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). This is one of those towns you sit around and drink beer in! It sees a lot of visitors as it’s the launching point for people heading into Guatemala.
Hostel prices – Hostel dorm rooms range between 25-30 BZD. However, because rooms are so affordable, opt for a single room with a shared bathroom with starting prices around 30 BZD.
Budget hotel prices – A double room in a hotel in Cayo costs between 100-120 BZD. Bed and breakfasts are a good option too to get a more local flavor at a great value.
Average cost of food – There is no shortage of reasonably priced places to eat, with San Ignacio being one of the more tourist friendly cities in Belize. If you eat cheap, 14 BZD will cover an entire day’s worth of food. For more “expensive” meals, plan to spend around 10 BZD for a meal, or 12 BDZ if you splurge for the 2 BZD beer. Grocery shopping will also really help your budget. A week’s worth of food will cost about 60 BZD if you go this route.
Transportation costs – The bus from Belize City costs 6 BZD 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 6 BZD. 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 as well as possibly get dropped off in your next 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 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.
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. Admission is 12 BZD for adults and 6 BZD for kids.
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 artifacts 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.
Belize Botanic Gardens – Comprised of over 50 acres, these gardens have been restoratively developed over the past 10 years. The entrance fee is about 10 BZD and you can spend hours walking throughout the trees and plant life.
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.