Vacation in Style on Ambergris Cay, Turks and Caicos
By Candyce H. Stapen
When asked to describe my fantasy island vacation, my response always includes space. Not the moon and the stars kind, but the sort that comes with deserted beaches, acres of scrub brush, an abundance of birds and critters that chirp and rustle in the leaves, plus great food, service and lodging. After all, a vacation is no place for self-denial. I found my dream getaway at Ambergris Cay, a resort in South Caicos, part of the Turks and Caicos island chain.
Privacy is the new luxury, especially in a world still cautious about COVID-19. For me, the Bahamas and the Caribbean, jewels with sugar-soft beaches and turquoise waters, have always been healing places. But I wasn't ready for crowded sands and restaurants shared with hundreds of other guests. Even if I were, my Shangri-La comes with a limited number of other explorers. I sought a natural environment with superb services.
Ambergris Cay, an all-inclusive property, reigns as the only resort on the 1,100-acre island. With about 10 villas in the rental pool, a handful of others occasionally occupied by owners plus 10 oceanfront suites, the maximum capacity with every pillow taken hovers around 100, and the number is lower most of the year.
When I buzzed around the island in my golf cart -- the vehicles come with each lodging -- I spotted scores more endangered Turks and Caicos rock iguanas than fellow vacationers. The fat-bellied critters (iguanas, not guests) thrive in the little-developed island's natural ground cover, thickets of mangrove, bayberry, mahogany and wild grasses. The mini-dinosaurs avoid the Turk's head cacti, the indigenous barrel cactus topped with a red cap that resembled a Turkish fez to early explorers.
At Ambergris Cay, all-inclusive means not just food and drinks but also experiences, including boat outings, kayaking, tennis and daily 30-minute massages.
Newfound friends and I took advantage of the complimentary boat excursions. As we cruised past the resident flock of pink flamingos that roost on the harbor's jetty, the big birds drew in their stilty legs, spread their downy wings and flew like hovering angels to a nearby sand bar. At Fish Cay, a nature reserve with sheltered beaches and limestone bluffs, we lunched and snorkeled. From our perch on the lounge chairs, the sea spread out before us, a quilt of deep and light blues that shimmered in the sunlight. We saw no other boats or people. I savored the heavenly sight of a long-ago Bahamas and Caribbean.
Some guests go bone-fishing in the shallows off other islets, and others head to deeper waters for sport fishing. When a guest reeled in a grouper, he generously shared the fresh ceviche the staff prepared for dinner. The food at Ambergris Cay is noteworthy. I appreciated that guests selected courses from an ever-changing menu of options that included crab cakes, Caribbean lobster, New York strip steak, and local mahi-mahi and grouper.
If you prefer to dine in, the butler who comes with the room will gladly bring the meal to you. William thoughtfully brought afternoon chips and other snacks to the villa and kept the wine rack full and the refrigerator stocked with water, sodas, juices and whatever else I requested. He also drove the golf cart at night, expertly turning down the right dirt path to my villa. Signs are few and unlit.
Although all accommodations feature plunge pools and my shore-side villa had expansive ocean views, it lacked a beach. When I craved exploring the island's beaches, William drove me, setting up chairs, towels and a cooler of drinks. Monck Beach, a wide swath of white sand, fronts the one-bedroom suites. I swam while watching a dad and his daughter kayak. At Columbus Beach, the setting for a row of rental villas, the gentle slope made swimming more fun. At Salt Rackers Cove, sea turtles sometimes swim lazily in the calm bay that fronts the Clubhouse, geared to kids and teens. Staff members teach kayaking, play foosball and pingpong with the older kids and do arts and crafts with younger children.