Belize is a country filled with spectacular scenery, and it would be difficult to pick its most beautiful places. For most people, Half Moon Caye Natural Monument would be near the top of their list. This pristine spot is the perfect destination for anyone who wants a true island paradise.
What Is Half Moon Caye?
The Half Moon Caye Natural Monument (HMCNM) is an offshore island about 50 miles off the coast of Belize. This marine protected area features soft sand beaches, coconut trees and a thick littoral vegetation. Not to mention, acting as a safe area for many rare and endangered fish, wildlife and birds. Half Moon Caye was the first marine conservation area in Belize. It roughly measures 45 acres and hosts two separate, thriving ecosystems; although, the beach profile changes year-to-year. The Belize government established the sanctuary in 1981 after discovering it was one of the few remaining nesting areas for the red-footed booby bird. Today, the Belize Audubon Society co-manages the island on behalf of Belizean citizens and the Government of Belize as the country’s first protected area. Additionally, it is the only white-phased, red-footed booby colony in our hemisphere.
Why You Need To Visit
This postcard-perfect island is a wonderful destination to visit any time of year. The views as you approach are out of this world. You get few chances to see untouched tropical beaches that are also accessible and easy to explore. The thick stands of coconut trees keep it shady, and a constant ocean breeze keeps it cool. Soft white sand and swaying palms complete this picture of an island paradise.
Half Moon Caye is minutes from the Lighthouse Reef Atoll. An atoll is an island that forms when the deposits of ancient underwater volcanoes form a ring on the water’s surface. Belize is one of the few countries in the Caribbean with several atolls. Lighthouse Reef Atoll is the departure point for visits to the world-famous Belize Blue Hole, an ocean sinkhole made famous by undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau.
What To Do on Half Moon Caye
Half Moon Caye is a popular day trip for locals and tourists. It’s a gorgeous place to spend a relaxed, sunny day swimming or sunbathing. Bring a picnic lunch and enjoy your day on the beach. Walk around the visitors’ center to learn more about the wildlife and birds that call the park home. Sailing, sea kayaking and beach combing are popular activities on the caye.
Much like it is all across the country, birding is incredible on Half Moon Caye. Besides the aforementioned red-footed boobies, you can spot many spectacular bird species here. Tall, rare jabiru storks, brown pelicans, brown-footed boobies and egrets all feed here. In the water, it’s easy to spot colorful fish, living coral, manta rays, whale sharks, sea turtles, manatees and other rare, amazing marine animals.
Snorkeling and scuba diving are both world class in these clear blue waters. The underwater visibility can go deeper than 200 feet here, and the reef walls teem with marine life. Beginner and advanced divers will enjoy Half Moon Caye. Some experienced divers compare Half Moon Caye Wall to the deep diving thrills of the Blue Hole. Beginners will have a wonderful time snorkeling at Tarpon Caves or Eagle Landing.
Go for a Sunset or Sunrise Stroll
If you like to walk, the island is perfect. The trail is well-maintained and clear, thanks to diligent park rangers for a scenic walk through the littoral forest. And thanks to this unique ecosystem without mangroves, bugs and mosquitoes are kept to a minumum. Not to mention, the shady Zericote trees keeps you protected from the sun. On the booby bird trail, an observation platform gives you a sweeping view of the bird colony. Keep an eye out for iguanas, hermit crabs and the native Belize leaf-toed geckos.
Camping is available in select areas of the park. It’s best to arrange your camping trip with a professional tour group. As a national park, the island has strict conservation regulations. A handful of tour companies offer environmentally sensitive, off-grid camping trips to the island.
The only way to get here is by boat. You can hire a charter boat or a dive company to bring you out for the day. The boat trip takes about an hour from San Pedro and about two hours from Belize City. If you want to stay overnight, book your travel with a specially licensed tour group that follows the park’s strict regulations. After all, you’ll be staying on a composite site of Belize’s UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Half Moon Caye Natural Monument, along with its sister site of the Blue Hole Natural Monument, is co-managed by the non-govenrmental and non-profit Belize Audubon Society (BAS). Aside from the day-to-day operations such as enforcement, environmental education, and scientific research, the Society operates a visitors’ center. Visiting as a tourist? Park fees to enter Half Moon Caye Natural Monument is US$10 per person. While park fees are often included in your tour package, don’t forget how impactful your visit can be! Each dollar spend towards and at a BAS co-managed site funds its conservation. All BAS sites are Gold Standard certified.
Half Moon Caye is one of many gorgeous offshore islands you can visit in Belize. Take an unforgettable trip to one of Belize’s loveliest spots.
Feature photo courtesy Kevin Quischan Photography