“I Get the Red Carpet Treatment”

On the morning of my birthday this year, I woke up to the view of the Caribbean Sea. It wasn’t just a pretty view from an average resort – I was looking at the Belize Barrier Reef. If I got out of bed, walked downstairs and stood on the beach, the Reef would be a stone’s throw away.

I was on South Water Caye, an island with private cottages off the coast of southern Belize. by boat from the town of Dangriga. Not everyone gets to stay on this piece of paradise and I couldn’t have imagined a moreIt’s about an hour  perfect way to start my special day.

My suite was on the top floor of a large cabana, tucked in a corner and on the beachfront side of the island. Although I was given one of the best rooms, anywhere you stand on South Water Caye puts you within eyeshot of sand, water and coconut trees.

I felt like I had reached the ultimate piece of paradise in Belize. Miles and miles of fine sand, palm trees and nothing but a deserted beach peppered with hammocks.

The day I spent on the island is one of my happiest memories of this year.

I started by walking the length of the island with a fellow guest. Along the way, I took photos. I recall sharing that if I were to ever have a destination wedding one day, it would take place there. My new friend noted that if he were to ever write a book, this would make an ideal spot for it.

Not long after our walk and after learning of the island’s conservation efforts – including the use of solar energy – we hopped in a boat and headed on a snorkeling tour.

Around South Water Caye are other idyllic islands. We stopped by Man-O-War Caye, a bird sanctuary just a few minutes away. It was mating season and there were hundreds of birds flying all over and hovering above us…pelicans and frigate birds. After capturing some of that amazing scene we went on to Tobacco Caye, a smaller island. This is where locals own vacation homes, and the scene is suited to those who are in more of a “social” mode.

Once in the water, right off Tobacco Caye, we saw stingrays, tarpons and other colorful schools of fish.

As a photographer and writer, I seek out unique places, the ones not many travelers know about. It was because of my work that I was able to get free accommodation and tours on South Water Caye. I simply contacted the manager and offered to take some pictures and write a review in exchange for my stay. She was happy to host me.

I stayed for two nights free of charge with transport to the islands thrown in. I had four meals on the island which I had to pay for (they came to a grand total of $67) while drinks and snacks were available free all day. If I had paid for this trip, it could have set me back around $700.

What amazes me the most when I think back to my experience on one of Belize’s most beautiful cayes, is that this was work for me. It’s hard to imagine that you can wake up in the morning, look at the Barrier Reef and say to yourself that it’s time to get up for work. But that’s exactly how it was.

Editor’s Note: If you’d like to learn more about ways you can pay for your life or travels overseas, sign up for Fund Your Life Overseas, a free e-letter from International Living. Sign up here and we’ll send you a free report: Fund Your New Life Overseas With These 5 Portable Careers.

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