Nature in Belize is transformative. There’s a sense of communing with Mother Nature that I haven’t felt elsewhere.
Griots Republic had an opportunity to catch up with Lebawit Lily Girma about her travels around Belize and specifically about her travel guidebook series titled. “Moon Belize.” Read her Q&A session below to understand why she set out to become an expert on Belize tourism and why she thinks you need to visit.
Tell everyone about yourself and how you got into travel writing and photography.
I’m originally from Ethiopia and grew up in West Africa, Europe, and then went to college in the US. So I’ve always traveled and have a diverse background (I speak four languages fluently, two of which are native). I was a lawyer for several years before I decided that it wasn’t my passion anymore–instead, I loved to write, travel, and photograph, sharing stories from the places I visited. I fell in love with the Caribbean in 2005. In 2008, I discovered travel writing, photography, and blogging and my life just changed from there. It didn’t happen overnight. It was many years of sacrifice, working double time, and finally landing a major gig in Belize, followed by a guidebook publishing contract. Those opportunities opened doors for everything else that followed. I’ve been published in many travel publications, from CNN to BBC, AFAR, and others. I author three guidebooks for Moon, on Belize and the Dominican Republic, and I just co-authored a new edition of Jamaica for Rough Guides. Last but not least, I have a handful of editorial clients, including Caribbean tourism associations and tourism boards. And somehow I find the time to run a couple of blogs, DRVisitor.com and Sun and Stilettos.
How long did it take you to write Moon Belize?
When I took over the prior edition, I changed about 80% of the text, and that took me about six to seven months of research, writing, and exploring on the ground. I’m now into my sixth year working on Moon Belize and about to embark on my fourth edition.
What does Moon Belize have to offer that other travel guides don’t?
Moon Belize is unlike other guidebooks because it’s written by an expert in the destination–other Belize guidebook publishers tend to hire a writer who has either traveled there only a couple of times, or they rely on past edition writers’ text as a base. But Moon really does seek out the best person for the gig–someone who lives there or who has traveled there annually and stayed there long-term for several years. Someone who absolutely loves Belize–that’s me. Another way it’s different is that it is written for true independent travelers, of various budgets–not just for luxury travelers and not just for backpackers. It’s for those who go to immerse in a culture, and are conscious, responsible explorers. People who want to learn about a place with context. It’s compact, it’s fun to read, and it’s in full color–that also distinguishes it from competitors.
Any Belize secrets or tips not included in the guide?
Not really. I really do share my best tips in the guidebook, and it’s comprehensive at near 400 pages. Eight precious years of my knowledge exploring Belize, and updated every two years to include new tips.
Why should our readers travel to Belize?
Because it’s one of the most unexpected destinations in the world. Because you’ll be surprised, engaged, and challenged, outdoors and across its villages and towns. Because it’s rich in nature, culture, and wildlife is at every turn–with five wild cats and many more incredible species, from manatees to birds. Because over 30 percent of its territory is protected. Because it has the second longest–and the number one healthiest–barrier reef in the world, with top diving and snorkeling sites. Because it’s home to the most incredible cave expeditions in the world–even NatGeo said so. Because its people are friendly, and its ethnic groups fascinating. And because it’s as good for families–your children will love you if you take them there–as it is for honeymooners, or seniors, or anyone looking for a unique adventure. I could go on with many more reasons.
What surprised you most about Belize?
It’s cultural diversity. It’s something many don’t realize until they get there and are faced with a variety of cuisines, cultural events, and languages. From Maya to Mestizo, Garifuna, Kriol, East Indian, Mennonite, and Chinese, among others, it’s astounding for a small country. But that’s what makes Belize such a unique experience in Central America.
Describe Belize in three words.
Cultural. Natural. Enriching.
What is your favorite thing about Belize? Favorite thing to do in Belize?
The outdoors–nature in Belize is transformative. There’s a sense of communing with Mother Nature that I haven’t felt elsewhere. It could be because it’s less populated, so you feel as if you have large swaths of parks, the barrier reef, and other parts to yourself. My favorite thing to do – that’s tough to say because I have several. Relaxing on Caye Caulker and exploring the Caye Caulker Marine Reserve. Sailing along the southern coast. Hiking Cockscomb Jaguar Preserve. That’s just to start!
Your least favorite thing about Belize.
It’s purely administrative and not that big of a deal. I have to be near an immigration office every month to pay for a 30-day extension. I wish I could pay the fee all at once instead of when I’m there spending a few months for research, and not have to arrange my stops according to my passport stamp. 🙂
Rate Belizean cuisine compared to other Caribbean countries.
A nine out of ten. It’s so diverse and flavorful–you get to eat everything from tamales and tacos to West African-style dishes that are Garifuna, Mayan fish, Kriol rice and beans and stews, and so much more. All in one country.
In what ways does Moon Belize capture the spirit of Belize?
It gives authenticity, culture, and local insight, from food to culture and the outdoors. And it tells you how to visit one of the most natural- and wildlife-rich countries in the world while helping to preserve it.
To learn more about Lebawit Lily Girma and to purchase her book, visit her site at lebawitgirma.com.