Saturday, September 20, 2014

#650 Grace Bay, Turks and Caicos Islands

The 11 or so kilometers of soft white sand that make up Grace Bay's beach are reported to be one of the best beaches in the Caribbean - in fact in 2011 and 2012, TripAdvisor users voted it the best beach destination in the world. If one was counting large resorts (30+), the presence of such a variety of places to stay would certainly convince you: from the Seven Stars, to Grace Bay Club, Club Med, the Somerset, the Venetian, Windsong, the Alexandria, the Sands or the all-inclusive Beaches, this is the destination for the island of Providenciales, plus there are also many smaller resorts and private residences.
Trying to capture its loveliness is difficult as every image seems similar - it's just so perfect. What is it that makes it great? The reef prevents any large waves so it is calm and safe -- surf lovers can look elsewhere on the island. The waters are a perfect, beautiful turquoise and blue, apparently from the purity of the white sand (which is so fine it acts like a glue on your feet!). There is world-class diving on the wall of the surrounding reef -- it is part of the third-largest barrier reef system in the world. Perhaps its so great because it seems no one has heard of it?
It got its start when Club Med built an exclusive hotel in 1984, and as it was a deserted beach until then, it was idyllic (only nearby Turtle Cove had begun to be developed). 
Note: The Turks and Caicos Islands are part of the British West Indies, a territory of Britain.

Monday, September 8, 2014

#651 Trinidad, Cuba

Sitting on the steps next to the Iglesia de Santisima Trinidad, which wind their way up to the Casa de la Musica, listening to the beautiful jazzy music and watching couples dancing in the muggy night, drinking Havana Rum: this is a romantic memory of Cuba. Trinidad is the postcard image of this proud country, and its old city evokes the feeling that it is in its prime. The architecture is simply spectacular: The buildings are immaculate, beautifully painted in pastel colors and restored with polished wooden doors, wrought iron grills, and the cobblestones see very little traffic to disrupt the history.
Founded by Diego Velazquez de Cuellar in 1514, its full name is Villa de la Santisima Trinidad. However, its beauty was founded on the rich sugar valleys surrounding it, and it is one of the best preserved cities of the era in the Caribbean, with elaborate 18th and 19th century palaces in mixed styles layered over the Spanish colonial plazas and gardens (none of which are square). Nowadays, it's a tobacco processing area, although it would be easy to believe that tourism keeps it alive. Since 1988, along with the nearby Valle de los Ingenios ("Valley of the Sugar Mills", which produced the sugar that made it wealthy), it is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Beautiful waterfalls are nearby in the Sierra del Escambray, 15 minutes away across salt-flats, white-sand Ancon Beach is spectacular, and the wealth of snorkeling in Casilda Bay lures still others (see a list of 10 popular choices for visitors). Did you know there's even a cave discotheque and another in the ruins of a church?

Most stay in colonial Casas Particulares (homestays), where time seems to have stopped pre-Independence. Despite the busloads of tourists, Trinidad has retained its peaceful tranquility, and a climb to the top of the Convento de San Francisco de Asis, with its pretty circular windows and its beautiful breezes shows a view of pastel blends and a gentle continuation of life much as it has gone on for centuries or at least decades.
The Plaza Mayor and the Cathedral.