San Ignacio, otherwise known as ‘Cayo,’ is the perfect base from which to explore the Mayan ruins and cave systems of Belize. The town is located close to the border with Guatemala, so visits to Tikal archaeological site are also possible. San Ignacio has its own fair share of rivers and ruins which will keep visitors occupied and if not, there are dozens of tour companies all vying to take you further afield. The town has a rough and tumble jungle feel to it that gives it a lot of energy (it’s very safe though) and sees a lot of visitors as it’s the launching point for people heading into Guatemala.
Hostel prices – A bed in a dorm will cost you around 30 BZD. A private room with a shared bathroom is around 60-70 BZD. Hostels here include free WiFi and free linens.
Budget hotel prices – A double room in a 3-star hotel starts around 110 BZD. On Airbnb, shared rooms start around 26 BZD and entire homes start around 70 BZD.
Average cost of food – If you eat the local food, 20 BZD will cover an entire day’s worth of food. Meals in tourist oriented restaurants begin at around 10 BZD for a main dish. Grocery shopping will also really help your budget. A week’s worth of food is about 60 BZD for basic groceries like pasta, vegetables, chicken, and other basic foodstuffs.
Transportation costs – The bus from Belize City costs 10 BZD, takes about 2.5 hours, and leaves about every 30 minutes. Most of the town is pretty easy to walk around but as a guide, taxis cost a minimum of 2.49 BZD and fares are 1.55 BZD per km.
Suggested daily budget – 80 BZD / 40 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating out a little, cooking most of your meals, and using local transportation. Although, if you take a lot of tours this will be a lot higher. Using the budget tips below, you can always lower this number. However, if you stay in fancier accommodation or eat out more often, expect this to be higher!)
Money Saving Tips
- Happy hour – Like most places throughout Belize, the bars have a late afternoon happy hour (well, more like 3 hours) where you can get two drinks for the price of one.
- Hitchhike – It’s a common custom among the locals to simply hitchhike everywhere they need to go. You see old ladies, children, and families on the side of the road looking for a ride. It’s just what they do. My friends and I met great people thumbing it across the country without spending any money at all.
- Shop around – There are many activity and tour providers so be sure to shop around.
- Couchsurf – If you plan ahead, you can usually find really nice Couchsurfing hosts all throughout the country. This way, you not only have a place to stay, but you’ll have a local host that can tell you the best places to go and things to see.
Top Things to See and Do in San Ignacio
- Explore Actun Tunichil Muknal – Located 45 minutes from town are the Mayan caves at Actun Tunichil Muknal. After a brief hike through the jungle, across some rivers, and swimming into a cave, you’ll come face to face with the skeletons of those who have been sacrificed to the Mayan Gods. This is a spooky experience and a bit of a must-do in Belize in general. I loved, loved this adventure. It was worth the price. You need to have a licensed tour guide with you. Trips cost around 180 BZD and include transportation and lunch.
- Climb to Cahal Pech – This small set of Mayan ruins is San Ignacio’s most visited tourist attraction. The site contains a visitors’ center, restored plazas and temples. The climb up the hill to Cahal Pech is strenuous but you are rewarded not only with the ruins’ site but also a spectacular view below. Admission is 10 BZD and it’s open daily from 6am-6pm.
- Float into the Barton Creek Cave – One of the most popular day trips is to the Barton Creek Cave. You’ll explore the cave by canoe or cave-tube, taking in the pottery, skulls and formations around you dating back to when it was a Mayan sacrificial site. Trips start at 170 BZD.
- See stunning vistas at Xunantunich – Otherwise known as the “the Maiden of the Rock,” Xunantunich is another must-see Mayan ruin site. Climb the El Castillo pyramid ruin for a fantastic view of the entire site and the Mopan and Macal rivers. At 130ft tall, El Castillo is the second tallest building in Belize and is pretty imposing. Admission is 10 BZD and it’s open daily from 7:30am-4pm.
- Spend the morning at the open-air market – If your stay includes a Saturday morning, head to the town’s open air market. Farmers from all over the Cayo District arrive to offer fresh fruit, vegetables, jams and dairy products, so this is a good place to stock up on inexpensive snacks for your outings and to get breakfast.
- Spot wildlife at the Green Iguana Exhibit – The San Ignacio Resort Hotel runs a conservation program for the Green Iguana with the aim of creating awareness and educating visitors and locals about these colorful creatures. The resort sits at the top of a hill and is surrounded by 14 acres of rainforest encompassing 150 species of birds, various wildlife and 70 species of trees and plant life. Admission is 18 BZD and it’s open daily from 8am-4pm.
- Medicinal Jungle Trail – Just facing the Green Iguana Exhibit is the entrance to the Medicinal Jungle Trail. The trail isn’t very difficult and lasts 45 minutes but you’ll be able to see iguanas, anteaters and the huge variety of birds within the 14-acre enclosure. The tour guides are extremely knowledgeable and it might surprise you what medicinal uses some of the plants have.
- Canoe the Macal River – Canoeing the Macal River is a great way to explore the area. You’ll pass through lush jungle vegetation and catch sight of the amazing birds and wildlife. It’s a good idea to stop off at some of the town’s other attractions on your canoeing trip; the butterfly farm and the Botanical Gardens at Duplooys are your best bet. The further up the river you travel, the better the swimming opportunities are. A 2-3 hour tour costs 50 BZD, 75 BZD with a guide.
- Green Hills Butterfly Ranch – Green Hills is the largest butterfly display in Belize. The huge 2,700 square feet flight area is a great place to get up close to the butterflies. Admission is 20 BZD and it’s open daily from 8am-4pm.
- Relax in the Belize Botanic Gardens – Comprised of over 50 acres, these gardens have been restoratively developed over the past 10 years. The entrance fee is about 15 BZD and you can spend hours walking throughout the trees and plant life. It’s open daily from 7am-4pm.
- San Ignacio & Santa Elena House of Culture – Located right under the Town Council building, this tiny museum has works by Belizean artists on display, and hosts classes, performances, and interactive activities. It’s open Monday-Friday from 9am-5pm.