Celebrating My Eighth-Year Anniversary with Belize: An Unforgettable Ride

I woke up this morning realizing that it was eight years ago, on a humid and hazy summer morning, that I landed in Belize for the first time, solo. I stayed in San Pedro like a classic first-timer, snorkeled Hol Chan Marine Reserve, and happily stumbled on a colorful Dia de San Pedro celebration, bursting in Mestizo culture.

Dia de San Pedro 2019 – Ambergris Caye.

San Pedro, Ambergris Caye.

I went to Caye Caulker on the water taxi for a day. I remember folks being friendly, and the island mellow and safe; I kicked myself hard for not having made it my base.  

The Split, Caye Caulker (2010).

I was dying to see the rainforests and wildlife I’d seen in photographs online, so I traveled to Orange Walk, where my mind was blown cruising the New River, hiking Lamanai Archeological Site, and seeing Jesus Christ birds, toucans, and howler monkeys staring back at me for the first time.

Howler monkey, Lamanai – Orange, Walk (2010). 

Lamanai Archaeological Site – Orange Walk (2010).

My next base was Bullet Tree Falls village, and I was even more thrilled at my natural surroundings. The ATM cave was the latest craze (amazing that it still is), when tourists could bring cameras. I braved the grueling hike, knowing it was too late to turn back. A torrential downpour hit at the start of our expedition, making it a race to

 get in and out of the dark chambers before the waters rose even higher (I think you can tell by my facial expression, this was no average adventure).

Climbing the ladder to the sacrificial chamber – ATM Cave, Cayo.

San Ignacio – 2010.

I’d met a lovely traveling couple at my lodge in Bullet Tree, who after spending a few days exploring Cayo together, and after my side trip to Tikal, twisted my arm (not!) to join them on their next drive from Cayo to Placencia. The wanderlust was so strong back then—soon I was on the phone calling United, and paying an insane change fee, as my flight would have been the next day.

Off we went, on a daylong trip, stopping along the way to swim in sinkholes, eat, relax, and hike caves along the highway from Belmopan to Placencia.

Blue Hole National Park – Belmopan, 2010.

Placencia Village – 2010.

It was love at first sight with the rustic peninsula in the south of Belize. We discovered the Garifuna, with their drumming on Placencia Village’s beach, leaving me stunned at finding a slice of my Africa, while my travel companions danced the night away with the junkanoo. A Monkey River boat safari and hike was next, in the dead of summer. I wore full pants and sleeves as a precaution, and we were indeed swarmed with mosquitoes. 

The next morning, while getting ready for the airport ride, I panicked at the sight of my legs covered in red bumps. No tropical disease here—just Belizean mosquitoes that had feasted on me, biting through my hiking pants. It took several weeks for them to disappear, yet I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Back home in mundane Washington DC, I wondered when I’d get to return to the Jewel. Three weeks and six destinations covered, but so much left to see. One day, one day.

A year later, in the summertime again, that day came. I spent three glorious months sponsored by the Belize Tourism Board, exploring and writing about every major corner of the country, and numerous cultural festivals, celebrations, and rituals. You can read many of these stories and view photographs here, and in print and online travel magazines. I returned to Belize that same year for four, blissful winter months.

Six months after that, opportunity knocked the summer of 2012, when I was selected as the author of Moon Belize for Moon Travel Guides, currently the most frequently updated guidebook on Belize. And the rest, as most of you know, is history.

Love you long time, Belize! You’ve been good to me, and I hope others will agree I’ve given my best to you as well. Cheers to eight fruitful years together, with many more to come. I also thank every single person in Belize who has assisted me in my work over the years, in more ways than I can count, allowing me to accurately tell Belize’s story, and support its people. And to all who have become my Belizean friends along the way, and opened their homes.

I can’t wait to be back in the Jewel soon.

First, for the launch of the 20th issue of Destination Belize Magazine 2018-2019—the flagship publication of the Belize Tourism Industry Association, for which I’m honored to serve as Editor in Chief this year. Coming to a hotel room, Belize airports, embassies, and international trade show near you, this edition’s theme is “Find our Roots – Feel (y)Our Rhythms.” What I can tell you for now, is that you’ll want to keep a copy as a collectible.

And second, for my research trip to update the next edition of #MoonBelize2019, which I’ve now authored for six years, going on seven. The most exciting edit I’ll make to the text will be, no doubt, the removal of the Belize Barrier Reef from the UNESCO’s In Danger List. 

Let’s do this again, Belize!


Giveaway alert: My blogging friends over at Uncommon Caribbean recently sailed Belize with Sunsail, and are currently running a giveaway for a 7-day yacht sailing trip, departing from Placencia. Check it out at this link, and enter to win! (Note that while I have not personally sailed with Sunsail, I fully trust my friends’ recommendation.)

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, LebawitGirma.com

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