As recently as 1964, Providenciales (usually called Provo) did not have a single wheeled vehicle. Following in the footsteps of Club Med, the island's first large hotel and casino complex opened in 1990 and touched off a development boom. Provo is now the most tourist-oriented and developed of the Turks and Caicos Islands, boasting many resort hotels and an 18-hole golf course. The island has recently become popular with retirees from around the world, kindling a boom of residential development. Given its recent evolution, the atmosphere is more reminiscent of the Florida Keys than Nassau, with little of the character of other Caribbean isles.

The resorts on Providenciales are centered on five mile-long (8km) Grace Bay, with its brilliant white sand and shimmering turquoise waters. Apart from the beaches, Provo's charm lies in its rugged hills and ridges, which are carpeted with prickly pear cactus and scrub. The trump card, however, remains the diving: miles and miles of coral reefs are temptingly close to shore. Provo is also surrounded by uninhabited cays that are easily reached by chartered boat or excursion.

The only town, sprawling, namesake Providenciales, sits in the middle of the island. Most of the island's services are here, including snazzy shopping malls. There are also pockets of makeshift shacks - the homes of Haitians - interspersed among the more upscale residences. Opportunities for sightseeing are slim, though history buffs might check out the ruins of Cheshire Hall, a 1790s plantation house constructed by British loyalists.

 

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