Last updated on January 28, 2023 by Wandering our World
Two Caribbean archipelagos, two renditions of paradise. Both the Cayman Islands and Turks & Caicos are loved for their breathtaking landscapes, white sand beaches, perfect warm weather, delicious cuisines, high-end resorts, and natural attractions.
But, while these two destinations seem to offer similar experiences for a tropical holiday, they are more different than you might first think.
For example, the Cayman Islands offers a more vibrant nightlife, great diving spots, and more natural wonders. In contrast, Turks & Caicos has a more laid-back nightlife but features more islands and beaches to explore due to its size. It also tends to be a cheaper vacation .
But that’s just the beginning when comparing these two destinations.
Luckily we’re here to help! Wondering which island has the best beaches? Which one offers the most tourist activities? Curious about which destination has the better food? Read on as we cover all of this and much more – all so you can make the right decision!
- A Quick Overview
- How To Get There & Getting Around
- Which Has Better Beaches?
- Which Is Better For Snorkeling & Diving?
- Which Has Better Nightlife?
- Which Has Better Tourist Attractions and Activities?
- Where To Stay According To Your Budget
- Which Has Better Cuisine?
- When Is The Best Time To Visit?
- Which Is The Better Choice?
A Quick Overview
Cayman Islands: A Quick Overview
Located 450 miles southwest of Miami are the Cayman Islands, a group of three islands. Grand Cayman is the main island and is the biggest and most populated of the three, and the center of all things tourism. Its vibrant, yet laid-back atmosphere, offers visitors a little taste of everything.
The west end of Grand Cayman is full of life: Beaches, nightclubs, high-end resorts, luxurious shopping, and more. Towards the east is quieter and calmer. Perfect if you want to relax in nature away from the hustle and bustle of crowds.
The other two sister islands, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman are less developed and traveled.
Little Cayman is the smallest, least populous, and most serene of the three. There you can still find a pristine white sand beach all to yourself. Besides palm trees, beaches, and clear waters, Little Cayman is also known as being one of the best diving destinations in the Caribbean.
Furthest to the east is Cayman Brac, named after the gigantic limestone bluff on the island. It is the least visited and rocky of the three, famous for its limestone caves, blue holes, and diving spots. The island doesn’t really have sandy beaches as it’s made up of limestone and a rugged coastline.
In general, the Cayman Islands are famous for their pristine beaches, laid-back vibe, and spectacular diving sites. They are also known as the Culinary Capital of the Caribbean – we have more on that food scene later.
The Cayman Islands are also more popular and developed compared to Turks & Caicos. Nonetheless, it doesn’t carry the same touristy vibe like other Caribbean destinations (looking at you Barbados and Bahamas!). That’s partly because the tourism here is very high end.
However the prices reflect that, and the Cayman Islands are among the most expensive destinations in the Caribbean.
Turks & Caicos: A Quick Overview
On the other hand, Turks & Caicos comprises 40 different islands and cays, with only eight being inhabited. These islands are as diverse as the locals of Turks & Caicos. From the tourist mecca of Providenciales to the calm and serene islands of North and Middle Caicos. Each island offers a unique experience.
Providenciales (also known as Provo) is the most famous island and is at the heart of tourism in Turks and Caicos.
North and Middle Caicos offer the best of nature with lush woodlands, a wide range of flora and fauna and flamingo ponds, alongside the Caribbean’s most extensive cave network.
South Caicos is the country’s fishing capital and home to most of the secluded beaches. Grand Turk and Cay Salt are great for learning about Caribbean history and offer some of the best diving sites in the country.
Like the Cayman Islands, Turks and Caicos is renowned for its exceptional beaches, diving opportunities, and laid-back environment.
Turks & Caicos is also cheaper than the Cayman Islands. It’s also less tourist orientated and as it has 40 islands, you can still find beaches all to yourself. It is generally secluded, easy-going, and untouched.
Regarding safety, Turks & Caicos and the Cayman Islands are among the safest destinations in the Caribbean. They both record extremely low crime rates concerning tourists.
How To Get There & Getting Around
Arriving at these islands is a breeze, with the two primary modes being by air or sea. And once in the country, you can get around quite easily in several ways.
Cayman Islands: Getting There & Getting Around
All international airlines land at the Owen Roberts International Airport (GCM), the main airport in George Town, Grand Cayman.
George Town is the country’s capital and the main port for cruise ships too. The harbor can anchor up to 4 ships simultaneously, with popular cruises like Holland America Line, Carnival, Costa, and Celebrity stopping here.
When arriving you can get to your hotel from the airport by a pre-arranged shuttle or private vehicle. Alternatively, you can rent a car right at the airport.
Renting a car is probably the best and most economical way to move around the Cayman Islands. Taxis are also easily accessible but expensive. Buses are cheap and used mainly by locals to commute to work.
From Grand Cayman, the best and easiest way to travel to the sister islands is by using the local flight services offered by Cayman Airways and Island Air. In general though, we recommend the services of Cayman Airways. Luckily domestic flights are regular, and prices are kept low.
Although relatively expensive, you can also access the other islands from Grand Cayman by private boat as well as by plane. However using a boat is the best way to travel between Cayman Brac and Little Cayman.
Unfortunately, unlike other Caribbean destinations, the Cayman Islands lack an inter-island ferry service, making island-hopping a bit challenging.
Turks & Caicos: Getting There & Getting Around
Turks and Caicos is among the quickest Caribbean islands to reach as it’s only one and a half hours by plane from Miami!
All foreign flights arrive at Providenciales International Airport (PLS), one of the two main airports. The other airport, The JAGS McCartney International Airport (GDT), is in Grand Turk, where you can fly locally to and from the smaller islands.
Grand Turk is also the only port in the country and receives popular cruises, including Carnival and Norwegian.
Once on the island, a rental car or taxi is the best way to get around. But since only two islands, North and Middle Caicos, are connected by a road, domestic flights and ferries are the main ways to hop between islands in TCI.
You can also travel around using rented scooters or bicycles. Although they are inexpensive and fuel-efficient, you’ll have to endure the intense TCI sun. The country lacks public transport so it’s best not to rely on it to get around.
Which Has Better Beaches?
If you are looking forward to dipping your toes in powder-white sand, you can’t go wrong with either destination.
Both destinations offer gorgeous, endless stretches of shoreline and beautiful shades of blue water to enjoy.
In fact, both islands rank amongst some of the top destinations for beaches in the Caribbean. The two most celebrated being Grace Bay Beach in Providenciales, and Seven Mile Beach in Grand Cayman.
Both of these beaches have their own charm, on top of being watersport hotspots. They are also kid-friendly so perfect for families.
However, Turks & Caicos will be especially ideal for you if you are looking to beach and island hop, as it has far more beaches than the Cayman Islands.
Below we look at the beaches in each destination so you can see which one may suit you best.
Turks & Caicos: The Beaches
Extending a little over 3 miles, the picture-perfect Grace Bay Beach has garnered recognition around the world.
It offers unparalleled pristine white sand, clear blue waters, and some of the world’s top snorkeling and scuba diving spots. It’s also where some of the most opulent villas, resorts and private rentals are located in Providenciales.
Still on the island of Providenciales is Long Bay Beach, the perfect getaway for kiteboarding by virtue of the shallow waters and easterly trade winds. And if you are looking for a child-friendly beach with knee-high waters and shimmering sand, head to the nearby Tailor Bay Beach.
The historic Pillory Beach in Grand Turk offers a relaxing environment far from crowds. It is also perfect for swimming and snorkeling due to its varying terrain. Governor’s Beach, on the other hand, offers you more natural beauty than amenities.
In North Caicos, Whitby Beach tops the island’s list. It’s remote, quiet, and a fantastic spot for sunbathing, relaxing, swimming, and snorkeling.
Sandy Point Beach is another exciting place, especially if you want to explore remarkable landscapes of sandbars, dunes, and brilliant blue channels.
And of course, with Turks & Caicos being made up of 40 different islands and cays, it really is still possible to find your own remote slice of beach paradise here. Especially as the archipelago attracts less tourists than the Caymans.
Cayman Islands: The Beaches
The pride and joy of the Cayman Islands, Seven Mile Beach, also enjoys international recognition for its natural beauty.
It is more than twice the length of Provo’s Grace Bay Beach and is perfect for long beach walks. It also has sparkling waters, coral sands, and some of the Caribbean’s most luxurious hotels along its broad shoreline.
Rum Point is another treasure of this island nation. Besides the exemplary white sands and crystal clear and shallow waters, this beach is very tourist-oriented. So you’ll find plenty of bars, restaurants, change rooms, gift shops, beach chairs, and hammocks swinging beneath palm trees. Perfect for a full day at the beach!
North of Seven Mile is Cemetery Beach, one of the best spots to snorkel thanks to the offshore cemetery reef. The beach also offers some fantastic sunset views to enjoy in the evening.
Or head down to Little Cayman where Sandy Point is a golden reprieve if you wish to escape crowds.
Which Is Better For Snorkeling & Diving?
When it comes to snorkeling and deep-sea diving, the Cayman Islands and Turks and Caicos are unmatched.
Both destinations are world-famous for their underwater wonders, but the Cayman Islands offers more diving sites, making it argubaly the best location for divers.
Turks & Caicos: Snorkeling & Diving
Turks and Caicos gives you the opportunity to get up close and personal to the third-largest barrier reef in the world.
Some of this magnificent reef sits just a mile offshore at Grace Bay Beach, so it’s not difficult to access via boat for snorkeling and scuba-diving adventures.
Other major underwater attractions include the 7000 feet deep Grand Turk Wall, regarded as the “Grand Canyon of the Caribbean,” and the Molasses Reef Shipwreck – an ancient European shipwreck from the 16th century.
There are countless other exciting dive spots due to the ocean’s varying transitions from flat sandy ocean floor to vertical plateau walls. To top it all, the comprehensive selection of marine life in TCI makes diving and snorkeling very special there.
Cayman Islands: Snorkeling & Diving
On the other hand, the Cayman Islands is renowned as the birthplace of deep-sea diving in the Caribbean. And did you know that the archipelago has 365 diving sites – one for every day of the year!
There are, of course, too many sites to mention here. So we shall only touch on a few major ones:
Grand Cayman’s North Wall and Little Cayman’s Bloody Wall are perfect for wall-diving enthusiasts, while wreck-diving lovers can enjoy the ex-USS Kittiwake shipwreck on Seven Mile Beach.
Another must-do activity is snorkeling among stingrays at the world-renowned Stingray City where you can not only watch these graceful creatures but feed them too.
Which Has Better Nightlife?
While both the Cayman Islands and Turks & Caicos don’t have particularly wild and loud nightlife, the Caymans does have the better and more livelier nightlife scene of the two.
Nevertheless, both destinations still tend to lean more towards laid-back evenings where you recharge for the next day, rather than wild beach parties.
The big tourist hubs in each destination, Grand Cayman and Provo, feature a vast array of bars, restaurants, nightclubs and after-dark events to enjoy. But one significant difference is that while Provo has casinos, Grand Cayman does not.
Turks & Caicos: The Nightlife
In Provo, various large resorts like the adults-only Club Med Turkoise provide a lively party atmosphere for their guests, featuring special performances and nightclubs.
Local bars around the islands also hold special events, from live bands, karaoke and disco, to game nights and throwback parties. Danny Buoy’s Pub & Restaurant is one lively place you shouldn’t miss when in Grace Bay.
And if you really want to escape the hotels and resorts, there are numerous great beachfront locations to enjoy your night at. Sharkbite, Bob’s Bar, and Bugaloo’s Restaurant will not only offer you a fun outdoor atmosphere but also mouth-watering food and drinks.
Another popular activity is watching the sunset on the water by taking a boat cruise. On that note, taking a Glow Worm Cruise should top your list of night-time activities. This spectacular phenomenon happens only a few days a month when bioluminescent worms put on a captivating display in the ocean!
Cayman Islands: The Nightlife
In Grand Cayman, most nighttime action happens on the west coast. The long stretch at Seven Mile Beach, in particular, is lined with a great selection of resorts, bars, nightclubs, and restaurants to visit.
Calico Jack’s, Bar Jack, O Bar & Nightclub, and Silver Palm Lounge are some of the spots you should consider.
If you are looking for a more chilled area to spend a romantic night with your partner, then you can’t go wrong with George Town. The entertainment spots there offer the best views of the area’s beautiful scenery.
Savor the glorious sunset at Sunset House – My Bar. And for moviegoers, why not watch the latest releases at Camana Bay’s Cinema.
You can also take a cruise or helicopter tour to watch the sunset. And similar to Turks & Caicos, a Bioluminescent Kayak Tour should also be a priority when in Grand Cayman.
Other popular evening activities include night diving and fishing.
Which Has Better Tourist Attractions & Activities?
Overall, both destinations have a good number of fun activities and attractions.
However the activities in the Cayman Islands tend to sway more towards the natural beauty of the landscape and activities like diving & snorkeling. Whereas in the Turks & Caicos there’s more adventurous activities and water sports.
Looking at a few of the most popular and unique activities and attractions in each destination can help you decide which is more suited to you.
Turks & Caicos: Attraction and Activities
There’s plenty to do if you aren’t lounging on the sand, like going parasailing, jetskiing, kiteboarding, snorkeling, diving, kayaking, or deep-sea fishing in the pristine waters.
You can also take a private boat charter to Iguana Island to spot the endangered rock iguanas there, or simply enjoy your time on a wave runner.
Enjoying the sunset and endless sea views while on horseback at Long Bay Beach is another popular activity for all ages.
You can also go paddleboarding through Chalk Sound National Park where you can you enjoy some excellent sights.
Away from the waters, go hiking at the historic 4.6-mile Crossing Place Trail. The trail stretches along the scenic coastline through high cliffs and shores. Expect to see landmarks such as the Conch Bar Caves, the Juniper Hole, Mudjin Harbor, and Norbelis Coves, among others.
Also, consider walking around Cockburn Town, the capital and oldest town in TCI. Thanks to its oceanfront location, you’ll be met with scenic views of British colonial architecture and the Caribbean sea.
And while there, visit the Turks and Caicos National Museum for some history, go shopping, or just to enjoy some of the island’s best cuisines down Duke Street.
Cayman Islands: Attraction & Activities
As mentioned earlier, the Cayman Islands are packed with natural attractions. This includes the sparkling spectacle of Grand Cayman’s Crystal Caves.
It’s also in Grand Cayman where you can visit Hell, a popular area covered with sharp black limestone formations, almost the size of a football field.
A visit to Cayman Brac will also leave you in awe. With so much to explore there, make sure you take at least one of the dozen hiking trails through the tropical forests and wetlands. Take in the magnificent limestone bluff or embark on a rock-climbing expedition on one of the seventy five routes!
This island also has multiple caves; exploring the Skull, Nani, and Great Caves should be your top priority.
And if you want to experience the island at a softer pace, go cycling along the beach or enjoy a Cayman safari on top of a Land Cruiser.
Go swimming with turtles at the Cayman Turtle Center, then head to the Cayman Spirits Co. Distillery to taste the nation’s local spirits and beers, or the Queen Elizabeth II Botanical Park to relax in nature while trying to spot the unique Blue Iguana.
Alternatively, wear your most comfortable shoes and go wandering about George Town. Shop until you drop at duty-free stalls, marvel at art galleries, or take part in tasty rum tours.
Where To Stay According To Your Budget
The Cayman Islands
Budget: It’s hard to find a hotel near the beach on a Cayman Islands ‘budget’ price point, but the Hampton By Hilton is just that.
You’ll be just a 2-minute walk from Seven Mile Beach, have access to a lovely pool, as well as fantastic facilities. See photos and rates!
Luxury: The word ‘luxury’ and the Cayman Islands go hand in hand, and what better way to experience the best the islands have to offer than staying at the five-star Ritz-Carlton.
With tennis courts, swimming pools, direct beach access and some exceptional sea views, it’ll be hard to drag yourself away from this resort. But as the hotel is situated not only on Grand Cayman, but also on Seven Mile Beach, you’ll be right in the heart of the action. See photos and rates!
Turks & Caicos
Budget: The classy studios at Villa del Mar, which is located just a stone’s throw away from the beach in Grace Bay are worth the price you pay alone.
But couple that with the outdoor pool, hot tub, and the fact you’re close to whole bunch of restaurants and you can see why we think this is a fantastic choice on the islands. See photos and rates!
Luxury: You can’t get more luxurious than The Palms Turks and Caicos which sits right on the beach at Grace Bay.
The beach, facilities and world class service are fantastic, but the real star of the show is the huge outside infinity pool with sea views. See photos and rates!
Which Has Better Cuisine?
A vacation is only complete when you explore the cuisine of the destination, as that’s one of the best ways to get an authentic taste and insight into a nation’s culture.
Regarding the culinary scene, brace yourself for an interesting ride in both destinations. Their local foods are delicious and quite similar. And like any other Caribbean nation, seafood is the main ingredient in most dishes here.
Another similar aspect of their cuisines is that they have many outside influences.
Turks & Caicos: The Food
A trip to the Turks & Caicos allows you to enjoy almost every cuisine on earth. In Provo, you’ll find everything from high-end blends and European foods to African, Indian, and Chinese cuisines.
But the indigenous dishes of TCI tend to be seafood and corn-based.
Grits and Johnny Cakes are distinct specialties of this nation. But even though nowadays it is hard to find local foods in Provo, you’ll get an opportunity to experience them – and a more traditional way of life – if you travel to Middle Caicos.
Other local dishes you should try include cornbread, steamed or stewed conch, cod fish cakes, stewed fish, conch fritters, and deep-fried fish. Crab and rice is also a popular meal.
Da Conch Shack and Bugaloos are two of our favorite local restaurants to consider for an authentic taste of the cuisine in Turks & Caicos.
On the same note, the country holds events and festivals where you can enjoy the local cooking styles. Thursday Night Fish Fry is held every Thursday in Provo, while The Conch Festival is hosted every last weekend of November in Provo too.
Cayman Islands: The Food
The Cayman Islands’ love for its food culture has earned it the title of ‘Culinary Epicenter of the Caribbean.’
However the islands are actually home to more than 100 nationalities, so naturally there’s a wide selection of culinary delights to enjoy.
But even though most of the island’s dishes are an eclectic fusion of international cultures, Jamaican food culture remains at the core.
Traditional recipes of the Caymans include conch, turtle meat, tuna, mahi, plantains, coconut, yams, rice, and beans as specialties.
And after your main course, save space for the island’s classic desert! Spicy cassava cake prepared with coconut.
The country is filled with outstanding restaurants that offer authentic cuisine too. Overlooking the sea, the Calypso Grill in West Bay is the perfect spot for casual and cozy dining, while Blue by Eric Ripert is excellent for an evening of fine dining when visiting Seven Mile Beach.
Regarding food festivals, Cayfest is a significant event that sees top chefs serve you traditional foods you can rarely find. Other celebrations worth looking into are the Taste of Cayman Food and Wine Festival and the Cayman Cookout.
When Is The Best Time To Visit?
When planning any vacation to the Caribbean, three things should be considered: crowds, pricing, and hurricanes. The best time to visit a destination is when the weather is favorable, the crowds are few, and the prices are low.
With that in mind, you’ll enjoy the best combination of weather, availability of amenities and pricing when you visit Turks & Caicos between April and June. This is referred to as the ‘shoulder season.’ For the Cayman Islands, it’s between May and July.
But if you are looking to travel to TCI when the weather is most pleasant, consider December through April. The same goes for the Cayman Islands. This is the peak season, and it aligns with spring break.
The only pitfall with this time is that prices are at their highest and accommodation availability is the lowest.
And since both islands are within the hurricane belt, you may want to avoid visiting either destination between July and November which is the hurricane season. However this is also when you can strike a good deal regarding flights and accommodation.
Cayman Islands vs Turks & Caicos: Which Is The Better Choice?
There are plenty of things that make these tropical islands quite similar: spectacular beaches, watersports, laid-back vibes, and delectable cuisines. But we’ve also seen a few aspects that set them apart.
For instance, Turks & Caicos has more islands and beaches, so if island and beach hopping is your thing, then this destination will be perfect. It also offers a more chilled-out vibe and is generally cheaper than the Cayman Islands.
In contrast, the Cayman Islands are perfect for diving enthusiasts and are also ideal if you are looking for a lively nightlife alongside some great natural attractions.
At the end of the day, whichever you choose we’re sure you’re not going to be disappointed. Safe travels!