Half Moon Caye looks like something out of a postcard for paradise: a crescent-shaped island with sandy beaches and tall palm trees. You can walk (or swim) from the lighthouse on one end to the bird sanctuary on the other in less than ten minutes. This precious caye is 45 acres: half littoral (or coastal) forest, half sand. Surrounding the caye are crystal clear waters promising some of the best diving and snorkeling in Belize. Apart from the lighthouse and housing for the park ranger, there are no structures on Half Moon Caye, but guests who stay on nearby Long Caye (current home of Hurican dive resort and future home of luxury eco-resort Zophora) can easily access this little caye for unparalleled birdwatching experiences, premier diving, and a glimpse back into the history of this Natural Monument.
Without the flock of birds with funny red feet and an even funnier name, Half Moon Caye would probably be someone’s private tropical island paradise. In 1928, the western end of Half Moon Caye was declared a bird sanctuary for the red-footed booby, making the caye Belize’s oldest site designated as a wildlife protection area. A colony of about 4,000 birds nest among the blooming orange-flowered ziricote trees that grow on the island. Visitors can observe these beautiful birds and their characteristic red feet without disturbing them from an observation platform built by the Audubon Society at the west end of the island. The view is unbelievable: every tree is decorated with red-footed boobies of every stage of development, from crying babies to full-grown clumsy adults. Watching them attempt to land among the branches is comical since their red webbed feet were designed for navigating water, not trees.
Another endangered, endemic creature makes its home in the littoral forest on Half Moon Caye: the island leaf-toed gecko. Though they are much harder to spot because of their nocturnal habits, these increasingly rare geckos can be found only in Belize, so your best bet is to look out for them on the remote cayes of Lighthouse Reef Atoll. Ingeniously-camouflaged green iguanas also inhabit this caye – though they’re a non-native species that was introduced to the island (green iguanas normally live on mainland Belize’s river banks), they certainly make themselves at home, lazing around in the trees and blending into the scenery perfectly. Keep an eye out while wildlife-spotting for a flicker of movement as one of these crafty reptiles snatches an egg for an afternoon meal.
Since the construction of the first lighthouse in 1820, three different lighthouses have been erected and subsequently torn down on Half Moon Caye; the only remaining structure is a weathered red-and-white steel frame from 1933. Although its current state of disrepair makes it unusable, this old lighthouse makes for great photographs, providing a contrasting focal point to the endless turquoise waters and white sand beaches. The position of this tiny caye has gradually shifted over time so that this lighthouse now lies almost in the ocean.
Top Dive Sites
Moving off of the island and into the sparkling blue water, divers and snorkelers will find two exciting dive sites. The first is Half Moon Caye Wall, a dive considered one of the world’s best for its excellent visibility, minimal current, and abundant marine life. The wall starts shallow on a sandy bottom teeming with garden eels – these bashful creatures will slip into the sand at your approach, but if you wait a moment, they’ll pop back out again to give you another look. Then, a vertical drop leads to marvels of underwater architecture: canyons, tunnels, and large sponge formations. Elegant eagle rays glide effortlessly past giant sea turtles – these magnificent creatures are regularly spotted here.
To check out the other must-dive site off Half Moon Caye, swim over to Angelfish Wall, named for the gray-striped angelfish that group there. This dive gives you the chance to witness huge schools of fish and a rainbow spectrum of color: look out for the glittering multicolored scales of parrotfish and the cool, silvery blue snapper with their electric yellow accents.