Passport DC Around The World Embassy Tour: How to Go Around the World in a Day


Yesterday was the fifth annual Passport DC “Round the World Embassy Tour” – an all-day open house at over 40 Embassies in downtown Washington DC, with all sorts of free cultural goodies – from food tastings to drinks, live music, dancing and pretty much anything the embassies decide to organize for the hundreds of people coming to discover and sample their countries.

This year’s event was outstanding. I had so much fun walking around the city, hopping from one culture to another. The only downside? Not having enough time to make it to even half the Embassies. So much to sample and experience. And, super long lines by 2pm.

I started off at the Mexican Cultural Institute – I figured it would be fun given it was Cinco de Mayo (OK – I was hoping for free Margaritas). Well, none of that but they had hot tamales flowing, non-alcoholic drinks, desserts and other goodies. A mariachi band was blasting on the top floor and the gorgeous murals at the Institute made me want to stay longer.  I finally left after an hour and headed to Dupont Circle’s Embassy Row, venturing wherever the wind took me (kind of like my own virtual RTW trip). Here’s where I managed to travel: Bahamas, Haiti, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, Trinidad & Tobago, Peru. And all that took about three hours and some change (mind you, I’m into details plus I shoot).

All were a good time – particularly Haiti with their dance and skit performances, and Cote d’Ivoire with traditional junkanu dancers and drummers outside the Embassy, real Ivorian-style (you guys know that took me back to my childhood days). I didn’t go in given the long line – but was happy to see the interest in my other country. Maybe Drogba has something to do with it?

I slipped away at one point to run to the National Cathedral for the Annual Flower Mart honoring Jamaica (more on that later) but the lack of good (and zero Jamaican) food made me return to Passport DC around 3pm, thanks to a friend who suggested we check out Trinidad & Tobago. What a brilliant idea.  Forget the neat lining up outside, it looked like Carnival on Mass. Ave. They had “moko jumbies” all up and down the sidewalk and on the steps outside the Embassy, and a full-on steel pan band you could hear for blocks. Not to mention, a hot buffet at $5 a plate, lots of rotis and rum punch (finally)!  It was simply fabulous, and I kicked myself for >> not stopping here first. Then again, I might not have left.

At the end of the day, I went home itching to book all sorts of plane tickets – not very helpful for a wanderlust sufferer like myself! Hats off to the Embassies that put their all in this amazing display of culture from around the world, in one city. Below are some of my shots from the day.

Mariachi Band at the Mexican Cultural Institute - Passport Day 2012 | All Images Copyright Lebawit Lily GirmaMask exhibit at the Mexican Cultural Institute - Passport DC Round the World Embassy TourMexican Cultural InstituteHot tamales flowing at the Mexican Cultural InstituteEmbassy of the Bahamas where the staff was super friendlySampling rum cakes at the Bahamas EmbassyWelcome to Haiti - Passport DC 2012Embassy of Haiti put on a great dance and skit showDrummer at the Embassy of Haiti - Passport DC DayDancers pull in the crowd at Embassy of Haiti - Passport DCCrowded hallways at the Embassy of Haiti - Passport DC DayJunkanoo and drummers outside the Embassy of Cote d'Ivoire | (c) Lebawit Lily Girma Cote d'Ivoire was the hit with their authentic junkanoo dancers | (c) Lebawit Lily GirmaChad had traditional tea ceremonies for those with time to sit and chat - Passport DCThese girls were the best ambassadors - they kept saying, Brothers and sisters, come and visit us in Chad!Trinidad and Tobago Embassy - had the most colorful and lively display of allCarnival in the streets outside the Trinidad and Tobago EmbassyCarnival at the Embassy while the Ambassador of Trinidad and Tobago looks onHot buffet at the Embassy of Trinidad and Tobago - Passport DC | (c) L. GirmaRoti, anyone?Embassy of Peru

Next Saturday is “Shortcut to Europe” – all the EU embassies are opening their doors and wooing us, which should be just as much fun. I see lots of wine, cheese and chocolate in my near future.

Trying on Carnival hats at the Embassy of the Bahamas.

And lastly, here are my 5 tips for a fun, hassle-free Passport DC Day

  • Start early! 10 a.m. from 1 p.m. are the least crowded times. After that, prepare for some long lines. It was impossible to get into some embassies after 2 p.m. because the wait was at least 45 mins to get in (Japan, Venezuela, Indonesia in particular).
  • Plan your stops ahead of time. If there’s a country you really want to check out, head there first. Check out the maps online and the bus or metro routes, and see how you can get the most out of one day. Some embassies are a little isolated or farther up (like Belize).
  • Wear super comfy shoes -as in, rubber-soles. I wore flat thongs and I have blisters from being on my feet from 10 to 4.
  • Even if you don’t get to see them all, enjoy where you stop until you’re satisfied and take the time to learn a couple of cultural tidbits about each place. Grab pamphlets or talk to the staff.
  • Don’t miss Trinidad & Tobago next year!
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Lebawit Lily Girma

Lebawit Lily Girma is an award-winning, Ethiopian-American travel writer, photographer and author of several Caribbean guidebooks for Moon Travel Guides, including Moon Belize, Moon Belize Cayes, and Moon Dominican Republic (October 2016). Her work focuses on Caribbean culture and adventure, and has been published in AFAR, CNN Travel, BBC, Delta Sky, The Guardian, Sunday Times Travel Magazine, and Every Day With Rachael Ray, among many others. Lily is also the 2016 recipient of the Marcia Vickery Wallace Award for Excellence in Travel Journalism for her Caribbean coverage, from the Caribbean Tourism Organization.

Lily calls herself a “culture-holic”–she speaks four languages fluently and has lived in Cote d’Ivoire, England, Jamaica, Belize, the Dominican Republic and traveled to some 30+ countries around the world. Last but not least, she is a former corporate attorney who ditched her Washington DC office for the road in 2009 to pursue her dream of becoming a storyteller.
Lily holds a Bachelor of Arts in French and Spanish (summa cum laude) from the University of Maryland at College Park, and a Juris Doctor from the University of Virginia School of Law.

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