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An Indulgent Escape at Turneffe Island Resort

TravelPulse logo TravelPulse 6/26/2018 Scott Laird

The gentle breeze that washes over the brilliant white sands at Turneffe Island Resort is omnipresent. It cools, keeps the island free of bugs and combined with the gentle sounds of surf and island fauna creates a sort of tropical white noise that cocoons guests in intimate tranquility.

And that's before they even step foot inside their accommodations.

A private villa at Turneffe Island Resort: PHOTO: Morning breaks on a villa accommodation at Turneffe Island Resort, in the Caribbean off the coast of Belize. (Photo by Scott Laird) © Travalliancemedia Owned Media (Staff Photo) PHOTO: Morning breaks on a villa accommodation at Turneffe Island Resort, in the Caribbean off the coast of Belize. (Photo by Scott Laird)

The first thing I noticed about the resort upon arrival from Belize City on the resort's twice-weekly shuttle boat, right after the pleasant vista of the bungalows and towering palms swaying in all their golden hour technicolor. The breeze and surf drown out all but intimate conversation, allowing guests to focus their attentions entirely on their closest traveling companions, accentuated by the backdrop of this fantastical natural environment.

No wonder the place is popular with honeymooners. But sort of a crunchier, more natural sort of honeymooner who doesn't need the trappings of megaresort all-inclusives with armies of butlers and more themed bars and restaurants than one could get to in a week. A week here feels like time spent visiting with old friends by the time one leaves. Friends among the other guests, and friends among the staff of Belizeans, all of whom live on the island; many have lived and worked at the resort for generations.

The resort was carved out of the atoll by a refugee from Cuba in the middle of the last century, and the original design and intent were to recreate a vision of Hemingway's Caribbean. There's still some of that ethos in the brilliant hardwood interiors of the rooms and bungalows and the utterly charming main bar and dining room, which reminded me of lakefront fishing cabins back home in Alaska which share the same construction period.

The rhythms of the resort immediately intoxicate. Rise early with the sun for a walk or to join the daily yoga sessions at the waterfront, breakfast on fresh fruit, cereals, eggs and breakfast meats to order with at least one daily breakfast special. We feasted on Belizean-style poached eggs with spicy salsa, spinach, and roasted potatoes one morning and banana french toast the next.

Lunches are often salad or tostada style dishes while dinners are themed - on Italian night there was pasta with herb crusted snapper, Belizean Night featured stew chicken with rice and beans, while another night was and endless parade of crab claws. Those on fishing excursions can also have the kitchen prepare and serve their catch to their specifications, whether they've line caught a barracuda which is delicious fried, or spear caught a lionfish which yields a tender white flesh, good in ceviche.

Meals in the dining room are taken family style, rather akin to the pensions of the European grand tours of the 19th and early 20th centuries, with brilliant personalities on display like something quite out of an E.M. Forster novel. Fellow guests are typically worldly couples and small multigenerational groups with late teen or adult children; generally well-read seasoned travelers who seek authentic, memorable experiences more organic than a mega resort can provide. With new boats arriving only twice a week, the atmosphere is akin to a private yacht - the faces are the same for at least the next several days.

Throughout the day there's lemonade, water, coffee, and tea available in the main dining room with a savory hot snack and cookie. It's a good place to refill the brand new metal water bottles in each room which guests are welcome to take with them as a complimentary souvenir. In the evenings, the evening's appetizer course is served at the bar during happy hour, which features daily drink specials, and the guests gather to retell stories of their dive, snorkel, or fish catch.

During the day, depending on what type of experience has been selected and paid for, those interested in diving, snorkeling, fishing, or relaxing, respectively, set about their activities, but the one activity for which it seems the entire resort turns out is the popular weekly excursion to the Blue Hole, where divers explore underwater caves and snorkelers take in the abundant sea life hiding among the reefs. The resort is half-again as close to the Blue Hole as excursions departing from the mainland, so its boat is often the first to arrive in the morning.

There's more diving and snorkeling near the reserve at Half Moon Caye, then a fried chicken lunch under the shade of the tall palms. I enjoyed exploring the island, stepping through forest of palms and comfortingly cool-to-the-touch gumbo limbo trees while iguanas, geckos, and hermit crabs crept about the footpath. At the end of the trail the payoff was the habitat for the Red-Footed Booby, a cousin the the famous Blue-footed bird found in the Galapagos Islands.

Days on the sea are a curious mix of invigorating while at the same time exhausting. Sun-and-surf weary bodies can take advantage of the resort's bi-level spa, where a honey-sugar scrub followed by a luxurious mud wrap is just the antidote to a day's worth of salt and weather on the skin.

When it's time to get out of the sun, accommodation choices include rooms with screened in verandas, in two story hutches, or free-standing villas with the same large screened verandas, gorgeous hardwood interiors, plush net-canopied beds and indoor/outdoor showers with BeeKind bath amenities. Rooms have robust air conditioning, or if guests prefer, they can turn off the unit and open the doors and windows to let the breeze cool the rooms (the netting over the bed isn't purely decorative). For guests seeking an ultra-posh experience, there's a Presidential Suite with a private plunge pool and a VIP helicopter transfer.

Upon arrival, rooms and villas have a complimentary minibar stocked with candy and cold drinks ranging from Coca-Cola and Sprite to sparkling and still water, and an abundance of local Belikin beer. Replenishments are available for a fee, but in the mean time it's comforting to crack open a glass bottle of local beer at the end of the day and sit out on the veranda in the breeze. Or better yet, wander out on one of the jetties to a swinging day bed underneath a palapa to spend quality time with a treasured book or magazine until it's time for the nightly happy hour.

The Takeaway

However you choose to fill your days at Turneffe, life is good and the only worry is that one eventually has to leave.

The Math

Three night Relaxation Packages start at $1,490 per person plus tax, based on double occupancy, and include boat transportation to/from Belize City, accommodations and meals. Alcoholic beverages are extra, and beverage packages are available. Package rates tailored for those wishing to snorkel, dive, and fish or do all three are also available.

Instagrammable Moment

Popular shots on my Instagram feed included resort views at dawn and dusk and time spent on Half Moon Caye.

Loyalty

The resort does not operate a loyalty program; notwithstanding, a remarkable number of guests were repeat visitors.

Good To Know

The island has WiFi but it's quite slow. It's generally enough to check e-mail, view and post photos (but not video) to social media feeds, and check-in for your flight home.

Guest rooms do not have televisions. For those who simply must unwind with some screen time, it's wise to have content downloaded to your device before leaving home.

The cooling breeze makes it difficult to tell when your skin has had too much sun - a hat, rash guard or high SPF reef-safe sunscreen are must-brings, but they're available for sale in the gift shop if forgotten.

Guest rooms and villas can be locked while occupied, but are generally not locked when vacant. Safes are available for valuable items, but honestly, there's nobody on the island that needs impressing.

Be conservative with your energy use. The resort's energy generation and waste processing is all done on site. Water is desalinated or the product of rain-catch, and virtually every natural commodity is precious out here.

Transportation and accommodations were furnished by Turneffe Island Resort in preparation for this story.

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