Spent a week at Blackbird at the end of April with my wife. We had a great time, and I highly recommend this property. It’s remote, laid back, small, personable, and just lovely. Diving is very good.
Blackbird is on Turneffe Atoll, which is an hour and a half boat ride, or a 15 minute plane ride from Belize City. You go to Turneffe if you want to be secluded. There are only three resorts and a research station on the Atoll. Turneffe Island Resort is considerably bigger than Blackbird, and Turneffe Flats is smaller. There is no night life. There is only the sea breeze and the stars. Our kind of place — we prefer Little Cayman to Grand Cayman for example. Blackbird is between the research station and the airstrip. You can’t see TIR or TF from anywhere near the resort.
The boat to Blackbird runs Wednesday and Saturday, so you plan your trip around that schedule. They have an office in the US, and our interactions with then were very pleasant to make our arrangements. I called them to find out what availability was, then worked out the air transportation and then firmed up the room reservations. We were always well informed. We went Wednesday to Wednesday — frequent flier tickets worked! We were met by the affable Mr. Moreno at the airport, who took us to the Radisson. As an example of the thoroughness of the arrangements, the resort sends you an email with a picture of Mr. Moreno, and his cell phone number, before you leave.
The Radisson is okay. We had lunch, which was nice, and then hung around the dock waiting for the boat. We were tired, so trying to do some kind of activity was not reasonable. They do have free WiFi in the lobby!
The boat, the Big Bird arrived, our luggage was already on board, and we left on time. The ride took 90 minutes. Big Bird is big enough that it does not bounce around much, so the ride was pretty pleasant, but we were very happy to pull up to the Blackbird dock. We went up to the bar area where Michael, the manager, walked us through how the place works, and then we went to our cabanas where our bags were waiting.
We had a Superior Cabana, No 10. They all face the ocean. There is plenty of room in a Superior, with a king bed, decent bathroom area, and a sitting area. The sitting area isn’t separate from the sleeping area, but it didn’t matter because there is a nice sized screened in porch that faces the beach. If we weren’t sleeping and we were in the Cabana, we were sitting on the porch. It has two comfortable chairs, and a very nice hammock. The hammock is great! The breeze keeps the porch cool. There is even a clothes line, with clothes pins for swimsuits, shirts or anything else that gets wet.
The rooms are very comfortable, but they aren’t deluxe in a US hotel room sense. For a remote, small island, it was great. They have three room classes (standard, superior, deluxe). I think the upgrade from regular to Superior is well worth it. Not so sure the additional premium for the Deluxe is worth paying for, but YMMV.
We turned off the air conditioner, opened the screened windows (not every window was screened, and they put some screens in more windows while we were there), and cranked up the ceiling fan. We were comfortable that way throughout our stay, and we prefer breezes to air conditioning.
The bathroom was a bit sparse and worn, but functional. There was no problem of water, or water pressure ever, although another guest in the cabana farthest from the water plant reported low pressure. There was plenty of space to put our belongings. There is a small in-room safe. There are NO KEYS. In fact, we usually left the front door open. We always felt safe.
The resort has a schedule. It worked well for us, but I understand others might want more flexibility, especially around meals. We quickly formed friendships with the other guests who had the same arrival/departure as us, and looked forward to sharing time with them during the designated meal times. They even re-arranged the dining room to give us a double table so we all could fit around one!
Breakfast is 7-8, the morning dive and snorkel trips leave at 8, the second dive of the morning is 11, lunch is at 1, afternoon dive/snorkel trips leave at 2:30, snack in the bar at 5 and dinner at 7. You get into a rhythm, and for us, it was a nice one. We usually went to bed shortly after dinner (between 8 and 9) and woke up between 5 and 6. They do have the coffee pot (and hot water for tea) at 6 am. I have no idea how long the bar stays open - we never went there after dinner anyway :) Beverages other than tap water are charged to your room. The local Belikin beer comes in a Stout version that is very good, and inexpensive.
There is (free) WiFi in the office and in the bar (that is new). It’s slow, but it works.
No shoes. In fact, after the first couple of days, I didn’t even wear sandals, I went barefoot. They do tell you there sometimes things that stick jn you in the sand, but I had no problems. There are feet dipping pots in the rooms and entrance to office, bar and dining area so you don’t track sand inside. Amazingly, we had ZERO bug problems. None. Didn’t even need repellent. That was unusual, and you probably won’t fare as well.
Everything is clean. They rake the beach. You can see how bad the actual environment is by walking towards the Oceanic Society research station. Past the part they maintain is what it looks like when no one maintains it, and you can see all the plastic detris that is polluting our oceans. It’s distressing. We noticed one other remarkable thing - there is no odor. Usually, you can smell the odor of decomposing plant matter on an island like Turneffe. The sea grass, the leaves, everything decomposes. Here, it’s always clean smelling.
They have a reverse osmosis water system. I found the tap water fine to drink, my wife drank bottled water mostly. The generators worked. There was a report of a failure on the day before we left, but I didn’t notice it. They are trying to get more eco conscious. For example, they haul out solid waste to a dump in the mainland. But they don’t seem to be recycling, they don’t have any wind or solar (but the local coast guard station has both).
I dive, and my wife snorkels sometimes. I’ve been diving for 30 years, and never have been to a place where all the dive sites are so close to the resort that the dive boat comes back to the dock for the surface interval between the two tanks of the morning dive. That’s what happens here. 3-5 minute boat ride, giant step off the boat, and down you go. 40-60 minutes, climb up the ladder into the boat, another 3-5 minutes and you can go sit down on your cabana porch while you wait for the 11 am second dive departure.
Diving is very good. There is a wall right off the resort property outer reef, and lots of very close islands with their own variations. The first dive is typically 75-80’ max. Lots of very healthy coral. Lots and lots of smaller fish, not a lot of larger fish. We usually saw one or more turtles on each dive, and often a sleeping nurse shark. Lots of eels. Occasional rays made an appearance, spotted eagle rays, sting rays, etc. We did see a lot of lion fish. The DMs carried spears and hunted them. A very good thing, as the lion fish are decimating the smaller species. We would often spot and spear 8-12 of them on a single dive, some of them being quite large. Viz was good, not great. The resort has Nitrox and air available, and every dive had a mix of divers. Typically, they would have a DM per 8-10 divers, and during the end of our stay, they were running two dive boats. There is a hatch on the side to do an easy entry, and a ladder goes into it for an easy exit. The boat captains are uniformly skilled at getting the boat to you when you surface. You set your equipment up for the first dive, and they handle it for you for every other dive. All you do when you finish for the morning or afternoon is rinse your wetsuit and hang it on the rack. When you come back on the boat, your equipment is ready to go. I always had a full fill (3200 PSI air), and the Nitrox gauging was coming out right around 32% every time. The main dive boat is the Dolphin, which does have a shaded area. There is ice water on board.
The DMs are very good. They were knowledgeable, helpful, respectful of the environment and alert to what was happening. Cardinal is the head DM, and was our DM for the beginning of the week, Max lead our group for the rest of the week. They did not mess around with the roster. They made eye contact with everyone on the roster before leaving the doc, and before leaving the dive site. The dive boats carry O2. Cardinal knows what he is doing. During the week, one guest got bent. It was her third incident, and she doesn’t really know how it happened, she is just super sensitive. Cardinal confirmed suspected DCS and they started administering oxygen. Michael called DAN and the chamber in San Pedro. They had a plane land on the island within an hour, and she was in San Pedro, waiting for the chamber operator to show up less than an hour after that. She was back the next day, and is fine.
I chose not to make the Blue Hole trip, and in the end I was happy I didn’t. The seas were a bit rougher than normal, and the participants who did go weren’t very comfortable on the long boat ride to the Blue Hole. There also was some kind of issue that prevented diving at Half Moon Caye, which supposed to be another highlight of the Blue Hole trip.
I took my wife on a couple of snorkel trips instead of the afternoon dive some days. She had problems with her (prescription) mask leaking. Chris, the amazingly patient guide, first tried another mask he had on board, and when that didn’t work, he brought us back to the dock and got a prescription mask with a larger profile and bigger skirt that another guest had left. Amazingly, it worked! She could see, and it didn’t leak. Chris lead her around the dock to make sure it was working, and then we went back to the reef. The second snorkel trip was great. For the third snorkel trip, Chris was on the Blue Hole trip and Stewart was our guide. The spot he took us to was nice, but the current was a bit tiring.
The end of the week came quickly. The leaving ritual is pretty much the reverse of the arrival ritual. You settle your tab the night before. The boat leaves at 8 and gets back to the Radisson at 9:30. Mr. Moreno is there to take you to the airport. We had a later afternoon flight, so instead, Michael made arrangements for us to spend the morning at the Black Orchid. They picked us up at the Radisson dock, took us to their place (which is 15 minutes the other side of the airport) and we stayed there. We took a howler monkey tour which was fascinating, had lunch, walked around the grounds a bit and were driven to the airport. Nice place, but not anywhere near as nice as Blackbird.
This is exactly the experience we were looking for. The resort holds 45, the most we had was 30, and half the week it was less than 20. It’s small. You get to know practically the entire staff. The staff is what makes the place special. Every one of them was good at what they did, courteous, friendly, welcoming. Michael is really good. He was always around, always knew what was happening, and when anything need to happen, he made it happen. And, he takes excellent video!
If you were on the fence about Blackbird, maybe this review will push you over. It’s a wonderful spot. We're thinking of coming back, and there are only two other places in the world we can say that about. But don’t spread the word TOO far - we don’t want the place overrun.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Blackbird Caye is a privately owned Island sitting on The Mesoamerican Reef System - often referred to as the "Jewel of the Caribbean" - it is the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere with a rich tapestry of vivid corals, mangrove forests, coastal wetlands, and diverse marine wildlife. Within the reef you will find Turneffe Atoll the Caye where the resort is located. Turneffe is the largest and most biologically diverse of the 3 atolls found in the Caribbean home to more than 65 species of stony coral, 350 species of mollusk, and more than 500 species of fish, manatees, dolphins and invertebrates. There are over 70 dives sites all within 10-15 minutes from the resort and 45 minutes to Lighthouse Reef where The Great Blue Hole is located. The resort is made of 19 modern cabanas facing the Caribbean Sea and 1 beach house. The cabanas are all equipped with A/C, fans, private bathrooms, either King or Queen Beds with new comfortable bedding, private porches with chairs and swinging hammocks. Included in the price are your cabana, 3 daily meals, dive or snorkel package, complimentary transfers to the island on Wednesdays and Saturdays and use of the resort's kayaks. We are the only resort on Turneffe with an air strip making it convenient to arrive or depart any other day of the week. Our courteous and helpful staff will always make you feel at home as customer service ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Blackbird Caye Hotel Turneffe Islands
- Blackbird Caye Belize City