San Ignacio

san ignacio ruins
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 is quieter and safer than Belize City which makes it popular with those wishing to explore Belize in a relaxed atmosphere.

Typical Costs

Hostel prices – A single room with a shared bathroom is $10 USD; with a private bathroom coming in at around $17 USD.
Budget hotel prices – A single room with a private bathroom will cost from $22 USD.
Average cost of food – There is no shortage of reasonably priced places to eat. If you eat cheap, $7 USD will cover an entire day’s eating. For more expensive meals, plan to spend around $5 USD for a meal.
Transportation costs – The bus from Belize City costs $3 USD and takes about 2.5 hours. Most of the town is pretty easy to walk around but as a guide, taxis should cost little more than $3 USD. Hitchhiking is common and a popular way to get around here too.

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.
Combine trips – Many tour operators offer trips that combine popular excursions, for instance, Xunantunich and the Belize City Zoo. These are a good way to save on transfers to each tourist destination.

Top Things to See and Do

Actun Tunichil Muknal – Located 45 minutes from town are the Mayan caves at Actun Tunichil Muknal. After a brief hike, 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.
Cahal Pech – This small set of Mayan ruins is San Ignacio’s most visited tourist attraction.  The site contains a visitors’ centre, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.  This has earned the resort the nickname of the “only jungle in town.” Visitors can see the processes of egg incubation, hatching, rearing and at certain times, the release of young iguanas into the wild.
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.
Explore 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.
Jaguar Paw Cave Tubing – Cave tubing is somewhat of a national past time in Belize and Jaguar Paw offer the best excursions.  Inside the caves you’ll drift below stalactites and past 1000 year old pottery artefacts in this sacred Mayan underworld.  There is also a small zoo and zipline facility at Jaguar Paw if you want to combine activities.
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, which are tame enough that they will land on your hand!  Pack a camera, as the colors here are amazing and some of the butterflies are really big.
Night Walks – Going out at night with a naturalist can be really fun—there are many different bugs and animals that are out at night, that you wouldn’t get to see during the day.
Belize Botanic Gardens – Comprised of over 50 acres, these gardens have been restoratively developed over the past 10 years. The entrance fee is about $5 USD and you can spend hours walking throughout the trees and plant life.