Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve is the largest marine reserve in Belize. Turneffe Atoll is only about 35 miles east of Belize City and about a one-hour boat ride from Belize City. The atoll is out past Belize Barrier Reef. Technically, the definition of an atoll is a coral island or islands that enclose a lagoon. Most think of the Pacific atolls, such as the infamous Bikini atoll, where nuclear weapons were tested and from where the itsy bitsy bikini takes its name. The Bikini atoll and many Pacific atolls are submerged volcano rims close enough to the surface for coral to grow in the photic zone.
The three atolls of Belize (Turneffe, Glover's and Lighthouse) are not built upon volcanoes, but rather the coral has built upon two submerged parallel ridges that run east of the Belize Barrier Reef. These atolls make up three of the four atolls in the western hemisphere. The fourth atoll is part of the same system and lies just north of the Belize border in Mexican waters, it is called Banco Chinchorro.
In November 2012, Belize’s Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development officially signed the Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve into existence. The atoll is the largest of the four coral atolls in the western hemisphere. The area is ideal for wall, drift and reef dives. Preservation of reef and marine life has taken a more central role and importance in Belize in the last couple decades.
Further seaward to the east of Turneffe Atoll is Lighthouse Reef, technically another atoll, where the famous Blue Hole marks an almost perfect circular blue eye in the middle of the lagoon. The Blue Hole can even be seen via satellite from space. Its steep walls and deep dark abyss make this a memorable dive and boat ride.
The Turneffe Atoll is a perfect place for beginner, intermediate and advanced scuba divers. All sides of the atoll have amazing dive sites. The south side of the atoll offers the most accessible and the most popular dive locations. The dive site known as The Elbow is the most well known site and is known for sweeping current and schools of fish over the deep reef. The wall plunges over 3,000 feet into the abyss, offering spectacular drift dives and crevasses to explore along the ledge. The southern side has many scattered reefs and notoriously steep walls. This side is for more advanced scuba divers due to depth, strong currents, and drop-offs. Two other dive sites near The Elbow are Myrtle's Turtles and Billy Bob's. Myrtles' Turtles features a wall of coral and sea turtles especially in the springtime. The dive site known as Billy Bobs features swim-throughs, canyons, and large grouper.
The eastern side of the atoll gradually shelves to about 60 feet before meeting the steep wall. This side of the atoll is protected by 35 miles of reef to explore. The upper east side of the atoll offers many dive sites not too far offshore from the resort Turneffe Flats. The three dives sites: Barracuda Beach, Lindsey’s Back Porch and Wishbone are popular for spotting Loggerhead sea turtles, barracudas, lobster and Whitespotted toadfish. These three dives and many others in the area make easy day dives close to the resort.
Abundant mangroves, providing protection from the waves, allow more fragile huge soft corals and sea feathers to thrive protect the west side of Turneffe Atoll. This side offers a calm sanctuary for life; the bottom sits at only 30-35 feet. The reef is further offshore from the cayes of this side of the atoll compared to the east side. The west side is ideal for beginners or divers looking to explore and photograph in the shallows. Your air can last a long time in this shallow peaceful setting. Along the northern reef of the west side you will find the dive site descriptively called, Hole in the Wall. Midway down the west coast there is Snake Point and Lobster Bay among many others. The southern coast of the west side offers dive sites such as Anchor Creek and West Point Wall. The visibility of the water between the cayes of the west side and the reef offshore is often 100 feet.
Turneffe Atoll is the most biologically diverse coral atoll in the Caribbean. It is common to spot eagle rays, sharks, turtles, dolphins, moray eels, occasionally a whale shark, large schools of Horse eye jack, and dog snapper.
Nested within the atoll, known as Lighthouse Reef, is the great Blue Hole. Just 13 miles east off Turneffe Atoll is where scuba diver's flock to explore the popular and well-photographed Blue Hole. This underwater sinkhole has stalactites and stalagmites from thousands of years ago when there was air inside the cenote rather than water. This nearly perfect circular hole is in shallow waters then it plunges into a dark blue color where the water is 480 feet (145 meters) deep. From rim to rim, the Blue Hole is about a quarter of a mile wide. Once you dive down about 110 feet the steep wall widens, allowing divers to explore and hover under the limestone formations that once hung from the caves walls. A daylong dive excursion to the Blue Hole often includes the nearby Half Moon Caye Natural Monument and the Red Footed Boobie Bird Sanctuary. The Blue Hole's steep walls are famous for the encounters with Hammerhead sharks and black grouper among many other fish and invertebrates.
To get to Turneffe Atoll and the Blue Hole first fly into Belize City, into Philip S.W. Goldson International Airport (BZE). There are many direct flights from the United States, Mexico and Guatemala into Belize City. Once in Belize City, you can catch a boat to Turneffe Island; most resorts offer the boat service, but there are also boats for hire. If you have flown into Dangriga Airport (DGA) or San Pedro 's Ambergris Caye Airport (SPR), there are boats to Turneffe Atoll and the Blue Hole from those locations as well.
For those wanting to stay on Turneffe Atoll, there are three great options. Turneffe Flats is a dive destination that offers accommodations and dive excursions, as well as equipment rentals and scuba diving instruction. Located on the eastern rim of Turneffe Atoll, Turneffe Flats is accessible via a 30-minute boat ride from Belize City. The ride takes you near cayes, through the barrier reef and the mangrove channels of Turneffe Atoll. Once at the resort, the reef is not far offshore and there are many great dive sites very close by and all around the atoll. This is a great place to visit the Blue Hole. It is only 13 miles to the east within the Lighthouse Reef to the east of Turneffe Atoll. The second destination on the atoll worth reserving is Turneffe Island Resort, within the confines of the southern tip of the Turneffe Atoll. This is another great dive shop and resort wrapped up into one. Beautiful white sandy beaches surround the resort. The amazing little caye or island that the resort sits on is a launching point for all the great dive sites and snorkeling the atoll has to offer. This is another place you can boat from to access and scuba dive the Blue Hole to the east. A third dive shop option on Turneffe is Blackbird Caye Resort, a top-notch resort and dive excursion launching pad. The resort even has its own private airstrip for those who want to hop flight from Belize City directly.
In Belize City, there are numerous dive shops that regularly take scuba divers to the dive sites along Turneffe Atoll and Lighthouse Reef's Blue Hole. In Belize City check out Sea Sports Belize that specializes in small group and private charter trips. Near the seaward tip of Belize City, not far from where the water taxis come in and out, is the Radison Fort George Hotel & Marina, where the dive shop known as Hugh Parkeys Belize Dive Connection sits. They can arrange to rent equipment, and reserve dive excursions to the atoll and Blue Hole or most anywhere in and around Belize.
The Turneffe Atoll is a perfect place for beginner, intermediate and advanced scuba divers. All sides of the atoll have amazing dive sites. The south side of the atoll offers the most accessible and t...
To get to Turneffe Atoll and the Blue Hole first fly into Belize City, into Philip S.W. Goldson International Airport (BZE). There are many direct flights from the United States, Mexico and Guatemala ...
Whale Sharks are the largest fish in the world. Around the April, May and June full moons are the opportune times to swim with these gentle giants. The whale sharks filter feed and mate around some of the best dive sites off Belize offering an amazing experience.