Salt Cay, with its sixty or so residents, has the smallest population of all the islands. This island is tiny, shaped like a shark’s tooth and is located approximately 90 miles southeast of Providenciales. Visitors are struck by the sheer calmness of life in its only community Belfour Town. In most western hemisphere communities there are rules governing what size of population constitutes a hamlet, village, or town. Not so here. At one time this island boasted a total of 1,100 residents who lived in three distinct communities called Northtown, Southtown and, of course, Belfour Town. Salt Cay blends the old and the new in a way that fondly preserves the past while following the “timeless” pace of days gone by. Salt Cay is also immaculately clean and Belfour Town is neatly laid out. Like South Caicos and Grand Turk, the other salt islands, buildings in Belfour Town employ 18th and 19th century Bermudian-style architecture. St. John’s Anglican church, built in the 1790’s, is a fine example of this architectural era. Visiting Salt Cay is like going back into the 19th century.
Belfour Town is also the centre of the island’s small tourist industry and this is where most of the overnight accommodation is located. Well kept, brightly painted quaint little homes offer bed and breakfast and edify the tranquil serenity of this special Caribbean retreat.
A 10 minute flight from Grand Turk ends with a landing at Salt Cay’s small airport with a tiny terminal building where you will likely be met by Nathan Smith who operates the island’s only taxi service. Nathan also serves as the airport agent and rents golf carts which are the most popular means of transportation on the island. Of course Salt Cay is also accessible by water and being very close to Grand Turk many boats come here to anchor offshore for diving. Salt Cay is also in the migratory path of humpback whales that pass by the island in the winter months, between January and May, on their way to warmer waters. The island’s whale-watching credentials are supported by the fact that in 1846 a whaling company was established here. The whaling company ceased operation when the whales, a few years later, decided to take a different route to warmer waters. Luckily for the whale watchers, the whales have now reverted to their former migratory path and normally pass by our shores in January, February and March of each year.
For divers there are two blue holes near the island. The waters around the island are home to the Endymion wreck, a British warship that sank in the 1790’s after sailing into the reefs around Salt Cay. The island also shares its diving wall with Grand Turk and there is a dive operator on the island to cater to those who may be interested in this underwater world. Bryan Sheedy purchased the Mount Pleasant Guest House, a gabled two story former plantation home dating back to circa. 1859, in the early 1990’s and operates it as a dive resort.
From about 1670 to 1964, the production of salt sustained the economy of the Turks & Caicos Islands, and Salt Cay has produced some of the finest salt in the world. Salt Cay’s salt raking past is immediately evident upon flying over the island or walking through the town. Most of the salt pans still remain and, while they may seem undesirable, they are teeming with biological activity.
The salt ponds of Salt Cay, or salinas as they are sometimes referred to as, were formed by flushing the low-lying areas of the island with sea water. Irrigation canals, called “lollies” formed with walls of stone, still remain. As a result of the high evaporation rates and the naturally low levels of rain fall, the sun left deposits of salt in the pond beds. The salt producing conditions were further enhanced by the removal of the islands vegetation. The original nine windmills, which were used to push saltwater into the drying pans still remain. They stand however in a state of disrepair as a result of tropical storms and neglect and are now being used as roosting spots for egrets and osprey.
During the long days of the summer months, a hard white layer of crystalised salt still forms on top of the mixture in the ponds, causing the ponds to sparkle like diamonds as the white salt deposits reflect the sun’s rays. The combined effect of the reflection of the sun’s rays and the removal of Salt Cay’s vegetation has made this salt island one of the driest in a region with a naturally low rainfall. In the summer months, rain clouds can be seen approaching the islands of Grand Turk and Salt Cay, only to disperse as they come close to the enormous heat generated by the salt ponds.
The remnants of the buildings that once housed a thriving salt industry, are now mostly in ruins, and the canal and jetty which were used as a dock are now crumbling into the sea. They provide a mute testimonial to the days when schooners and their lighter boats landed here to haul away their cargos of salt. In the cellar of the old “Morgan House” on Victoria street one can still view a huge mass of Salt Cay salt!
The island’s North Beach is among the most beautiful in the country. You get there by heading your golf cart across the Salt Pond and following a rocky road that meanders past the airport and through the island’s sparse vegetation. Chances are that, while en route you will encounter some of the island’s wild donkeys. These animals were originally brought to the island to work in the salt industry and since the demise of that industry they have been emancipated and now freely roam the island.
The highest point of land on the island is located on the eastern side of the island. “Taylor’s Hill” rises some 59 feet above sea level and provides a breathtaking view of the island and surrounding seas. On a clear day Grand Turk, Cotton Cay, Whale Cay, and Sand Cay can be seen from this vantage point.
The salt production and whaling activities of the past centuries have all but disappeared on Salt Cay. A handful of residents are employed by the TCI government, some work as storekeepers, and most others work in the guesthouses. For this reason Salt Cay is an island of retirees and young children. The island does not offer the variety of activities as Providenciales does, but it offers unequalled serenity, friendliness, and unpretentiousness. For those who wish to relax and unwind on one of the friendliest places on earth, the choice to visit Salt Cay will be one of the best that one can make. Time is never an issue here, so forget your alarm clock, take off your watch and go with flow.