Where to find the world's best beach
It's a shining jewel that often ranks as the world's best beach, yet most of us don't know it - or more importantly, where to find it.
Grace Bay Beach, with its white-sand beaches and clear blue water, is a tropical dream floating in the Caribbean. It's a 90-minute flight from Florida's Miami, or a three-hour jaunt from New York.
"Grace Bay is a hot button for travellers right now," says Mona Beeson, general manager of The Sands At Grace Bay.
"A lot of tourists have already been to Hawaii or Mexico, so they want to see something new - and Turks and Caicos is relatively new.
"The Caribbean is coming back into people's awareness."
The sheer beauty of the place is what makes it so special, especially at sunset. Time to sit under a coconut palm and order cocktails, as a red sun sets over the water.
As Caribbean torches and kerosene lanterns are lit at restaurant tables along the beach, all you can hear is the sound of the waves.
"People often compare us to other Caribbean places, but I always say the beach here is so much better," Beeson says.
Turks and Caicos attracts about one million visitors per year. Grace Bay Beach, which stretches out for over 11km, was voted the world's best beach two years in a row by TripAdvisor travellers.
Grace Bay is a popular dive spot, with an incredible 2134-metre deep wall for scuba divers and the world's third-largest barrier reef.
Luke Santo, from snorkel tour operation Reef Peepers, says divers can see large stingray, sea turtles, barracuda, sharks, snapper, lobster and grouper - and seasonally, dolphins and whales.
"Everything is bigger out there on the wall," he says.
It's true. We snorkelled right off Grace Bay and at times were surrounded by 10 to 20 huge fish, which swam so close I could nearly touch them.
Then there is the daily parade of water sports - in the air and along the beach - parasailing, water-skiing, banana boating, fishing, paddle-boarding and kayaking.
And there are plenty of day-trip options. Reef Peepers collects us on the beach in their boat for a half-day snorkel adventure to the reef with our nine-year-old son where we see lots of fish and soft coral.
We also visit nearby Iguana Island, inhabited by up to 3000 iguanas, many of which obligingly ran up to pose for our cameras.
And we catch our own lunch - conch (like calamari) - made into salad for lunch on the boat. We take the shells home as a souvenir.
It's the simple, natural experiences like these that are drawing more tourists to the area, says Beeson.
It's also a very safe destination for travellers and the British-administered government wants to keep it that way. Grace Bay is being developed as a high-end destination, which now boasts a number of international gourmet chefs.
Celebrities have recently raised the profile of the islands, with Donna Karan, Bruce Willis, Keith Richards and Christie Brinkley owning property on the nearby expensive luxury destination, Parrot Cay.
But Grace Bay Beach is more affordable.
There are weekly hotel music nights, barbecues and bonfires on the beach at Grace Bay, plus golf, shopping and a casino.
You can easily catch a plane to Grand Turk, the capital, to see magnificent historic Caribbean buildings and have a stingray encounter, but be warned - this is where the cruise ships go.
Another option is booking a local ferry to North Caicos to learn how the locals live and see ruins, flamingos and a plantation.
Hotel development on Turks and Caicos stalled for a while due to investor bankruptcy and alleged government corruption. But the pace of life on Grace Bay now seems set to change, with the local Providenciales airport undergoing a US$70 million expansion and new hotels on the way.
The Sands At Grace Bay is a stylish mid-range hotel for families, with kitchens, a supermarket shuttle and pools, spa and free snorkel equipment for guests.
But Lonely Planet's pick is the casually elegant Sibonne Beach Hotel, the first hotel built on Grace Bay in the late 1980s.
At its peaceful plantation-style verandah restaurant, you can eat with your feet in the sand, near hammocks strung up by the pool, underneath the budlging bunches of bananas and coconuts hanging from the palms.
Marie van Rooyen, acting manager at the Sibonne, has worked on the island for seven years and says she fell in love with it "immediately".
"At times I still sit down for dinner here and find I can't stop staring at the sunset."
American Airlines flies to Providenciales Airport in Turks and Caicos from Miami, New York and a number of other US cities (www.aa.com).
British Airways flies to Providenciales from London (www.ba.com).
Sands At Grace Bay (www.thesandstc.com). Sibonne Beach Hotel (www.sibonne.com).