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Standout Stay: Turneffe Island Resort in Belize

This summer camp for divers puts conservation first.
By Alexandra Owens | Created On January 10, 2024
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Standout Stay: Turneffe Island Resort in Belize

Aerial photo of Turneffe Island

Turneffe Island Resort

Standout Stay: Turneffe Island Resort in Belize

If summer camp existed for divers, it would probably look a lot like Turneffe Island Resort, a former fishing lodge nestled on a 14-acre private island that’s part of Belize’s Turneffe Atoll. Among the labyrinthine tangle of coral islands, thick mangrove stands and reef—mere minutes away from the resort—you’ll discover 32 of the country’s best dive sites.

Guests wake up to coffee hand-delivered to their room and return to the ring of an old-fashioned dinner bell, filling the blissful hours in between with snorkeling, catch-and-release fly fishing, kayaking—and of course—diving on the world-renowned Belize Barrier Reef.

Caribbean Diving at Its Finest

Best known for its deep, sloping walls and dramatic drop-offs, the atoll provides a natural nursery and shelter for marine animals. Look out for a wealth of creatures big and small, including barracuda, octopus, horse-eye jack, nurse shark, stingray, moray eel, lettuce sea slug, French angelfish, harlequin pipefish and the endemic white spotted toadfish (which you’re more likely to recognize by its belching honks). Caribbean reef sharks, some of which are tagged and named by researchers, are especially curious here, thanks to the diligent lionfish hunting of the dive team (though it is advised not to feed lionfish to other animals.)

Nassau grouper frequent the dive sites in Belize

Kristin Paterakis

For many guests, the highlight of the week is Tuesday’s trip to the Great Blue Hole and Lighthouse Atoll. Because Turneffe Island Resort is located just 1.5 hours away, the hotel’s boat is one of the first to anchor in the morning; divers coming from Belize City or Ambergris Caye must travel up to three times as far. If having the world’s deepest underwater sinkhole all to yourself isn’t enough, you’ll also spend the afternoon diving Half Moon Caye Wall and Long Caye Aquarium, two of the most popular sites on the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System.

Related Reading: Interesting Facts about Belize’s Great Blue Hole

A Conservation Success Story

The first nature reserve in Belize to have been designated under the National Park Systems Act and first marine protected area in Central America, Half Moon Caye was originally established as a red-footed booby sanctuary in 1924. (You’ll visit the comical birds during a delicious picnic lunch between dives). Today, it’s paradise for divers, thanks to its sea turtle nesting grounds, pristine coral and friendly giant grouper.

A friendly sea turtle swims by a diver

Kristin Paterakis

In fact, conservation is at the heart of Turneffe Island Resort. Officially named a marine reserve in 2012, its own atoll is home to numerous threatened and endangered species such as the Antillean manatee, hawksbill turtle, Nassau grouper and great hammerhead shark. The resort takes sustainability seriously, safeguarding it with environmental initiatives and hosting three rangers from the Turneffe Atoll Sustainability Association (TASA), the organization that’s responsible for the day-to-day protection of the reserve and stopping illegal fishing. By staying here, divers know they’re contributing to the future of a biodiversity hotspot.

Break Down the Details For Me

Rooms: If you want to splurge, book one of the brand new Sunset Villas, which are each equipped with a private plunge pool, spacious screen porch and a king bed that’s so comfortable it makes waking up for morning dives a little too challenging. Granted, no one is exactly roughing it in the resort’s standard guest rooms, decked out in sleek mahogany and teak interiors and private outdoor showers with water pressure that’s one hundred times better than any dive boat.

The Presidential villa comes with a private plunge pool

Turneffe Island Resort

Food & Drink: Dig into traditional Belizean food like garnaches (similar to a tostada), stewed chicken and delightfully chewy fry jacks, as well as an assortment of international dishes. All of the resort’s packages include three meals per day, plus snacks and nightly hors d’oeuvres served poolside, where the expert bartender happens to make a stellar passion fruit margarita. Most dietary preferences can be accommodated with advance notice.

Top Dive Site: When currents are pumping at Turneffe Atoll’s The Elbow, the underrated site rivals Belize’s best, awash in schools of horse-eye jacks, eagle rays and inquisitive Caribbean reef sharks.

Topside Fun: Need a vacation from all that diving? Probably not. But Turneffe Island Resort boasts access to a gym, paddle boards, kayaks and Hobie Cat just in case. You can also opt to join the fishing group, or coordinate transportation to Belize City for the day to explore Mayan ruins or go zip lining.

Turneffe Island Resort’s pool at sunset

Alexandra Owens

Amenities: Take a dip in the outdoor freshwater pool or lounge oceanside with a book in hand. Amenities here aren’t overly flashy, but still make you feel spoiled in the middle of a Robinson Crusoe situation. There’s satellite-based wifi with a limited signal as well as a gift shop where you can purchase souvenirs, snacks, and forgotten necessities like bug spray. Granted, most desert islands don’t have a spa. (The locally-sourced seaweed wrap and deep tissue massage work wonders after a long day on the boat).

Certifications: The resort’s dive program is led by six PADI Dive Masters, including two Master Instructors and a Master Trainer. Should you decide to pick up your nitrox or deep diver certification while on island, the team is well equipped to help you reach new depths. Turneffe Atoll’s calm, clear waters provide an excellent training ground.

Related Reading: Belize Dive Haven

Gear: Although there’s limited equipment available to rent (the majority of divers bring their own gear) what they offer is well cared for and from reputable brands. Be sure to reserve in advance if needed.

Pricing: As of 2024, a three-night dive package (Wednesday to Saturday) with five single tank dives costs $4,290, four-night dive package (Saturday to Wednesday) with seven single tank dives is $5,490 and a full week five package (Saturday to Saturday) with 15 single tank dives is $7,690. These rates are based on double occupancy in a Deluxe room and include return transportation to Belize City, all meals, a weight belt and tanks and a dive guide.

Getting There: Turneffe Island Resort offers a boat transfer from Belize City every Wednesday and Saturday at 3:00 p.m. If your flight into Philip S. W. Goldson International Airport (BZE) misses the scheduled pickup, private transportation will be sorted at extra cost. Dying to see the Great Blue Hole from the air (and have deep pockets)? The resort can arrange for you to fly in on the helicopter ride of a lifetime.