The Turks and Caicos Islands is a collection of islands in the West Indies. It comprises the Caicos Islands group, which is the main group, and the smaller Turks Islands group. The islands are a British Overseas Territory. They cover 430 sq km (193 sq mi) and has a population of around 37,000 (2011 estimate). The capital is Cockburn Town on Grand Turk Island, in the Turks Islands archipelago. The biggest and most populous island, however, is Providenciales, which is part of the Caicos Islands.
Turks and Caicos Islands is five hours behind Coordinated Universal Time (UTC-5), and four hours behind during Daylight Saving Time in summer. The official language of the islands is English. Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state, represented by a governor. The official currency of the islands is the US dollar, not pound sterling or euro. Traffic is however driven on the left, just as in Britain. The phone IDD code for Turks and Caicos Islands is +1-649.
The economy of the Turks and Caicos Islands is today heavily dependent on tourism. It is also developing itself as an offshore financial center.
The Turks and Caicos Islands is geographically part of the Lucayan Archipelago, which includes the Bahamas. It is separated from the Bahamas by the Caicos Passage. In all, Turks and Caicos Islands comprise eight main islands and close to three hundred small ones.
The Turks and Caicos Islands experiences a tropical monsoon climate with fairly uniform temperatures throughout the year. January temperatures are slightly cooler, with average lows going down to 16.8°C (62.2°F) while average highs in June and July may touch 29.9°C (85.8°F).
The Turks Islands are said to have been named after the Turkish fez cactus (Melocactus communis) while the Caicos Islands derived their name from "caya hico", a term from the Lucayan language meaning string of islands. The Lucayans are the indigenous people of this part of the West Indies, including the Bahamas.
Christopher Columbus is said to have arrived at the Turks and Caicos Islands in 1492. In the following century, the Spanish captured many of the natives of the islands, making them slaves on the island of Hispaniola. So many were captured, while others died of diseases, that the islands became depopulated until the 17th century. The islands passed from the Spanish to the French (from 1765 to 1783), and then to the British, without any of these establishing a settlement there.
The American Revolution of 1775-1783 created a wave of refugees that fled to the Caribbean, including Caicos Islands, where they settled. This led to the Turks and Caicos being annexed by Britain in 1799. Another batch of immigrants made in impromptu arrival in 1841 when the Spanish ship Trouvadore wrecked off the coast of East Caicos. It was carrying close to two hundred African slaves. The slaves escaped and swam to shore, arriving in the East Caicos where slavery was illegal, and formed the working-class population of the Turks and Caicos Islands.
The Turks and Caicos Islands became a crown colony following the independence of Jamaica in August 1962. It shared a governor with the Bahamas until 1973, when the Bahamas also gained independence. The islands have undergone a turbulent political landscape in recent decades, with policy reversal accompanying every change of government. There was even an invitation to the Canadian government for union, but the issue has kept the population divided. In August 2009, the United Kingdom suspended the self-government of the Turks and Caicos for alleged corruption, and presently power is vested in the governor for the next two years.
Planning your visit to Turks and Caicos Islands
Providenciales International Airport (PLS) is the main airport serving the Turks and Caicos Islands. Most visitors are holiday makers. There are flights from Miami and JFK Airport in New York City by American Airlines, from Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa by Air Canada, and from London by British Airways.