Pampered in Paradise: Belizes Turneffe Flats Resort
By Rick Frehsee
Turneffe Flats Resort may be the best kept diving secret anywhere in the considerable Belize dive environment. Here, you and just three to five other divers will be pampered in the paradise of Turneffe Islands Atoll.
Turneffe Flats Resort has been in operation for 12 years. It is a dive resort that also hosts fishermen (or vice versa), a concept that will work only in certain parts of the world; here it works to the benefit of both divers and fishermen.
On the eastern side of Turneffe Islands Atoll, the largest of the three coral atolls off the coast of Belize (there are only four in the entire Western Hemisphere), Turneffe Flats hosts a small group of divers and fishermen each week. The fishermen keep to the flats, where Bonefish, Tarpon and Permit abound. (These world-class gamefish are released after capture.) The divers, of course, keep to the reefs and adjacent wall (miles and miles of it). By keeping both groups as small as possible, the environment is maintained in an absolutely pristine state and the marine life is plentiful. By combining the groups, the resort stays full and affordable.
By itself, Turneffe Islands Atoll, 24 miles long and several miles wide, offers as much diving area as Cozumel, Bonaire or Grand Cayman. The difference is that very few people come here. Chances are you might see another dive boat at Turneffe only once or twice during a weeks visit. Turneffe Flats Resort also visits the Great Blue Hole and Lighthouse Reef Atoll once a week. Its a world-class diving package offered to four to six divers each week.
The second delightful surprise is the accommodations and services. You will be sped to the reefs (generally 3 to 20 minutes away) aboard one of three nearly identical 31 foot custom dive boats. When you get back to shore, you will be eating delicious food and living in one of several beautiful cottages cooled by central air-conditioning.
Unless you want to, you wont have to touch a tank or your personal gear until you are ready to slip into the sea each morning and afternoon. A full time professional divemaster and boat captain will be at your disposal.
The resort is fringed along the sandy northern end of Blackbird Caye (the blackbirds poking about in the sand and palm trees are great grackles). There is an attractive outdoor porch on the top floor. Four handsome duplex cottages (white with blue trim and red roofs) line the beach just south of the mainhouse (16 total guests).
Each cottage has a porch. The handsome interiors are island decorated with hardwood accents, terra cotta tile floors and tiled bathrooms. Each guestroom has a queen sized and a twin sized bed.
The food is excellent, with breakfast to order and island and continental specialties served family style for lunch and dinner. Flexibility is a key word at the resort; meals, dive time, etc., can all be adjusted. For example, picnic lunches are prepared for all-day diving excursions and dinner can be delayed until after a night boat dive.
At the end of a dock that extends from the beach into the lagoon and past a fleet of smaller fishing boats is the dive boat fleet: three modern 31 foot Ocean Master boats, Pirate, Razzmatazz and Ninja, powered by twin 200 hp Johnson outboards. These vessels are capable of cruising at more than 30 knots, making the trip from Turneffe Atoll to Lighthouse Reef Atoll in about an hour.
The seasoned managers at Turneffe Flats Resort are Doug Jorgensen and Nancy Shields; both are knowledgeable and excellent hosts. Tina Moncur is the friendly guest services director. Kevin Hayden, divemaster and assistant manager, is very experienced in diving throughout Belize and especially in the Turneffe Islands.
The reef profiles vary from coast to coast and quadrant to quadrant, providing a full range of dive experiences. Turneffe Islands Atoll, with mostly mangrove islands just inside the circle of reef, is known as a marine life parade.
Turneffe Flats Resorts most popular dive sites include:
The Terrace: Here the top of the wall begins in only 35 to 40 feet of water. One section in particular provides a sheer drop-off decorated with Elephant Ear Sponges and bushes of Back Coral.
Rendezvous Cut: This site consists of a wide sandy plain dotted with coral heads. A huge deep water gorgonian marks the entrance to a wide sandy chute and a sloping wall decorated with enormous barrel sponges.
Eel Gardens: A wide, sandy shelf is home to thousands of Garden Eels and Razorfish. Near the coral heads stingrays feed in the sand.
The above areas are all on the western side of Turneffe. A natural cut through the atoll just north of the resort allows easy access to the western side. On the eastern (resort) side of the atoll are the following sites:
Jo Jos Splits features two huge coral formations 60 feet deep at the top and plunge to 100 feet at a sand bottom. There is a good mixture of friendly reef fish and the pelagic species associated with deep water. A short distance south of the resort is The Chutes, a popular spur and groove system alive with marine life, yellow tube sponges and huge barrel sponges. Just north of Turneffe Flats is an area that features a meandering trail of huge coral formations that drop dramatically from a depth of 65 feet. Known as Wonder World, this is a good site for turtles, rays and occasionally, a shark.
The Turneffe Flats package provides a Saturday to Saturday visit. Guests fly into Belize City then transfer by car and boat to the resort, 32 miles from the coastal dock.
For more information and reservations, contact Turneffe Flats Resort in Belize at P.O. Box 1676, Belize City, Belize, C.A; fax 501-2 12046; Marine Channel 68. You can e-mail to Tflats@BTL.net. or contact the U.S. office at P.O. Box 36, Deadwood, SD 57732; (800) 815-1304, (605) 578-1304 or fax (605) 578-7540.