Back when I was serious about turntables, I was flown to Turks & Caicos to DJ a weekend at the now-closed Nikki Beach. The resort/club was on its own bay, away from the 12-mile Grace Bay beach strip, and I locked in three days of drinking, Djing, and more drinking, so much (the drinking part) that I never had a chance to explore the heart and soul of the destination. Apparently, tipsy shirtless college boys eating sushi off the body of a naked female model sprawled on the bar wasn't the only thing worth experiencing in this Caribbean hot spot (that, and the limitless mini-bar), as I soon understood with a more recent visit.
1. There are actually 40 islands
Turks & Caicos is a small enclave of islands in the Caribbean where visitors typically head straight to Providenciales (or "Provo"), known for its stunning Grace Bay beaches and handful of luxury resorts. In fact, most travelers never leave this hub, and with good reason. Grace Bay is a national marine reserve, so it's protected (expect limited motorized watersports activities). Translation: rich colors of the sea, sand, and sky. Those who are a little more adventure-bound flock up to North and Middle Caicos, passing uninhabited cays to explore tons of hiking, cave systems, cliffs, and a lot more "green." Getting island fever but don't want to don hiking boots? Excursion operators will take you out to sea for a deserted cay picnic.
2. The rich and beautiful do eat -- from Michelin-rated chefs
While the Caribbean isn't exactly known as a culinary hot spot, Turks & Caicos has a different palate. Most of the chefs that front the five-star properties' dining programs and handful of popular stand-alone restaurants have worked in Michelin-starred restaurants. Leave the dry surf-n-turf to the cruise buffets. Coyaba is a rustic surprise with some unforgettable dishes, and the restaurant at Regent Palms continually racks up winning designations in the archipelago (Best Chocolate, Best Conch, and on).
3. Expats outnumber the locals
Looking for a true Caribbean getaway with tons of indigenous culture? Go to Trinidad. From the approximate 30,000 TCI residents, a little more than half are ex-pats. In fact, there's such a need for outsourced service that hotels go as far as the Philippines to recruit. Most visitors stay within the hotel zone as there's arguably not much history to see on Providenciales (it?s one of the younger islands) save a popular conch shack. Theoretically, the swell of ex-pats is favorable for gay visitors who don't feel comfortable traveling to other islands of the Caribbean, where local mores aren't as tolerant.
4. Regent Palms Resort is where the gays play
I never have high expectations to meet other gays when I travel to the Caribbean. But at the luxury resort Regent Palms where I stayed, I was cruised by a collegiate traveling with his mom (Spring Breaking can be done without a keg), sat next to a gay couple at dinner (twice, different couples) and even met a group of gay hipsters. Need I say more? The 72-suite property recently unveiled a brand-new spa with a new treatment menu that merges both Caribbean and Asian influences, a healthy lunch menu by the resort's Michelin-rated chef Eric Vernice and partnered with high-end brand Sothys for major pampering. Future plans include a new beachfront restaurant and bar this fall, and it?s the first hotel to partner with renowned stationary designer Cheree Barry (who designed Chelsea Clinton's wedding invitations). See what I mean? G-A-Y.
5. Nightlife exists!
Even though Nikki Beach has long been closed, the number of ex-pats need something to do, let alone congregate off work-hours to drink and gossip about all the guests. A handful of beach and dive bars abound, all owned by ex-pats, like Jimmy's, a dive bar (in the SCUBA enthusiast sense) frequented more by locals than tourists, and perhaps the gay-friendliest on the island. The Flamingo Cafe a.k.a. Ricky's on the Beach (after the owner) is a rustic and romantic bar on the Grace Bay beach that gets traction around sunset. And if you want to stay up for sunrise, there's always the club at Gansevoort Hotel.