If you think Providenciales is laid-back, you'd better prepare yourself for the really relaxed worlds of Grand Turk and Salt Cay. Grand Turk and Salt Cay are low-key charmers that hold quaint architectural remnants of the islands' colonial past. If you love to scuba dive or snorkel, have a thing for sun-drenched beaches and ridiculously beautiful seas, and crave a relaxed, back-to-basics departure from the chichi boutique-resort scene, a visit to both islands during your vacation is highly recommended.
Grand Turk is the capital of the Turks & Caicos Islands, although it is no longer the financial and business hub of the island nation, having lost that position to Provo. It is no longer the transportation hub either, as Provo receives 95% of the international airplane landings. The island is rather barren and wind-swept, and even though lovely green bluffs top its northwest and eastern shores, don't come here looking for lush tropical foliage. Do consider Grand Turk, however, if you want a destination that's excellent for snorkeling and diving, with beautiful white-sand beaches and a friendly, small-town vibe. You might say it's Mayberry by the Sea.
Cockburn Town (Coe-burn) is the financial and business center of this tiny (11x3.2km/7x2 miles) island, where horses and donkeys still roam the streets. The best place for swimming is Governor's Beach near the governor's residence, Waterloo, on the west coast of the island. Take time to tour Cockburn Town's historic section, particularly Duke and Front streets, where 200-year-old structures built of wood and limestone face the waterfront. Stroll the area and soak in the rhythms of Cockburn Town, the vintage architecture behind picket fences entwined with crimson bougainvillea, the fragrant neem trees, the funky beachfront bars, the wet suits hanging out to dry. Stay for a couple of days, and you'll be waving to familiar faces on the street, calling the local dogs by name, and settling into your new favorite spot to watch the sun set over beers on Duke Street.