A Fairytale Island Escape: Half Moon Caye, Belize

by Larry Waight
Half Moon Caye sunrise
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Half Moon Caye is an island off the coast of Belize, about 55 miles south-east of Belize City. Not to mention, it’s one of seven sites that’s apart of the Belize Barrier Reserve Reef System, a World Heritage Site. Located in the southeast corner of the Lighthouse Reef Atoll, it was dedicated as a monument in 1981 and was the first protected area in Belize. The island’s crescent shape provides two startling ecosystems, even though its landmass is only about 45 square acres. The western side of the island has rich soil and the lush vegetation of a littoral forest while the eastern side is sparser, with coconut palms.  

Belize’s First Protected Area

In 1924, Half Moon Caye became a bird sanctuary thanks to the beautiful western forest, which provides a home for the rare white-phase Red-footed Booby. The Ziricote trees on this part of the island have unique orange flowers and provide a home for other varieties of birds, leaf-toed geckos and the Allison’s anole lizard. As visitors approach the island, they will believe they are entering a fairytale world. The waters surrounding it are some of the clearest in Belize and the beaches are gorgeous. Co-manager Belize Audubon Society, a non-profit membership organization, has been overseeing its day-to-day conservation efforts since being declared a protected area in 1982. 

Offshore, the rusted hull of a wreck, the Elksund, provides a landmark for divers, who come from all over the world. This is because the Half Moon Caye Wall provides a 6000-foot vertical drop, perfect for a “wall dive”. It is considered one of the top sites in North America for diving and snorkeling. In addition to the wall, there are numerous canyons in the reef for divers to explore; some night dives even allow them to enjoy bio-luminescence.  

Marine Life & More

Here, visitors can see not just a wide variety of tropical fish but also spectacular coral growths, eels, sponge formations, eagle rays, nurse sharks, giant stingrays, and even sea turtles. One reason for the presence of the turtles is that Half Moon Caye provides several endangered species nesting grounds. Loggerhead, hawksbill and green turtles all come here to lay their eggs, sharing the sand with the hermit crabs.  
 
Besides enjoying the diving, the beaches and the diversity of species that populate the island, visitors can climb an 8-foot central ridge that divides the island to give upon its striking half-crescent beach. While the historic lighthouse no longer stands, you can make use of the current Booby observation tower. Tourists can climb above the forest canopy to enjoy an amazing view. From here, they can see a variety of birds in their natural habitat from a bird’s eye view.  

The best part of a visit to Half Moon Caye might be that there are no crowds – an opportunity to feel closer to nature than ever on this fairytale Belize island. 

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