After a quick bite to eat and a drink from the Radisson in Belize City, we met up with Jad, the manager of the Turneffe (pronounced like “turnip” with an F) Flats Lodge where we’d spend our first few days in Belize.
The Turneffe Flats is a small all-inclusive ecotourism island getaway at the northern end of the Turneffe Atoll about 90 minutes by boat off the coast of Belize City (about 20 miles the way the crow flies). If you’re looking for a direction, it’s due east from the main dock across the street from the Radisson in Belize City, but all you need to know is it’s far enough out there that it’s a commitment. Which is perfect for that destination that is both untouched and remote, and yet close enough to a hospital incase of emergencies. Perfect for neurotic travelers likes me, who thought every mosquito bite was another pull of the trigger in a game of malaria-Russian-roulette I was playing with Mother Nature.
Jad and some of the staff took our bags and got us on to their two story boat, which if I had to guess was about 30 feet from stern to bow. Along with our luggage, there was fresh produce, a few staff who were rotating back into service after a few days off, and various other provisions from the mainland that were being shuttled to the resort.
“You’re welcome to sit down here, or come join me upstairs, but if you do, make sure you hold on to the ladder with both hands.” Jad said, as he introduced us to some of the decks hands who were throwing ropes to and fro. “Doesn’t matter if you’re going up or down, make sure you face the front of the boat when you’re using the ladder.” He clapped his hands, and pointed to a large Gatorade cooler. “There’s cold water in here, and we’ve got about 90 minutes until we arrive at Turneffe Flats. Any questions?”
The four of us were silent. It all seemed pretty self-explanatory, and the fact that Jonathan and I had started our journey at 1:00 AM that morning (yay redeye!) I think we were just looking forward to a relaxing boat ride full of cooling sea breeze and ocean views. Besides, the few staff members who were along for the ride knew the schpeal all to well.
“Great. We’re out of here!”
The first leg of the trip was simple. With a relatively calm sea the ride was smooth and not too choppy, which was good, considering Jonathan’s propensity for seasickness. The sea breeze blew throw my hair, keeping it permanently fixed in an upright position. From the shade I could avoid a sunburn on our first day of vacation. Once we were far enough away from the mainland, I could look in any direction and just see the glistening ocean and horizon off in the distance. Endless stretches of bright turquoise blues and aquamarine wove within larger stretches of deep blue waters. For a few minutes, we saw some dolphins jumping in the wake of the boat, as if to say “welcome to Belize!” before swimming away. This is the Belize I was reading about, I thought to myself, and my anticipation for what lied ahead grew stronger and stronger.
About halfway through the trek, we hit the first perimeter of the Turneffe Atoll, which is really a ring-shaped reef, island, or chain of islands—some purely mangroves, some coral, and some a little larger and habitable by local fishermen and the three resorts: Turneffe Flats, Blackbird Caye Resort, and Turneffe Island Resort—surrounding some central lagoon. In the case of Turneffe Atoll, the lagoon is huge, and at it’s longest diameter, you can’t see the other side.
The boat—larger than your average fishing dingy—had to carefully maneuver its way through the mangrove barrier where it’s shallow, just a few feet deep. With the tides low and the sea calm, it was particularly hairy, and Jad had to stop the engines once or twice to avoid churning up sea grass. With the sun setting behind us in the west, Jonathan, his mother Bobbi and I, made our way to the front of the boat. Not only was it the perfect vantage point to see any manatees swimming around, but it was out of the sun. As we wove our way through the mangrove gauntlet I noticed how still the water was, juxtaposed with the splash and crash of the ocean just before. It looked like glass, pristine, perfect, and waiting for us to glide right over it.
Once through the clearing we were full steam ahead for the northern edge of the Turneffe Atoll where our welcome committee, a rum punch, some new friends, and dinner awaited.
Dinner at Turneffe Flats Belize
We got off the boat around 4:30 PM and immediately met with Karen, one of the resort owners, while our bags were brought to our cabana. Assuming we’d be parched from the journey, she greeted us in the main clubhouse and dining room with rum punch cocktails, solidifying her as my new best friend.
As we sipped away she explained the rules of the resort, and described a typical day at Turneffe Flats. It was all “blah blah blah” to me until she said cocktail hour begins around 6:15 PM where we can mingle (aka get sloshed) with the other 15 guests (the hole place only houses around 20 guests at any given time), and then get seated for dinner immediately following.
So we went back to our room for showers and naps, before coming back for fresh piña coladas and gin and tonics!
Since I didn’t bring my camera to dinner the first night, these are photos of the dinner we had on Friday night at the Turneffe Flats. This is the lobster dinner, which was excellent. The first night we had a delicious meat lasagna and salad, and the second night we had Christmas Dinner, which I’ll feature in a separate post. All the food at Turneffe Flats was excellent, but this meal was one of my favorites.
Mushroom turnovers. These were so perfect I bet there were store bought, but who cares. After a day of snorkeling and napping, flakey little empanadas are exactly what I need to wash down my first T&T of the evening. Doesn’t matter if they were made from scratch or not. I had to scare off a few of the younger guests who were hoarding these turnovers in napkin pouches.
Then we moved to our seats and were served a fresh from the oven tomato and mozzarella tart. The crust was good and buttery, and the vegetables were fresh and sweet. Loved every bite of this thing and almost asked for seconds, but Jonathan was rolling his eyes at me so I figured I’d slow my roll.
The entree was grilled lobster tail with garlic and a dash of spices. On the side were a few florets of steamed cauliflower and broccoli, and a basket of linguini pasta. They called it “Pasta Primavera” on their menu, which I’m sure if code for “whatever pasta we felt like making tonight.” It was essentially an a Alfredo sauce, with loads of butter, parmesan cheese, and garlic. And you can’t forget the clarified butter for dipping the delicious lobster in.
Note about the lobster: These are Caribbean Spiny lobsters (Panulirus argus pronounced “húgawaru” by the local Garuifuna) which tend to be a little smaller than Main lobsters, with the biggest difference being that the Caribbean lobsters don’t have the large front claws you’d find in American Lobster you see along the Atlantic Coast. I find Caribbean lobsters to be a little sweeter than American lobsters. There may be some other subtle differences in texture that some people get caught up on, but I’ll say this, “for the price of lobster in the Caribbean, it can’t be beat!”
For dessert was an icebox Key Lime Pie. This was the perfect choice after such a rich meal. With all the butter, lobster, cheese in the pasta, etc. a flourless chocolate cake would have been overkill. They made this cold and creamy like a frozen moose almost, and the graham cracker crust kept the balance contributing warm notes of caramel and butter to a chilled, cream-cheesey-custard, sweet lime tanginess that was the filling. Yum!
And after dinner we headed back to our rooms, guided by the lights from the dock and the moon.
Traveling to Turneffe atoll? Email the folks at Turneffe Flats for some recommendations for how long you should stay and what you should do while you’re there.