The two island groups are in the North Atlantic Ocean, southeast of the Bahamas, north of Hispaniola,. The territory is geographically contiguous to the Bahamas. The Caicos Islands are separated by the Caicos Passage from the closest Bahamian islands, Mayaguana and Great Inagua.
The eight main islands and more than 20 smaller islands have a total land area of 616.3 square kilometres (238 sq mi), primarily of low, flat limestone with extensive marshes and mangrove swamps and 370 kilometres (230 mi) of beach front. The weather is usually sunny and relatively dry, but suffers frequent hurricanes. The islands have limited natural fresh water resources; private cisterns collect rainwater for drinking. The primary natural resources are spiny lobster, conch and other shellfish.
The two distinct groups are separated by the Turks Passage.
The islands of the Turks and Caicos were first populated by Carib Amerindians but, shortly after the islands' discovery — depending on the source, on 12 October 1492 by Christopher Columbus, who would have claimed them for Spain, or by Juan Ponce de León in 1512 — Spanish explorers began raiding the archipelago for slaves.
Though many nations controlled the islands, official settlement did not occur right away. For several decades around the turn of the 18th century they became popular pirate hideouts. Bermudian salt collectors were the first to settle the Turk Islands in 1678 or 1681.
Cockburn Town was the first permanent settlement on any of the islands, founded in 1681 by salt collectors who arrived in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Cockburn Town is the capital of the Turks and Caicos Islands, located on the largest island in the Turks Islands (not the Caicos) archipelago, Grand Turk Island.
The closest anchorage to Cockburn Town is Hawk's Nest Anchorage, which, though sheltered, should only be entered in good light because of reefs near the entrance.
Spanish and French forces seized the Turks in 1706, but Bermudian forces expelled them four years later.
The Caicos Islands, separated from the closest Bahaman islands, Mayaguana and Great Inagua, by the Caicos Passage, are the larger group, with almost 96 percent of the land area (589.5 km²) The spatial arrangement of the islands around the large Caicos Bank (with an area of 7,680 km² ) resembles an Atoll, with the six large islands in the west, north and east, and a few tiny reefs and cays in the south. The unofficial capital of the Caicos Islands is the village of Kew on North Caicos. Four of the six main islands are inhabited, plus two of the smaller islands:
Main islands, from West to East
The Turks Islands, separated from the Caicos Islands by Turks Island Passage (more than 2,200 m deep), are a chain that stretches north-south. The total area is 10.3 sq mi There are two main islands, which are the only inhabited ones of the group: