Providenciales -- The gorgeous 19km (12-mile) beach and pristine coastline of 98-sq.-km (38-sq.-mile) Providenciales (Provo) were a tourist development waiting to happen. In the early 1980s, hotel megaliths such as Club Med poured money into increasingly popular low-rise eco-conscious resorts. Now Provo's tourist infrastructure far surpasses anything on Grand Turk, the TCI seat of government. This is where the action is, literally, with the bulk of the country's lodging, dining, tours, activities, and entertainment. Still, don't expect a bustling metropolis: Provo remains much sleepier than most other Caribbean islands -- and that's a big part of its charm. One of the larger islands of the Turks & Caicos, Provo is green but arid, with miles of scrubland covering the island's low, undulating hills. Provo is the main destination for most people visiting the TCI.
Caicos Cays -- Also called the Leeward Cays, these gorgeous little islands were once the haven of pirates. Many are now uninhabited except by day-trippers beachcombing and snorkeling the shallows, while others are private islands with secluded resorts -- the latest being the multimillion-dollar development of Dellis Cay, including a Mandarin Oriental hotel. Little Water Cay is a National Trust nature reserve that is home to the endangered rock iguana.
North Caicos -- TCI Premier Michael Misick calls North Caicos, his birthplace, "a tiger awakening." The projected site of the second big TCI boom (they're breaking ground as we go to print) still has a sleepy rural landscape. Roads that were dusty and potholed have been paved over, a deepwater harbor is being built to accommodate freight-bearing ships, and the airport is getting a new terminal. But the beaches remain lovely and untrammeled, and lodgings and restaurants are still few and far between. Locals say this sparsely populated, 106-sq.-km (41-sq.-mile) island is what Provo looked like before the boom.
Middle Caicos -- Middle Caicos is the largest island in the Turks & Caicos (125 sq. km/48 sq. miles), and has a remarkably varied landscape. Soft green slopes overlook beautiful Mudjin Harbor. Along the rise is Crossing Place Trail, a narrow 18th-century path so named because it leads to a place where people once crossed a sandbar at low tide to reach North Caicos. A massive aboveground limestone cave system was used by Lucayan Indians some 600 years ago. At Bambarra Beach the sunlit aquamarine waters stretch long into the horizon. A new causeway now links Middle to North Caicos.
South Caicos -- This still-sleepy fishing community of some 1,200 people and 21 sq. km (8 sq. miles) is hearing faint rumblings of tourist development. Because the South Caicos tourist infrastructure is still in its infancy, this guide addresses the region only peripherally. But clearly, with its excellent diving and bonefishing opportunities and historic Bermudan-style architecture, "Big South" is an up-and-coming spot.
East Caicos -- This unspoiled, largely uninhabited 47-sq.-km (18-sq.-mile) island was once used for large sisal and cotton plantations. Now it's largely swampland and savanna.
West Caicos -- This lovely uninhabited 29-sq.-km (11-sq.-mile) island (with a 202-hectare/500-acre nature preserve) is the home of a new five-star Ritz-Carlton resort, with a 100-slip marina, villas, town houses, cottages, private homes, and the Molasses Reef Hotel. West Caicos is the site of some of the islands' best scuba diving.