears beautiful beaches on its west coast. What makes this little island so popular are the friendly brown stingrays that approach when a vessel comes to the island. They love to interact with people and you will get a chance to snorkel or even swim with them
10. Food and Drinks/ Entertainment
Food is an important feature in most people’s port day itinerary. Grab common American and Mexican cuisines at the Margaritaville that includes burgers, sandwiches, grilled chicken, salads, and drinks. When at the SunRay beach/Cruise Center Beach you can head over to Jack’s Shack and get some of their famous grilled burgers.
For a beautiful meal with a view of the ocean, head on over to the southernmost end of the Old Cockburn Town to the Bird Cage Restaurant and enjoy Jamaican cuisines like the popular conch cuisines, which mostly include fried conch fritters and conch salads.
Other restaurants like the Sandbar restaurant and Salt Raker Inn, offer seafood and continental cuisines. So, if you are hungry, just grab a cool pina colada, cold beer or a strawberry margarita and enjoy delicious barbeque chicken on the beach.
If you are tired of shopping common trinkets available on all gift shops in the Caribbean. Head on over to the museum and Salt House gift shops; they have more authentic and locally made souvenirs. You can get soaps and bath salts from the salt house gift shop.
Other shopping areas are located at the cruise center, where you can get t-shirts, alcohol, jewelry, and trinkets.
Go on Grand Turk Excursions
Gets an aerial view of the island by going on a zip lining adventure? This takes place right next to the lighthouse, so when you take the island excursion and arrive at the lighthouse which is on the other end of the island opposite the cruise center, you will see the zip line course. If you are brave enough you can even zip line above the water on the last part of the course. The guides are professional and very helpful.
13. Catamaran Boat Rides
Go on a catamaran boat ride and visit deserted islands and interact with the beautiful marine life. They will take you along the great coral reef to enjoy the vast marine life available off the coast of Grand Turk. If you love snorkeling this boat rides will take you to great snorkeling spots where you can snorkel to your heart’s content.
14. ATV Off-Road Tours
If you are tired of the beach scene and just want an adrenaline packed escape to a tropical forest, then this excursion is for you. ATV’s are fun and what better way to see the whole island, which isn’t that big than to blaze through it at high speeds on challenging nature trails.
The best thing about excursions on Grand Turk whether provided by cruise lines or local tour operator is the guides who are very professional and put your safety first.
If you are looking for a bit of excitement and have always wanted to surf but never had the chance to, or was afraid of the oceans mighty waves, try the FlowRider. Located on the giant swimming pool at the cruise center, the FlowRider offers a surfing experience almost as exhilarating as the ocean.
The FlowRider designed in a slope like water slide structure, jets waves of water that create ocean-like waves, but on a smaller scale. You can then get on a surfboard and surf. Always book early for this fun adventure, it’s always a busy activity and you will be on it with probably 1 or 2 more people.
16. Sightseeing Using Trams
Explore the island with its historical heritage, lovely secluded beaches, and great sites through a narrated bus tour. The bus tour starts from the cruise center and makes it first stop at the gorgeous governor’s beach, then it continues on to Cockburn Town where you can see and photograph sites like her majesty’s prison, the Turks and Caicos museum, the church and about one mile or 30 minutes later you arrive at the Grand Turk Lighthouse where you get panoramic views of the ocean and the nearby deserted U.S Navy Base.
On your ride back, you will go on the salt industry tour, visiting Salinas like the Red Salina and even make a stop at the Salt House exhibit. Then you will return to the cruise center have a drink, a meal and go enjoy the beach if you have time.
17. Watersports Paddle Boards and Kayaking
If you are up for an active excursion, book paddleboarding, and kayaking excursions and explore the clear waters of the peaceful north creek. The kayaks have a clear bottom that lets you view the action under the water.
Right from the cruise center, an island tram will take you to north creek, where you will do a short trail through the wetlands and finally get to the kayaking spot. Your kayaking guide will take you on a 3hr long kayaking journey.
The north creek doesn’t offer much, but you might see some stingrays, barracudas, and turtles in the water. Most kayaking and paddleboarding tours end at the mouth of the inlet right below the lighthouse.
18. Horseback Riding
Something common with Carnival Cruise line destination ports is the horse ride excursion. Enjoy a tour of the island all the way into the shallow waters of the ocean on a horse’s back.
The horses are handpicked for you from the ranch according to your preferences, fear, and comfort riding on horses.
Once on the island, you will head over to the horse shelter north of the cruise center, where a horse will be handpicked for you and you will start the 30-40 minutes excursion. The guides are very caring and professional.
19. Snorkeling and Scuba Diving
Grand Turk is a haven for divers, located along the third largest barrier reefs; the island has some great diving spots off the west coast on the Columbus Landfall National Park.
The coral walls which range from 30 feet to more than 7000 feet deep are just a hundred yards out on the water. Explore the colorful burst of marine life in some of the best diving spots in the world.
Most diving and snorkel equipment shops are located at Cockburn Town and if you head out for more secluded beaches like the pillory beach on the west coast, you can rent out water gears at the Boho Dive resort.
Since some of the best snorkeling and diving areas are off the coast and it is difficult to swim out there, take a snorkel boat ride to access the best sites. Book a snorkel and dive excursion with your cruise to enjoy this fun excursion.
20. Boat Cruise and Fishing Tours
Take a boat tour to other cays, like Gibbs Cay and snorkel/swim with the stingrays, or charter private fishing trips.
There is a lot of marine life to explore on the Grand Turk, interact with sea animals like parrot fish, which are very common on the Grand Turk, stingrays, butterfly fish, snappers, trumpet fish and many more. The boat rides are good for exploring the coral reefs and the cays nearby, book a boat excursion with your cruise line or a local tourism company to enjoy this fun adventure.
21. Humpback Whales
If you happen to visit this beautiful island during the winter months of January to April, you can go on a humpback whale excursion. Where you will witness and if lucky get to snorkel with these majestic creatures as they migrate from the cold Atlantic Ocean waters to the warmer Caribbean waters for mating and childbearing.
22. Grand Turk Beach
There are at least eight popular beaches on Grand Turk. So, if excursions don’t necessarily rock your boat, then definitely grab lots of sunscreen, shades and a hat and head over to one of the beautiful post-card-like picturesque clear blue water, white sandy beaches.
To start with, if you have kids and just want to stay near the ship, you can visit the Cruise Center beach right in front of the cruise center or adjacent to the pier. There are plenty of lounge chairs on this beach, and it has beautiful clear sparkling waters to enjoy your day in.
If you are looking for something more private, then head on over to Governor’s beach which is about a mile north of the cruise center. This is the most beautiful beach on Grand Turk. It has a pristinely white sandy beach kissed by clear blue ocean waters. Go paddleboarding on its beautiful waters, or take a splash and soak in some needed sun.
If you are undecided on whether to stay on the beach the whole day or ongoing on some light water activity like snorkeling, then head over to pillory beach, which has the best snorkeling spots.
Located north of Cockburn Town this serene beach offers a quiet atmosphere for interacting with the marine life in their habitat. Don’t worry about being under the harsh sun all day long; some parts of the beach are lined with trees that offer you natural shade. If you need diving or snorkeling gear, the Boho Dive Resort rents out such gear.
You can get to this beach in a taxi, bus or rented car.
A little further from Governor’s beach lies another rarely visited beach called English Point. It’s a bit rocky but a great beach for beachcombing and maybe a little snorkeling. It’s accessed on the western runway of the JAGS Mccartney airport.
A great beach for snorkeling would be the Boaby Rockpoint, located on the southern side of the Grand Turk, the beach is rocky, but on calm days can be great for snorkeling.
Others include the white sands and east side beaches which are located on the underdeveloped southern side of the Grand Turk. They are good for beachcombing. The east side beach is accessed by roads coming from the lighthouse. This is where you may find a letter in a bottle sort of thing.
The best thing about all this is that unlike some cruise ports, all the beaches in Grand Turk are public and free to explore.
Over to You
To sum up, here is a summary of things you can do at Grand Turk. Start by visiting the cruise port; grab a bite from Margaritaville, then head on over to sunray beach for a day of sun and splashing.
If you want to explore the island, visit the numerous historical sites like Her Majesty’s prison, the Light House or the Turks and Caicos museum. If you are the active type book shore excursions and enjoy great diving and snorkeling spots. Or just lay on Governor’s beach, the most beautiful beach on the island.
And if that is not enough head over to the cruise port and visit the splash landing center. Here you will get to learn about the Friendship 7 space program, created in honor of John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth who splash landed in Grand Turk.
So, there you have it an action-packed fun adventure to do list for the next time you visit the beautiful Turks and Caicos. Remember to relax and have fun. Happy Cruising!!
Also, take a look at major cruise home ports and destinations with ports tips from Cruise Hive.