Belize belongs on every avid diver’s bucket list. Turneffe Island Resort is a terrific place to check it out and check it off. Located on the southern tip of Turneffe Reef, thirty-five miles southeast of Belize City, the resort is a simple jump, hop, and a skiff away from home. After arriving at the airport a van awaits to drive guests to the docks where one can enjoy the catch of the day and catchy local sayings at Calypso. Perched pelicans and Caribbean crooning create a calm vista where stress ebbs away and time transforms from a calculation to a concept.
Once luggage is stowed and stomachs are settled guests board Miss Bella, a boat quite familiar after the ninety-minute ride to the island. Those weak of stomach don’t be weak of heart. Miss Bella has a sturdy base that keeps one’s head from rolling with the waves. For those who relish the ride, the upper deck offers the added entertainment of flying fish frolicking in the foam forming in Miss Bella’s wake. To keep the heat away icy mint towels and beverages (fruit punch or ones with more of a punch) are readily supplied.
After enduring the undulating ocean one encounters more waves at the resort docks. Raised flags, amiable staff, ferociously sweet guard dogs, and fourteen acres of vacation are certainly welcoming.
One does not have to pay much attention to realize that attention to detail and service is a priority at Turneffe Island Resort. The delightfully cool air-conditioned cabanas are tended to daily. Coffee and hot chocolate are delivered to screened porches to sip with the sunrise. Accompanying the beverages is a daily forecast detailing the weather, lunch, and various other informative tidbits. When one is ready to turn in one will find the bed turned down with a poem tucked in the covers that acts a lyrical lullaby.
Between the coffee and the cocktails are three unspeakably appetizing meals announced by an energetic bell. Breakfast brings fresh fruit, baked goods, and eggs any style asked. Lunch and supper are never the same except that they are always full of flavor, exceptionally good, and very filling. The kitchen staff is wonderful and willing to cater to dietary needs. The food is served family style in the centrally located main building, which encourages intermingling and inevitable story swapping.
Service is further evident in the valet diving. Guests are only responsible for their mask, snorkel, fins, and wetsuit. The rest of the gear is set up and set to go. All diving is done from one boat and the sites are never more than ten minutes away. Because the resort is so remote there is little competition for prime spots, which also helps maintain the pristine and superior quality of the diving. The easy pace of two to three dives a day keeps one wanting more.
The beauty of the reef and abundance of marine life are difficult to rival. Belize has it all from big animals like sharks, rays, turtles, tarpon, octopi, barracuda, and eels to smaller creatures like arrow crabs, cleaner shrimp, starfish, yellow headed jawfish, drumfish, the unfortunate lionfish…the list goes on. In Belize everything seems to come in two’s or twenties. Such massive schools are seen very few other places in the Caribbean.
During surface intervals one can lounge by the pool, enjoy beverages from the outside bar, kayak, sail, volleyball it on the beach, walk the island, or snooze on the sand. The island is remote and as such one will not find a television remote, Wi-Fi hotspot or cellular service. However, one will find plenty of space to unplug and unwind.
The trip to the Blue Hole on Tuesdays is an iconic opportunity. A whole day is devoted to the ninety-minute trek to the four hundred and twelve foot abyss, a picnic lunch at Half Moon Caye, and the following dives at Lighthouse Reef. Descending to the recreational diving limit of one hundred and thirty feet is a unique mission. Submerged in the dark blue depths it feels as if oneself is lost and all that exists is the surrounding expanse. As one descends at the edge of the basin, the only perception guideline is the plummeting wall of coral, one’s depth gauge, and the experienced dive master. If fortunate, one can make out shadows of Caribbean reef sharks or a school of amberjack in the distance. Nearing the one hundred and thirty foot marker, sizeable stalactites enter sight. This provides a slightly eerie swim through to occupy the short bottom time of about seven minutes. The limited time and limited visibility contribute greatly to the mystique of the experience. Before the dive has really begun, it is over. However, the memory lasts.
Lunch at the Caye is enjoyable and gives one the chance to check out the Booby bird Conservancy, nearly on par with the Blue Hole. Following the footpath through the tropical growth one stumbles upon an observation tower with a vantage point breaking through the canopy of leaves. Usually, there are birds in the nearby vicinity. Hopefully, the Booby birds. After that short hike it’s back to the boat and off to Lighthouse Reef, a dive site that shines above the rest. There, is the epitome of incredible Belizean diving. The coral and creatures are beyond compare. The reef is made of such interesting architecture it seems to have been designed by a mastermind: expanding fans, rolling brain coral, color dappled arches, rivers of wrasse, swim-throughs shimmering with tiny glittering silver sides can simply be summed as magical.
During a one-week stay a night dive is offered. At Turneffe Island Resort dinner is served before the dive. The boat leaves after dark but the captain speeds through the mangroves as confidently as in the daylight. Night dives, as all dives through the resort, are quite easy. The knowledgeable dive master serves as guide and a sharp set of eyes. As active as the ocean life is during the day in Belize, it is surprising to find that there is not much nightlife beyond the bar. However, if the moon is slender, beware the bloodworms. Attracted to flashlights, the worms will swarm like aquatic mosquitos. Although an unpleasant sight, they will not bite. Revenge belongs to the diver who finds a polyp to feed off the pesky critters. Emerging from the night dive is an experience of its own. Below the surface of the water the photo plankton are aglow; above the stars are bright and just as numerous. If the ambiance or the cool atmosphere creates chills, a cup of hot chocolate is sure to bring back the warmth as the boat skims to shore and to something sweet.
After a week of excitement, one can kick back at the Friday beach barbeque. Simmering food at sunset is a satisfying start to the end of a great vacation. After the meal it’s on to the races. Hermit crab races. Pick a winner, make a distinguishing mark on its shell, and its on the mark, get set, go! Watch them scuttle the sand to the proverbial finish line. (The winner is open for interpretation and an open bar is the prize for the winner.)
At the end of the week one envies the crabs, to crawl inside a piece of Belize and carry it around wherever one goes. However, Belize is burned into the brain (hopefully not into the skin) and checked off the bucket list.