TURNEFFE ATOLL & TURNEFFE FLATS, BELIZE
Belize is home to three of the four coral atolls in the Western Hemisphere. Turneffe Atoll is the largest and most biologically diverse, and is best-known for its variety of saltwater fishing. Turneffe Atoll is located approximately 30 miles from Belize City and the boat trip to Turneffe Flats takes about 90 minutes on our 48 foot Custom Dive Boat. The scenic trip takes you through the offshore cayes, the Barrier Reef, and the mangrove channels at Turneffe before arriving at Turneffe Flats.
Belize consistently ranks among the top Caribbean dive destinations and Turneffe Flats is ideally located to take advantage of the very best SCUBA diving in Belize. There are in excess of 60 dive sites on the Turneffe Atoll; and divers are within easy reach to dive the Lighthouse Atoll and the Blue Hole.
For nearly three decades Turneffe Flats has been known as one of the Caribbean's premier saltwater fly fishing destinations. The diversity of the saltwater flats fishing stands out from other destinations and the opportunity to catch bonefish, permit and tarpon on a given day makes Turneffe Flats one of the rare spots to pursue a "Flats Grand Slam," by landing all three species in a single day.
Turneffe Flats is located on the Eastern (seaward) side of the Turneffe Atoll on a beautiful private point with coconut palms and white sand beach allowing immediate access to miles of wadeable flats as well as the best diving and snorkeling in Belize.
The coral reef is a stone's throw away and a large bonefish flat is right outside the front door. Turneffe's 250 square miles of expansive flats offer a healthy coral reef and remarkably rich marine habitat.
Although the spin fishing at Turneffe is exceptional, it is primarily a fly fishing destination. Anglers from the finest fly shops and outfitters from around the world make Turneffe Flats their annual saltwater fly-fishing destination.
Scuba diving Turneffe Atoll and Lighthouse Reef
As the largest and most biologically diverse coral atoll in the Caribbean, Turneffe offers spectacular underwater dive terrain including spur and groove formations, sandy ledges and sheer walls providing spectacular dive sites to suit every level of diver. Our location near the middle of the seaward side of the Atoll allows us good access to all dive locations around Turneffe which offers are divers the opportunity to dive the best possible sites each day regardless of weather.
The Eastern side of Turneffe is protected by 35 miles of reef. It shelves gradually to about 60 feet where spur and groove formations meet the wall. Nutrients from the mangroves are dispersed to the reef by the tides causing large concentrations of feeding fish to congregate.
On the West side of the Atoll, the mangroves of Turneffe provide shelter from the trade winds and swells. A gently sloping bottom lies at 30-50 feet with large coral formations covering the white sand bottom. The reduced wave action allows sponges and soft corals to grow magnificently and sea feathers of 5 feet are common.
On the North side, the reef is sometimes effected by trade wind swells but on the calmer days we can explore these mostly untouched dive sites. Schools of mutton snapper, Atlantic spadefish and permit hover 80 feet above the sea floor and blue runners make close passes, apparently attracted by the bubbles of the strange "Neoprene-clad creatures".
Turneffe's Southern point offers a variety of popular dive sites featured in many of the Belize dive guides. The Elbow is probably the best know site here with the ocean current sweeping over the deep reef to attract schools of pelagic fish. As you travel up the Southwest or Southeast sides of the atoll, dive sites vary from patch reef nurseries with dramatic coral formations to steep drop-offs.
While diving throughout the Turneffe Atoll, you will see a variety of hard and soft corals as well as all of the Caribbean tropicals, eagle rays, sharks, turtles, dolphins, moray eels, and occasionally a whale shark in addition to large schools of permit, horse eye jacks and dog snapper.
Explore the wonders and the beauty of the Turneffe Atoll
The Turneffe Island marine eco-adventure experience feature snorkeling, birding or one of several other fun and informative activities. Or, if you are so-inclined, you can stay at the resort and lounge on the beach. Every day offers a great new adventure and a perfect opportunity to relax.
More than 60 bird species have been identified on the Turneffe atoll and seeing West Indian Manatees or Bottlenose Dolphins is exciting and fun. Learn the fascinating history of the Turneffe Atoll beginning with the Maya, who fished and traded on the Turneffe Atoll as far back as 400 A.D., to the Pirates of the Caribbean who used Turneffe as a favored hideout.
Snorkeling is one activity that you will want to experience with Turneffe's world-class snorkeling featuring warm Caribbean waters, a myriad of tropical reef creatures and incredible coral structures. Our guides are masters at helping everyone feel comfortable in the water and beginners can learn to snorkel on our sandy shore before visiting the reef. With at least 60 species of birds at Turneffe, birding is another highlight. You may also want to tour the atoll looking for manatees and dolphins or enjoy an afternoon kayaking. Our Atoll Adventure Program is a very flexible and is tailored to fit the particular interests of each group.
Of course, exploring the 300 square mile Turneffe Atoll can, itself, be an adventure. Turneffe has a fascinating history, including Mayan fishing and trading settlements dating to 400 A.D. Turneffe was also a favored hideout for the notorious pirate, Blackbeard. For most guests, learning about the history of Turneffe as well as the fascinating history of Belize is one of the more enjoyable parts of their visit.
Fishing on the Turneffe Atoll
Bonefish have been a primary target of Turneffe Flats' anglers for more than 20 years. While wading the expansive flats on the seaward side of Turneffe, you will regularly see large schools of bonefish providing an unequaled opportunity for new saltwater anglers to learn the basics of the sport. There is also plenty of challenging fishing for those who enjoy stalking larger fish (some in excess of 10 pounds) in skinny water.
Our ocean side flats, only 5 to 15 minutes from the lodge, are some of the most picturesque flats anywhere. While wading the flats at Turneffe you will cast to large schools of bonefish averaging 3-4 pounds, with some larger fish up to 10-12 pounds.
The ocean side flats also offer the opportunity to pursue small schools, singles and doubles. This fishing requires casting accuracy and provides the added challenge many seasoned saltwater anglers relish.
Bonefish are present in equal numbers throughout the year and they are on the flats most of the time. This differentiates Turneffe's bonefish from those in other areas, such as the Florida Keys, where bonefish only enter the flats in search of a meal. These are very lush flats full of crabs, shrimp and other bonefish foods. As a result, these fish can become selective. This can make for challenging fishing and the right tackle, flies, presentation and fishing techniques are all important.
Bonefish also inhabit the mangrove-lined lagoons and flats on the interior of the Atoll. These bonefish are generally larger and take flies more readily than the ocean side fish; although they tend to be on the move, making casting accuracy more crucial. Fishing for these fish is mostly done from the bow of our 16-foot Dolphin Superskiffs.
There is a wadeable flat immediately in front of the lodge, allowing you extra fishing in the early morning or evening.
Dick Brown, author of Fly Fishing for Bonefish, has named Turneffe Flats "One of The World's Seven Best for Bonefish."
Permit are the prime objective of many saltwater anglers these days and with Turneffe Flats leading the way, Belize has gained a reputation as the permit capital of the world. As much hunting as it is fishing, permit present a unique challenge and many guests have celebrated their first ever permit with us. At Turneffe Flats you may have a better chance to land a permit than anywhere else. KlugPermitLRjpeg.jpg
Most permit are found a singles or in small groups on the flats and bars throughout the Turneffe Atoll, although we also frequently see larger schools of permit tailing in shallow water. Most of our permit fishing is done from a poled skiff but we also see permit on the wadeable ocean-side flats.
In 2007, Fly Fishing in Saltwater magazine named Turneffe Atoll as one of the 10 best permit destinations in the world.
Tarpon are perhaps the ultimate challenge of saltwater fly-fishing. Because tarpon are migratory, they are by nature seasonal. Although some tarpon are around throughout the year, our prime season generally begins in mid-to-late April and continues to mid-October with June, July and August generally being our best months. Tarpon inhabit the creeks, channels and lagoons of the Atoll and most of our migratory tarpon are in the 70-90 pound range, but we see a
few 150-200 pound monsters each year.
Although there are always some resident tarpon to be found, our migratory tarpon season extends from mid-April to October. Tarpon inhabit the creeks, channels and lagoons of the Atoll and most tarpon jumped are 60-90 pounds, with some fish in the 100-150 pound range and occasional monsters approaching 200 pounds.
Other fish that can be caught on Turneffe Atoll, Belize
The interior of the Turneffe Atoll offers miles of mangrove-lined bays, creeks and lagoons to fish for various snappers, jacks and barracuda with poppers or Clouser minnows. This can be some very exciting saltwater fishing with either a fly rod or spinning gear.
Barracuda are an underrated and acrobatic game fish inhabiting the reefs at Turneffe in large numbers. Some anglers prefer to troll a fly for them, but they can also be taken by sight casting on the flats or by casting poppers into the deeper holes along the reef.
Along the reef, wading anglers can take snappers and jacks by casting deceiver patterns or poppers into the surf. Spending some time during your stay at Turneffe "chasing" other species is always fun and usually rewarding.
Seasons & Weather
Although the weather and fishing is generally good throughout the year in Belize there are some notable variations.
Bonefish SeasonBonefish are present in equal numbers throughout the year and there is no clearly preferable season for bonefishing.
Permit SeasonPermit are also present throughout the year, although permit fishing tends to be more predictable when the prevailing winds are most consistent - generally in the winter, spring and summer. Some of our better permit fishing can be in the fall if the weather is not affected by a cold front.
Tarpon SeasonTarpon fishing is quite seasonal since they're migratory. Our tarpon numbers begin to increase in April and May and drop off in September or October. Peak tarpon months are June, July, and August. Some resident tarpon are around throughout the year.
Grand Slam SeasonJune, July and August are our best overall fishing months primarily because there are good numbers of all three species available. Summer temperatures are in the low-to mid-90s and a steady trade wind generally makes the weather very comfortable. Our centrally air-conditioned rooms make for comfortable sleeping throughout the summer.
Other fishingAnother favorite sport fish, the snook, can be found in the small mangrove creeks around the atoll. Add one of these to your Grand Slam and make it a "Super Slam."
Barracuda are an underrated sport fish present in large numbers throughout the year. Reef species including snapper, grouper and jacks are also abundant year-round.
WeatherTemperatures throughout the year range from 75-95 degrees (average 84). Water temperatures average 79-80 degrees in the winter and 83 degrees in the summer. A comfortable southeasterly trade wind blows throughout most of the year, and tends to pick up in March and April. June begins the "rainy season" in Belize but this relates primarily to the mainland rainforest and has little effect on the offshore atolls. Fall weather is generally wonderful with pleasant temperatures and mild winds; however, the weather can occasionally be dominated by "northers'" or cold fronts.
Favorite Dive Sites on Turneffe Atoll and Lighthouse ReefBecause of the location near the center of Turneffe Atoll, one can find good dive sites regardless of wind direction and sea conditions. This offers a huge advantage on those days when the weather is not perfect.
Some of Our Favorite Dive Sites on the Belize Atolls...
Our location on the Eastern side of the Turneffe Atoll allows us to choose dive sites each day based on the weather and our divers' interests. Since there are exceptional dive sites ringing the entire atoll, we have the ability to plan our day around whatever Mother Nature may bring. Regardless or the weather, we are generally within 10-30 minutes of the selected dive site.
The Chutes off Calabash Caye, is approximately 50 feet deep along the top of the wall. It is good for pelagic encounters and taking wide angle photographs with a huge sand flat that is home to garden eels and yellowhead jawfish. Wide chutes lead to a wall covered with yellow tube sponges, purple sea whips and brain coral. Here we often find hawksbill turtles, spotted drum, scrawled cowfish and spotted morays.
At Crickozeen Cut , predatory trumpet fish camouflage themselves among the sea fans and a myriad of damselfish and parrotfish graze on algae, keeping the coral clean and healthy. Spiny lobsters are commonly found under ledges and Creole wrasse aggregate and spawn in their thousands around the full moon in summer.
The Elbow is a popular advanced drift dive located at Turneffe's most southern point. The reef crests at 80 feet and is very wide and exposed with a current that generally flows from the north at about 2 knots. Due to this current and the site's depth, most of the dive is spent in mid-water. Visibility is typically 100 feet and large schools of pelagic fish such as dog snappers, horse-eye jacks, permit and Atlantic spadefish aggregate here. In the canyons below, large groupers, turtles and balloon fish can be seen amongst enormous gorgonians, and out in the blue, the occasional sharks and spotted eagle rays add to the excitement of this dive. A pod of dolphins live close by and will often come to play with the divers while they are on their safety stop.
Lindsey's Back Porch is where you can drift slowly through a garden of gorgonian fans and sea plumes at 45 feet and see an abundance of butterfly fish, angelfish, blue tang, surgeonfish and parrotfish. As the reef divides into narrow fingers that run down to the wall edge, the coral ledges provide the perfect home for the white spotted toadfish, found only in Belize. Hawksbill turtles amble over the reef, feeding on algae and sponges and nurse sharks can be found rummaging for mollusks and shellfish in the sand.
Baker's Drop in front of the lodge, shelves gently towards the wall at about 50 feet reef. Colonies of thin leaf lettuce coral provide shelter for the juvenile rock beauty and spotted eagle rays are often seen in pairs, cruising in the blue.
The Terrace consists of narrow spur and groove formations, with an abundance of soft corals, Barrel sponges and Tube sponges. The top of the wall averages 35-40 feet and the sheer drop is covered with huge sponges, black coral and gorgonian fans. Thousands of schooling Creole wrasse, many varieties of hamlets and the white-spotted toadfish can often be found here.
Rendezvous Cut is a wide sandy expanse, dotted with pristine coral heads and frequented by furry sea cucumbers and giant queen conch. Approaching the wall at about 30 feet, the reef forms canyons, grottos and sandy chutes which run away to the blue. A great dive site for spotting reef tropicals such as French & queen angelfish, white-lined filefish and juvenile spotted drum.
Wonderworld is a site just north of us and is comprised of many large coral formations that drop dramatically from a depth of 65 feet. The site's topography allows for swimming around and between the coral heads to look for sleeping nurse sharks, southern stingrays and green moray eels. A pod of bottlenose dolphin sometimes appears and seems to enjoy "buzzing" the divers as they desperately try to take photographs.
A colorful array of yellow tube sponges, azure vase sponges and huge barrel sponges await you at Tubular Barrels. Several "cleaning stations" dot the reef and big groupers and snappers settle down to be picked clean by neon gobies, Pederson cleaner shrimp and juvenile bluehead wrasse.
Spotted eagle rays, black grouper and great barracuda are common visitors to divers at Pelican Wall. Caribbean reef sharks and even hammerheads have been seen cruising in the deep blue over a horizontal ledge feet below.
At Sayonara , the remains of the former passenger and cargo boat rest on the sand at a depth of 50 feet, having been decommissioned and sunk in 1985. To the South and Southeast of the wreck, large coral formations harbor banded coral shrimp, spiny lobsters and brittle stars. Stoplight parrotfish and French and queen angelfish pick amongst the encrusting sponges and large ocean triggerfish cruise the edge of the wall.
Weather permitting, we take a day trip to Lighthouse Reef to visit The Blue Hole, Half Moon Caye and Long Caye.
Pioneered by Jacques Yves Cousteau in the early 70's, The Great Belize Blue Hole has become Belize's most famous dive site. The hole is a "karst-eroded sinkhole" formed when the roof of a cave, in an underground tunnel complex, collapsed. When sea levels rose at the end of the Ice Age, the once dry cave filled with sea water producing the hole that now measures 1000 feet across with a depth of over 460 feet. It is a Marine Protected Area and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The rim of the Blue Hole and the surrounding lagoon is only a few feet deep and excellent for snorkeling.
As you descend over the edge, through a thermocline at around 50 feet, big groupers, snappers and horse-eye jacks come to investigate. Deeper still, with your eyes adjusting to the low light, blacktip sharks can be seen slowly patrolling the depths. At approximately 110 feet, the first limestone ledge appears and immense stalactites hang from the ceiling. On your slow ascent back to the edge of the hole, spotted morays can be found in crevices and on the wall crest, you return to the domain of the parrotfish and angelfish.
After a picnic lunch on the island of Half Moon Caye and a visit to the Red Footed Bobby Bird Sanctuary, we head back underwater. Click here for more info on Lighthouse Reef activities.
The Cathedral is aptly named, with coral spires and towers that rise up from the seafloor in large segments. Numerous sandy passageways lead you through the coral reef, out to the wall at 45 to 60 feet and into the brilliant blue. Sheet corals cover the wall and soft corals and rope sponges extend several feet. The top of the reef is a breathtaking coral garden and every nook and cranny teems with orange, red & yellow sponges. The sand is home to colonies of garden eels and gigantic southern stingrays lie in wait with only their eyes protruding. Black groupers, blue parrotfish and hogfish are regulars and yellowtail snappers escort you throughout your dive.
We tend to finish our day at Lighthouse at one of the shallow sites off Long Caye. The Aquarium with its variety of corals, invertebrates and profusion of reef fish is a very good spot for underwater photography. Big coral heads are dominated by mountainous star coral and at a depth of 40 feet orange elephant ear sponges grow out from the wall. Iridescent azure vase sponges and blue bell tunicates add to the color of this site and decorator crabs and neck crabs are can be seen clinging to the sea fans. Related Links:
Videos of Turneffe Atoll and Lighthouse Reef
An aerial tour of the Eastern side of the Turneffe Atoll and we round the southern tip and head north along the western shoreline.
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Google Earth ... go to Belize ... and then due East to find Turneffe Atoll ...
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