Before my trip to Belize earlier this year, everyone told me to visit San Ignacio.
But I didn’t know what I could do there except for the ATM Cave Tour, which EVERYONE and their grandmother said I had to do.
Yes, it is no exaggeration. The ATM cave tour turned out to be more amazing and unforgettable than I expected.
But what else is there to do in San Ignacio besides that tour?
I was there for about a week, and I had a hard time finding information on what to do in San Ignacio. Lots of travel blogs and guidebooks basically sucked when it came to this city. They failed to mention many of the amazing waterfalls, parks, rivers, caves, and museums that I could do there.
And so I missed out on a few activities that I am now kicking myself for not doing.
In this travel guide, I’m going to share with you all the great things you can do in San Ignacio so that you don’t miss out on them as I did.
The list includes everything from cave tubing to cooking to canoeing.
If you love history, culture, nature, and loads of exhilarating adventures, you should find something to do to help you plan your Belize itinerary.
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Table of Contents
- About San Ignacio
- Things to Do in San Ignacio
- How to Get to San Ignacio from Belize City
- How to Get to San Ignacio from Guatemala
- Where to Stay in San Ignacio
- Where to Eat in San Ignacio
- Where to Go After San Ignacio
About San Ignacio
One reason San Ignacio is such a popular destination is that its location is just about perfect.
Located in the Cayo District of Belize, it’s only about 1.5 hours by car or 2 hours by bus from Belize City and the port to the islands, so if you’re already in Caye Caulker or San Pedro, you can easily add it to your Belize itinerary.
San Ignacio is also only a 10-minute drive from the Guatemalan border, so if you’re already visiting Tikal National Park in Guatemala, you can easily make a detour to San Ignacio. It is definitely worth it!
San Ignacio feels like a small town
San Ignacio is the second largest city in Belize.
But don’t expect a huge metropolis.
Given the fact that the whole country has a population of just under 400,000, the city is still relatively small. Only about 24,000 people live there.
San Ignacio is made up of 2 cities. On one side of the Macal River is the much bigger San Ignacio and on the other side is Santa Elena.
Downtown San Ignacio has got a small-town vibe. Not much traffic. Lots of small-town local shops and restaurants. Not overly touristy. Friendly and helpful people. A few colorful buildings.
The main drag is Burns Avenue. Here you’ll find travel agencies, restaurants, and souvenir shops. It’s a good place to take a stroll since part of it is only for pedestrians.
Not far from Burns Avenue is the farmers market, where you can buy fresh fruit and street food, and the bus “station”, where you can catch buses to Belmopan and Belize City.
San Ignacio is located in the Cayo District of Belize
The Cayo District is a paradise for history and nature lovers.
There are ancient Mayan ruins, pine forests, jungles, sacred caves, waterfalls, natural pools, rivers, streams, lagoons, nature reserves, and national parks.
San Ignacio makes for the perfect base in which to visit all these places.
Getting around San Ignacio
You can get to most places within San Ignacio town on foot.
For getting to places outside of the town, you can take a shared taxi. Just look for cars with green license plates.
A shared taxi route plies the Western Highway. This is the main road that runs through San Ignacio and that goes from the Guatemalan border to Belize City.
Just stand along the Western Highway to wave down a taxi if you need to get to the border or the Xunantunich Mayan ruins. I paid US$3.50 to the border in January 2022.
San Ignacio is one of the most diverse cities in Belize
The Maya began settling the area in 1200 BCE and reached its greatest size of 10,000 to 15,000 from 600-900 CE. You can find the remains of an elite Maya family’s grand palace (Cahal Pech) on a hill in the southern part of the city.
The British came much later in the 1800s and started the settlement of San Ignacio as a base for the mahogany and chicle industry.
Over the years, San Ignacio has become one of the most diverse cities in Belize. The largest group is the Mestizo followed by the Kriol and the Mopan Maya.
There’s also a significant Chinese population, who first came to the area in the mid-1900s.
The Mennonites came in the 1950s and settled in Spanish Lookout and Barton Creek.
How safe is San Ignacio?
It’s safe to walk around alone during the day.
However, I’m not sure how safe it is to walk around alone at night. I got a sense that crime was a problem. The grocery stores always had a guard at the entrance and they were always locked in the evenings, A guard would have to let you in. Plus, the check-out counter had a barrier around it, probably to protect the employees from armed robbery.
25 Best Things to Do in San Ignacio
There are so many fun things to do in San Ignacio that it’s going to be tough to do everything on this list.
Plus, some of the activities aren’t cheap.
So it’s a good idea to choose wisely.
You’ll find lots of different kinds of tours of the cave systems of Belize. Some require a lot of physical activity like swimming, climbing over and up rocks, squeezing through tight tunnels, and rappelling, while others ask nothing more of you than to relax and float down a river in a canoe or an inner tube.
If you have the time, money, and physical ability, I recommend doing one physical and one relaxing cave tour.
1. ATM Cave Tour (Actun Tunichil Muknal)
Let’s start off with the ABSOLUTE #1 thing to do in San Ignacio—the Actun Tunichil Muknal cave tour, a.k.a, the ATM cave tour.
Probably one of the top things I did in Central America.
What you’ll do on the ATM tour
I have to admit that I was nervous about doing this tour. It sounded kind of hard and I didn’t know if I would be fit enough to make it. You have to cross 3 rivers, swim through a dark cave, squeeze through tight passageways, climb up a cliff, and walk over a mile through a cave where human sacrifices once took place.
But as a history nerd, exploring a place sacred to the ancient Maya—where they did their ancient rituals of bloodletting and human sacrifices—was something I couldn’t pass up.
The cave was challenging.
I’m not going to lie.
But I did it and I had a hoot doing it.
The end of the cave tour culminates in a challenging climb up to a large chamber littered with pottery shards and the skeletal remains of 13 sacrificed victims including an intact skeleton called the “Crystal Maiden.”
Yes, sacrificed victims.
The Maya believed that caves were entrances to the underworld. In order to speak to the gods and to get them on their side, they would need to sacrifice victims in the cave.
What if you’re not a good swimmer?
Don’t worry if you’re not a great swimmer. I’m not. I even have a fear of swimming in places where my feet can’t touch the ground.
You can wear a life vest.
In fact, the tour I went on required us to wear one. This turned out to be a good thing because it usually gets really cold in the cave and the vests keep you warm.
How to book an ATM tour
You need to join a guided tour to visit the caves. Loads of tour operators sell ATM tours ranging in price from US$110 to $125.
The tour is popular so if your schedule is tight, book ahead of time as it might sell out. The price in San Ignacio is the same as the price online.
- You can book your ATM tour online through Get Your Guide.
- I went with Maya Walk (Google Maps). I found the guides to be incredibly conscientious, enthusiastic, and knowledgeable.
Things to bring on the ATM tour:
- Socks – you must bring socks because that is what you’ll wear to walk over the surface of the cave
- Water shoes – Maya Walks has some that you can use, but I brought my own
- Swimsuit – you’ll get wet
- A change of clothes – there are changing rooms at the entrance to the park
- Snacks – you’ll get hungry along the way and the group stops for a snack break
- Flip flops – after the tour
- Money to tip your guide
2. Explore the Ancient Mayan Ruins of Caracol
If you’re a history and archaeology nerd like me, don’t leave San Ignacio without visiting the ancient Maya ruins of Caracol.
It is THE premier archaeological site in Belize, but its remote location makes it the hardest one to get to.
On the other hand, since it’s so remote, Caracol gets few visitors, so you won’t need to share it with many other tourists.
History of Caracol
Caracol was one of the most powerful Maya kingdoms during the Classic Period (300 to 900 CE), so it is considered one of the most historically important Maya archaeological sites in Mexico and Central America.
With the snake kingdom of Calakmul, Caracol challenged and eventually defeated Tikal in Guatemala. However, Tikal got its revenge in 700 CE and defeated both Caracol and Calakmul. Caracol was never able to recover, and it eventually collapsed around 859 CE.
At the height of its glory, Caracol had a population of over 100,000.
Tips for seeing Caracol
- Take a guided tour as there aren’t any signs or explanations of what you’re looking at and you might miss some of the cool carvings hidden all over the site.
- However, the beautiful carvings are replicas. The real ones are either in the museum on site or hidden behind the fake ones.
- Don’t miss the Sky Palace (Caana). Climb to the plaza at the top of the pyramid. This was where the ruler lived and where they were buried.
- Go into Lady Batz Ek’s tomb but watch out for the spiders. She was the mother of the most important Caracol ruler and the daughter of the ruler of the Snake Kingdom at Calakmul.
- Stop at the Temple of the Wooden Lintel to see the original wooden lintel. This is impressive because wood doesn’t survive long but for some reason this one did.
- Look out for the stone marker at the ballcourt. The text on here tells the history of Caracol. I’ve never seen a marker at a ballcourt before, so it’s quite a unique feature.
- Climb on top of the Central Acropolis for a cool aerial view of the beautiful Structure A6 (it contains the observatory and the Temple of the Wooden Lintel)
- Don’t skip the museum! You can see the original carvings there.
Getting to Caracol:
Caracol is located in a remote area 3 hours by car from San Ignacio. Getting to it requires driving over unpaved bumpy roads through dense jungle.
Your only options are renting a car (preferably 4WD) or joining a tour.
How to book a tour of Caracol
- I went with Maya Walk Tours. They charge US$125. Other tour companies are slightly cheaper at US$110.
- You can also book a tour that includes a trip to the waterfalls and pools of Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve online with Get Your Guide.
3. Xunantunich Ancient Ruins
If you can’t make it out to Caracol, don’t worry. You’ve got more Maya sites to choose from. The Xunantunich ruins are super easy to get to and are also pretty cool to see.
History of Xunantunich
Xunantunich was powerful only for a short time when it defeated the mighty Naranjo. It controlled trade along the Mopan River, which flows from Guatemala to the Belize River which eventually emptied into the Atlantic Ocean.
But its power didn’t last long, and the city-state eventually collapsed.
If you want to learn more about the ancient Maya before your trip, check out this list of books on the Maya.
Tips for seeing Xunantunich
- It’ll take half your day to get to the ruins, tour them, and get back.
- When my taxi dropped me off near the boat to the ruins, there was a police officer guiding people on where to go. There were also tour guides offering their service. I think the police officer took a cut of the tour guide’s fee, so if you do hire a guide as I did, tip them.
- There are no explanations or descriptions at the site, so hiring a guide is VERY helpful. I paid US$30 for a guide, but they were usually charging US$40.
- There are only bathrooms at the ticket booth.
- For me, the highlight of the ruins was the carvings on the palace called El Castillo.
- Climb the pyramid opposite El Castillo for great views.
How to see Xunantunich with a tour
If you don’t want to worry about the hassle of visiting the ruins with a taxi, you can sign up for a tour.
Here are some fun tours of the ruins
- Book a tour beforehand with Get Your Guide, which includes the ruins, ziplining, and cave tubing.
- This tour with Get Your Guide includes the ruins, horseback riding, and cave tubing.
How to get to Xunantunich on your own
Take a taxi going toward the Guatemala-Belize border (cost – BZN$4 (US$2)). Tell the driver you want to go to the ferry for Xunantunich.
The driver will drop you off right at the ferry that you need to take to cross the river.
After crossing the river, walk for over 1 mile to the ticket booth and archaeological site.
4. Cahal Pech Mayan Ruins
Cahal Pech ruins might be small and probably didn’t play a significant role in Mayan history, but for me, they were the most fun of the 3 archaeological ruins around San Ignacio.
And if you’re staying in San Ignacio town, you can easily get to it on foot.
Most Mayan ruins are ceremonial and political centers with just pyramids, temples, and palaces.
Cahal Pech is completely different. It’s actually someone’s home from over a thousand years ago.
You’ll see a pyramid or two, but the main structure is the ruins of an elite family’s palatial home. You’ll find rooms, passageways, stairways, and courtyards. Touring the mazelike ruins made me feel a bit like a kid again.
I highly highly recommend these ruins EVEN IF you think you’re all ruined out by the time you get to San Ignacio.
Cahal Pech costs BNZ$10 (US$5)
How to get to Cahal Pech
You can easily walk to Cahal Pech as it’s located within the city of San Ignacio (Google Maps). The hardest part of the trip to Cahal Pech is the steep climb up the dirt road. But once you’re there, you’ll be pretty much by yourself as you roam around the ruins.
Plus the price is just right at BNZ$10 (US$5).
5. Explore Barton Creek Caves in a Canoe
In the heart of Belize’s Mennonite community is the beautiful Barton Creek Cave.
Full of stalagmites and stalactites, the cave was once considered by the Maya to be the entrance to the Mayan underworld. This was where they would hold their ancient rituals of bloodletting and human sacrifice. Besides the pottery, jewelry, and other relics, human remains of at least 28 people were found in the cave.
Today you can explore the caves by canoe.
If you’re a bit more adventurous, there are also cave tours that include getting out of the canoe and climbing through the tunnels, passageway, and chambers of the 5-mile-long ancient cave.
Cave tours are usually between US$75 – $95 per person.
How to visit Barton Creek Cave
Barton Creek Cave is located 16 miles (27 kilometers) from San Ignacio (Google Maps).
The only way to visit is with a tour from San Ignacio or by your own car.
You have a number of options for touring the caves:
- Stay near Barton Creek Caves at Mike’s Place and start your tour from there.
- Reserve the tour online through Get Your Guide
- Book through Maya Walk Tours when you arrive in San Ignacio (Google Maps)
6. Discover the wonder of the ruins of Tikal
The Tikal Mayan ruins are one of the top archaeological sites in the world.
Even though it’s in Guatemala, you can easily visit it on a day trip from San Ignacio.
Tikal was one of the 2 most powerful kingdoms during the classic period of Mayan history. The other one was the Snake Kingdom of Calakmul. The two kingdoms would fight proxy wars throughout the area, in which their client states would fight each other for control of trade routes or resources.
The best way to visit Tikal in a day is to go with a tour group. They’ll get you over the border quickly and then get you to Tikal in about 2 hours.
If you have your own vehicle, you can easily do it on your own as well.
But if you’re relying on public transportation, you would need to make an incredibly early start. And it’ll probably take you 4 hours to get to Tikal since you’ll need to first find transport to Flores and from there a ride to Tikal.
Even if you’re not into Mayan history or archaeology, Tikal National Park is a day trip you should not pass up.
How can you book a tour of Tikal National Park from San Ignacio
7. Go Cave Tubing at Nohoch Che’en Archaeological Reserve
One of the most relaxing and fun things to do in San Ignacio is to float down the Cave Branch River in an inner tube.
The river goes through a system of caves.
Like the other caves in Belize, the ancient Maya saw them as entrances to Xibalba, the underworld.
For most tours, you’ll hike through the jungle for an hour to a river bank, where you’ll get into an inner tube and then spend 2.5 hours floating down the river. The tour ends with a swim in a cenote.
Organized tours are usually between US$90 and $95.
How to book a tour
Nohoch Che-en Archaeological Reserve is about 40 miles (63 kilometers) from San Ignacio (Google Maps)
There are several tour operators who conduct tours to the caves:
- You can sign up for the tour with Maya Walk when you get to San Ignacio
- Sign up securely online before you get to San Ignacio with Get Your Guide
8. Rappel Down into Crystal Cave at Blue Hole National Park
The Cayo District has so many caves that it can be hard to decide which one to explore. If you want the most challenging spelunking experience, go with Crystal Cave at Blue Hole National Park.
You start by rappelling 15 feet down into the Mayan underworld.
Then hike for 50 minutes through the cave, which is decorated with cool stalagmites, stalactites, and crystal rock formations. There’s also a lot of climbing, sliding, and crawling up, over, and down rocks and through passageways.
At the end of the cave, you’ll discover pottery, skeletons, wall carvings, and an ancient fire pit.
Most tours culminate with a swim in the Blue Hole Cenote.
How to visit the Crystal Cave
Blue Hole National Park is 39 miles or 63 kilometers from San Ignacio (Google Maps).
There are several San Ignacio tour companies that organize tours to Blue Hole. Tour prices range from US$125 – $140
- You can book a full-day tour before you get to San Ignacio through Get Your Guide
- Book a tour with Maya Walk while in San Ignacio (Google Maps)
9. Explore the waterfalls, pools, and caves of the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve
One of the most amazing things I did in San Ignacio was to visit the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve. This incredible reserve is mostly pine forest, which is cool to see in the tropics.
The best part of the forest is not the trees, though. It’s the waterfalls, natural pools, caves, and rivers that can be found all over the reserve.
Most organized tours take you to 3 places in the reserve:
- Rio Frio Cave – a beautiful limestone cave with the largest cave entrances in Belize; it’s not a long cave like some of the others in Belize
- Rio On Pools – a series of natural pools and rock slides; great for swimming and relaxing in
- Big Rock Falls – a 150-foot waterfall that cascades down into a pool of water; you can swim right up to the waterfall as it plunges into the water
How to get to Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve
The only ways to get to Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve (Google Maps) are by private car (you need 4WD as the roads are rough), with a tour, or by staying in one of the luxury lodges in the forest.
Prices for a tour of the park range from US$95 to $145 and can be combined with a river cruise or a trip to Caracol. I did the latter.
- Maya Walks has 2 tours that stop at Pine Ridge Forest Reserve – one tour stops only at the forest, where you get to see 3 natural attractions, while the other one is combined with a tour of Caracol ruins and only includes the Rio Frio Cave and Rio On Pools.
- You can also book a tour online with Get Your Guide.
10. Visit Waterfalls with a Jungle Cruise Along the Macal River
If I ever make it back to San Ignacio, the first thing I’m going to do is to take the jungle cruise down the Macal River with Jungle Splash Eco Tours.
Hopefully, you won’t miss this very highly-rated adventure as I did during your trip to San Ignacio.
Basically, you get on a pontoon boat and float down a river with the sounds of howler monkeys somewhere off in the jungle and toucans in the trees above you. Then you stop at a waterfall. Swim. Float down the river some more. Stop at another waterfall. Swim. Maybe jump off a cliff into a pool of water. Get back on the boat and sail some more down the river. Stop at a beach for a picnic before stopping at another waterfall for some more swimming.
Are you sick of waterfalls yet?
The tour visits 3 waterfalls:
- Rio Frio Falls – 70-foot high waterfall; pools for swimming
- Sandpaper Falls – pools of crystal clear water; the leaves and branches are calcified by the calcium deposits that run through the waterfall, continually causing the appearance of the falls to change
- Twin Falls – Two falls that plunge into the Rio Frio River; it’s a great place for cliff-jumping and swimming
There are many positive reviews on TripAdvisor for the jungle cruise.
11. Go Horseback Riding
San Ignacio has loads of opportunities to go horseback riding.
There are horseback rides through organic farms, rides to ancient ruins, sunset rides, and even riding through a rainforest to a forgotten jungle city.
Here are just some of many of the horseback riding tours you can do in San Ignacio:
- Forgotten City Horseback Riding – I don’t even know how to ride a horse and I still want to do this tour. It’s an all-day adventure. You ride a horse through the Maya Mountains. The first stop is at these hidden ancient Maya ruins that were once excavated but have now been taken over by the jungle. The next stop is at a cave that the ancient Maya used for their ceremonies a thousand years ago.
- Horseback Riding to Xunantunich Ruins – A great way to get to these ruins is by horse. The trail goes along the Mopan River and through an organic farm.
12. Go Birdwatching
With over nearly 600 bird species, Belize is a paradise for birdwatchers.
Luckily, San Ignacio just happens to be near some of the best birdwatching locations in the country:
- Aguacate Lagoon and Spanish Lookout
- Blue Hole National Park
- El Pilar
- Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve
- Macal River
- Chiquibil Forest
You have an opportunity to see toucans, parakeets, the Crested Caracara, Mot Mots, Tiger Herons, Slaty-Tailed Trogons, and my favorite, the Aracari.
- Aguacate Lagoon and Spanish Lookout – a 284-acre private reserve; a great chance to spot the Scissor Tailed Fly Catcher, Olive Throated Parakeet, and the Great Kiskadee.
- Crested Caracara Private Reserve – a 200-acre private reserve; a great location for viewing the Crested Caracara
- San Ignacio Resort Hotel – 17-acre reserve located in San Ignacio; a chance to spot the Blue Tanager, Blue Crowned Mot Mots, Warblers, Woodpeckers, Aracari Toucan, and even rare sightings of Belize’s national bird, the Keel-Billed Toucan. (US$25; minimum 2 people)
- Black Rock and Macal River Birding Tour – This all-day tour looks fantastic and if I ever get back to San Ignacio, I’m signing up for it. It’s an all-day event that along with the birdwatching includes breakfast and lunch at an eco-lodge and swimming and canoeing in the Macal River.
- Caves Branch and Blue Hole Birding Tour – Another great birding tour with loads of opportunities to see tons of birds
- Calico Jack’s Resorts – This resort also offers birdwatching tours.
13. Visit Mennonite and Mayan Villages
A good way to learn more about the people of Belize is to visit one of the many Mennonite and Maya villages around San Ignacio.
Technically, you could visit these villages on your own, but you’re not going to have the access that you would have with a guide. Plus, the Mennonites are probably not going to accept strangers entering their village without warning and while waving their iPhones or mirrorless cameras around. They are very private people.
Maya Walk has a great tour that combines a visit to both a Mennonite and a Maya Village.
Who are the Mennonites?
A good place to learn about the Mennonites is to visit Barton Creek, one of the most traditional Mennonite villages in the country. Belize:
Mennonites originally came to Belize in the 1950s from Manitoba, Canada via Mexico. Today there are about 12,000 Mennonites living in Belize.
Mennonites are similar to the Amish. They wear traditional clothes. Women wear long dresses and bonnets and men wear overalls. Mennonites eschew modern technology. They drive a horse and buggy and plow their fields with horses. Their main language is a dialect of German.
They’re known for being excellent farmers and carpenters.
Who are the Maya?
The Maya are the original inhabitants of Central America. Some have been in Belize for thousands of years, while others immigrated more recently from Guatemala.
The town of San Antonio is a predominantly Maya town. The people there are mainly farmers. During your visit, you’ll learn about the local farming techniques. You’ll also learn about and meet the women’s groups that run a bakery and produce handicrafts like jewelry, pottery, hammocks, and embroidery.
How to book a tour to these villages
- Maya Walks organizes a tour to these villages, but there is a 2-person minimum (US$85)
14. Green Iguana Conservation Project
One of the coolest things to do in San Ignacio is to visit the Green Iguana Conservation Project at the San Ignacio Resort Hotel.
The Project is a nature reserve and hatchery for green iguanas, a threatened animal.
Green iguanas are hunted for their meat, so their numbers have dwindled over the years. This is in contrast to black iguanas, which are not as tasty and thus not hunted and therefore, not in danger of becoming extinct.
You’ll be taken on a guided tour where you’ll learn all about green iguanas and the Project’s conservation efforts in protecting these threatened animals. The guide will show you how the sanctuary raises and releases the iguanas into the wild.
Don’t pass up the opportunities to hold both a baby iguana and a teenage iguana.
The highlight for me was the terrariums full of bright green baby iguanas.
How to get to the Iguana Conservation Project
It’s located on the grounds of the San Ignacio Resort Hotel, a short walk from downtown San Ignacio. Just enter the hotel and pay for the tour at the reception desk.
- COST: BZN$22.50 (US$11)
- TIMES: 8:00 am – 12:00 pm; 1:00 pm – 5:00 pm – tours begin on the hour every hour; last tour is at 4:00 pm; no tours at 12:00 pm
- LOCATION: Google Maps (at San Ignacio Resort Hotel)
- WEBSITE: Green Iguana Conservation Project
15. Ajaw Chocolate Making Tour
One of the best things to do in any Central American country is to join a chocolate-making workshop. This region of the world is where chocolate originated.
I’ve done 2 workshops in Central America and loved both of them. One focused on making my own chocolate and the other one on visiting a cacao farm.
(1) The Chocolate Making and Tasting Tour focuses on making chocolate. It takes place at Ajaw’s school in San Ignacio and lasts around one hour. The workshop involves learning about the process of turning the cacao bean into chocolate, sampling different chocolates, and making your own chocolate drinks.
Ajaw is within walking distance of downtown San Ignacio.
You can just walk in anytime from 9:00 am – 5:00 pm and join their workshop. The workshop cost US$14 when I visited, a pretty good deal compared to other chocolate-making workshops that I’ve taken.
(2) For the Cacao Farm and Chocolate Tasting Tour, you first visit an actual cacao farm to see the cacao trees, learn how cacao grows, and sample the cacao bean before it becomes chocolate.
Then you return to town to sample different chocolates and make your own chocolate drinks.
For this one, you need to make a reservation ahead of time.
16. Explore the San Ignacio Market
The outdoor Central Market in downtown San Ignacio is a great place to experience the local culture—look around at the local fresh fruits and vegetables and try some delicious street food.
There is a series of street stalls selling inexpensive street food. I just jumped from stall to stall trying different foods at each one.
The Mennonites living in the Cayo District are known to be excellent farmers and will often bring their dairy products, meat, and organic produce to the market.
How to get to the San Ignacio Market
It’s in downtown San Ignacio near the bus stop for buses traveling to other destinations in Belize.
- ENTRANCE FEE: free
- LOCATION: Google Maps
17. Visit the Chaa Creek Natural History Center
If you’re like me and love to learn about the history and geography of the country you’re visiting, then definitely stop by the Chaa Creek Natural History Center.
It’s a small museum with 2 rooms. One is dedicated to the history and culture of the Maya and the other to the environment of Belize.
The history center has guided tours that start on the hour every hour. The first tour is at 8:00 am and the last tour is at 3:00 pm. The tour also includes a visit to the Blue Morpho Butterfly Farm.
Chaa Creek has some nature trails that you can explore as well while you’re here.
How to get to the History Center
The only problem with the history center is that it’s hard to get to without your own wheels. It’s located 20-minutes by car from San Ignacio along the Macal River.
You might also be able to get there by boat along the Macal River.
However, you can combine the visit with some other activities like horseback riding, tubing, and hiking.
- COST: Free
- LOCATION: Google Maps (it’s on the grounds of The Lodge at Chaa Creek
- WEBSITE: Chaa Creek Natural History Center
18. Visit the Blue Morpho Butterfly Farm
A visit to any Central American country is not complete without spotting a Blue Morpho Butterfly at least once.
A good way to see one is at the Blue Morpho Butterfly Exhibit at Chaa Creek, a short walk from the Natural History Museum.
Native to Central and South America, Blue Morphos are one of the largest butterfly species in the world.
The top part of the wings is blue, and the underside is the color of tree branches. Very smart camouflage! Oh and only the males are blue.
Another cool thing is that the place has a butterfly hatchery so you get to see the life cycle of the butterflies especially as they emerge from their chrysalis.
The tour of the Natural History Center includes a visit to the Blue Morpho Butterfly Farm. The tour is around 50 minutes.
Chaa Creek has some nature trails that you can explore as well.
- COST: Free
- TIMES: 8:00 am – 4:00 pm
- LOCATION: Google Maps (located at The Lodge at Chaa Creek)
- WEBSITE: Butterfly Farm Tours
19. Go Ziplining
A fun way to get close to nature and explore the jungle canopy is by going ziplining.
Calico Jacks is a private jungle and mountain resort that is located 30-minutes by car from San Ignacio and near Barton Creek.
You can stay overnight at the resort or just partake in their many activities during the day including ziplining.
According to their website, they have a variety of ziplining runs for different experience levels. They range from a 500-foot long run that includes 4 runs and 7 platforms to a 2,900-foot run that includes 9 runs and 15 platforms.
This one looks to be the better of the two ziplining opportunities.
Nohoch Che’en Caves Branch Archaeological Reserve, you can zipline over a rainforest canopy and the Cave Branch River.
Most people do the ziplining with cave tubing through the many different caves on the Reserve.
According to their website, they have 9 ziplines.
How to book a ziplining tour:
- You can do a combination of ziplining and cave tubing with Tukan Shuttles and Adventure
- Another combo ziplining and cave tubing option is with Cayo Inland Expeditions
- Maya Walks also offers a ziplining tour
Combo ziplining and cave tubing tours range from US$140 – $145.
20. Do a night tour of the jungle
A unique thing to do in San Ignacio is to go on a night walk through the jungle. It’s the best time to see wildlife. That’s when the creepiest creatures come out.
In San Ignacio, you’ve got a few opportunities to do a night tour of the jungle: Calico Jack’s and Chaa Creek Reserve.
Calico Jacks is a private jungle and mountain resort that is located 30-minutes by car from San Ignacio and near Barton Creek.
They offer a variety of night tours. One is a 45-minute hike through the jungle at night and the other one is by ziplining at night over the forest canopy. During all of my travels through Central America, I’ve never heard of a night-time ziplining experience. Should be really cool!
The only issue is that the tours seem to be most accessible for those with a car or those staying at the resort. They do have rooms for as low as US$76. Look at Booking.com’s website for deals at Calico Jack’s.
Prices range from US$25 to US$65.
Chaa Creek Reserve is part of the luxury resort called The Lodge at Chaa Creek. They have night tours that, according to their website, take you through trails that are “populated by Ocelots, Howler Monkeys, Tarantulas, Patoos, Jaguarundis, and many more intriguing rainforest residents.”
The price is US$17 + tax (October 2022).
21. Visit the Belize Botanic Gardens
For nature lovers, head to the Belize Botanic Gardens, located about 10 miles from San Ignacio. This is one of the best places to learn about the plants, flowers, trees, and fruit of Belize.
This 45-acre Botanic Garden is jam-packed with things to do and see. You can explore Medicine Trail to learn about the medicinal plants of the Maya and a fruit orchard where you get to sample seasonal fresh fruit.
You can see native and endangered plants and over 100 native palm trees.
The gardens also have lots of activities for visitors such as tamale making, tea tasting, and a palm workshop where you get to make your own household or craft item from palm leaves.
There are guided tours from 8:00 am – 2:00 pm for US$15 for adults and US$12 for children 7-12. Tours last 1.5 hours.
How to get to Botanic Gardens
You can take a taxi for BZ$40-$50 (US$20-$25) and they’ll wait for 2 hours for BZN$20 (US$10).
There’s a shuttle from the Garden Shop in the Central Market and you can take it for US$20. You can get the shuttle back with the staff at 4:00 pm.
The gardens are 3.4 kilometers from Cha Creek History Center and Butterfly Farm, so you could do all 3 activities in one day.
- ENTRANCE FEE: US$7.50 (adults); US$5.00 (children 7-12); FREE (6 and under)
- LOCATION: Google Maps
- WEBSITE: Belize Botanic Gardens
22. Learn how to cook the cuisine of Belize
At Chaa Creek’s Open Hearth Kitchen, you get to learn how to cook the cuisine of Belize.
Each day of the week, the School features cuisine from one of the different ethnic groups of Belize.
- Mondays – Mestizo
- Tuesdays – East Indians
- Wednesday – Creole (also spelled Kriol)
- Thursday – Garifuna
You get to learn about the culture’s cuisine, cook a few dishes, and then eat what you’ve cooked.
How to book a cooking class
- COST: US$49 (this is actually quite inexpensive for a cooking class)
TIMES: 10:00 am
- LOCATION: The Lodge at Chaa Creek
- WEBSITE: Open Hearth Cultural Cooking Classes
23. Visit the Belize Zoo
I usually don’t like visiting zoos as I don’t like the idea of imprisoning animals in cages.
But the Belize Zoo is not your typical zoo. It’s more of a rehabilitation and rescue center. Most of the animals are ones that have been orphaned after being used as pets, who have become too tame to be released into the wild, or who have become injured.
The zoo also only keeps animals native to Belize. They have over 150 animals.
The other difference between the Belize Zoo and typical zoos is that some of the enclosures are quite porous. So, you might find animals from the outside mingling with the zoo’s resident animals.
The zoo was started by an American-born biologist who wanted to rescue animals that had been abandoned after being used in a film being made in Belize.
How to visit the Belize Zoo from San Ignacio
The Belize Zoo is located on the Western Highway over 40 miles or 67 kilometers from San Ignacio (Google Maps).
- Maya Walk has tours to the Belize Zoo. Ideally, tack the zoo onto another tour like the cave tubing one.
- Another good way to visit is by stopping at the zoo on your way to or from Belize City.
You can buy your tickets online:
- ENTRANCE FEE: US$15 (adults); US$5 (children 3-12)
- BELIZE NIGHT TOUR: US$20
- OPEN: M-Sa – 8:30 am to 5:00 pm; Su – 8:30 am to 4:00 pm
- WEBSITE: Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center
24. Stay in a luxury lodge along a river in the Belize jungle
For a truly unforgettable experience, stay in one of the luxury lodges in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve.
There are several incredible hotels right in the middle of the forest. They are both a stone’s throw from one of the Reserve’s many waterfalls, where you can go for a swim.
Here are a few of the top-rated lodges:
Gaia River Lodge – (Booking.com | Agoda) This gorgeous luxury lodge is set above the Five Sisters Waterfalls and is surrounded by the flora and fauna of the Belize wilderness. You can even have breakfast overlooking the waterfalls and then afterward take a swim in the natural pools at the bottom of the falls. US$200-$300/night
Blancaneaux Lodge – (Booking.com | Agoda) Owned by the famous movie director Francis Ford Coppola, this remote lodge is nestled on the banks of Privassion Creek–home to many beaches and waterfalls. US$300/night.
The Lodge at Chaa Creek – (Booking.com | Agoda) This luxury hotel is actually on the edge of Pine Ridge Forest Reserve. Instead, it’s located in its own 400-acre Nature Reserve called Chaa Creek. The Reserve is overflowing with activities from nature trails, night tours, horseback riding, canoeing, and visiting butterfly parks and a natural history museum.
Calico Jack’s Resort – (Booking.com | Agoda) Calico Jack’s won’t give you the luxury that you get at the other places on this list, but it will give you that sleeping in the jungle experience for an affordable price. It also has loads of jungle activities like ziplining, hiking, caving, and walking through the jungle at night. US$78 – $150
25. Explore the 2000-year-old El Mirador Ruins via Helicopter or on a 5-Day Hike
Located in the remote jungles of Guatemala, the El Mirador ruins are the 2,000-year-old remains of one of the greatest, oldest, and most powerful Mayan kingdoms of the pre-classic era.
But what really makes El Mirador a once-in-a-lifetime experience is getting there and then getting back.
These ruins are so remote the only way to get to them is by helicopter or by hiking for 5 days for a total of 80 kilometers. There are no roads to El Mirador. And along the way, you won’t find a living soul. No villages or farms or convenience stores. It’s just pure jungle.
How to get to El Mirador
The tour begins and takes place in Guatemala, but travelers to San Ignacio can easily do the tour by signing up online ahead of time.
The day before the start of the hike, you cross the border into Guatemala and then travel to Flores, which is about an hour from the border. Then proceed to the beginning of the trail in Carmelitas, where you spend the night before starting the hike the next morning.
On the first 2 days, you hike 20 kilometers per day over relatively flat terrain. You spend day 3 at El Mirador. Finally, on days 4 and 5 you hike back out of the jungle. On day 5, you can easily drive back to Belize.
I did the hike and I’m a 50+ woman with a bad knee and bad feet.
Alternatively, you can avoid the 80-kilometer hike altogether and simply take a helicopter to the ruins.
Some people even do a combination of hiking to the ruins and taking a helicopter back or vice versa.
How to book a tour of El Mirador
- I went with Carmelita Cooperative based in Flores.
- You can fly to El Mirador by helicopter or do a combination hike and helicopter ride with Tikal Go
How to get to San Ignacio from Belize City
You can get to San Ignacio from Belize City by bus, tourist shuttle, or private car. There’s no airport.
By Public Bus
The main Bus Terminal in Belize City (Google Maps) is not far from downtown Belize and the ferry port.
The fare is around BZ$9 (US$4.50) for regular buses and BZ$10 (US$5) for express buses. It usually takes around 2 hours.
Don’t expect comfort. The bus will probably be one of those old U.S. orange school buses.
The advice I was given was to take an early morning bus as buses in Belize can get really crowded. A bus ticket doesn’t guarantee a seat.
If you’re coming off the ferry from Caye Caulker or San Pedro with the San Pedro Belize Express Water Taxi, it’s a 15 minutes walk from the San Pedro Belize Express Water Taxi Terminal to the Bus Station.
It’s a 12-minute walk to the Bus Terminal if you took the Ocean Ferry Belize from the islands to Belize City. For a taxi, it costs BZN$10 (US$5) from the San Pedro Express Water Taxi port to the Bus Station.
The “bus terminal” in San Ignacio is called the C.W.C. Bus Stop (Google Maps). It’s not really a terminal but an area in the city center near the public market where buses stop to pick up people.
By Tourist Shuttle
Inside the San Pedro Belize Express Water Taxi Port is a travel agency called Atlanta Travels. They have tourist shuttles to San Ignacio that leave between 12:00 and 12:30 and cost US$20 (January 2022). With the increases in the price of gas, the price for this shuttle is probably higher than it was when I took it in January 2022.
The shuttle took 1.5 hours.
They’ll drop you off at your hotel or hostel in San Ignacio.
You can also book a shuttle beforehand and online to avoid the hassle of setting it up in Belize City.
If you want more luxury and privacy, you can also book the whole van to San Ignacio.
How to get to San Ignacio from Guatemala
By Public Bus from Flores, Guatemala
- Take a colectivo (white vans) from the Flores Bus Station to Melchor de Mencos. The bus terminal is a short walking distance from the border.
- Then cross the border by foot.
- Go through immigration.
- Then catch a taxi from outside immigration to San Ignacio.
By Tourist Shuttle from Flores, Guatemala
The easiest way to get to San Ignacio from Flores is by tourist shuttle. You can follow my instructions in this article on crossing the border from Guatemala to Belize.
Where to stay in San Ignacio
San Ignacio has a few places for budget travelers, not enough medium-priced places, and a lot of really spectacular luxury resorts and lodges.
Yellow Belly Backpackers – Booking.com | Agoda – I love this hostel. Friendly owner and staff, great kitchen, quiet spot to work or just hang out, and located close to the Cahal Pech ruins. They also now have outdoor space to hang out at.
The hostel can help you book the ATM tour and some other tours.
You’ll also find reasonably priced private rooms with shared bathrooms as well as inexpensive dorm rooms.
Another benefit of staying here is that it’s walking distance from the Western Highway, so you can catch a taxi to the border on this road.
Check out the section on luxury lodges for a place to stay in San Ignacio.
Where to Eat in San Ignacio
Let’s be honest here. Belize is not known for its cuisine. Not like Mexico, Japan, or Italy.
But if you’re a real foodie, you’ve still got to try the food of Belize.
Luckily, there are some good restaurants in San Ignacio serving delicious food that reflects the country’s cultural diversity.
Ko Ox Nan Nah Restaurant (Let’s Go Eat) – On Burns Avenue in downtown San Ignacio, you’ll find the very popular Ko ox Han Nah Restaurant (Let’s Go Eat). This Indian-owned restaurant serves typical breakfasts, rice and bean dishes, burritos, quesadillas, hamburgers, and Indian curries. (Google Maps)
Cenaidas Belizean Food is another downtown restaurant that you should stop at. It serves delicious and reasonably priced local food. Try the coconut fish. (Google Maps)
The Guava Limb Restaurant and Café – A short walk from downtown, the Guava Limb Restaurant and Café serves dishes with farm-to-table ingredients. You’ll find salads, pizzas, paninis, steak, as well as Asian dishes. (Google Maps)
Pop’s Restaurant – You must eat fry jacks before leaving Belize. They are made of fried dough and are super delicious albeit not the healthiest. Pop’s Restaurant is a really good place to try them for breakfast. (Google Maps)
La Oficina – If you’re staying at Yellow Belly Hostel or anywhere near Cahal Pech, then I recommend La Oficina Restaurant for some delicious local food that’s reasonably priced. It’s only open for lunch. (Google Maps)
Where to Go After San Ignacio?
I recommend also visiting Caye Caulker in Belize. I liked it so much more than San Pedro.
If you’re headed to Guatemala after San Ignacio, my favorite places are Flores, Antigua, and Lake Atitlan. For those with lots of time, you can add Chichicastenango, Semuc Champey, Rio Dulce, and Quirigua to your itinerary.
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