Why is Cockburn Town the capital of Turks and Caicos?

Why is Cockburn Town the capital of Turks and Caicos?
Why is Cockburn Town the capital of Turks and Caicos?





The islands of Turks and Caicos are located in the Atlantic Ocean, east of Cuba and north of the Dominican Republic and Haiti. There are 40 islands in the Turks and Caicos archipelago, and they are technically a British Overseas Territory. But does Turks and Caicos have a Capital? What is the capital of Turks and Caicos?

The capital of Turks and Caicos is Cockburn Town, which is a city located on the island of Grand Turk toward the south of the archipelago. Cockburn town is known for its Bermudian-style architecture, famous street lamps, and narrow corridors. It is also home to the ruins of Her Majesty’s Prison. 

You may know of Turks and Caicos for its amazing azure water, long white beaches, and gentle surf. But there is so much history in the islands, including in the capital of Turks and Caicos. Read on for everything you need to know about Cockburn Town.

Where is the Capital of Turks and Caicos Islands Located?

Where is the Capital of Turks and Caicos Islands Located?
Where is the Capital of Turks and Caicos Islands Located?

Many tourists will visit the island of Providenciales, which is home to the famous beaches of Grace Bay and a wide range of well-known tourist resorts and restaurants. It would be easy to think this island must also house the regional capital, but you would be wrong! 

The capital of Turks and Caicos actually lies on Grand Turk island, which is in the far southeast region of the archipelago, separated from the cluster of large islands including Providenciales in the northwest, and north, middle and east caicos islands. 

Why, you may wonder, is the capital so far away from Grand Turk? Read on. 

A Brief History of Cockburn Town

Aerial view of the beach at the cruise center of Grand Turk in the Caribbean with a view over Cockburn Town.
Aerial view of the beach at the cruise center of Grand Turk in the Caribbean with a view over Cockburn Town.

Cockburn town was founded in 1681 by collectors in the salt trade from Bermuda, which makes it one of the older settlements in the Caribbean. 

Some believe that the area was where Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León first landed in Turks and Caicos, though there is no definitive evidence of his arrival. 

The town took off during the salt trade, due to the fact that its shallow ponds could be used to evaporate sea water. 

In 1766, Cockburn Town was officially named the seat of government (keep in mind this is before the U.S. Declaration of Independence). It remains the capital of Turks and Caicos to this day. 

Due to the fact that the Turks and Caicos are very low-lying islands, they are very prone to hurricanes. Cockburn Town has suffered its share of hurricanes and has had to rebuild often. Hurricane Ike in 2008 brought widespread destruction, and the town is still rebuilding. 

When did Cockburn Town become the Capital of Turks and Caicos?

The beach of Cockburn Town on Grand Turk island
The beach of Cockburn Town on Grand Turk island

Due to the fact that Cockburn Town was central to the salt trade, it became an important seat for Turks and Caicos, and was eventually named capital in 1766. 

Why is Cockburn Town the capital of Turks and Caicos?

It may be hard to believe, since there is so much tourist activity on other islands in the Turks and Caicos chain, but Grand Turk has the largest population of any island in the TCI, with a population of around 5,800 residents. 

It has always had a large population relative to the other islands, due to its association with the salt trade. Cockburn Town may seem isolated from the larger islands of the Turks and Caicos, but keep in mind the entire country is only around 100 miles across–not far to travel if you need to get to the capital!

Best Places to visit in Cockburn Town

If you are already heading to TCI, why not take a quick jaunt away from the more common tourist islands and check out the regional capital? Or make it your primary destination. The town offers a lot for visitors and won’t disappoint. Some claim Cockburn Town has “the most character of all the settlements in the country.”

Turks and Caicos National Museum 

Check out Taino artifacts and various items from around TCI. You can also view a fresnel lens from the Grand Turk Lighthouse, or shop for souvenirs in the gift shop. 

Are you fascinated by shipwrecks? This museum has artifacts from wrecks including the oldest European wreck in the New World. 

This is one of the most popular tourist destinations on the island.  

Historical Cockburn Town

The historical part of town isn’t too big, but it is worth walking around to see the historic buildings and architecture. The area runs along the coastline and you can access the beach from many points. 

Her Majesty’s Prison

Like pirates? Check out the restored H.M. Prison site. Built sometime in the 1930s, this site operated as a prison until 1994. 

If you love history, you can learn about piracy long ago–and the punishments waiting for caught pirates at this eerie prison. You can also learn about the most daring escape attempts! You can take a self-guided tour or just walk around and see the structures.

St Mary’s Anglican Church 

One of the most photographed sites on the island, St. Mary’s is a rare beachfront church surrounded by shade trees and distinctive red shutters.


You can’t visit TCI without a dip in the warm, shallow, bright blue water for which it is famous. Cockburn Town Beach runs alongside Cockburn Town until it becomes English point, and is an easy walk from town. If you want to go a little farther out of town, check out Pillory Beach or the Bohio Dive Resort. All beaches in TCI have free access for everyone. 

Restaurants on Duke Street

Ready to eat? Duke Street in town offers a variety of charming restaurants, serving various cuisines including local specialties. 


Yes, many people know of TCI from Grace Bay and other areas, but there is much history here to learn about, and a wide variety of beaches to choose from on the less well-known islands. Turks and Caicos is technically British, but does TCI have a capital? Yes–and it has a vibrant culture and amazing architecture to boot. 

See Also

Capital Cities 

Hi and welcome to my travel blog! Based in London, I work in investment banking in a quantitative field and although I am not part of the travel industry, I have a ton of passion for travel. My blog is a reference guide for my fellow travelers with the same passion as me. Hopefully the blog is easy to navigate and my aim is to bring the most relevant and interesting information before you begin your journey!