As the most popular, okay only, place to stop for lunch while diving Belize’s renowned Lighthouse Reef, Half Moon Caye delights travelers with her pristine palm groves and classic desert island beauty. But her allure is a tease for avid divers hoping to stay out near Belize’s best dive sites. For a measly $10 fee, you can spend an entire day exploring the Half Moon conservation area, but the only visitors allowed to settle in for the night are her many feathered friends. Luckily, just next door is big brother Long Caye – 15 times the size of Half Moon Caye and home to Hurican dive bed & breakfast and future luxury eco-resort Zophora. When the moon comes out over Half Moon, it’s time to head back to your accommodations… but don’t let that stop you from visiting Lighthouse Reef Atoll’s little darling.
Location, Location, Location
In the southwest corner of Lighthouse Reef Atoll, 52 miles off the coast of mainland Belize, Half Moon Caye rests in the calm ocean near neighbors Long Caye and Turneffe Atoll to the west and Glover’s Atoll to the south. Located on the furthest atoll from the mainland, Half Moon Caye requires a 90-minute boat trip unless you’re staying nearby. Whether your journey to Half Moon is arduous or effortless, all thoughts of travel time will wash away the moment you set foot onto the beautifully preserved beaches. Suddenly you’ve traveled back in time to behold a wild Caribbean paradise as it has existed for centuries.
Under the protection of the Belize Audubon Society, this 44-acre marine conservation area offers a rare glimpse of the untouched wilderness you’ll find out on Belize’s remote cayes, far removed from clogged tourist destinations. Avid scuba divers make the journey out to Half Moon for a chance to dive the famous coral wall, described by many as an abyss. As you head out from the western beach, intricate coral formations, small caves and overhangs give way to a 6,000-foot vertical drop and a whole new level of aquatic life: eagle and manta rays, grouper, yellowtail snapper, sea fans and sponges growing at right angles out from the wall, morays, angelfish, squirrelfish, butterflyfish, and the list grows as you continue your drop into eternity.
All in the Family
Half Moon is most well-known for its population of Red-footed boobies, hence the reason for the caye’s protected status. These birds make their terrestrial homes on Half Moon Caye, nesting and tending to the little ones before taking off to live at sea. The birds decorate the native ziricote trees like Christmas ornaments, stunning visitors with their cacophony as they clamor for space among the caye’s other major bird population, the frigates. An observation tower with a viewing platform thrusts you right into the middle of the action, where you’ll have a bird’s-eye view (no pun intended) of the nesting mothers and babies.
Massive iguanas are another notable resident – though not native to this island oasis, these lazy lizards have found ideal habitat in the protected nature reserve. Geckos, anoles, and other reptiles live on Half Moon – including the Belizean Atoll Gecko, which exists exclusively on the islands of Lighthouse Reef Atoll and nowhere else in the world.
The Half Moon creature community resides exclusively on the western coast. To the east, sandy beaches and coconut palms create the kind of awe-inspiring desert island landscape the pirates of Belizean history encountered three hundred years ago. Be sure to visit the lighthouse keeper at the picturesque old red-and-white lighthouse – sign the guestbook to etch your own visit into history.
Come Out and Play
Any time of year is the perfect time to get to know Half Moon Caye intimately – you can have this pristine wilderness paradise virtually all to yourself, with the exception of a few divers making their daily decompression stop. Rainy season lasts from June to November, but don’t let that stop you from dropping by. The rains are often light, brief showers that only last an afternoon. The red-footed boobies begin to make their appearance in mid-December, when nesting begins, and if you visit in March you can witness the hatching of baby boobies all over the island. August brings the grand exodus of the bird colony – the sight of the mass migration will leave you breathless.
A bonus for Belize travelers visiting during the summer months: sea turtle sightings. These majestic creatures arrive in June to nest on Half Moon’s shores, and by August, newly-hatched baby turtles can be seen scrambling towards the water.
Snorkelers and divers: visit Half Moon Caye in May to enjoy the calmest waters and consequently the clearest views of the surrounding coral reef and a nearby shipwreck. The Elksund (alternately known as the Ormlund) wreck lies about 1,000 yards north of the beach, its rusted hull jutting out of the water, providing a useful landmark for boaters.
Half Moon Caye has nearly everything an intrepid traveler could want in one place – extraordinary wildlife, pristine beaches, and an underwater world to captivate even the most seasoned of divers – while remaining a protected site.