Turneffe is supposed to have some of the best diving in Belize with crystal clear waters, a heathy reef and large and small marine creatures. Having not dived in other parts of the country I can’t compare locations, but the variety of life, quality of diving operation and lack of other divers made this trip our most fun diving experience to date.
The diving program with Tureffe Flats generally has about 4 – 8 divers per week. The resort caters primarily to fisherman, and this week we were the only fulltime divers. Don and one other guy were doing a dive, fishing combo, where you dive 1 or 2 dives in the morning and fish in the afternoon.
The lack of other divers meant there was plenty of room on the boat and lots of individual attention if you need it. I was diving with a new wet suit and BCD and was happy to have the extra attention to sort out my buoyancy issues. Ruben, the dive master, is skilled at noticing what you need to improve your diving practice but restrained enough to give you advice only when you ask for it. If you are happy with what you are doing and not endangering anyone he’s cool enough to let you do your own thing.
I’m sure on weeks where they do have more divers Ruben manages the situation just fine. They generally don’t do 8 divers unless they are part of a group that know each other. If they have divers taking training courses they add a dive master or two. Some of the fishing guides are also trained dive masters.
Generally the dive boat leaves at 8AM goes and out to a location 30 to 60 minutes from the resort where you do 3 dives. During the first surface interval, 1 hour, cookies and fruit are served. After the second dive there is an hour and half break for lunch on the boat which is a sandwich or salad chosen the night before. The third dive finishes around 1:30 and we were back at the resort generally by 2:30.
This of course varies by day. Sunday morning there is a briefing before heading out so everything runs a bit later. Tuesdays, Blue Hole day, starts earlier and runs later because it’s an hour and half to the dive site. Fridays start and end a bit earlier because the fishing and diving staff returns to town on Friday evenings for the weekend with their families.
They offer a night dive on Wednesday but the dive master discourages clients from doing it as it is a “terrible night dive”. One, it really isn’t at night as you have to be back to the resort by 7PM for dinner. Two, the dive site is inside the flats with a depth of no more than 15 feet. More of twilight snorkel than a night dive.
The dive boat has ample room for 8 divers and crew. With only 3 of us it was luxuriously spacious. There are both covered and uncovered setup areas, a toilet below, and fresh rinse off water is available as well as a bucket for masks and another one for camera equipment and computers.
On this trip we had Ruben the dive master and Leo the boat captain. Both were courteous, knowledgeable and spoke great English. Their easy going nature and professionalism combined with a great sense of humor made diving with them a true pleasure.
Dive sites are chosen based on the wind and current conditions. As it was generally windy during our week most of the dive sites were on the west side of the atoll.
Day 1 – Crickozeen, Sandy Slopes, Amber Head (west side)
Despite the perfect weather, visibility was not so great. It was especially yellow and murky at the last site. All dives started across a relatively sandy slope with clusters of coral to the wall where the density of marine life greatly increased. Sightings included – puffer and balloon fish, a southern ray, a couple of green moray eels, a couple of turtles, lobster and a large rough tail ray sleeping in the sand.
Day 2 – Lettuce Lane, Alfred’s Delight, Hollywood, aka Cockroach Shallows (northeast)
These sites are all on the other side of the atoll from the first day of diving. Diving conditions were supposed to be clearer here but we didn’t really find them to be.
The first dive was a deeper training dive at 90 to 100ft to prepare us for the Blue Hole the following day. We descended to the top of the wall and then continued down the vertical wall to our maximum depth. This was the clearest dive of the three. The second dive was the murkiest of the day with a fair amount of yellow water obscuring visibility. We followed a sloping reef with sand channels through it. The third dive we went down to about 45ft to a relatively flat bottom with coral islands and an abundance of colorful fish.
Just after we reached the boat on the first dive a school of dolphins were playing around the boat and we had the opportunity to snorkel with them. Amazing to watch. They swam around and around, about 20 of them, diving and then resurfacing. We spent about 20-30 minutes with them.
Other highlights included large schools of blue creole wrasse, a couple of rays, lobsters, grouper, shrimp, green moray eels, golden tail eel, barracuda and angel fish.
Day 3 – Blue Hole, Half Moon Caye Wall, The Aquarium
This is a special dive day, usually done on Tuesdays after a deep check-out dive on Mondays. Although the name draw is the Blue Hole, for me, Half Moon Caye Wall, a beautiful wall with large friendly grouper and reef sharks, was the highlight of the day.
We met at the boat at 7AM, instead of the usual 8AM, for the 90 minute ride out to the Blue Hole. As on Monday we are the only guests on the boat. Once we reach the Blue Hole, however, there were 3 other dive boats already on site. Not much of a problem as there is a regular route that all the guides follow. You descend to a sandy ledge at about 50ft then down the wall to the top of the stalactites at about 100ft where the wall concaves inward to form an open cave where you can swim through the formations at about 130ft.
Once through you turn back, follow the wall back up and spend some time on the sandy ledge before ascending. We did see a big black grouper below us in hole and a couple of clams on the wall, otherwise there was not much life in the Blue Hole and only a few interesting fish on the sandy ledge.
The beautiful pictures you see of a perfect round blue hole in the middle of a sea green ring can only be obtained from the air. From the water you can make out the edge here and there but it does not have the same impact. I haven’t done cave diving so I’m not sure how the diving experience compares. It’s an interesting novelty dive but I wouldn’t go to too much effort to include it in my itinerary.
The Half Moon Caye Wall dive, however, was amazing. We first crossed a sandy bottom where a southern ray and a pair of angel fish were hanging out and then swam through a narrow channel to reach the wall with beautiful coral and gorgonians (soft coral also known as alcyonacea) and lots of fish both small and large. Highlights included a couple reef shark sightings, a turtle and large grouper following along.
Lunch was a picnic on Half Moon Caye. Besides the usual sandwich offerings on Tuesdays there is also a choice of fried chicken. Although I don’t usually indulge, I thought a day of diving deserved an old fashioned fried chicken lunch; it hit the spot served with a side of OK pasta salad.
On the caye is a rookery. This is nesting season and there were plenty of chicks. One nest right next to the platform. Tons of frigate birds flying overhead and one in the rookery displaying his inflated red chest.
Back in the water for the third dive, the Aquarium was fish from start to finish, even greeting us on our way down. This is another wall dive. Not as clear conditions as the previous dive but still fun with great sightings. A green moray eel popped out between me and Don. Bermuda chub swam with us looking for a meal and a giant crab lurked in the coral. The end of the dive passes along a beautiful shallow reef at about 20 feet with interesting and colorful fish. I could have spent an hour here but was running low on air.
For more dive sites and photos see the following post.
First week of April, 2019
For links to all the posts on diving destinations see the Diving page.