Providenciales

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Providenciales is an island in the Turks and Caicos Islands. The island has an area of 98 km2 (38 sq mi) and an approximate population of 32,000, making it the largest island in population and the third largest in area. It is served by the Providenciales International Airport. Providenciales was ranked the best beach destination in the world by TripAdvisor in 2011.

As recently as 1964, Providenciales 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 1984 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. Grace Bay has seen many luxury condos built on its shores, however the settlements of Turks Islanders still provide a local flair to the island.

The resorts on Providenciales are primarily centered on 5 miles (8.0 km) long Grace Bay. Apart from the beaches, the island's charm lies in its rugged hills and ridges, which are carpeted with prickly pear cactus and scrub. The trump card, however, remains the world class diving: miles and miles of coral reefs are close to shore and the island is close to a common migration route for the Humpback whale. Providenciales is surrounded by uninhabited cays that are easily reached by chartered boat or excursion.

Before Provo became a popular tourist destination, there were three small centers of population: Blue Hills, The Bight (on Grace Bay) and Five Cays. Now many houses have been built, predominantly in the east and south, with larger communities at Leeward, Long Bay and Chalk Sound, as well as expansion of the original three settlements. There are also pockets of makeshift shacks interspersed among the more upscale residences.

Grace Bay has grown to be a major tourist destination with many hotels and condominiums built on the beach front.

The communities of Downtown and Kew Town are located near the airport. The major road, the Highway, runs east—west from Downtown to Leeward. Most of the island's services are near the Highway, including upscale shopping malls. They are also found in the commercial developments of Grace Bay, in support of the tourism market.

Opportunities for sightseeing and hiking are reasonable. There are remnants of Caribbean pirates at Osprey Rock and Sapodilla Hill, and the ruins of Cheshire Hall, a 1790s plantation house constructed by British loyalists, are also notable.

The western half of Providenciales is mostly barren wilderness, home to the island's best natural attraction, Chalk Sound National Park. The park is a 3 miles (4.8 km) long bay southwest of Downtown. The color of the water is a uniform turquoise and studded with countless mushroom-like tiny islets. Also on the western part of the island is Northwest Point Marine National Park, which extends to nearby reefs and several saline lakes that attract breeding and migrant waterfowl.
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