San Ignacio (Belize)
San Ignacio is a small town in the Cayo region of Belize. While the town itself is somewhat lackluster, it makes a good and affordable base for exploration of the stunning regions around it, with plenty of daytrips to be taken and several decent tour operators willing to take you. It's also an important transit town en route to or from Guatemala; at the very least you'll be changing buses here if traveling through Cayo.
San Ignacio is easily reachable by car. The Western Highway is the best road in the country and is fully paved and free of pot-holes. There are several gas stations along the route so you have no worries there. Once you reach the sister-city of San Ignacio - Santa Elena - be aware that there are two bridges and each is a one way bridge. You will need to make a right turn, if you are heading west, and run downhill to cross the bridge into San Ignacio. Locals apparently know tourists will miss this turn and are quite aware to signal you that you have made a mistake if you try and go the wrong way.
You leave San Ignacio across the Hawksworth Bridge which is the only suspension bridge in Belize. This is also a one-way bridge.
2nd Class buses (no air conditioning or "trunk" for suitcases) run frequently from Belize City; the trip is usually less then 2 and 1/2 hours, in spite of numerous stops. Buses run to Dangriga on the coast in about 3 hours. In the other direction, buses run to the Guatemalan border quite close by, with connections to Flores and Tikal.
There is a Shell gas station at the intersection nearest the Hawksworth Bridge. The roads in town are quite passable and traffic is light.
There is really no reason to drive. The town is foot-scaled so walking is your best bet for getting about and really experiencing the town.
Cahal Pech is the main attraction in the town. The name means literally "Place of the ticks" and Cahal Pech is a smallish set of Mayan ruins that were abandoned around 800-900 AD. There is an indoor museum displaying artifacts, a site plan, and putting the ruins in a regional context. The site is open 7 days a week during daylight hours. Admission is USD $2.50 but may change. There are, allegedly, guided tours but these are most unneeded as the site is easy to traverse. The entire site should take 1-2 hours at most for a thorough exploration. Once at the ruins the site is fairly flat, but Cahal Pech is at the top of the hill overlooking San Ignacio. The walk up hill to it from the main town is quite exhausting and is difficult even from the San Ignacio Resort Hotel on the hill. If you have any disability or are in poor physical condition you will want to drive.
- Canoe or kayak on the Macal River.
- Rent bicycles.
- Visit the Iguana Conservation Project and the interpretive Medicinal Jungle Trail at the San Ignacio Hotel.
- Catch a bus ($2B) to Succutz/Benque Viejo del Carmen and visit the amazing Mayan ruins Xunantunich. (Admission - $10B). Wear good shoes, bring water and plan to spend about 3-4 hours. There is a free water taxi in Succutz over the Mopan River--from there you can easily walk the 45 minutes to the site.
There is a large Saturday market.
San Ignacio is one of the more tourist-friendly towns in Belize, with a variety of restaurants keeping longer hours than in many other towns. Many of the restaurants have both vegetarian and non-vegetarian options.
Be sure and check out the local Best of Cayo webpage hosted and maintained by the local Junior College: | Best Of Cayo
- Mr. Greedy's Pizzeria 34 Burns Ave. Serves the best PIZZA in central America, Great Burgers, Awesome breakfasts at 6am
- Eva's Restaurant, 22 Burns Ave. is a great place to have breakfast or a snack, relax and have a beer, chow down on some Belizean or Mexican standards, or book tours. There's an interesting mix of locals, expats, and tourists who frequent the restaurant, and if anything is happening in SI, someone at Eva's probably knows about it.
- Hanna's Restaurant, 5 Burns Ave. This popular place is great for pretty much any meal, with tasty food and fairly large menu.
- Serendib Restaurant, 27 Burns Ave. A Sri Lankan restaurant, with okay food and a large selection of teas for sale.
- South Indian Restaurant, Plaza del Rio Mall, West Street. Next to the movie theater, this little hidden treasure is well worth seeking out for very tasty dishes including fish or chicken curries and several vegetarian options.
In the JNC mall, behind on the bottom floor, it is that easy to find. Open from Tuesday-sunday(2p.m.-12a.m. All local liquors(5BZ)imported range from $6-$15BZ
PITPAN TAVERN(located behind the JNC mall): This is a small pub, full of fun! Service is great, and drinks are cheap. If you are the relaxed kind of person and want to have a drink and chat,or simply relax, this is the place in The Afternoon. The night party at Pitpan gets even better. Welcome to Belize!!!
Since San Ignacio is the biggest town close to Guatemala, from where many tourists enter and exit Belize, the city therefore has quite a few accommodations relative to its size and attractions. Travelers are sure to find a wide range of hotels, lodges, and resorts to stay at.
- J&R Guesthouse: Located a couple of blocks off of the city center, a small place with four rooms. Single with shared bath ran $20Bz. Also have doubles and room with private bath. Owners are friendly and will help getting to numerous destinations.
- San Ignacio Resort Hotel: A lovely place on beautiful grounds, impeccably clean rooms with air-conditioning, a pool, and very helpful staff. Cute little extras like fresh sprigs of herbs on bathroom towels. Quite pricey by Belizean standards, at US$114/per night for two queen beds. The occasional wall of cinder block or slightly frayed rug shows this hotel is not quite up to the standards the price would imply, but they're close. Worth it if you want the creature comforts.
- Cahal Pech Village Resort: | Cahal Pech Village Resort is located on the most predominant Mayan hillside in San Ignacio. This resort offers a offers guests an amazing view of San Ignacio and surrounding local sites. The hotel has two of the best pools in the region, great for families. At less than a US $90 its a good deal.
Actun Tunichil Muknal (usually abbreviated to "ATM") is a Mayan sacrificial burial site near San Ignacio. The site is contained entirely within a cave system, and access to the relics is gained via some 500 metres of climbing over rocks, wading and swimming through water that is at times over 1.5 metres deep. The cave was a sacred site for the Mayans and it contains many examples of pottery, ceramics and stoneware, as well as several sets of human sacrificial remains, one of which (known as the "Crystal Maiden") has been almost entirely covered in limestone crystals by the water in the cave. The site is about 45 minutes drive from San Ignacio, and, due to the caving aspect, it may only be visited when accompanied by an official guide (who will provide appropriate safety equipment). Most tour companies in San Ignacio are able to offer officially guided tours.
Many companies in San Ignacio run tours to a wide variety of interesting sights/sites, including:
- Caracol (Maya Ruins) -- 50 miles on a mostly unpaved road that could get quite muddy in the rainy season. Security restrictions at the site generally require non-Belizeans to enter and leave acording to police escort schedules arranged at the entrance check point. This is not a problem, but generally means tourists have to leave the site by 2PM. (as of July 2007)
- Cahal Pech (Maya Ruins)
- Tikal (Maya Ruins in Guatemala)
- Barton Creek Cave
- Green Hills Butterfly Ranch
- Xunantunich (Maya Ruins)
Most of these are day trips, leaving early in the morning and returning the same afternoon. NOTE: Not all tours are available on any given day. Most tour companies require a certain minimum number of registrations before they'll make the run. Checking in the evening which tours are available is often the best option.
Nearby lodges & resorts
- Parrot Nest Lodge, . is a truly unique experience. One can sleep in a treehouse in a 100 foot tall Guanacaste tree. The lodge is surrounded on three sides by the Mopan River since it's on a peninsula. Parrots, iguanas, agouti and otters are all able to be seen on the grounds. The cabanas are in a huge garden, which, though lush and exotic, is virtually mosquito free. The Parrot's Nest is located in Bullet Tree Falls, which is just a couple of miles from downtown San Ignacio, so you don't have to endure the city noise and lights while enjoying a great night's rest. They've been in business for over a decade, yet their prices are less than $50 a night - can't beat that!
- Windy Hill Resort. Just a few kilometers outside of town on a hill. Ask any taxi driver. Beautiful landscaped grounds and spacious cottages. Peaceful surroundings. Nice open air restaurant. The owners offer canoe and other tours. Local experts give herb walk and bird viewing. Price is around US$100 but the taxi driver gave a promotion coupon for $30
- Ka’ana Resort, . Out of the town of San Ignacio, in a valley nestled among the Maya Mountains of Belize’s Cayo District and surrounded by lush tropical gardens. They have a nice infinity pool, and a great restaurant. A definite treat for the high end traveler.
- Benque Guest House, . Situated in the mountainous Benque Viejo Del Carmen (on the way from San Ignacio to the Guatemalan border) is this wonderful guest house. Built in 2008 and situated along the jade-green Mopan River, the clean, eco-friendly, guest house offers all the creature comforts of home (and business), character-rich conversation, Wi-Fi, music, beautifully decorated rooms, huge verandah, great food and a sense of community. Away from the bustling San Ignacio, listen to the Succotz Marching Band practice while you sit on your deck overlooking the river and quiet jungle.
This page was last edited at 03:58, on 17 March 2009 by DR. Based on work by Mike, MMarcus Horton, David and Stephen Marks, Wikitravel user(s) Cacahuate, Morph and Sjc196, Anonymous user(s) of Wikitravel and others.