Top 20 Highlights of My Trip to Belize


Today is my last “official” day as the second Road Warrior for the Belize Tourism Board and MatadorU.

This past week, winding down in Placencia, I’ve had time to reflect on my time in Belize and I’m amazed at all that I’ve accomplished and lived through in 90 days!

To say it was one of the best travel experiences I’ve ever had is an understatement.

First and foremost, I had the opportunity to do what I love day in and day out, for a living – travel writing and photography.

I still remember my friend Mary’s reaction when I initially told her about my new gig, back in June: “Get out! That’s the kind of job we used to joke about having!”

She was right. When we were travel buddies and hopped to Spain, Portugal and Italy, we’d joke about getting paid for what we loved doing the most: traveling abroad and discovering the local culture, food, activities, nightlife and shopping, and bringing back some fun stories and fabulous advice for fellow travelers.

Well, it become a reality. For three months, I got to document and satisfy my thirst for culture, music, stories and adventure in one of the most fascinating countries I’ve visited so far.

And I now have an even greater appreciation for the crafts of travel writing and travel photography and for those are constantly on the road.

Beyond that, I pushed myself physically and mentally to levels I never thought possible – throwing myself into activities I’d never tried or been afraid to before – from rappelling 300 feet>> into a rainforest to hiking almost every other day for weeks, diving and becoming PADI certified, horseriding, keeping my cool during encounters with nocturnal creatures, spelunking and cave tubing in the longest of caves, photographing the month-long 30th Independence events, learning to balance work and knowing when to take a break, and handling long-term solo female travel- ooh, the adventures and stories are endless!

Belize has almost made me… fearless.

Several folks over the past month have asked me: what were the top highlights of your time in Belize? They are so many I could probably find 100!

But I listed those that stand out the most in my mind.

Top 20 Highlights of my 3 Months in Belize

1. Dining and spending the night at Caracol

2. Spending an afternoon one-on-one with Paul Nabor

3. Snorkeling with and photographing manatees off the Belize Barrier Reef

4. A two-day photo Shoot of the First Lady of Belize and her family

5. Attending the flag-raising ceremony and fireworks at midnight on the 21st of September for Belize’s 30th Anniversary of Independence from Great Britain

6. Learning to scuba dive one-on-one off Laughingbird Caye and Silk Cayes and becoming PADI certified

7. Meeting and photographing Belizeans from all ethnic backgrounds for a series of portraits

8. Spending a morning with the Queen of Brukdown and of Creole culture, Leela Vernon

9. Capturing Belize City Carnival & Orange Walk Carnival

10. Ian Anderson’s Black Hole Drop

11. Meeting Heidi Curry and some of her students from Ocean Academy High School in Caye Caulker

12. Garifuna drumming lesson in Hopkins

13. Spending the day in Barranco, a Garifuna village and the birth place of Andy Palacio

14. Driving through the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, Rio on Pools and the Chiquibul National Park

15. Attending a jam-packed three-day outdoor concert of Belizean music at Sir Barry’s Belikin Bash

16. Capturing and attending the State Funeral of George Cadle Price, First Prime Minister of Belize and “Father of the Nation”

17. Catching my first Permit and hooking a tarpon with Anglers Abroad

18. Attending local summer fairs or “fiestas” in Orange Walk and San Pedro

19. Learning to make hudut in Hopkins

20. Relaxing on the beaches of Placencia and the southern Cayes

Gosh I’d even add another – food! It’s all been so delicious, from Belizean to Mexican to East Indian or Lebanese… from the fruits to the fry jack’s, the rice and beans to seafood, the ceviche’s and juices, and even the pure chocolate.

Special Thanks

There are so many people I’d like to individually thank for my amazing Road Warrior experience, from all over Belize!

First is Julie Schwietert Collazo, Managing Editor at The Matador Network, who recommended me for the Road Warrior program and offered me this fantastic opportunity. She also served as my sounding board, editor, inspiration, mentor and friend throughout my time here. Not to mention she carried a new suitcase for me all the way from the US when mine got damaged. I could go on about Julie for another ten paragraphs.

Then there’s Maynor Larrieu, Direct Online Manager at the Belize Tourism Board and my every day contact, who did a fantastic job of planning my schedule and always made sure I was well, happy and healthy, no matter how busy he was and picking up the phone even in the middle of his countless meetings.  Not to mention, he carried my heavy camera bag around for me in the hot sun more times than I can count, especially during the September celebration events, often losing track of me as I moved around but never losing patience. I also want to thank every BTB staff member who made me feel welcome and reached out to me during my journey, including Minister Manuel Heredia who took time out of his busy schedule to have dinner with me and Yannick Dalhouse.

Third but not least, Mrs. Kim Simplis Barrow, the First Lady of Belize, whom I met within the first couple of weeks of my stay in Belize, when I got to photograph her and her family. Since then and consistently over my stay here she has offered me friendship and counsel, checked on me often to make sure I was well, shared my work with others and gave me great tips along the way to make sure I was experiencing the best of Belize. I have to say, Belize has one cool First Lady. Oh and I wish I’d started collecting a dollar a long time ago for each time a Belizean asked me if I was Kim Simplis’ younger sister!

Next up – gosh I can feel this becoming a long list! – are those who went above and beyond and made me feel like a “normal person” when I needed it: Joanna Evans from Ka’ana, Tara and Mike from The Placencia Hotel, and my friends in Caye Caulker, Heidi & Haywood Curry, of Sea Dreams Hotel & Ocean Academy, Stacy Badillo of Sea Dreams Hotel and Joanna Arellano from Caye Caulker Plaza Hotel. When I needed a break one weekend at the end of all the month-long September celebrations, I escaped to la isla cariñosa at the last minute and they were happy to host me again, take me out on the night trail and spend an awesome Sunday on the beach, swimming, eating and talking.

And I really do wish I could mention every single person I’ve met!

My sincere thanks to all who welcomed me to Belize, shared their experiences and life stories, their culture, history, language, food and music, and showed genuine interest in my visit. All of the numerous hotel owners who hosted me beyond providing a room and their staff, tour guides and operators, drivers, artists, teachers, students, tourists, fellow photographers and every single Belizean who added to my experience. Thanks to the Belize Government press office for that precious media pass that allowed me to photograph and experience Mr George Cadle Price’s State Funeral, and thanks to Ambergris Today and other local media outlets for featuring my work.*


Thanks to EACH of you for reading, commenting, and sharing this journey with me by following my blog and being a constant source of inspiration for my work. I realize how busy life gets and I am more than appreciative to every person who spends time stopping by here and reading my stories or viewing my photography. I hope I have entertained you as well as made you want to travel and come to Belize!

I have so much more about Belize that I’ll be sharing for months to come, am sure. Stay tuned for my updated photo album and a couple more blog entries on my time in Placencia. I’ll also soon begin blogging about my visit to Taiwan – where I was invited on a Foodie Tour by the Taiwan Tourism Board back in August.

In the meantime, please join me in congratulating the newest and third Road Warrior – Norbert Figueroa of MatadorU. You can follow him on Facebook at GloboTreks or on his website.

Stay tuned for my upcoming piece on Visiting Placencia!

*While my entire three-month trip was sponsored by the Belize Tourism Board, all of the opinions and recommendations on my blog and in my Matador articles are my own and every business I’ve mentioned are those I would recommend “to my best friend.”  To read back to the beginning of my journey, please click here.

Lebawit Lily Girma

Lebawit Lily Girma is an award-winning travel journalist, photographer, and guidebook author specializing in the Caribbean region. Her work has been published in major travel publications, including CNN, AFAR, Delta Sky, Lonely Planet, Shermans Travel, and BBC, among others. A self-professed "culture-holic," Lily left her native Ethiopia at age one, fast developing a passion for the expat Caribbean life. In 2008, she ditched her US corporate law career for the road and created Sunshine and Stilettos—a travel photography blog showcasing authentic ways to experience the Caribbean, through culture and nature. Lily has since partnered with Caribbean tourism boards and travel brands on major content projects. She also authors print guidebooks on three destinations, including Belize, the Dominican Republic, and Jamaica. Read more on her site,

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  1. Seveen 8 October, 2011 at 10:34 PM #

    whew! sissy i enjoyed every moment of your time there – and you definitely showed all that belize has to offer – and i’m so ready to get there – if only for a day on the cruise

    through your blog – i know that belize is not just another place on the map – but a hidden treasure that i too want to explore and enjoy

    the faces, the places and the food you have shared make me feel connected to my family so displaced by the diaspora

    thank you lily! you done good my sister

  2. Baboon Sanctuary 9 October, 2011 at 12:29 AM #

    Great job! Congrats! I hope you will forever carry Belize in your heart!

  3. Marilyn Cutkelvin 9 October, 2011 at 7:39 PM #

    Well don Lily…. Excellent job!!!…. totally enjoyed reading about ur adventures and viewing ur many beautiful pics of Belize…. hope u get to stop by again!!!

  4. Jose Luis Zapata 10 October, 2011 at 2:44 PM #

    It was really nice having you here and I hope you come back to visit sometime. Wishing you great success in all your future endeavors and I will keep reading your adventures, I will also look forward to seeing your complete photo album on our beautiful Belize; I´m sure we will see some amazing shots. It was nice meeting you 🙂

  5. Lebawit Lily Girma 10 October, 2011 at 3:38 PM #

    Thank you SO much everyone!! It was really, really great to share all of it with you guys.

    @Seveen, thank you for your never ending support my friend!! And am so happy to hear that my work has made a difference. I can’t wait to hear about your day here and let’s make sure we debrief some before you leave!! 🙂

    @Baboon Sanctuary, many thanks – I most certainly will, there’s no doubt about it. A truly special country.

    @Marilyn, so wonderful to “meet” you through this experience, I’m so glad you stumbled unto my blog 🙂 I truly appreciate all of your feedback, and I’ve also learned a lot from you!!
    I sure hope I do get to return some day.

    @Jose, thank you so much!! It was super nice to meet you even briefly, I wish we’d had more time to chat! In the meantime I’ll also be on the other side admiring your Belize shots.:) Will stay in touch!

  6. Hal Amen 10 October, 2011 at 6:29 PM #

    Geez, has it really been 3 months!?

    Thank you, Lily, for bringing us your perspective on Belize. Your stories and photos have been wonderful. The country obviously made quite an impression!

  7. Lebawit Lily Girma 11 October, 2011 at 2:13 AM #

    Thanks Hal, it went so fast!! 🙂 It was one amazing ride. Never a dull moment in Belize!!

  8. Alex Evans 11 October, 2011 at 1:05 PM #

    I’m really glad that you’ve enjoyed your time here so much and that you’ve benefited from being here, because I know that we’ve definitely benefited from having you here…

    Reading your articles about your time in Belize and looking at your photos always serves to reinforce the immense amount of Belizean pride I already have and I’m sure I’m not the only one… So, thank you.

  9. Efren 14 October, 2011 at 9:45 PM #

    We are so glad we got a chance to host you at our lodge and provide you with a wonderful jungle experience! Hope to see you back soon in Belize from all your friends at Ian Anderson’s Caves Branch Jungle Lodge!

    Excellent Job!

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