Private paradise at Turks and Caicos' Ambergris Cay

The 10 beachfront suites at Ambergris Cay are airy and light-filled.
The 10 beachfront suites at Ambergris Cay are airy and light-filled.

"The golf cart comes with a built-in GPS," Marcia Rodrigues, hotel manager at Ambergris Cay in the Turks and Caicos, reassured me. "You can't get lost."

I'm known to be directionally challenged when it comes to driving, so this wasn't a sure thing.

But I did not get lost. My top speed was never more than 10 mph while I navigated sand and coral-rock roads on a private 1,100-acre island housing one resort, a couple of dozen villas, a nature preserve and 10,000 or so rock iguanas.

I braked to a full stop each time one of those dinosaur look-alikes crossed my path. Protected and tagged, they are the cherished inhabitants of this small piece of paradise at the southeastern tip of the necklace of 40 or so islands that make up the Turks and Caicos.

Ambergris Cay, not to be confused with Ambergris Caye in Belize, is the newest addition to the Turks and Caicos Collection that launched as an all-inclusive brand in June 2017 and now totals four properties.

Three are on the main island of Providenciales: the 47-suite Blue Haven Resort that reopened in 2015 following the closure of the former Nikki Beach Resort in 2009; the 90-room Alexandra Resort; and the 21-suite Beach House. Ambergris Cay joined the collection in mid-2017 and officially opened its 10 beachfront suites on Dec. 1, 2018.

It's been a private island since 1811. Not much happened there until the late 20th century, when the Turks and Caicos Sporting Club opened to an upscale clientele looking for privacy and rustic Caribbean charm. That closed in 2011.

Complimentary air transfers are provided for resort guests, and the 18-minute flight in a six-passenger Cessna over the breathtaking turquoise waters of the Caicos Bank is a fitting introduction to what lies ahead.

Rodrigues, several team members and the chief of the one-truck Ambergris Cay Fire Department served as the welcoming committee for my group when the Cessna touched down one afternoon in early May.

"Here is peace and tranquility, all with a rustic luxury feel," Rodrigues said. "We hope you will enjoy your stay."

Ambergris Cay is an 18-minute flight from Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos.
Ambergris Cay is an 18-minute flight from Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos.

And I certainly did, from the moment I stepped into Suite No. 6, a charming, white, beachfront cottage with a plunge pool and an outdoor shower on the wraparound limestone veranda, chaise lounges, a picnic table and outside seating, all just three steps from Monck's Beach.

The interior was a high-ceilinged, high-tech masterpiece but clean, uncluttered and spacious, again all in white, with accent colors provided by the throw pillows, the artwork and accessories.

I spoke with the designer, Nicole van Schouwenburg, who had flown in from her home in The Hague to begin work on redecorating the 22 privately owned villas scattered about the island, many of which are in the rental pool.

She and Erik Kor, a furniture maker, had begun with a blank canvas on the 10 one-bedroom guest suites, which a year and a half ago had only their foundations in place.

"All of the furniture was designed and custom-made, and much of it sourced from all over," she said.

"The cactus decoration is from Spain. The baskets were woven by skillful weavers in Ubud, Bali. The toilet paper holder is a branch of driftwood from Columbus Beach, here on the island," van Schouwenburg said.

A mystifying array of devices lined the drawer in the bedside table. These included a remote control to raise and lower the shades, another to raise the TV at the foot of the bed, two more to operate the TV plus a cellphone to ring the staff.

"We are changing this to [all controls on] one iPad for each guest," Rodrigues said.

The bathroom was a stunner. A long wall of green and gold mosaic tiles lined the shower area with two rainfall showerheads. This was separated by a sheet of glass from the long, trough-like sink basin.

White flip-flops replaced the usual slippers found in guestrooms. The sliding door had screens, the DeLonghi espresso maker brewed a perfect cup and the WiFi was A-plus.

Included in the rates -- $6,000 per night, double, in winter and $4,000 per night, double, in summer with a four-night minimum stay -- are all meals and beverages in two restaurants and in the suites, daily spa treatments, use of electric golf carts and bikes, watersports, nature hikes, a beach picnic on nearby Little Ambergris Cay, tennis and WiFi. A diving program is in the works as is a wellness program and a hydroponic garden. Kids ages 12 and under are free.

Commission is 10% and is paid on the full rate, including tax and service charges.

"Bookings are handled 24/7 by Ultimate Resort Vacations," said Kevin Matier, director of sales and marketing. "Our business thus far is about 30% from agents, and we hope to build that up."

A travel agent specialist program is planned as is the construction of 10 two-bedroom guest suites on a hillside behind the current suites.

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