On The Fly Saltwater
Article and feature photo by Claude Preston.
“The past is behind, learn from it. The future is ahead, prepare for it. The present is here, live it.”
It is hard to sit still and wonder what I could be doing, or where I could be going. I have always tried to live my life in a planning mode, and so like everyone else, when the fog of Covid-19 began to settle in, I really did not take it well. We are all aware of the toll it has taken on us as individuals, but as I have spoken with owners of lodges, guides, and other small businesses it is really devastating how hard they have been hit.
As bad as it is, there are areas that have handled it very well and are beginning to get a glimpse of the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. Belize has been ahead of that curve since the very beginning, making controversial decisions at the time that are now beginning to pay off. This is the first in a two-part series where we will look at not only what Belize has done to successfully reopen to tourists, and what Turneffe Flats in particular has done to make their guests feel safe. In our second part, we will dive into the health of the fishery surrounding Turneffe Flats and why a visit to this great lodge should be the next fly-fishing trip you take.
In early 2020, when the SARS-COVID 19 virus began to take its grip on the world, Belize like other countries was faced with the decision of what to do to protect their citizens? On March 20th, Prime Minister Dean Barrow announced that Belize would close its borders to all, as part of a broader state of emergency that would officially begin on April 5. The Phillip Goldson International Airport closed on March 23rd, officially locking down the country. That was a controversial decision at the time, as it was peak season for tourism.
Phillip Goldson International Airport in Belize City. Photo by Claude Preston.
Belize navigated the pandemic very well with a very limited number of cases through late July, until a small outbreak occurred in August. Up until then, Belize was scheduled to re-open on August 15th. That was pushed back, and Belize announced its official re-opening for October 1. Before opening, the Ministry of Health worked with the Belize Tourism Bureau to create the nine-point Tourism Gold Standard Recognition Program that would put in place new operating protocols for hotels, restaurants, tour operators and tourist sites. The program focuses on enhancing the hotel and restaurant cleaning practices, social interactions, workplace policies, and standard operating procedures, while ensuring minimal impact on the guest experience. To date, over 200 lodging partners have completed their requirements and received the Tourism Gold Standard Certificate of Recognition.
Turneffe Flats has always been a leader in the industry when it comes to customer satisfaction, sustainable eco-tourism, and lobbying for better practices in the tourism industry. It came as no surprise when owner Craig Hayes told us that Turneffe Flats was the first tourism partner to receive the Gold Standard Certificate.
Jen and Claude Preston on the “Home Flat” in front of the resort. Photo by Luke Graha.
My wife and I were able to escape the week after Christmas down to Turneffe Flats to visit some old friends and learn more about the protocols and updates to the guest experience. This was my third trip down to Turneffe Flats and, while some things were different, the feeling you get when you step off of the transfer boat is just as magical as it always has been. Upon arriving at the lodge, the check-in process was much quicker and minimized unnecessary contact. Our luggage was disinfected and brought straight to our veranda without entering the room. Masks are encouraged when guests are in close contact with non-family members. Appropriate social distancing can be applied depending on the group makeup and the wishes of each group.
The food at Turneffe has always been outstanding and traditionally served family style, however since COVID, Chef Indira took the opportunity to revamp the menu to include local meats and seafood with some of the best fruits Belize has to offer. All meals are now individually plated, and both the presentation and flavor has been taken to another level. New specialties like chimichurri chicken skewers and grilled lobster with timbale were a couple of our favorites.
Photos by Claude Preston.
During the time the borders were closed, Turneffe Flats made a huge commitment to its guides and employees by keeping them employed and focusing on improvements to the property. Some of the upgrades not only benefit the guests, but also the staff on the island. They were able to complete the construction of new ladies staff quarters and also added an outdoor, poolside bar to enhance the ambiance of the veranda in front of the lodge that overlooks the large “home flat” fishing area.
Photos by Claude Preston.
One of the things that we found reassuring at Turneffe Flats was they have a doctor and physician’s assistant on staff at the lodge. As part of the Gold Standard program, they have taken the bottom level of the Pelican Villa and turned it into an area for quarantine, providing separate access and ventilation from all other areas if needed.
Belize and Turneffe Flats are ready for you to come visit them, and as of this writing, Turneffe Flats still has availability in 2021 during the spring and summer. I am taking a full group out there in August and cannot wait to get back
As of February 2021, getting there is easy. Non-stop flights are available to Belize City on American Airlines from Miami, Dallas, Charlotte, and Los Angeles. Delta Airlines offers flights from Atlanta. If United Airlines is your choice, it will get you there from Denver, Los Angeles, Chicago, Newark, and Houston. Stay tuned for part two of this series in our April edition, where we take a further look at the fishery around Turneffe Flats and what makes that place so special.