There are a few places in the world where diving and diving conditions fall into place so perfectly that the result is a spectacular underwater experience.
The Maldives and The Great Barrier Reef are famous for having the balance just right: year-round warm waters, a protected and thriving marine system, and excellent visibility.
There are hundreds of other places in the world to dive, but 99% lack at least one of the main conditions needed to fully appreciate diving, and even those that can offer ideal conditions can rarely do so year-round.
Not so the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) where, in my opinion, the diving is always spectacular.
Just south of the Bahamas, and operating in $USD, the TCI are a much more accessible and economical destination to get to than The Maldives or Australia for the majority of the world’s population. It too boasts one of the largest barrier reefs on the planet, with a large area of the coast protected by Princess Alexandra National Park, within which no fishing is allowed.
Most impressive are the breath-taking walls, such as the area around North West Point, just a short boat ride from the main island of Providenciales. This wall starts at 35ft and plunges dramatically to more than 3000ft. One of the more renowned dive sites here is ‘Shark Hotel’ where sightings of Caribbean reef sharks are common, but where it is also possible to witness close encounters with blacktips, tiger and hammerhead sharks.
With an average water temperature of 29°C/84°F in the summer and 24°C/76°F in the winter and consistently clear waters boasting 40m (130ft) visibility, it’s a year-round diver’s dream.
The abundance of marine life and variety of dive sights makes every dive refreshingly exciting. Most common on any divers wish list—and frequently achieved here—are sightings of reef sharks, spotted eagle rays, hawksbill turtles, eels, grouper and a whole spectrum of tropical fish.
If you’re lucky, from January to March you may even see humpback whales as they migrate south to their summer breeding grounds off the Dominican Republic.
With an average of 350 days of sunshine each year, life above the water is a glorious 30°C/90°F with a pleasant trade wind breeze.
Steph and Bill Wallwork have lived in Providenciales for almost a decade. With close on 50 years’ diving experience between them, and having dived for work and pleasure all over the world, it says much for the diving in that they decided to make the Turks & Caicos their home and now own and operate their own dive business: Aqua TCI.
Their passion for diving is constant and despite diving almost 365 days each year, for half their lives, their excitement for each and every dive is unquestionable.
Having their boat docked at South Side Marina allows them to be at the dive sites in less than an hour. Being so close means that they are always one of the first boats to arrive, and with a limit of eight divers per trip, dives with them are always relaxing and enjoyable.
Amongst their favourite sites is French Cay – a small, uninhabited island surrounded by 2000m (6000ft) vertical wall drop offs. A wide range of sea life frequents this peaceful spot and humpback whales have been known to saunter by.
Sometimes seen underwater, but more often found playing in the wake of the dive boat are bottlenose dolphins. Jojo may be an exception – a bottlenose dolphin that has inhabited the seas here for around 30 years. Unusually, he is almost always on his own and seems very curious to find out what humans are up to. If you do see a dolphin in this particular area, the chances are it’s Jojo, who seems to prefer human company over his own species.
Whether you’re looking for out of this world wall dives, ship wrecks, or colourful coral, the Turks and Caicos Islands should be at the top of any diver’s wish list.
Katie Gutteridge is an adventure traveller who, with her partner Andy, is currently exploring the islands of the Caribbean aboard their catamaran.