If you’re wondering what to do in Grand Turk, we have the answers! Nearly one million cruise passengers arrive at the Grand Turk Cruise Center every year, and it’s no wonder why.
Grand Turk Cruise Port is mainly visited by Carnival Cruise Line ships, so you’ll find Princess, Holland America but even Celebrity ships are there, too. A day at Grand Turk can be part of Eastern Caribbean and Bahamas itineraries.
Best Things to Do In Grand Turk
Grand Turk is one of those laid-back islands where wild donkeys and horses roam along the beach and in town.
Tropical beaches, a rich history, and all sorts of activities for cruisers are only a few reasons why cruisers Grand Turk.
Since your cruise ship is stopping in Grand Turk for only a day, you better make the most of it!
Continue reading to discover the ten best things to do in Grand Turk and what makes this place so unique.
A Little History of Grand Turk
Grand Turk, an island in the Turks and Caicos, is a British Overseas Territory located in the Atlantic, not the Caribbean, between the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic.
Grand Turk is only one of many islands in the Turks and Caicos archipelago. It’s been the capital of the Turks and Caicos Islands since 1766.
Grand Turk cruise port is the only one in the Turks and Caicos. The island is home to Cockburn Town, the capital city and government center of Turks and Caicos.
Grand Turk is a very small island with less than 5,000 residents. It’s common to see slow-moving donkeys and wild horses roam just about everywhere.
Grand Turk Guide and Info
- Where is Grand Turk? Grand Turk is only 7 miles long and 1.5 miles wide. Located at the southern end of the Turks and Caicos Islands between the Bahamas and Hispaniola Island (the Dominican Republic and Haiti), about 575 miles southeast of Miami.
- What is Grand Turk famous for? The world’s best coral cliff wall dive. Possibly the first landfall for Christopher Columbus on his journey to find the New World. Plus, John Glenn held his first press conference in Grand Turk a couple of days after his space capsule splashed down offshore.
- Currency: The US dollar is the official currency of the Turks & Caicos.
- Language: English is the official language, but you’ll also hear Creole and Spanish.
- Time Zone: Grand Turk is on Eastern Standard Time, the same as Miami or New York. Daylight Savings kicks in from March to November.
- What’s the weather? Sunny and warm almost year-round. Except for the end of the hurricane season, September and October, there’s not much rain. Summer temps can quickly get into the 90s, while winter months are a balmy 80 degrees on average.
- Best time to cruise to Grand Turk: Almost any season is beautiful in Grand Turk. If you’re an avid diver, it is best to avoid the late summer/fall hurricane season.
- What travel documents do I need? A current US passport is the recommended document, but it is not required if your cruise begins and ends in the United States. If you are traveling without a US passport, you will need to present two official government-issued IDs.
- Please check with the US Department of State for the proper travel requirements. Non-US citizens should check with their embassy for appropriate documents.
- How do I get from the Grand Turk cruise port to town? Cockburn Town is located three miles from the port. You can walk there, but you won’t find any sidewalks along the way, and the weather can get scorching. The best suggestion is to take a shore excursion or hire a taxi.
- Best way to get around: There is a car rental office at the Cruise Center, but driving is on the left as a British territory. Bike tours, as well as motor coach tours, are offered.
- What’s suitable for kids? The Cruise Center has family-friendly kid activities, from playing on the beach to the only land-based Flow Rider ($). There aren’t any zip-lines or bungee jumps (yet!), but there is a swim with the stingrays’ tour and kayaking and for older kids.
- Outer Space History: Brush up on your NASA and space exploration history before you walk over to the John Glenn Exhibit, “Splashdown Grand Turk,” near the Cruise Center. Just offshore is the place where John Glenn, the first man to orbit the world, and his space capsule, Friendship 7 splashed down in 1962.
Money, Money, Money
- At the Cruise Center: Visitors can use traveler’s checks and major credit cards at the Grand Turk Cruise Center.
- Cash for shopping: is king when it comes to handicraft markets, so if you’re looking for locally made souvenirs in and around Cockburn Town, bring some green.
- ATM machines: There is an ATM near the Cruise Center.
- Credit cards: Most restaurants and stores will take credit cards and Traveler’s Checks if you’re heading into town.
- Tipping: It’s polite to tip 15% at restaurants. Some restaurants add an automatic 10% service fee to the bill, so know what you’re paying. Tipping your taxi driver for good service is standard procedure.
Where Do Cruise Ships Dock In Grand Turk?
There is only one place to dock on all of Grand Turk. Your cruise ship will dock at the popular Grand Turk cruise port complex, easily visible as you approach the island.
The dock is located at the southern end of Grand Turk, just to help you get your bearings.
This port is technically a pier, located south of Cockburn Town and next to a stunning beach spanning nearly 780,000 square feet. You’ll see locales and tourists sunbathing, swimming, and relaxing as you walk off the ship.
Carnival Corporation’s Grand Turk Cruise Center consists of 18 acres of shopping, beaches and endless recreational activities located right where your ship docks.
With only a few hours to spend in Grand Turk, you could easily spend a relaxing day at the enormous Grand Turk Cruise Center.
Or you can choose from a variety of shore excursions, many of which will take you on a full tour of Grand Turk.
What to Do in Grand Turk
Relax at the Grand Turk Cruise Center
The Cruise Center Complex is just one of the best things you can do in Grand Turk. This complex is a large open-air area with tons of excursion booths, gift shops, and restaurants.
One of the largest Margaritaville restaurants in the Caribbean is right next door, featuring a swim-up bar and free loungers for your use.
One of the main attractions at the Cruise Center Complex is an immense lagoon-like swimming pool. This pool also features a FlowRider, where people can test their surfing skills on artificial waves.
The center also has a John Glenn Splashdown memorial to commemorate his mission and landing site. A picturesque humpback whale is also nearby to celebrate the year-round sea life found at Grand Turk.
Don’t forget to hit up all of the boutique stores to shop for souvenirs and gifts for you and your loved ones. There’s a rental car service is at the center complex, but be sure to make reservations before your visit.
If you didn’t reserve your shore excursions ahead of time, there are tons of vendor booths within the complex for you to choose your tour. Planning excursions can be overwhelming, so try to research before visiting.
Visit the Grand Turk Lighthouse
If you’re going to Grand Turk for a day, you have to visit the lighthouse. This lighthouse, completed in 1852, is the only lighthouse in all Turks and Caicos Islands. Although this is no longer an active lighthouse, for only $3 per person, it’s a perfect spot for tourists and locales to spend the day and catch some sights.
The grounds around the white, french-style lighthouse are stunning. You can admire the old light-keepers house and a scenic coastal path that leads along the top of the marine limestone cliffs of the coastline. You may even see some donkeys on the grounds!
Although you cannot bike or walk to the lighthouse, you can use a rental car, taxi, or ATV. Be sure to check any island tours you’ve reserved, as the lighthouse may be part of the excursion.
Stop By the Turks and Caicos National Museum
The Turks and Caicos National Museum offers tours year-round, a perfect spot for the history buff. Located in the capital, Cockburn Town, the museum opened in 1991.
Enjoy an array of exhibits, including the Molasses Reef Wreck, the oldest European shipwreck excavated in the western hemisphere. You’ll also see an exhibit dedicated to the first inhabitants of Grand Turk, the Tainos. You’ll see how they lived and what they contributed to the island to make it what it is today.
See the Salt Salinas
Grand Turk was only one of three islands in the Turks and Caicos that produced salt. Turks and Caicos had one of the world’s first and largest salt industries.
Ultimately, production declined on the island; however, you can still see what used to be magnificent salt flats. Take a ride into Cockburn Town and view the dividing lines and salt ruins from the shore. You can also take an ATV trip to a more underdeveloped area called Hawkes Nest Salina. There you’ll see tons of natural white crystal sea salt.
Spend a Day at the Beach
When you get to Grand Turk, the first beach you’ll see is Cruise Center Beach, right at the pier. However, there are many other beaches where you can spend the day!
On the west side of the island between the cruise port and Cockburn Town is Governor’s Beach. Most guests agree that this beach is the best beach on Grand Turk because of its beautiful landscape and shallow waters, perfect for swimming.
Cockburn Town Beach
This beach is home to many surrounding restaurants, hotels, and shopping. Cockburn beach spans far and sections into smaller beaches due to seawalls. Mainly, the waters are calm, but when the tide is high, you may catch some waves.
Pillory Beach is one of the quieter beaches located north of Cockburn Town. Away from the crowds at the other beaches, this is a place to come if you’re seeking solitude or somewhere quiet to read a book. If Christopher Columbus did first land at Grand Turk, this would have been the beach where he arrived.
Splash in the Water!
If you find yourself in Grand Turk for the day, take advantage of all of the water excursions available! If you’re a diver, you’ll want to go diving in Grand Turk. Plenty of charters are available.
You can rent kayaks, stand-up paddles, and boats for a day out on the water. Looking for an adrenaline rush? You can rent jet skis and go kiteboarding.
Don’t forget about trying a whale watching tour as well. Note: whales are only in these waters from January through late March – early April. Thank you to Salt Cay Divers for the whale watching information.
Try a Land Tour
Besides seeing the island from the water, there are plenty of tours to see the island from land. Explore the capital on a segway tour with guided audio. There are also open-air trucks available to cruise around and learn about the town.
You can also rent ATVs to explore the more underdeveloped eastern side of the island, where many roads are unpaved, including Hawkes Nest Salina. Horseback riding is also a lot of fun to do along the shore of the beautiful beaches.
Head Over to Gibbs Cay
Gibbs Cay is a small island about a mile off of Grand Turk. This island is a short trip away and accessible by jet ski or boat.
Gibbs Cay may have the best snorkeling in all of Grand Turk, unlike some shore beaches. Here you might see plenty of colorful reef fish, sea fans, corals, turtles, stingrays, and maybe even a small shark!
With snorkel and flippers, you can make your way out about 300’ to the edge of a coral reef or just wade into the water and watch for the throng of graceful stingrays as they come in for a scheduled feeding.
If a slow horseback ride along a white sandy beach is on your to-do list, Grand Turk might just be the perfect place to try it. Available as a ship’s shore excursion, it’s necessary to sign up at the beginning of your cruise to avoid a sold-out disappointment.
After a short van ride to the stable, guests are given a safety briefing before mounting their steed. First is a short ride through some scrub brush and pathways.
Then you’ll reach another stable where you’ll don a life preserver and your horse will be refitted with a water-suitable saddle. Then off you and your group will go, into the ocean.
A few minutes in one direction and the leader gives the signal for the horses to head for home. Almost in unison, the horses turn in the ocean and set their sights on a quick return trip to their home.
Hold on, because the herd really wants to get moving. It’s a wonderful experience, both in the water and on land.
Where to Dine in Grand Turk
Grand Turk has some of the best and freshest seafood you could imagine with plenty of restaurants.
Jack’s Shack is one of the most popular restaurants on the island because of its proximity to the cruise center port and its authentic Jamaican dishes.
While in Grand Turk, you need to taste all the local flavors it has to offer. The most common seafood on the island is Conch. Considered a delicacy, Conch is served both raw and cooked.
One of the most popular Conch dishes for tourists is Conch fritters. Breaded, spiced, and fried, this dish is usually paired with an equally delicious dipping sauce.
Lionfish and Snapper are also popular seafood choices on the island along with Mahi Mahi and Lobster.
The local spices of Grand Turk have a kick, so don’t be surprised if you get some heat with your dinner! Plantain chips and jerk chicken are popular selections accompanied with peas and rice.
Here are a few places to grab lunch, a cold brew and maybe stay for the entire afternoon!
Jack’s Shack has become the afternoon escape from the hub-bub and tackiness of Margaritaville at the Cruise Center. Located just a short walk from the cruise dock, Jack’s Shack is only 540 yards north of the Cruise Center.
Chef Leroy cooks up a mean jerk chicken on the grill, plus local conch dishes and fried fish. You can even print out a coupon from their website to get a free shot of locally-produced rum.
If a quieter luncheon is more your taste, hop into a taxi to the Osprey Beach Hotel and the Bird Cage Restaurant. There you’ll find poolside dining with a bird’s-eye view of the ocean. Free wifi, too.
Of course there’s good ol’ Margaritaville back at the Cruise Center. Great for those less adventurous or prefer to stay close to the cruise port.
It’s basically the same menu at all of Jimmy Buffet’s restaurants, but if you plan to go back and forth to the ship all day, it’s convenient.
If you plan to use WiFi at Margaritaville, you should know that it’s very slow. However, I found that fastest connection is near the router on the second level. Just bring your lunch upstairs.
Where to Shop in Grand Turk
The Grand Turk Cruise Center is a great stop when you arrive or right before you leave because it is right at your ship’s dock. Expect to see a big crowd since it’s one of the most popular areas on the island for shopping. Before you leave Grand Turk, you have to walk away with a gift or souvenir.
The Grand Turk Cruise Center will have jewelry, t-shirts, alcohol, and more. You’ll also be able to stop at the only Starbucks in all of Turks and Caicos for a one-of-a-kind Starbucks Grand Turk souvenir mug.
You can also find a lot of gifts on Front Street in Cockburn Town. There are a few permanent shops, but when tourism is at its high point, you’ll see many vendors pop up a tent to sell their handmade items.
If you’d like something very authentic to Grand Turk, try heading to the National Museum Gift Shop. Here you’ll find books, postcards, and gifts related to the island. The Grand Turk retail outlet also hosts many items from local artisans, including handmade baskets, sailboats, and more.
Shells are also a popular souvenir from the island. However, there are specific rules that tourists need to follow. For example, non-locales are only allowed to leave with no more than three conch shells. Be sure to follow the rules and protocols to help protect the natural ecosystem and island of Grand Turk.
Wrapping Up Your Visit to Grand Turk
With beautiful weather nearly year-round (the exception of course being the unpredictable height of hurricane season-August and September), cruise passengers have come to love their brief visit to this modest, little island.
Grand Turk is an incredible island with tons of activities and places to explore. You’ll taste the local flavors, relax on some of the best beaches, see extraordinary sea life, learn the fascinating history and culture of the island, and much more.
Whether you choose to hang out, eat and shop at the cruise center, venture into town or purchase a shore excursion, a port call in Grand Turk is sure to be a fun and memorable experience.
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I’m the editor and creator of CruiseMaven.com, a solo traveler cruising the world on waves and wheels, collecting recipes along the way. I hope my articles and photos entertain, advise and inspire you to travel the world without flying. Take a breath…stop for a local meal and a glass of wine along the way.