The prop plane banked, giving a full view of the turquoise water and dense jungle stretching over Belize’s exotic coastland. Reclining in the “puddle jumper,” we glided over Belize’s mainland toward our destination — Turtle Inn.
Arriving at the resort, we walked across a wooden bridge arched over a pond with miniature-thatched huts and lethargic turtles basking in the tropical sun. Terryann, a joyful Caribbean local, greeted us with scented damp towels and fruity cocktails as she ushered us through the lobby into Turtle Inn’s open-air dining room — The Mare Restaurant. The building featured an immense thatched roof with wooden paneling and floors. As Terryann explained Turtle Inn guest information, we sat in plush Caribbean furniture overlooking a circular infinity swimming pool, a beach bar and the ocean’s crashing waves.
Turtle Inn — just two short flights from Charlotte, N.C. — encompasses the epitome of Caribbean luxury while also incorporating local Belizean style and natural wonders. The seafront resort contains 25 rooms in individual thatched cottages and villas, each dwelling overlooking jungle gardens or the sparkling sea.
Terryann guided us toward our seafront cottage, weaving through stone pathways surrounded by raked sand, colorful flora and palm trees. The charming cottage, built on the beach just mere steps from the Caribbean ocean, contained a broad screened porch positioned to catch the coastal breeze and a thick thatched roof sheltering the interior from tropical storms. This Belizean cabana featured intricate hand-carved doors and molding, artisan-crafted furnishings, and a luxury Japanese bath inside the screened, breezy bathroom. Ensuring privacy, a stone wall surrounded the open-air bathroom, also sheltering a private garden and outdoor shower. The cottage’s design combined resort luxury with island nature.
Stepping onto the cottage porch, I detected the scent of freshly baked goods lingering in the air. Terryann grinned and presented the Turtle Inn cookie jar. Each morning, the staff refills this jar of goodies with hot, homemade chocolate chip cookies … a welcome surprise for my insatiable sweet tooth!
Terryann continued guiding us through the cottage, noting another unique Turtle Inn accommodation — the “shell phone.” A large conch perched on a wooden stand, this shell serves as the communication device between guests and the front desk. Switching a lever, the guest speaks into the shell and converses with the front desk receptionist, creating a scenario akin to an underwater scene in The Little Mermaid.
Jovial bellboys delivered our luggage, and we proceeded to enjoy a relaxing afternoon lounging on pool chairs. Turtle Inn offers two tiled infinity swimming pools — the main oval shaped pool overlooking the ocean and the adult triangular pool nestled between garden villas. Poolside waiters bustle around the pool grounds, eagerly serving guests food and drinks.
Later in the evening, the tropical sun still lit the Turtle Inn beach when we sat for dinner in the open-air Mare Restaurant; however, as dinner progressed and the sun faded beyond the horizon, Turtle Inn transformed into a nighttime Caribbean fairyland. As reggae music softly hummed in the background, we gazed on burning lanterns highlighting the pool walkway and illuminating exotic trees swaying on the starlit beach.
The Mare Restaurant features traditional Italian seafood. Local fishermen provide fresh fish daily from offshore reefs, and Turtle Inn gardeners supply the majority of the fruits and vegetables from the resort’s organic garden.
Each Monday and Thursday, The Mare Restaurant offers Dutch-Indonesian Rijsttafel “Sumatra.” This Dutch colonial feast provides a festive banquet that represents the multi-ethnic nature of the Indonesian archipelago. The Mare chef assembles numerous small dishes derived from the regions of Indonesia where various cuisines exist, often determined by island ethnicity and culture.
We feasted on 16 different dishes featuring a culinary variety of Indonesian cuisine such as grilled chicken with peanut sauce, chicken coconut curry stew, shrimp with Pete beans and coconut sauce, spiced crispy string beans, sweet and sour cucumber salad, caramelized beef in coco milk, pork belly in sweet soy sauce and numerous other delectable plates. Per the chef’s suggestion, we sprinkled coconut flakes and drizzled soy sauce over each food item. The dessert consisted of an Indonesian fruit salad and banana fritters, a light conclusion to the heavy course.
Retiring to our Caribbean cabana, we sunk into the down mattress, lulled to sleep by the methodical waves and wind gusts.
Sunrays streaming into open windows nudged me awake the following morning. Reclining on the soft mattress, I sipped lemon grass tea while gazing upon the ocean washing up toward the cottage.
We breakfasted in The Mare Restaurant, beginning our meal with a fruit assortment of fresh watermelon, papaya, mango, banana and mint. A steaming egg white omelet followed, stuffed with tomatoes, bell peppers, onions and copious lobster.
After concluding our meal, we scurried across the island street to the Turtle Inn Dive Shop. Edward and Zane, captain and dive master respectively, motored us toward Laughing Bird Cay, a small, uninhabited island. Laughing Bird Cay contains its own reef and underwater ecosystem — one of many accessible cays in Belize. Zane guided us on two dives through the underwater world of Belize, exploring a plethora of coral diversity and marine life, such as spotted eagle rays and upside-down jellyfish. During the surface interval, the Turtle Inn staff presented a beautiful island picnic of smoked ham and cheese wraps, pasta salad, fruit plates, cucumber and tomato salad and gooey chocolate chip cookies. We ate on shaded picnic tables and explored the island of soft sand and isolated palm trees.
Upon returning to the Turtle Inn docks, Edward provided chilled, scented towels that immediately relieved my hot, sunbaked skin. Once again tucked in the resort’s seclusion, we relaxed on a floating dock with two built-in wooden lounge chairs. Surrounded by the clear water, we rocked over small waves amid the center of the ocean breeze. Midday dissolved into late afternoon, ushering in a summer storm. Taking shelter in our cottage, we dozed and read while the glorious storm pattered against our thatched roof, creating a tropical melody with the crashing waves and raspy wind.
The storm subsided in sync with our dinner reservation, and we walked in the chilled, post-storm air to Auntie Luba’s, a cozy Turtle Inn restaurant located on the lagoon’s shore. An intimate restaurant seating six tables, Auntie Luba’s offers select Belizean specialties. I ordered an appetizer of fried shrimp, and an entrée of coconut curried shrimp with rice, beans and potato salad. Our waitress swept out an ample slice of key lime pie for dessert. I savored each bite of the crumbly crust and meringue topping, desperately wanting to devour the entire pie.
We walked back down the lantern lit path winding toward our cottage and absorbed the enchanted landscape of Turtle Inn. Plopping into bed, I drifted into sleep, hypnotized by the emphatic waves.
A vibrant sunrise splattered across the horizon lulled me awake as fans and coastal breeze stirred the warm air into cool gusts. The sun ascended the expansive blue, intensifying the Caribbean heat. We threw on our cover-ups and bathing suits and headed to The Mare Restaurant for breakfast. I ordered the Eggs Benedict, a homemade English muffin halved and topped with perfectly poached eggs. A spoonful of smooth Hollandaise sauce drizzled down the muffin, and a side of seasoned shrimp accentuated the meal.
After breakfast, we checked out two island bikes and cycled into the charming town of Placencia. Cheerful locals walked the streets with contagious grins spread across their tan faces. We browsed a few stores featuring local merchandise while touring the town, proceeding to shortly bike homeward toward Turtle Inn.
Staff prepared lounge chairs on our private beach stretch where we sleepily reclined in the warm sun. As early afternoon approached, we roused our lethargic bodies for lunch in The Mare Restaurant. I began my lunch with a cheese plate presenting local spressa, camembert and blue cheese, homemade fruit chutney, local honey, pitted prunes, sliced apple, almonds and Italian biscotti on large tropical leaves laid on a wooden platter. I selected Ceviche as my next course, a traditional Caribbean snack with tender morsels of fresh conch and shrimp marinated in lime juice and organic vegetables. My meal concluded with a warm melted chocolate cake and raspberry gelato. The cake’s hot, melted middle oozed out from the doughy and moist chocolate cake. The crispy top layer crinkled as my fork sliced through, a wonderfully contradictory consistency to the gooey middle.
We spent the afternoon sailing, gliding through the turquoise water on a small catamaran. The afternoon rolled into evening and we retired to our cabana for dinner preparation.
Open one night a week, The Gauguin Grill features local seafood prepared on an open beach grill. Elegant tables lit with lanterns dot the beach and amiable waiters bustle among the guests with steaming plates of seafood. My first course consisted of a broth-based lobster bisque accompanied by bread slices. I selected the lobster entrée, a massive tail grilled to perfection with seasoning and fresh lime. Rice, caramelized onions and a cucumber and tomato salad complimented the fresh meat. Dessert featured local coconut gelato, resembling vanilla with textured coconut flakes.
Back in our cabana, we faded into sleep listening to the steady hum of fans, rhythm of the crashing waves and sporadic bursts of wind hitting the cottage — relishing our final night in the Caribbean paradise.