Turneffe Atoll Reef
Considered by most to be the best diving in Belize, Turneffe Island is on all of the liveaboard itineraries and hosts a small number of picturesque dive resorts to allow diving from your doorstep.
Turneffe Atoll is the largest and most visually spectacular of Belize's 3 atolls, unique in the Caribbean. The 200 or so sandy islets are covered in dense mangroves interspersed with shallow lagoons, feeding the surrounding waters with a nutrient rich soup. The marine biodiversity and sheer numbers is unmatched in this region.
Turneffe has dive sites suitable for every level of diver. Along the western side, the shallow reefs are perfect for the novices, while the varied topography on the east side is more suited for the seasoned diver. Wrecks, drop-offs and sometimes strong currents can make for some challenging dives, but sightings of large pelagics are frequent.
The Elbow is the "must do" dive on Turneffe, and stunning drop-offs and dramatic reef formations set a spectacular background to this dive site. Large schools of snappers and jacks feed in mid-water above the reef, large jewfish and other groupers hide in the canyons. Groups of eagle rays are commonly seen as well as occasional sightings of sharks. If you're here for any length of time you'll probably want to dive this site more than once.
The Wreck of the Sayonara is a former passenger/cargo boat that is now bedecked in impressive sponges and corals. It provides a multi-coloured backdrop against which can be seen schools of French grunts, parrotfish and a variety of angelfish. Closer inspection reveals basket stars, coral shrimp and file clams. The nearby reef is home to schools of barracuda and there are several impressive coral patches on the sandy slope.
With over 30 known dive sites mostly concentrated around the south-eastern corner, there's enough variety and big fish action to keep any diver happy for weeks. Manta rays, spotted eagle rays, Caribbean reef sharks, lemon and the ever-present nurse sharks are occasionally joined by solitary hammerheads. A small pod of bottlenose dolphins live in the south lagoon and spotted dolphins also regularly hunt these waters.
Dive Site Descriptions
The Elbow - Probably the most famous dive site on Turneffe, located on the southern most tip of the atoll, the Elbow is exposed, deep and wide where the main reef changes direction.
The reef crown is at 25m and the site progressively deepens toward the southern tip of the elbow shaped outcrop, hence the name. Excellent visibility and a northerly current can be expected above the reef but this can change so check before planning your dive.
Large pelagics abound here. Huge congregations of horse-eye jacks and cubera snappers gather in mid-water above the reef, large groupers use the rocky ledges and soft corals to wait away the daylight hours down in the canyons.
For the lucky diver, sharks occasionally cruise by out in the blue but the main reason to dive here are the frequent sightings of up to 50 majestic eagle rays in squadron formations flying along the reef - an experience you will never forget.
Environmental conditions can be quiet harsh here, large ocean swells making entries and exits challenging so the Elbow is not recommended for the novice diver. Most of your dive will be spent in mid-water, the currents usually taking the diver away from the reef towards the deeper water so make sure you keep a close eye on your computer and air consumption.
A challenging Turneffe Reef dive but ultimately extremely rewarding.
Sayonara Wreck - A former passenger boat sunk in 1985, the Sayonara is listing slightly to her starboard side and rests on a bed of coral and sand at a depth of 15m.
Formerly the transport boat for the Turneffe Island Lodge, her wooden frame is deteriorating rapidly, inside the wreck sediment and rotting wood make penetrating the wreck unadvisable. There is a buoy line attached to the wreck making navigating the wreck easy for even the most inexperienced diver.
The outside of the Sayonara is home to some interesting invertebrates. Basket starfish, with their arms folded around the central body, cling to the roof of their artificial home. Coral shrimps and file clams have also taken up residence here, affording great opportunities to macro photographers.
The reef upon which the wreck of the Sayonara rests makes a stunning backdrop. Coral bommies 7-8m across and almost as high dot the sandy seabed. But most impressive are the size of the giant basket sponges, some of them reaching 2 m in height. Bright red finger sponges, yellow tube and encrusting sponges splash colour all over the reef.
Stoplight parrotfish, barracuda, French grunts, Queen-, French- and grey angelfish are among the more common species found here. Look carefully on the sand and you may spot a perfectly camouflaged peacock flounder gazing up at you.
How to Dive Turneffe
The east and west sides of the Turneffe islands are like chalk and cheese. The west has shallow, sheltered reefs dominated by sponge and sporadic coral growth teeming with small fish. The east side can be like diving a different ocean.
Strong currents and sometimes rough surface conditions can greet the diver but once you are submerged. the rewards are fantastic. The great visibility, deep drop-offs and excess of big fish action will satisfy even the most experienced diver.
Away from the crowds of Ambergris Caye, the small and serene Turneffe dive resorts allow you to relax and unwind amongst a stunning natural setting with great diving just a short boat ride away, alternatively all of our high quality Belize liveaboards visit Turneffe Atoll.
Got a question?
Have a look through our Frequently asked questions
Rainy season is roughly June to November and dry season December to May, which tends to be the warmest month. Being in the Caribbean, weather is varied. November to February can see 'Northers' blowing in which can bring temperatures down with rain and choppy seas. Historically, most hurricanes occur in the August and October period in Belize. The water temperature varies little all year round; between 26-29°C can be expected.
Good for: Large animals, visibility
Not so good for: Small animals
Depth: 5 - >40m
Visibility: 20 - 40m
Currents: None to strong
Surface conditions: Calm on the west can be rough on the east
Water temperature: 26 - 29°C
Experience level: Beginner - advanced
Number of dive sites: >30
Distance: 30 km east of Belize City
Access: Dive resorts and liveaboards
Recommended length of stay: 1 week
• Turneffe Island Atoll travel information
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