We were fortunate enough to have our first experience with Global Diving Adventures in one of the most amazing diving locations in the world, Belize!

We didn't know what to expect but we were extremely impressed with the logistics of the entire trip, the friendliness of the staff and the professionalism shown with every dive. This was, by far, the most incredible and memorable dive trip we have ever been on.

Friends ask us where we think the best diving in the world is and we have to say, Belize! The next question is always where's the best place to stay and how did you arrange your trip? Well, the best place to stay while you're there is Turneffe Island Resort and if you do it, you have to go with Global Diving Adventures!

Thanks for a lifetime of memories and looking forward to more trips and living adventurously.

— Dan & Amy Macuga, Founding Members since 2007

Belize Diving

Destination Review: Belize Diving

First Thoughts

We began exploratory diving on Belize’s outer atolls back at the end of the 80’s naming dive sites and having Belizean fisherman show us their secret spots. In 1990 we certified the first ever group of the Belizean fisheries department while working on a unique all diving cruise ship. The diving across Belize is varied all the way down the coast and has everything from big critter diving, a world famous blue hole, healthy reefs and even a whale shark season. Inland, the country offers up everything from piney woods to unsurpassed birding to black water rafting and Mayan ruins. As a country, the infrastructure is fairly simple but the roads are good. As former British Honduras, Belize didn’t get involved in the debilitating civil conflicts across Central America in the 70’s and 80’s and hasn’t fallen prey to dictatorships or debilitating drug crime like some of its neighbors. It is the only country in Central America where English is the official language.

Why We Think Belize Rocks or Doesn’t

Because it’s wild. You can stay on an atoll 30 miles offshore or inland in the jungles of the Cayo district and still feel like you are out there. It hasn’t been over run with 3000 passenger cruise ships. The reefs and fish populations on the outer atolls are still healthy a rare sight in the Caribbean. And inland is every bit the adventure capital including world class Maya ruins. Belize, as a rule, is safer than many of its neighbors.

Things that Rock

  • still a feeling of wildness
  • still has big fish and sharks and other pelagics
  • healthy reefs
  • Robinson Crusoe feeling on out islands
  • amazing adventure in interior black water caving, sanctuaries, beautiful rivers, interesting Amish and Menonite communities, birding, excellent lodges
  • very easy access/direct flights to Belize City
  • great visibility on outer reefs
  • has Central American, not Caribbean feel

Things that Don’t

  • Belize City is run down but has charm. Some areas may be dangerous at night
  • Must get away from coast for best diving
  • Don’t expect great beaches

The Diving

We have dived extensively across much of the country, islands and atolls. Early on, many of the dive sites had no names; we just stopped and jumped in. The entire area has some of the best diving in the Caribbean.

Much of Belize’s coast is lined with mangroves and there is significant run off from numerous rivers. What this means is that there is little to no diving immediately off the coast and the farther out you get from the coast, the better the diving is. The near shore areas and mangroves especially fulfill the role of fish nursery which is one reason Belize is so fishy. We recommend getting out and staying out on one of the three atolls as opposed to Ambergris Caye. You avoid the long boat rides and have much better diving. Belize has the second longest barrier reef in the world only behind the famed Great Barrier Reef off Australia. And like the Great Barrier Reef, it is not a single reef but rather a series of reefs, islands and atolls that stretch down the Belizean coastline.

The Diving Areas of Belize

Placencia this is on the mainland, near the southern tip of the country and is accessible by puddle jumper from Belize’s international airport (1 hour flight). Placencia is not built up at all, with most roads still dirt. We dived the barrier reef down here and just found it mediocre with little fish life, no pelagics and good but not great reefs. The closer dive sites are still too close to the mainland and are heavily silted with lower visibility. You can reach Gladden Spit from here.

Ambergris Caye This is the most popular diving area in Belize and is an island that is about a 30 miles offshore and adjacent to the barrier reef. It has about 70 accommodations options and while it started with the backpacker set, its gone upscale now as well. We have found it to have good, but not great diving. The Hol Chan Marine reserve is a 5 square mile reserve off limits to fishing. The increase in fish population here is not only due to the reserve but also to routine feedings from dive operators that bring in stingrays and nurse sharks.

Outer Atolls – Belize has three of the four only true atolls in the Caribbean Turneffe, Lighthouse and Glovers. These atolls undoubtedly offer the best diving in Belize and some of the best in the entire Caribbean with healthy reefs, abundant fish life, sharks, abundant grouper and good visibility. Lighthouse Reef/The Blue Hole is easily the most well known dive site made famous by Jacques Cousteau, the blue hole is a magnificent sink hole a quarter mile across and over 400 feet deep. The dive is a bounce to about 130 feet, if you want to keep it as a non-decompression dive, to see the limestone formations and stalactites. Often Caribbean reef sharks accompany the divers up and down the hole. Some of the dive operators have attracted these by feeding. Turneffe Atoll has large mangroves and sea grass flats which are the nurseries for reef fish and thus thriving fish populations. The atolls are far enough offshore that they are not subjected to runoff from the land and don’t appear to be over fished.

Gladden Spit This deserves a special mention as around late spring/early summer around the full moon, whale sharks comes into an area called Gladden Spit which can be reached from Placencia and Hopkins. The whale sharks come in to feed on the spawn of spawning aggregations of grouper and snapper so you have to time this one.

Our Favorite Things to Do Out of the Water

We believe in Surf and Turf checking out the best of underwater AND on land. It just so happens that most of the worlds best SCUBA diving destinations have other amazing things going for them in addition to kick ass diving. Don’t miss it.

  • Dive Dive Dive, Scuba diving in Belize is our favorite thing to do!
  • Horseback Ride in the Piney Woods. Just a short two hours drive from Belize City are the piney woods. You definitely don’t feel that you are in the Caribbean here. Trails are perfect for an afternoon ride to a waterfall.
  • Visit Tikal. Famed Mayan ruins of Tikal are located in Guatemala but you can get there from Belize in half a day. Covering over 222 square miles of jungle with over 600 structures, it is definitely worthy of it’s UNESCO World Heritage listing. Just getting there from Belize is an adventure in itself! This is every bit as good as and historically significant as Pompeii.
  • Go Birdwatching. We are certainly not expert bird watchers but are avid amateurs while traveling in places like Belize. Heading inland to Chan Chich provides amazing birding.
  • See the Red Footed Booby Colony. Many of the dive boats now stop at Lighthouse Reef on their trip out to the blue hole but it’s still a very cool thing to see. Once on the island it’s a short walk to the viewing tower. This puts you just above the canopy to see the nesting red footed boobies and the huge Frigate birds. Worth seeing if you are out at Half Moon Cay.
  • Explore the City– The daytime vibe in Belize City is fun! It’s full of people. Get on and ride the local bus. One time we rode it all the way to Mexico. What an experience! Dine at local restaurants but at night, it’s best to cab it!
  • DRIVE. This is one of our favorite things to do in Belize. Rent a car, get a map and just explore the country. Drive inland to the Cockscomb Wildlife Sanctuary. Don’t plan on seeing jaguars, chances are a million to one but look for agouti, howler monkeys, coatamundi and over 300 species of birds. It is a beautiful country with pretty good roads so get out there!
  • Black Water Tubing– There are a couple of ways you can do this but the fun way is to Abseil (Rappel) into the awesome limestone tomb to experience the adrenaline rush. Then you clamber and slide through squeezes, zip into the black water filled abyss and scramble up waterfalls in your pursuit of daylight.
  • Mangrove/Manatee Snorkeling- snorkeling through mangroves is amazing. Within the root system is a nursery of juvenile fish, interesting sponge life and tunicates. Out at Turneffe Atoll, you can also spot manatee in the area.
  • Belize Mayan Ruins and Monkeys– Travel to Lamanai and Xunantanich, two of Belize’s great ruin sites and observe black howler monkeys.

Belize Seasonality

Spring time is a good time for diving in Belize as winds and seas are normally calm. Summer brings the heat and generally lower visibility. The winter months of Dec-February, northers can blow in bringing strong wind and can keep you out of the water for days at a time. Belize is inside the hurricane belt and is hit on average of once every six years or so – generally in the fall. March thru June bring whale sharks to the Gladden Spit area.

Overall

Belize is a big winner as far as we are concerned and we’ve been going there for 20 years now. It hasn’t sold out. With 50% of the coral gone in the Caribbean and fish populations dwindling, it still has vibrant reefs, healthy fish populations and good pelagic life. When you get on an out island, you can take your shoes off and lose them for a week. Inland, adventure has a number of flavors and its still a little rough around the edges in a good way.

Sharkman and Mantagirl give Belize

Two Fins UP

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What’s the Adventure?

Beach

The beach surrounds you at Turneffe Island Resort. You walk out of your bungalow into the sand. Then you walk along the sand to the main building and up the stairs to the bar and restaurant. Then you walk through the sand to the dive boat. And you can walk through the sand out to the water. So the white sandy beach is simply part of the whole setting of Turneffe. The water just off the beach is grass flats until it reaches the edge of the reef just a few hundred feet offshore.

Snorkeling

The back side of the island is a mangrove area and the front side are seagrass flats so it’s not a place to simply jump in with mask and snorkel and see the beautiful coral reefs. Out the front of the resort, the reef begins in 45-50 so it’s a bit deep for snorkeling. However, out on the leeward side of the resort you can go by boat and anchor in just 20 or so feet of water and have some pretty nice snorkeling. Weather permitting, each week a full day trip is offered out to Lighthouse Reef Atoll where snorkelers can enjoy checking out the top of the Blue Hole and some beautiful shallow reefs in that area.

Bars and Restaurants

This is quite simple, there is one of each. On the second floor of the main building is a nice outdoor deck as well as inside seating near the bar. There is a TV for showing videos and checking out the digital images you shot underwater that day. As well there are board games and a library to wile away the hours. The bar is on the honor system during the day and the bartender comes on duty in the late afternoon to whip up some yummy cocktail of the day or pour you a glass of one of the two wines they have. And the bartender will stay as late as you do!

The restaurant is partitioned off from the bar by a three foot high wood wall so basically its a great room. The food at TIL is wonderful yet wonderfully simple. It is a combination of continental and Caribbean style fare. Dinner is served at a particular time and when the bell rings it’s ready! We sit at large tables and eat family style as is the atmosphere of the whole tiny resort. The local Belizean ladies who do the cooking are fantastic and so is their homemade everything! In fact, the resort has published a cookbook of all the great local recipes they use. Even though you are diving three times a day, you can still gain weight hanging out at this place!

Spa

Since my last visit, Turneffe has added a spa with massage, facial and manicure and pedicure services. Guess it’s time to get back and check it out to give you a full report!

Getting There – Belize

Getting there in two Easy Steps:

  1. Fly to Belize City
  2. Take the boat to Turneffe Island Lodge
    1. Fly to Belize City

Your final destination airport is Belize City (BZE), conveniently located in central standard time zone is a very easy dive destination to reach.

Belize City is serviced by most US carriers including: American, Delta, Continental, US Airways and United. Taca also serves Belize city through El Salvador.

Non Stop flights are available via Houston, Dallas, Miami, Charlotte, and Atlanta.

    1. Take the boat to Turneffe Island Lodge

We will transfer you to the marina for a short 1:20 hr boat ride 26 miles to Turneffe Atoll. Grab a Beliken beer and enjoy the ride!

Turneffe Island Resort Dive Operation

Turneffe’s dive package for a seven day stay consists of 15 dives including a Thursday night dive and a full day to the Blue Hole and Lighthouse Reef. The famous Blue Hole is just a bit over an hour ride which is 1/2 the time if you go from Ambergris or schlep 2 1/2 hours from Belize City. The diving works well with so many sites just minutes from the resort including the famed Elbow dive site which is literally about 45 seconds away!

Facility

The dive area is a decked spot at the edge of the mangroves and just steps away from most of the guest rooms. After I’ve have had coffee delivered to the room (nice touch!) and had a satisfying breakfast, I just wonder down to the dive area and jump on my boat. Since the resort is small there is never a crowd of divers getting ready to go. Like everything at TIR, it’s easy and relaxed. Except for the full day to Lighthouse Reef, the boats return after every dive in case I decide to take a dive off and spend it in a hammock.

There is not really a shop to speak of but a gear room and large deck space for putting on wetsuits and organizing for the dive.

 

Boats

The resort has open boats that are easily loaded with 8 or so divers for the quick trip out. You don’t need to take anything extra with you and you’ll be back in the hammock minutes from surfacing.

For larger groups or longer trips, the Pro 48 is used which of course is very comfortable with plenty of space.

The Dive Operation

The dive staff currently consists of one instructor, two DMs and a boat captain all with extensive experience in the area. One of our favorite DMs, Bo, who was with the operation for many many years has now left to start his own dive shop…good luck Bo!!!!

All diving is done from the boats as there is no shore diving from the island. They also operate two snorkeling trips daily.

Safety and Environment

All dive boats are equipped with the requisite safety equipment and all of those who work at Turneffe understand the importance of protecting the environment. I have worked with some DMs at Turneffe who are a little too touchy with the critters for my taste but that changes all the time.

Overall

I like Turneffe because of its small lodge feel, and easy going way. I like the end of week BBQ in the sand and the ease of diving. The guest rooms and cabanas continue to get better and better and are now in my mind are considered upscale.

As the resort has grown, a little of the feel has gone but it would be un-noticeable unless you had been going there for over a decade. As an example, in the past we never bothered with shoes the entire week and if we had some kind of alcohol that we liked to drink, we just brought it. Now, they ask that you were shoes at mealtimes and forbid you to bring your own alcohol. Not really a big deal unless you were used to it the old way.

I will continue to dive at Turneffe and enjoy the remoteness, the great diving and the new amenities the little island resort has to offer.

Belize is still one of the gems in the Caribbean and in fact…one of the last. As coral continues on its decline throughout the Caribbean, Belize stands out still hosting healthy corals and fish populations. There are many areas to dive in Belize but I honestly believe that the best diving is out on the atolls. My resort of choice is Turneffe Island Resort on the private 20 acre island of Caye Bokel. The lodge has been there since 1962 and my first visit was back in 1990 when it was just a small local fishing lodge. I spent a great deal of time in the area of Turneffe Atoll discovering new dive sites and even teaching a large portion of the Belizean Fisheries Dept how to SCUBA dive. I am never disappointed whenever I return to Turneffe.

From www.turnefferesort.com

Since acquiring the island in 2001, we have tried to elevate the comfort of guests without compromising the unique Hemingway feel. In an attempt to make it more ecologically and environmentally friendly we utilize solar power along with a water purification system, the only one of its kind in the Caribbean. The improvements have been made in order to give our guests the best service that we can provide without compromising the surrounding delicate ecosystem. We hope that these combined efforts enhance your stay with us.

Overall Feel of Turneffe Island Resort (TIR)

TIL is alone on a 20 acre sandy island 26 miles offshore from Belize City or about a 1 hr 15 minute boat ride. You instantly have a family feel when you arrive and are greeted by the couple that manages the island, the dive staff and usually a couple of happy hounds who come running out the dock to greet you. Then you simply take your shoes off and enjoy! This is a laid back kind of place. Most of the dive sites are within 45 seconds to 10 minutes of the island so in between dives you come back to the island for a cold drink or to lie in the hammock and off gas until the next dive. It’s simply a place where you don’t worry about a thing. Everything you need is within 20 steps of you and while everything runs on time, no one is in a hurry. The resort is well known for both its bone fishing and its diving so you can do one or the other or both. As the years have gone on, TIR has been continuously upgraded with new amenities added. The resort keeps getting better and better and the prices do reflect this. The boat heads out from Belize City every Saturday returning on Wednesdays and Saturdays so you can choose from 4 or 7 day trips (or multiples of!).

Resort Spec Highlights

  1. Private 20 acre island
  2. Swimming pool
  3. Spa
  4. Small hotel feel
  5. 20 rooms- All with Air Con
  6. 26 miles from Belize City
  7. Both Diving and Bonefishing

 

Beach

The beach surrounds you at Turneffe Island Resort. You walk out of your bungalow into the sand. Then you walk along the sand to the main building and up the stairs to the bar and restaurant. Then you walk through the sand to the dive boat. And you can walk through the sand out to the water. So the white sandy beach is simply part of the whole setting of Turneffe. water just off the beach is grass flats until it reaches the edge of the reef just a few hundred feet offshore.

Snorkeling

The back side of the island is a mangrove area and the front side are seagrass flats so it’s not a place to simply jump in with mask and snorkel and see the beautiful coral reefs. Out the front of the resort, the reef begins in 45-50 so it’s a bit deep for snorkeling. However, out on the leeward side of the resort you can go by boat and anchor in just 20 or so feet of water and have some pretty nice snorkeling. Weather permitting, each week a full day trip is offered out to Lighthouse Reef Atoll where snorkelers can enjoy checking out the top of the Blue Hole and some beautiful shallow reefs in that area.

Bars and Restaurants

This is quite simple, there is one of each. On the second floor of the main building is a nice outdoor deck as well as inside seating near the bar. There is a TV for showing videos and checking out the digital images you shot underwater that day. As well there are board games and a library to wile away the hours. The bar is on the honor system during the day and the bartender comes on duty in the late afternoon to whip up some yummy cocktail of the day or pour you a glass of one of the two wines they have. And the bartender will stay as late as you do!

The restaurant is partitioned off from the bar by a three foot high wood wall so basically its a great room. The food at TIL is wonderful yet wonderfully simple. It is a combination of continental and Caribbean style fare. Dinner is served at a particular time and when the bell rings it’s ready! We sit at large tables and eat family style as is the atmosphere of the whole tiny resort. The local Belizean ladies who do the cooking are fantastic and so is their homemade everything! In fact, the resort has published a cookbook of all the great local recipes they use. Even though you are diving three times a day, you can still gain weight hanging out at this place!

Spa

Since my last visit, Turneffe has added a spa with massage, facial and manicure and pedicure services. Guess it’s time to get back and check it out to give you a full report!

Accommodations

Over the past decade the owners have really sunk their teeth (and their cash) into bringing TIR from charming fishing lodge with basic accommodations to a true upscale destination by building private cabanas and decorating with an upscale Caribbean flair. Things only continue to get better here! The days of no hot water and thin flat mattresses are gone. Welcome to the new Turneffe Island Resort complete with swimming pool and spa!

There are three categories of rooms at Turneffe.

Deluxe Guest Rooms

There are eight first floor Deluxe Guest Rooms all with screened porches, beautiful local wood trim and all with ocean views (hard not to have an ocean view on such a small island!). These are some of the early buildings built on the island but they have been refurbished to provide an upscale look and feel. You can choose from King/Queen or twin beds.

Superior Guest Rooms

The four superior rooms are all located on the second floor above the Deluxe Guest Rooms. The upgrade gives you vaulted ceilings and canopy beds as well as a sitting area.

Both of these room types share a wall with the neighboring room.

Private Cabanas

TIR has built very nice stand alone cabanas with wrap porches, canopy king/queen beds with an extra double bed and ocean views. The cabanas are decorated with wood interior with a Caribbean flair. At this writing there are eight of these private cabanas with more promised.

Overall

Turneffe Island Lodge has always had a special place for me. Beginning with my first visit in 1990 when it was a small fishing lodge and had a very Hemingway feel. Now it has come into its own with a swimming pool and private cabanas. They have built docks out into the water to help preserve the white sandy beach. Even though TIR has grown it still has a great Caribbean vibe and you are made to feel like family.