During the second week in January, 2002 we spent a wonderful week out on a small island off the coast of Belize. We stayed at the Turneffe Island Lodge, which is actually a collection of beach front cottages and small buildings on the remote private island of Caye Bokel, down on the southern tip of the oval archipelago known as the Turneffe Islands. These islands sit atop a 60 kilometer long coral atoll on the eastern edge of Belize’s beautiful barrier reef, south of Ambergris Caye and east of Belize City. It’s a unique place, one of only four coral atolls in the Caribbean. Three of these are closely grouped in Belizean waters and are home to the Turneffe Islands, Lighthouse Reef (with the Blue Hole), and Glover’s Reef. And the other is the Chinchorro Banks to the north off the coast of Quintana Roo, Mexico.
Getting to Turneffe Island in Belize
Most guests fly into Belize City where they are met by the lodge’s van and shuttled over to the boat (this transfer is included), but we decided to drive down from Mexico and meet the boat at the dock for the hour plus ride out to the resort. We were quite pleased when we saw our ride, the lodge’s luxurious new Pro 43 cabin cruiser which leaves the dock for the island at 2:30. Andy and Lizette welcomed us aboard and offered a rum punch to each of the new guests (there were only 11 of us). Any baggage was carried off by the staff (to appear in the rooms later) with no heavy lifting by the guests whatsoever, and then we were off. The weather was beautiful as the Pro 43 sliced through the chop, skimming over the barrier reef. As Belize City shrunk in the distance, the feeling that something special was about to happen was definitely in the air. Along the way we passed the occasional sailboat, motor yacht and speed boat, eventually reaching some mangrove islands and little palm fringed sand islands that looked like something off a postcard. We mingled with the crew and our fellow guests, exchanging the usual travel banter and asking questions about the boat and the resort. Before long the dock at Caye Bokel appeared.
On the island in Belize
As we stepped off the boat and onto the dock we were given a warm welcome to the island and then escorted to our individual cottages to settle in. A little while later at the main lodge we were given a general orientation by Julie and informed that “island” time was an hour later than mainland time. Time to kick back and relax. A typical day starts with breakfast served family style in the main dining room at the lodge (likewise for lunch and dinner). After that those on packages usually go diving or fishing and anyone interested in participating in the activities “a la carte” is welcome to come along (remember to bring your “C” card and log book if you’re a diver). Since we were on a 17 dive package our next move was to the dive shop where we were introduced to any of the dive staff we had not already met, and given a full briefing. For those who want to learn to dive, classes are available. All was very nice and professional, and the staff very friendly. The anglers get their own guide and boat for fishing the flats.
What to do on Turneffe Island
The lodge offers a variety of water sports to guests. Some of the best flats fishing in the Caribbean for permit, tarpon and bone fish is in the mangroves surrounding Turneffe. Local guides and special flats boats provide great access and advice for the fishermen, and you don’t have to be a seasoned pro to give it a try. Since we’re divers we decided to stick to what we know. And the scuba diving IS spectacular! Daily diving is offered on miles of pristine reefs teeming with tropical fish. This is some of the best ocean reef diving we’ve ever done! Boat rides to the dive sites average less than 10 minutes, and once a week the resort’s other deluxe Pro 43 dive boat carries divers to Lighthouse Reef for diving in Belize’s famous ocean Blue Hole and on the reef. A picnic lunch on beautiful Half Moon Caye nearby the Blue Hole is included. Our dive staff was terrific, consisting of Brad and Eddie as alternate captains, Ricky as the dive master, and Lizette is the scuba instructor who also runs the diving operation. For those who want to hang around the resort, snorkeling and kayaking in crystal clear water is right off the beach. To mix it up a bit we kayaked two afternoons right in front of the lodge where several ocean going sailboats were temporarily moored. Caye Bokel is easily circumnavigated on a kayak when it’s not too windy and there is another uninhabited island next door with an interesting shoreline.
Food, drinks and extras
All the meals we had were terrific, and the resort publishes its own cook book, “A Taste of Turneffe” (available from their office in the US). Shrimp, lobster, fish, poultry, fresh fruit, fresh veggies, all prepared and served by local Belizean gals who really know what they’re doing. And always with a friendly smile. The bar opens around midday and features a delicious blender concoction daily. There is no need to carry money at this resort. You do as you please and settle up any additional charges on your last day. There are no surprises since everything is explained in the orientation on the first day and any questions are answered anytime you have them. This is a small resort that specializes in personal service. The hardest thing you’ll have to do is go home. If you have ever entertained living the Caribbean island fantasy this is an excellent place to do it.