By Elisabeth Brigham By Elisabeth Brigham | January 18, 2023 | Lifestyle
Escape to Turneffe Island Resort, a place where opulence and natural beauty seamlessly fuse to create an excursion-centric private island that promises a world of aquatic adventure just off the coast of Belize.
The resort offers scuba diving, snorkeling and fishing excursions.
There are trips that follow a minute-by-minute itinerary and trips that are little more than a mojito in hand while lazing on a beach; only occasionally will you find yourself nestled nicely between the two. Cue Turneffe Island Resort: a Belizean hidden gem that boasts all-inclusive excursions, a recently renovated Serenity Spa, three new sunset villas, stretches of secluded beach and five-star fare. Located on the coral island of Little Caye Bokel in the Turneffe Atoll, the resort is surrounded by a string of lush, verdant land; clear blue lagoons; immense, glistening channels; and ethereal reefs. It is the soul of the Caribbean’s world-renowned fishing, diving and snorkeling scenes, and I promise, this 14-acre private island is anything but small.
The private island is lined with hammocks, cabanas and more.
Following a 90-minute shuttle boat ride (or short helicopter transfer) from Belize City, I start my adventure with a handful of other passengers, some with scuba gear in tow and others simply looking to slip away, but all anxious to see what lies beyond the horizon. After an hour of nothing but clear waters, hints of lush greenery and distant islands start to sneak in, and before we know it, the resort slowly reveals itself. Ready for our arrival, the Turneffe staff is lined up at the dock, waving the boat to shore in synchronized harmony. Zigzagging between their legs are the island’s most popular residents— Pepper the Dalmatian and Lexi the German shepherd—and above their heads, a wooden sign that reads “Come as strangers, leave as friends.”
From first foot off the dock, Turneffe’s signature red roofs and breezy patios begin to take shape. Striking a balance between a full-force resort and seaside glampground, the resort is made up of a series of yellow wooden cottages. Starting with deluxe and superior guest rooms, the path leads us down a long stretch of beach past the clubhouse and tiki bar (where guests meet up every night for happy hour full of sips and hors d’oeuvres) to private and premium villas and, finally, to the most exclusive accommodations of the island: the Honeymoon, Presidential and newly built Sunset villas. Every room sports its own oceanic-inspired aesthetic—think mahogany and teak interiors, vaulted ceilings, screened outdoor showers and more—while the highest-end villas beckon with impressive porches, teak lounges and private plunge pools.
The outdoor dining area
Rooted in sustainability, Turneffe showcases an impressive lineup of environmental initiatives. On top of its Green Globe certification and membership with the Reef Environmental Education Foundation, the island sources an array of local, seasonal ingredients; works on mangrove restoration; protects a surplus of species and birds (least terns, yellow-throated warblers, summer tanagers and more) that find their way to the island; and recycles and purifies all of the island’s water while using solar energy to heat it. All of this—luxury living and sustainable efforts—still doesn’t scratch the surface of what Turneffe Island Resort truly is. For that, you’ll have to go below sea level.
A scuba diving excursion
Here, every day is about choosing your own adventure. Fly fishermen set out to catch the Caribbean “Grand Slam” consisting of one bonefish, tarpon and permit; dive masters are at the helm of two to three different dives per day; snorkelers explore the surrounding coral reefs just minutes off the island; or, if relaxation is more your style, stay back and book a treatment or massage at the Serenity Spa. Snorkeling is my game of choice, and twice a day we boat off, jumping into the unknown. We are greeted by the crackle of the ocean and coral reefs that go for miles. Being underwater I feel like I might as well be on another planet, looking down on a pair of spotted eagle rays, Caribbean reef squids, octopuses, nurse sharks and scrawled cowfish, to name a few. And if you’re as lucky as I am, a remora fish might even latch onto your leg to hitch a ride through the tides.
Secluded seating outside the resort’s villas
But no aquatic excursion compared to the week’s grand finale: the Great Blue Hole. A giant marine sinkhole near the center of Lighthouse Reef, the Blue Hole is now home to a vertical limestone cave system and an array of marine life (from Caribbean reef sharks and hammerheads to spotted moray eels and scrawled cowfish). With three snorkel and dive sites, this daylong trip is easily the most impressive and exhilarating excursion of the week. “There’s nothing else like it, especially in Belize,” says general manager Aly McGahey. “You don’t dive the Blue Hole to see the reef fish and coral—you go for the geological formations. You are in a cavern system, and when you’re in there you think, ‘OK, I’m at 130 feet. This used to be above ground at some point.’ It’s definitely eerie and weird, but amazing at the same time.”
Turneffe Island Resort’s private island sits in the Turneffe Atoll
As I hang up my snorkel gear for the last time, I know this is a trip I’ll cherish forever. For the excursions and many hours spent under the palapas, of course, but also for the cups of coffee left on my doorstep every morning from the staff, and the poems that were tucked into bed for me to find after dinner, and how everyone on the island seemed to immediately know me by name. Turns out, the resort’s welcome sign is true. These strangers I met just days ago are now friends with whom I’ve spent some truly memorable moments. That is the beauty of Belize—and the magic of Turneffe Island Resort.
The Presidential Villa features an expansive porch with teak lounges and its own plunge pool overlooking the ocean.
Photography by: PHOTOS COURTESY OF TURNEFFE ISLAND RESORT