Oasis Divers: Cockburn Town ShopOasis Divers has two shops, one at the port center and one (above) in the heart of Grand Turk's Cockburn Town. (oasisdivers.com)
Looking for an easy weekend get-away-from-it-all dive vacation? A quick trip to Grand Turk’s Cockburn Town, capital of the Turks and Caicos Islands, let me in on one of the best-kept scuba-diving secrets in the Atlantic.
1. The easy, cool diving. Sites like Gorgonian Wall and the Anchor are so close to shore, it’s hardly worth cranking up the boat. Each was surprisingly fishy, and populated with laid-back turtles who played a game of hide-and-seek with us. But the day’s highlight was an enormous 100-year-old anchor longer than a diver, heavily encrusted with growth in relatively shallow, sunny water, with a huge chain that trailed tantalizingly far from the anchor and disappeared over the wall, making us wonder, what lies beneath….
2. The handy access from the U.S. Grand Turk is only a little more than 600 miles southeast of Miami, about an hour and a half flight to the international airport at Providenciales, followed by a roughly 30-minute local hop on to Grand Turk airport.
3. Its unspoiled beauty. From the minute you lay eyes on its white-white sands and seas a half-dozen impossible shades of blue, you’ll notice that even when there’s a cruise ship in port, if you make your way up the island you’ll feel like you have the place to yourself. This is the Caribbean as it was 20 years ago — but with air conditioning and WiFi — with elements that go back much farther, like the wild donkeys descended from forebears that once pulled salt carts, and rustic inns made from salvaged ship’s tenders.
4. The fun and friendly people. Grand Turk is a small place — about seven miles long and a mile wide — where no one feels like a stranger for long. At Oasis Divers — check out its new website at oasisdivers.com — owner Dale Barker makes everyone feel like a returning friend instead of a newcomer, freely sharing tips about the best offerings on her home of several decades. She and husband Everette Freites, a native, have vastly expanded Oasis since they took it over in 1996; today it’s a thriving dive operation with two locations — including a large, cheerful retail dive and gift store at its Cockburn Town shop — employing local divemasters with intimate knowledge of their ocean heritage, and expanding beyond diving to offer topside activities from Segway tours to bicycles, paddleboards, seasonal whale-watching tours and more.
5. Lots of other stuff to do. Try as you might, you can’t stay underwater all weekend. On Grand Turk your choices include Oasis Divers’ picnic day trips to nearby uninhabited Gibb’s Cay, where “the stingrays will come right up to you,” Dale says, to kayaking in the inland-bayou mangroves, visiting the charming Salt Museum, the well-regarded Turks and Caicos National Museum or the restored 1850s lighthouse, or plopping yourself on a stool at the Birdcage Bar at Osprey Beach Hotel (ospreybeachhotel.com) on Duke Street to see what new friends wander in.