Foreigners can stack up like pancakes in tiny Belize, which is less than 70 miles wide. Some hot spots felt like a factory designed to funnel sunburned tourists into attractions; others were remote, serene, and wonderful. We squeezed through caves in water up to our necks (one with full skeleton in it), canoed on rivers with orange iguanas eyeing us, ziplined (as tourists love to do), and generally jumped headfirst into eco-tourism land. It was great fun.
But for me, exploring nature is best done away from crowds, and that’s where Half Moon Caye shines. A tiny speck of an island, it lies 60 miles off the coast of Belize. Leaving the reggae jams of the coast behind (Caribbean influence is strong in Belize), a 2.5 hour boat ride ended with waving palm trees beckoning us to the sandy beach in the reef system of Lighthouse Atoll.
You can kick off the shore directly into a swirl of tropical fish, nurse sharks, barracuda, octopus, and turtles. From the hammock in front of our tent, the clear green Caribbean stretched out into the distance, waves rumbling in. Frigate birds soared overhead, stenciled into the sky. The serenade of a conch shell announced meals three times a day. Yep, I’m talking about a real, off-the-grid island adventure.
And the best part? No crowds. Thanks to oversight by the local Audubon Society, only 20 people at a time visit Half Moon Caye. It’s a remote paradise at the intersection of land and sky, Belize and the Caribbean. Red-footed boobies and the frigate birds nest together by the dozens, turtles lay their eggs on the beach, and hundreds of hermit crabs etch paths into the sand. As a German guy on the trip said, “I’ve never felt this close to nature.”
Coordinated by fantastic guides, days began with sunrise yoga on the beach and then morphed into snorkeling, bird watching and kayaking the reef, plus a night snorkel where I saw my first sparks of bio-luminescence. Giant buffet meals were gobbled up and the travelers gelled into a group of friends. Under a full moon, we chatted nightly until the power went out, then started adventures anew in the morning for four luxurious days.
If there was any disappointment with the trip, it was the stark reality that you can’t escape the effects of civilization. Even hours off the coast, snorkeling around in a World Heritage Site called the Blue Hole (a collapsed cavern 1000 ft wide and 450 deep), plastic trash occasionally floated by. A bottle cap here, a wrapper there. It was easy to mistake remnants of plastic for a jellyfish, and I understood how a turtle might snap it up and choke on trash. A poignant reminder all of us leave a footprint that affects the entire world.
On the shores of the island, we launched a beach cleanup near the nesting area for the bird colony. Picking up toothbrushes, plastic utensils and straws, we hoovered up remnants of a society too comfortable with single-use disposables and packaging. Miles from industry or any big cities, the ocean delivered garbage from afar. Seeing this steeled our resolve to continue eliminating that kind of plastic from our lives. The simple stuff can make a difference – even while traveling, we carry reusable water bottles, refuse straws at restaurants, and bring our own take-home container to restaurants (Styrofoam is the worst!). It’s a drop of effort in a huge ocean of trash, but big movements start small.
Our final morning, we headed back. Eyelids heavy from the drone of the boat engines, most of us dozed. Then someone shouted, “DOLPHINS!” At first, it was actually just a few short-finned pilot whales, blunt noses poking out of the water. Then came the dolphins, dozens of them, whisking through the waves. At least 50 stuck with the boat for a half hour, jumping high, zooming under the boat and shooting into the air on the other side. Some did full flips, others triple barrel rolls. No footage entirely captures the moment as they surrounded the boat, but I briefly tried (click here for YouTube video) before simply enjoying the display of nature’s awesomeness. A stunning experience and a fireworks finale to our trip.
Escaping to the remote magic of Half Moon Caye was hands-down one of the finest travel adventures I’ve had. Such a perfect place to enjoy nature – I can’t recommend this experience highly enough. Skip the craziness of Caye Caulker and San Pedro and head to the island for a trip you’ll never forget.
Here’s to your next adventure! More photos below too.
P.S. A great organization that we support is 5 Gyres. They conduct research and communicate about the global impact of plastic pollution. Check out their work, they kick butt!
P.P.S. You may have noticed a lack of underwater photos. Chalk that one up to me dropping a camera for the first time ever. Unfortunately, it wasn’t even mine – sorry, bro-in-law’s roommate. RIP, GoPro…I hope someone finds you on the bottom of the river in that cave. I’m still glad I swam through it.