Resort Report for our holiday in Allegro Resort, Providenciales, Turks & Caicos, July 2003.
The Turks and Caicos Islands are a British Crown Colony at the end of the Bahamas Chain, about 100 miles north of Haiti/Dominican Republic. They drive on the left although most of the vehicles are left hand drive. The islands are supposedly tax free in that there is no Income or Capital Gains Tax. However, almost everything has to be imported - and Import Tax means that in effect prices in the supermarkets are much much higher than in the UK. Property is very expensive, especially where you have views over the ocean. Providenciales ("Provo") is the main tourist island.
Our British Airways flight to the resort was good - a scheduled flight means more room in cattle class, and free drinks all the way across. The scheduled stop in Nassau, Bahamas, was mercifully short, and we soon were flying low over the sensational Caicos Bank. The island group sits on the top of this Bank - a huge flat-topped column rising sheer from the ocean bottom for over a mile, with the top of the column just a few meters below sea level. The sandy top means that the sea glows in every gorgeous shade of blue imaginable, with the low, flat islands just poking above the surface. This also provides fabulous wall-diving where the vertical drop-off passes close to the islands. There are some thirty significant islands in the Group, with Provo towards the western end of the chain, and Grand Turk at the east.
The island of Provo looks unimpressive as the plane lines up on the runway - a flat, scrubby, inhospitable landscape of hard coral limestone rocks and fetid-looking swamps, with building sites scattered all around.
The airport is fairly small, in keeping with the island's size (19 miles long). A long queue to get through immigration - and there were no luggage trolleys available by the carousel. Customs inspection on the way in was cursory (completely the opposite on the way out - on leaving the island our suitcases were opened and thoroughly rummaged through by a lady in rubber gloves).
Then our first major disappointment with Thomas Cook. They had provided us with a voucher for the transfer from airport to hotel - but the taxi drivers all turned their noses up at it, and Allegro certainly hadn't sent anyone to pick us up. We sat outside Arrivals wondering what to do. Eventually a taxi driver who was taking a fare to an hotel next door took pity on us.
The roads are badly potholed, although something is now being done to improve the main trunk road that runs the length of the island. The view from the taxi as we drove across the island was of a grubby building site, littered with empty beer bottles, with occasional smarter areas. The inhabited parts of the island are not generally attractive - until you get to the tourist strip. Then it's very different - the bare earth and scrubby fetid swamps and building sites give way to lush manicured green lawns, tinkling fountains, marble and polished wood.
Hot and sunny. The beach was easy to walk over, even at noon. We were there in early/mid May. We had about 5 days of the 14 when it rained - at worst for a couple of hours before the sun came out again. Some spectacular thunderstorms. We chose to dress for dinner (long trousers and a short-sleeve shirt for John, a sun-dress for Linda), but really it was warm enough for shorts and T-shirt. During the day shorts and T-shirt were sufficient to walk around in outside the hotel.
Ports of Call
This is the name of a small shopping centre right outside the resort gates. There are several tourist shops selling T-shirts, postcards etc, a shop selling booze, soft drinks and magazines, the main Dive Provo shop, car hire shop, a cafe/snack bar and an Internet Cafe.
TIP: use the Internet Cafe to make international phone calls. A card gives you 12 minutes to phone the UK for just US$10 - a lot cheaper than using the hotel room phone. And you get 15 minutes internet access for US$5.
Oh dear. Since writing this review we've discovered that Allegro Resort was bulldozed flat shortly after we left. The review comments about the hotel are now therefore irrelevant, and have been removed. However, there's plenty more about the beautiful beaches and the fantastic diving to be had in Turks and Caicos, so do read on....
Sensational beach on Grace Bay on the north coast of Provo. A wide strip of powdery soft white coral sand, stretching for miles along Grace Bay. Warm sea, gently shelving. Occasional stingrays swimming past in the shallows. One neighbour on the beach claimed to have a seen a dolphin peering at him (too many Pina Coladas?). Lots of sunbeds, quite a few substantial wooden sun shades. We always managed to find shade to lie in - but in high season this might not always be possible. The favourite pastime seemed to be power walking along the seashore the length of the bay, or (in our case) watching people power walking along the seashore. There were three wooden walkways down onto the beach - the middle one usually had a keg of iced water with plastic cups attached.
We weren't pestered, the only time we were approached was by the watersports guys. There were the usual watersports available - banana boat rides, jet-skis, parasailing, water-skiing and so on. I intended to take out a Hobie Cat, but somehow I just didn't quite get around to it......
We hired a crappy Chinese Jeep for a day from the Ports of Call Car Hire Shop at an outrageous price of about USD90 (and that was an end of season special offer) and drove out to Malcolm's Road Beach in the NorthWest Point National Park. This is a sensational almost deserted beach at the western end of the island. The last 4 kilometers of the road were a white knuckle ride - a first and second gear, bouncy, rock strewn, rutted dirt track. We understood why we had been asked to sign a disclaimer when we hired the Jeep stating that insurance didn't cover us on this road - other people told us that it would cost USD750 to be rescued from this road if the car broke down. Although there were a few other sun-worshippers during the middle of the day, by 4 pm we were the only couple on the beach. Take drinks with you as there are no bars/cafes here and also take some bread to feed to the friendly Turnstones that come to see you as soon as you lay out your towel.
At the end of the beach were several 'Tiki Huts'. These are the remains of wooden huts used in a 1980's French TV Game show, much like 'Survivor'. Contestants had to perform a series of tasks, occasionally underwater, in order to obtain food and water to survive in this remote part of Provo. The game show was cancelled after two contestants suffered lung damage when trying to carry out the underwater tasks without adequate scuba training.
We were horrified to hear from the dive staff that there are imminent plans to build a hotel on this unspoiled remote beach. Catch it while you can. (2008 Update: Too late - it's already happened.)
Excellent diving from Dive Provo - very professional with lots of fast boats. The staff are mostly Brits, and they are all cheerful, chatty, helpful and courteous. They have a dive shop, an equipment store, a jetty and two boats on the resort site. They also have at least two other boats on the south side of the island for trips to the more remote southern islands of West Caicos and French Cay. They don't do nitrox.
They have morning two-tank dives, and afternoon one-tank dives. They also do a night dive on a Wednesday. You are asked to be on the jetty by 0815 for the morning boat, but you then have to hang around waiting for everybody else to turn up (many arrive on a brightly painted coach from other resorts). The boats rarely get away from the jetty before 0845. They usually don't know where the morning dive boats are going until about 4pm the previous day, and sometimes change them at the last minute. I had heard that French Cay was a good remote dive site, but it was never a stated destination - I found out that one day the skipper of the West Caicos boat decided to go to French Cay instead after he'd left the jetty. So I never got to French Cay - annoying.
I did twelve dives (six morning trips), and qualified for a package price. I hired a BCD and reg, both of which were good quality. The staff dress your tank for you, and even carry it to the back of the boat where you don it ready for the Giant Stride off the stern - they don't like you walking about the boat by yourself wearing fins and a tank, in case you trip and dent it. This does mean that it can take up to ten minutes to get all the divers into the water. Once all divers are in, the leader kits up and jumps in. You can either stay on the surface and wait for him/her, or if you're easy on air, drop down to the reef-top and potter about until he/she descends. You get the choice to follow the leader, or go off on your own in buddy pairs if they are happy with your ability. At the end of the dive, you slip out of your BCD at the top of the ladder, and they carry it back to the rack behind your seat.
The usual dive profile is to assemble under the boat as described at 12-15m, then swim over to the wall drop-off at around 15m, and descend vertically over the edge or down a vertical swim-through, emerging out onto the wall face at around 25m. You then swim along the wall at 25-30m for 15-20 mins or so, before rising back to the reef top and turning 180 degrees back along the top of the wall until you arrive back under the boat after 30-35 mins. You can then potter around under the boat until you run out of air or bottom time, or the leader gets fed up waiting for you.
Dive times are officially limited to 45 minutes, but there is some flexibility on this - some dive leaders are happy to let you stay longer. My longest dive was 66 mins (but that included 8 mins pottering about on the reef top waiting for the leader to descend - I was first in the water that day).
They go to Grace Bay (ie in front of the resort), Pine Cay (30 mins away), NorthWest Point (45 mins), West Caicos (1 bumpy hour) and French Cay (1.5 hrs). There are several sites at each of these locations. My favourite area was NorthWest Point. Nearly all the sites are buoyed, so that the reef isn't damaged by dropping the hook on top of it.
Remarkably little current. Lots of fabulous reef fish and corals and sponges on the walls. Plenty of turtles, stingrays, sharks (Nurse, Caribbean and Grey Reef), lobsters and morays. Other people saw eagle rays, dolphins and even a small hammerhead. Once, when returning from a West Caicos trip, we saw from the dive boat a couple of dolphins swimming on the surface.
Dive sites visited were:
The north west end of Provo island is an uninhabited scrub-covered area. The vertical wall runs a few hundred meters off of, and parallel to, the west coast. There are half a dozen buoyed dive sites on the edge of the wall.
- Chimney (dived 3 times). Flat reef-top at about 12m, leading to abrupt vertical wall going down to 5,000ft. Partially enclosed vertical chimney to swim down through from the reef top, emerging at about 27m. Sensational corals and sponges on the wall - tubes, barrels, elephant ear, fans etc. Sharks passing by off the wall below us, turtles on the reef top, lobsters waving their tentacles at us from crevices in the wall, moray eels on the reeftop swimming between and lurking under coral heads. Lots of good reef fish.
- Eel Garden (twice). Similar flat reef-top plus vertical wall a kilometer from Chimney. The boat picks up a mooring next to a large area of sand flat, populated by hundreds of Garden Eels. We saw a turtle swimming beneath us while at 25m beside the wall. Lots of big lobsters in crevices on the wall. Good reef-top.
- Black Coral Forest (once). Similar layout to the nearby Chimney, flat reef-top and wall. Black Coral (which is green) at 20-25m on the wall. The leader pointed out a Decorator Crab (tiny, well-camouflaged, wriggling red & white) on Black Coral finger. Excellent sponges & coral on wall.
- Thunderdome (once). Just 100m inshore from Chimney (we did both sites in one dive), Thunderdome is the site of the underwater tasks that the contestants had to carry out in a 1980's French "Survivor"-style game show. Like the Thunderdome in the Mad Max movie, it was a hemispherical iron grillwork dome, sitting on a sand floor at 15m, and with a single narrow entrance/exit at the top, about 8m deep. Contestants had to free-dive down and search for "pearls" hidden in the dome, begging lungfuls of air from scantily-clad "mermaids" with scuba tanks. Back on shore at the "Tiki huts" where they lived, they could exchange the pearls for food and water. Unfortunately the show was canned after two contestants suffered lung damage - they hadn't been trained to breathe out when surfacing from the dome. We saw a friendly nurse shark swimming around the Thunderdome, keeping an eye on us.
For the West Caicos dives, you are taken across the island by bus over dirt roads to a marina at the south-east end of Provo. It's then a one hour, bumpy trip over to West Caicos Island, ending in a hair-raising high-speed dash, parallel to, and a few yards from, the northern coast's beach round to the dive sites on the wall to the west of the island. Sad to say, this uninhabited National Park island is also being developed into a resort. How do they get away with it? (2008 Update: They don't. The Ritz-Carlton "Molasses Reef" development was a casualty of the 2008 economic crisis - it was being financed by Lehmann Brothers, and was simply abandoned when they went bust. July 2012 Update: The Gleaner reports a Ritz-Carlton spokesman stating that the development is "on hold for the time being". October 2014 Update: All reference to this proposed development has disappeared from Ritz-Carlton's web site - presumably the building site is either abandoned or sold off to somebody else.) October 2015 Update: According to 2014 reports from the Turks and Caicos Sun and the Turks and Caicos Weekly News, the property has been sold to European developers, many of the half-completed buildings are to be demolished and re-built, and the project is still at the planning stage.
The dive sites again concentrate on the vertical wall drop-off just a few hundred meters from the island's west coast.
- The Gulley (dived once). Similar flat reef top and vertical wall arrangement again. Like the Chimney, with an almost vertical, almost enclosed swim-through, emerging onto the wall at about 25m. The usual spectacular sponges and corals on the wall, plus great reef-top corals and reef life.
- Spanish Anchor (twice). Again, an almost vertical gulley emerging on the wall at 25m, but this time, there is a 200 year old ship's anchor jammed in the gulley, now thoroughly encrusted with coral almost obstructing the swim-through. You swim right past, and can touch, this link with the Caribbean's maritime past. In the dive leader's brief, he conjured up a picture of a Spanish galleon caught in a gale, the poor sailors desperately struggling with the jammed anchor in a storm, and eventually having to cut it free and abandon it for future generations of divers to marvel at. Who knows, he might even be right......
- Magic Mushroom (once). Named after a mushroom-shaped rock nearby which disappears and reappears as the tides rise and fall.... The wall here is not quite so vertical. Marbled moray eel seen free-swimming between the coral heads on the reef top. This was the second dive of the day, and we all ran out of bottom time and had to come up early.
Pine Cay is an island to the north-east of Grace Bay. The drop-off is not as vertical as at Provo's Northwest Point or West Caicos. This means more varied scenery, not just horizontal and vertical, but more "rolling hills".
- Football Field (dived once). A largish flat sandy area surrounded by coral walls. Somebody saw an eagle ray, but I didn't. Good coral, sponges, reef fish.
- Eagle Ray Pass (once). Similar to Football Field. Named after the eagle rays which frequent this area, and which I didn't see....
Best dives were those on Northwest Point - not too far away, and with spectacular walls with lots of sponges and corals and reef fish.
My 12 dives worked out at about GBP31.50 each.
I've removed the photos of Allegro Resort following its demolition. Here are the remaining pics of the Resort's beach and the beautiful Malcolm's Road Beach.
Overall, we enjoyed our stay at Allegro. Very relaxing - we could readily have spent another couple of weeks lying on the beach. The hotel's good points outweighed the bad points. Just make sure you get a room with a decent bathroom. Would we go again? Probably not to Provo as there are so many other places to visit. And it was pretty expensive....