Salt Cay Turks and Caicos Islands

It has been called “The Island that Time Forgot.” However, I don’t think that time forgot Salt Cay. I really believe Salt Cay said to heck with time. The island should come with a warning sticker: All ye who enter here will relax, unwind, and come to appreciate that Mother Nature is a pretty amazing old Dame.

Things happen at their own pace on this tiny Turks and Caicos Island of less than 200 permanent residents. If you are always on the go, accomplishing the tasks of five normal humans, or running towards deadlines, you will either hate Salt Cay, or fall completely in love.

A photograph of pristine and desolate North Beach, Salt Cay, Turks and Caicos Islands, British West IndiesNorth Beach, Salt Cay

If you visit, you will experience island life as it should be. Neighbours hail one another, SMILING... people do small favours without being asked. The only TV is Direct, or Dish TV. Wifi is provided by two companies, so you could stream movies on your computer. There’s no cinema. In fact there isn’t even a real gas station. Most visitors tootle around in golf carts. Last time I was there, a lovely, dignified gentleman dropped off gas for the cart at 7:30 in the morning. Now that’s island service. The school has just nine students. Donkeys and cows wander at will, but nobody gets bent out of shape about the free-roaming livestock. They’re part of the overall picture.

The stores are tiny, but they are stocked with home made bread and homegrown produce, along with a limited assortment of imported food items. It’s relatively expensive to get things to Salt Cay, so you learn to make do without, or make it yourself. Repeat visitors and residents arrive on the island with large bags packed with whatever items are essential to them. Watching them unpack can be quite the eye-opener…

A photograph of The White House, Salt Cay, Turks and Caicos Islands, British West IndiesThe White House viewed from Dunscomb Point

There are just three restaurants: Debbie Manos’ Coral Reef Bar & Grill, Porter’s Island Thyme, and Pat’s Place. But there are several delightful guest cottages for vacation rental, which guarantee that when you dine out, you’ll meet new friends.

We visited the cay a few weeks ago. It’s a four minute flight from Grand Turk or twenty minutes from Providenciales, not difficult to take at all, and the colours beneath you are mesmerising.

We were met at the tiny airport. Haidee Williams gave us welcome packages that included a map of the island, a coupon for 10% off a bottle of Spirits of Salt Cay rum, and an invitation to visit the Salt Cay ladies working at the Salt Cay Salt Works. Debbie Manos led us to our chariot, a sporty little golf cart, and provided driving instructions.

Our first stop was Half Way House, a beautifully and painstakingly restored Caribbean Great House built between 1820-1840, for a sea captain or merchant. Holton Dickinson kindly led us to this home and invited us to tour it at our leisure. The house is regularly rented to repeat guests. It was easy to understand why they return again and again. The antique furnishings are complemented by coral sculpture and art. The rooms are flooded with light. The tradewinds provide natural air conditioning. Then, there’s the view. The spacious covered porch faces west, and looks out over the cobalt blue of the Turks Island Passage.

A photograph of a canon overlooking the east coast of Salt Cay, Turks and Caicos Islands, British West IndiesAn old English canon poised to protect the dramatic coast of Salt Cay

From Half Way House we moved on to the Brown House, another lovingly restored home. Built by salt merchant Alexander Harriott around 1825, its sunken main floor, with very high ceilings, housed the piles of salt before they were shipped to the United States and Canada. The family lived upstairs where the constant tradewinds, filtered through the slatted verandah windows, cooled the home. The historically accurate and elegant preservation and restoration of the Brown House makes this a very interesting vacation residence.

We moved on to Pirate’s Hideaway, a modern vacation villa, which looks deceptively diminutive from the street. Behind the walls and tropical foliage, there are multiple bedrooms, a freshwater swimming pool, full kitchen and guest cottage. All this, just 100 steps from the ocean.

A photograph of Cracked Conch at Coral Reef Bar & Grill, Salt Cay, Turks and Caicos Islands, British West IndiesCracked Conch at Coral Reef Bar & Grill

Having worked up an appetite, we headed for the Coral Reef Bar & Grill. As we approached, we could hear laughter issuing from the bar. Debbie and patrons greeted us like family. One of them was reading the Providenciales Dining Guide. We had pre-ordered lunch and sat down immediately to plates of tender cracked conch, tasty fries, and fresh salad, which we dispatched with gusto. Icy cold Presidentes went well with this delightful meal.

The Coral Reef has a new dining and whale watching tower, which overlooks Deane’s Dock and the ocean. This would be a lovely spot from which to enjoy the moonlight too.

A photograph of donkeys roaming Balfour Town, Salt Cay, Turks and Caicos Islands, British West IndiesDonkeys roam free in Balfour Town and beyond

Steps from her restaurant, Debbie also runs Salt Cay Divers. For more than 15 years this dive operation has been showcasing their dive sites and introducing folks to humpback whales that pass through the Turks Island Passage twice a year.

Crystal Seas Adventures has also made a name in the whale watching business. They operate boats out of both Salt Cay and their home base of Grand Turk. Finding the whales, and taking you to pristine, deserted beaches are their specialties.

A photograph of the renovated government house, Salt Cay, Turks and Caicos Islands, British West IndiesGovernment House in South District is being renovated

After lunch we headed around the corner to Porter’s Island Thyme to chat with Porter and Haidee. Again, as we approached we could hear laughter. Once inside the delightful bar and dining area, we got busy taking photographs.

Their Moon Deck is up a flight of narrow, ceramic tiles stairs and the view of the salina gives you a taste of the bygone salt era. Perhaps inspired by this view, the couple has started a salt industry of their own. We met several Salt Cay ladies, who were busy pouring Salt Cay salt into recycled bottles and other small containers, for sale to the tourists on the island. Salt Cay Salt Works ships these attractive souvenirs to Providenciales for sale to the larger market there.

Georgia Dunn, a descendant of Thomas Harriott, and her husband Bill recently spawned another cottage industry. They have researched and recreated the original recipe for alcoholic ginger beer. The carbonated beverage was the drink of choice in Great Britain, the Caribbean, and the New World, until 1855 when taxes were imposed on alcohol. Currently their Islander Ginger Beer is being made and bottled in the United States but eventually the Dunns hope to bring the process home to the Turks & Caicos.

A photograph of salt works souvenirs, Salt Cay, Turks and Caicos Islands, British West IndiesThe ladies filling salt bags at Salt Cay Salt Works

During our exploration of Salt Cay we stopped at Dunscomb Point, on the west coast. Old seawalls form a protected ocean pool accessed by more modern cement steps. Casaurina pines provide shade, making this a wonderful picnic spot. For the photographers, this is a good location from which to capture the historic White House. The largest building in the TCI is still inhabited by descendants of the original builders, the Harriott family.

A cannon perched on the hill north of town marks another scenic spot extraordinaire. It’s an easy walk and the view, looking south or north along the western shore, is not to be missed. If you look to the northeast, from this vantage point, the magnificent stretch of North Beach extends to Northeast Point. We drove there, and stopped to check out Castaway Cottages, which lie on this broad swath of pristine, silken sand. There’s great snorkelling off this beach as well, in settled weather.

A photograph of South Creek, Salt Cay, Turks and Caicos Islands, British West IndiesSouth Creek and mangroves on the eastern shore of Salt Cay

We covered a fair bit of ground during our day on Salt Cay. We even managed to visit South Creek, with its low mangrove forests, winding shallow creeks, and rocky coastline besieged by ocean waves.

For such a tiny island, Salt Cay has many different scenic views and the friendly, interested residents are very helpful in pointing them out for you. It’s a simple, quiet place. We saw one other couple and only a handful of people during our brief trip. However, that does not equate to nothing to do. There is SCUBA diving, snorkelling, hiking, biking, swimming, bird watching, and of course dining, to occupy your days. Take a trip to Salt Cay, “The Island that Time Forgot,” and allow the island to let you forget time.

A photograph of a home in South District, Salt Cay, Turks and Caicos Islands, British West IndiesA colourful home in South District, Salt Cay

Historical Sites

The White House built by salt–baron Alexander Harriott, stands next to the last remaining boat house and salt shed on Salt Cay. Boats still shelter here after a day of fishing.

The Brown House (now called Sunnyside) also built by Alexander Harriott is another historic salt plantation home on Salt Cay.

The Dunscombe Point Millworks is located on a lovely, treed lot is where the remains of an old stone mill still stand.

Taylor Hill provides a stunning view of the entire island and its surrounding seas.

The Salinas are impossible to miss. Once a plot of land where crops were grown and harvested, the land was converted to saltpans. The hand laid stone dykes and canals are impressive as are the remains of the nine windmills that were once used to push saltwater into the drying pans.

Salt Cay photos by

Salt Cay Business Directory

    1. Caicos Express Airways

      Scheduled flights to Salt Cay and Grand Turk. Charter flights to neighbouring islands.

      Contact details for Caicos Express Airways
    2. Castaway on Salt Cay

      Barefoot elegance on one of the most pristine beaches in the world. French doors open on to Salt Cay’s famed North Beach that rivals Providenciales’ world class Grace Bay. The difference is that you will probably have North Beach on Salt Cay all to yourself. There are four suites, each featuring open concept layout, king size bed, free WiFi and covered beach decks facing the ocean.

      Contact details for Castaway on Salt Cay
    3. Crystal Seas Adventures

      To explore the gin clear turquoise waters around Grand Turk, Salt Cay, Endymion Rock, Gibbs Cay or the numerous small cays of the Turks Islands, this watersports operation offers snorkelling, fishing, whale watching, Eco adventures, and the ultimate beach BBQ. They offer excursions tailored to the clients wishes, and will take a maximum of 12 persons.

      Contact details for Crystal Seas Adventures
    4. Half Way House Salt Cay

      Elegant oceanfront restored British Colonial Caribbean Great House. Sleeps four. Call +1-561-835-9237

A photograph of Porters Island Thyme Bistro on Salt Cay, Turks and Caicos Islands, British West IndiesEnjoy libations at Porter's Island Thyme Bistro on Salt Cay

  1. Porters Island Thyme

    Their menu features Caribbean and distinctly Salt Cay items and flavours, infused with Asian influences and flair, for what they call Caribbean Fusion Cuisine. Island Thyme has themed and special activity nights that occur throughout the week. Visit the website for the blog and the newsletter.

    Contact details for Porters Island Thyme
  2. Salt Cay Divers

    Day trips planned, whale watching, diving and snorkelling. Call Debbie +1-649-241-1009

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