Our Favorite Dive Resort – Turneffe Island Resort
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.
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
- Private 20 acre island
- Swimming pool
- Small hotel feel
- 20 rooms- All with Air Con
- 26 miles from Belize City
- Both Diving and Bonefishing
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 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.
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.
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