Ever wonder what it's like to discover a Caribbean hideaway? An island bathed in tropical pastels, where the sound of lapping surf fills the warm air with the promise of a walk on a chalk-white beach or a dive in turquoise waters filled with fish as colorful as a candy store window?

You'll feel like the two of you have made a lucky discovery in the Turks and Caicos (pronounced kay-cos), an archipelago of nearly 40 islands. Here you'll find over 200 miles of pristine beaches, a coral reef system spanning over 65 miles, and a group of islands that offers everything from late night roulette in an elegant casino to Robinson Crusoe-type solitude on uninhabited islands.

The Turks and Caicos islands are located 1-1-2 hours from Miami, tucked halfway between the tip of Florida and Puerto Rico. This British crown colony, ruled by a governor appointed by the Queen, is better known in the world of banking than by travelers. With its tax-free status and with the stability of the British government backing the islands, the Turks and Caicos has offered off-shore banking for American corporations for many years.

The same attributes that make these islands so attractive to businesses also make them appealing to travelers. Daily jet service speeds travel. Once there, transport around the islands is easy, although conducted on the left side of the road.

Vacationers arrive in Providenciales, better known as simply Provo. This island is home to the largest portion of the Turks and Caicos population and to most hotel properties--none over three stories tall by law.

If you take a boat trip to one of the cays, you might be lucky enough to see the unofficial mascot of the islands: JoJo. This wild dolphin has been sighted for over a dozen years along Provo's north shore, the only case ever documented of prolonged interaction between an individual wild dolphin and humans. Often seen swimming near boats, JoJo is protected by his governmental status as an official national treasure.

Although it is rare to spot JoJo, vacationers are certain to view wildlife on daytrips to nearby Water Cay, located northeast of Provo. Here numerous iguanas greet boat passengers (and hope for handouts of a tasty grape or mango.)

This chain is composed of nearly 40 limestone islands, only eight are considered destinations. Providenciales or Provo is home to about 6000 residents and to most of the tourist industry. The capital of the Turks and Caicos is the island of Grand Turk, a short hop from Provo. This seven-mile square island has some historic buildings and the national museum, a must-see for history buffs.

Other inhabited islands include North Caicos, the most verdant island in the chain; South Caicos, a fishing center; Middle Caicos, home of several sea caves; and Salt Cay, a tiny island of only 300 residents that was once the world's largest producer of salt.

The Turks and Caicos are home to an extensive national park and nature reserve system. Over 31 national parks dot the islands, including Provo's Princess Alexandra National Park, with 13 miles of protected beaches, the NW Point Marine, with spectacular wall diving, and Chalk Sound, with small boat sailing on the west end of the island. National park rules make it illegal to hunt or fish, remove any animal or coral, moor vessels over 60 feet except on fixed buoys, or drive boats within 100 yards of shore.

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