Exploring the Turneffe Islands in Belize

by Larry Waight
diving belize turneffe atoll

If you send your view of the globe just 30 miles east from Belize City, you will find yourself looking over a bunch of mangroves and an atoll known as the Turneffe islands; not many people call this area of the world home beyond the people staying at some private resorts and a few dozen fishermen. However, the waters surrounding this area are where you will find the Belize Barrier Reef; the islands have also been declared to be a protected marine reserve since 2012. If you are looking to stay on Turneffe, there are plenty of waterfront bungalows with white sandy beaches to explore. Note that people come here to relax and there are no restaurants or amenities to be found beyond what the local resorts offer.

Turneffe: One of Belize’s Three Atolls

The leading attraction of the Turneffe Islands are its sugary white beaches, the clear Caribbean waters and the astonishing reef. You have over 50 miles of coral reef and dozens of diving sites, satisfying anyone with a penchant for diving, snorkeling or even grabbing a fishing rod; fortunately, the best diving spots are less than 10 minutes from a resort. Even if you are not interested in the many vibrant colors of corals found here, you can find plenty of turtles, eels, reef fish, reef sharks, hammerheads and even groupers. 

Turneffe Reef Atoll. Photo courtesy Duarte Dellarole.

The waters routinely average in temperature around the lower 80s and their clarity means you can easily see as deep as 80 feet. The excellent visibility of this area makes it a great place to dive and seek certification for scuba diving. Beyond the many diving spots of the Turneffe Atoll, you can also take a little over an hour’s boat ride to the gorgeous underwater sinkhole known as the Great Blue Hole.

A Biodiverse Habitat

belize climate change crocodile

A crocodile meanders through mangroves in Turneffe Atoll, Belize, where the national government may soon protect these coastal forests as part of its climate commitment to the Paris Agreement. Photo by Michael Melford

Not to mention, its many salt-water lagoons and mangroves have served as an excellent habitat for a great number of aquatic and avian creatures. Notably, these islands are among the largest Caribbean nesting sites for the threatened American crocodile. The numerous shallow flats also lend themselves to prime territory to fly-fish for bonefish, permit and tarpon, among many other fish species. This also makes them a prime spot for learning how to fly fish.

It takes about 90 minutes by boat to reach the Turneffe islands from Belize City. There are three major resorts to help find a suitable boat and this service is usually complementary. You can also arrange a helicopter transfer, which only takes 15 minutes from Belize City. If on a budget, consider day tripper tours from Ambergris Caye or Caye Caulker. 

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