Even the most knowledgeable Caribbean travelers might tilt their heads upon mention of Pine Cay in Turks and Caicos—and that aura of hidden mystique isn’t by chance.
Situated along the world’s third-largest barrier reef, and ringed by a two-mile stretch of powdery, white sand beach, the 800-acre private island feels worlds away, but is just a brief (and beautiful) 20-minute boat ride from Providenciales, Turks and Caicos’ main tourism hub. Turks and Caicos itself is just a three-and-a-half-hour plane ride from New York City, and is known for its crystal-clear, bright blue waters and soft limestone sand.
What most surprises travelers unaware of Pine Cay’s existence is that it’s been a coveted travel destination for a select few since its development in the 1970s. The hotel, formerly known as The Meridian Club, was developed as a no-frills resort and club for homeowners on the island (there are 38 residential sites), but it wasn’t until July 2021 that it reopened its whitewashed doors as a Relais & Châteaux property, complete with a fresh new look, incredible programming and unified rebranding as Pine Cay.
Unlike its more flashy, South Beach-esque neighbors, Pine Cay distinguishes itself with its exceptionally intimate atmosphere and laid-back approach to island living; it feels more like a sprawling estate than a hotel. If you’re seeking a lively destination buzzing with restaurants and beach bars, this isn’t for you—but if you’re after seclusion, island adventures and quiet (children under 12 aren’t allowed at the hotel), your beachside bungalow is waiting.
“What sets us apart is the feeling that Pine Cay is your private island, regardless of other guests,” General Manager Kirk Aulin tells Robb Report. “The island’s legacy and history, which dates back to the 1970s, lives on through a handful of families who built homes here, along with the hotel. They work in perfect harmony with the natural surroundings of the island. When you stay at Pine Cay, you’re immersed into their world, where their children and grandchildren have grown up for generations. There’s a special energy that comes with that.”
Pine Cay’s main clubhouse houses the check-in, dining area and boutique, and opens onto the freshwater pool. There are 12 dune-side rooms and suites, each with an elegant, elevated Caribbean design, whitewashed walls, light wood paneling and sea-inspired decor. The rooms have three showers (including two outdoor) and a private, screened-in deck that opens directly onto the sand.
A short walk from each room is a private tiki-style palapa with lounge chairs, perfect for enjoying coffee or fresh juice each morning. The island is so safe and secure that guests don’t get a key (unless requested) to lock their doors. But modern luxuries aren’t forgotten: Rooms will soon feature iPads to order room service, book appointments and request concierge services.
Aulin, who has decades of luxury hotel experience in the Caribbean, has also elevated the hotel to Relais & Châteaux standards by sourcing a global roster of talented chefs, mixologists and spa therapists for a true five-star experience, while retaining the Turks and Caicos charm.
Among all these highlights, the restaurant is the star. Over the past few years, the team of chefs have perfected the menu to exacting standards. Guests’ days start with an immune-boosting shot (which changes daily) featuring fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices. The thoughtful breakfast, lunch and dinner menus always feature local ingredients, and change daily depending on the local catch; as this is the Caribbean’s conch capital, it’s not uncommon for the menu to feature fried conch or conch ceviche, and seafood always takes center stage. The chef also makes his own hot sauce—be sure to ask for a jar before you depart—and in an effort to prevent food waste, dinner is ordered at lunch.
While not much infrastructure has been added since its inception in the 1970s, there is a new oceanfront beach bar with chic seating ideal for a pre-dinner cocktail. The mixology menu has delicious, thoughtful drinks like a twist on the classic rum punch and a truffle oil-infused gin and tonic.
It’s impossible to come to Turks and Caicos and not enjoy watersports, and Pine Cay offers scuba diving, bone fishing, snorkeling, Hobie Cat catamarans, kayaks, paddleboarding, boat cruises and more. When the tide is low, you can scavenge for sand dollars just a short walk from the main clubhouse and walk for what feels like miles along the water. Be sure to watch for Pine Cay’s resident dolphin, affectionately named JoJo by the staff, who makes an appearance from time to time.
The active set can also enjoy the grass tennis court, mini basketball court, a fitness center and fat tire and regular bicycles to ride around the island. Electric golf carts (no motorized vehicles are allowed here) are also available, if that’s more your speed. Pine Cay also has a private marina where homeowners dock their boats and from which hotel guests can take off for a day on the water. Afterwards, book a treatment at the two-room Sand Dollar Spa, where menu favorites include the Signature and the Thai massages.
Aulin is keen on preserving the history and natural splendor of the island, which is approximately the size of Central Park, so he’s created several initiatives to make the island more sustainable. These include the use of rainwater harvesting, solar panels, electric transportation, no single-use plastic, Dark Sky lighting and eco-friendly beach lighting and fuel-efficient boats. Pine Cay is a key partner in the Caicos Pine Recovery Project that helps protect the country’s native tree, the Caicos pine (Pinus caribaea), which is currently under threat from the invasive pine tortoise scale.
Another distinction of Pine Cay is the residential aspect. Homeowners hail primarily from the United States, Europe, and the UK, as Turks and Caicos is a British Overseas Territory. Unlike on other islands here, though, don’t expect flashy mansions or glitzy accommodations. The understated homes weave seamlessly within the natural landscape (there are building restrictions that limit height and square feet) and are situated far from the beach.
Many homeowners are torn between wanting to keep their slice of paradise secret and embracing a new generation of travelers seeking a quiet escape. “Maintaining this incredibly underdeveloped feel is key,” says Tim Simond, the designer of the hotel. “Pine Cay is effectively the same today as it was four years ago, save for a few new homes and refurbishments. The new facilities are always of a scale relative to this and we have no intent to change, as the island is governed by the owners who, as a real rarity, actually own the hotel and thus control the development. We are very sensitive to what we have and work to keep its special ambience.”
Following recent room and spa renovations, the next phase of the hotel’s refurb will start in August 2022, and will include repositioning the bar and adding a new BBQ and serving area. Rates per room per night start at $1,525, and includes all meals, soft drinks, select alcohol, transfers from the mainland, watersports, sailing and all on-island activities.