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The Turks and Caicos Islands (or "Turks and Who?" as they're often called) have long been dubbed the "forgotten islands." Sun worshippers discovered them in the early 1990s, however, and now there's talk of a "second Bahamas" in the making. Although they are actually part of the Bahamian archipelago, they are tucked away to the east of the southernmost islands of The Bahamas and governed separately.

Directly north of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the islands lie at the crossroads of the Caribbean and the Americas. Technically, however, this obscure outpost is not in Caribbean waters, but on the fringe of the Atlantic.

Grand Turk and Salt Cay (which constitute the Turks Islands) and Cockburn Harbour (South Caicos) are ports of entry, while the major island to visit is Provo.

Many of the islanders today work in the salt-raking industry; others export lobsters (crayfish), conch, and conch shells. But more and more, the citizens of this little country feed off the tourist industry. It's the kind of place where you still greet people as you encounter them walking along the roads.

The Turks and Caicos Islands are a coral-reef paradise, largely shut off from the world, free of pollution and crowds. Even with the advent of real tourist development and the bustle of construction, particularly in Provo, the beauty and tranquility of this little island chain remain intact. They're still off the beaten track, and they're not right for travelers who want lots of glitzy facilities or nightlife. You won't find the highly refined tourist infrastructure that exists in The Bahamas, but that's the appeal for some travelers.

What's beginning to put Turks and Caicos on the map is an incredible array of beaches -- 362km (225 miles) worth, to be precise. Some stretches of soft white sand run for miles; others are small, hidden in secluded coves. The islands are also home to some of the world's most magnificent underwater life. For years, divers and snorkelers have enjoyed the countless varieties of brilliant coral and colorful fish that thrive within TCI's nearly 805km (500-mile) pristine reef system.

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