It takes a lot to run a smooth resort operation.
It takes even more ingenuity to run one that’s situated so far from civilization.
“We’re an hour and a half off [the mainland],” says Alain Allemeersch, who serves as co-general manager of Belize’s Turneffe Island Resort with his wife, Maya. “We know we’re never going to be on the grid for anything.”
But for whatever the resort sitting 35 miles from Belize City lacks in accessibility, it more than makes up for with astonishment. Belize is the home of the world-famous Great Blue Hole, a 984-feet-wide sinkhole, and nearby Turneffe takes full advantage of its proximity by offering daily shark- and scuba-diving excursions at the attraction.
The resort is also proud of its fishing opportunities. True anglers know the area well for its bonefish, tarpon and permit, or the elusive “Caribbean Grand Slam.” Turneffe is actively trying to lure more laymen to the property for this very reason.
During a recent visit to Belize, Forbes Travel Guide was able to dive even deeper into the remote resort’s charm.
The boat ride to the 14-acre getaway is filled with the ubiquitous spoils of coastal Central America — piercing blue waters, miniature islands, fishermen. Still, an even more fulfilling experience may come from a ride with Astrum Helicopters from Philip S.W. Goldson International Airport to Turneffe. The bird’s-eye views of downtown Belize City are spectacular, of course, and the looks above the Great Blue Hole are something you’ll tell friends about for years.
After snapping your Instagram gold from hundreds of feet up, soar on over to the property. The helipad is at the far end of a quaint island made up of 22 beachside rooms, a spa, restaurant and lounge stocked with more quality pours than some spots on the mainland.
Rooms have an authentic Caribbean quality to them. Mahogany-paneled walls, fresh flowers and vaulted ceilings all create a sense of familiarity. But vessel sinks and other post-renovation touches affirm that you’re somewhere special. Cute poems left on your pillow at turndown are an exclamation on top.
The most impressive overnight option is the presidential villa. Closet to the chopper’s landing pad and farthest from the public spaces, the unit hits the sweet spot. A huge screened porch leads into the 1,480-square-foot escape, but you have to pass your private infinity pool to get to the main door. Inside almost feels like an apartment, what with two bedrooms on either side of a comfortable living room.
And we’re not the only ones who get the sense of home at Turneffe. “So many people come back,” says Maya, of the family-owned property’s clientele. “It’s incredible. We’d say about 30 percent are return guests every year. That’s a lot. That’s so rewarding to see familiar faces.”
Every morning, boats whisk you off for an adventure. Some grab their fins and goggles. Others follow KP with a fishing rod. We suggest giving both a try, if you can. But if time only allows for one activity, let it involve a hook and line.
A little about KP first. Standing roughly six feet and wearing reflective shades and a fully ventilated shirt, the man looks as if he’s about to fly a fighter jet. You don’t ask for a government name from a figure like that. You merely accept “KP” for what he says it means — “King Permit” in this case — and go about your business.
“If we do our job,” says KP during one fishing outing. “We can beat any resort.”
KP’s job is finding the fish. This part of Belize is dotted with mangroves, rich with permit, triggerfish, chub and even the occasional manatee. KP will take you where they usually hover and show you how to recognize nervous waters perfect for casting.
Of course, nature could care less about your 3 p.m. treatment at Serenity Spa. It moves at its own pace. So, when KP takes you to one of his favorite spots for permit and they aren’t flashing (when agitated fish make quick movements, it causes a flash of reflected light), he gets a little frustrated. He’s not mad at the fish, per se; he’s just disappointed that the fish tale you’ll be forced to share at dinnertime won’t have much bite to it.
Believe in KP, though, and your patience will ultimately be rewarded with a catch you can take back to the restaurant to have prepared for you that evening.
Be it filleted snapper, fresh pork or fabulous chocolate cake, Turneffe’s mighty little kitchen does it with precision. It certainly helps that the property has an agreement with area fishermen that they stop by with their morning haul before going to Belize City. (That’s one major plus for being so isolated.)
Breakfast, lunch and dinner are included in your package, so nosh on fresh-made tuna salad at noon and try just-snagged barracuda at 7 p.m. A complement of fresh breads, vegetables and smiles from the servers accompany the meals.
Before dinner, make sure to say hello to Jorge at the bar. Don’t worry, by day two, he’ll know your name, too. Much like KP, Jorge goes well beyond any specified duties Turneffe has for him. So, yes, order your Belikin beer or mixed drink. He’ll have it right up. But between sips, don’t be shocked if Jorge entertains you with one of his trademark magic tricks.
And speaking of “voila” moments, what the aforementioned spa is capable of doing from its modest confines is on a David Blaine-like level. Victoria is a small-framed woman who does really big things with her hands. The deep-tissue massage would feel heavenly done by another masseuse, we’re sure, but her calming touch (and the sounds of the Caribbean Sea’s waves outside) makes a treatment memorable.
Alain is the first to admit how special his staff is: “You’re in Central America. You’re not in Europe. You’re not in the United States or Canada. It’s not the same mentality. As soon as you realize that, it makes everybody’s life a lot easier. It works. The resort has a great staff. They do a great job. You just have to let them do their job.”
But even they need a release. Oddly enough, they find it each day through a competitive game of volleyball. If you’re brave enough to face the vicious hits, you’re free to join in on the action. Expect lots of laughs and a few lighthearted verbal jabs. It’s all in fun.
Yet the genius of Turneffe is that you’re so far from anything or anyone that, even if things did get a little loud, nobody would ever hear the smack talk.