Why San Ignacio is the best place in Belize

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Belize is a small country with few major tourist sites, and most of these are situated on the peaceful coast or the tranquil islands. San Ignacio is located in the Cayo region of Belize, amongst rivers, ruins and rainforests, and has a whole unique character of its own. Luckily, I was able to spend a month in the area whilst volunteering nearby, and got to know the city and surroundings very well. I therefore have a list of about 2 weeks’ worth of things to do in and around San Ignacio, so this post may be a long one! I fell in love with San Ignacio and it became my favourite place in Belize, so it’s not to be missed.

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KEY INFORMATION:

  • Being 40 minutes from the border to Guatemala, it’s easy to reach from Flores. Either by a shuttle, or by taking a collectivo to the border and then a shared BVO taxi to the town. I’ve explained in more detail in my post about visiting Flores: 3 Day Taster of Guatemala: Flores & Tikal
  • You can also easily reach San Ignacio from Belmopan, the country’s main transport hub, or direct from Belize City. The buses will cost between 5 and 10BZD (£2-£4).
    • From the islands, a ferry to Belize City and then a bus to San Ignacio is easy, and buses from the north (Corozal) will also change in Belize City.
    • Buses from the south (Placencia/Hopkins) will go to Belmopan where you can change for San Ignacio
  • There are lots of accommodation options in the town including two hostels. I stayed at Bella’s and really enjoyed it. It’s one of the nicest hostels, albeit with it’s faults, but it’s a great atmosphere. A dorm bed was 25BZD (£10) per night.
  • San Ignacio offers so much to do. Give yourself a good few days there, or even a week, and use it as a base to explore the area. Find out about all the things to do in this and my next post!

 

Food Scene

One of the best things about the small town of San Ignacio is the food on offer. It’s the first thing that struck me as we drove into the centre on a busy Saturday and stopped in the main square. You’ll find lots of nice cafes and restaurants (Hannah’s – or Ko-Ox Han Nah – was my favourite) including the famous Western Dairies Ice Cream shop (made in local Spanish Lookout).

The best food you’ll find though is at the market. At the market you’ll find fresh fruits and veggies for a very reasonable price, and it’s open every day. If you are in San Ignacio on a Saturday, make sure you pay the market a visit, and not only will you find produce, you’ll also find hand made textiles, electrics, art, souvenirs and freshly cooked breakfast or lunch. The vendors are kind locals who won’t pester you into buying things – tourists aren’t their main market anyway. Next to the market you’ll find The New French Bakery which I visited too many times to admit and love their food and drinks.

Lastly, my favourite dinner, street food. Tacos, salbutes, pupusas, burritos, tostadas, fry jacks or the classic rice and beans – you can grab it all from the street food stalls and it’s some of the best you’ll eat (across Belize and Mexico I would even venture to say). Three tacos sets you back 3BZD (£1.20).

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Cahal Pech Ruins

On the top of the hilly town, you’ll find some beautiful, near deserted, ruins called Cahal Pech. It’s a half an hour walk through quiet colourful streets to get there from the centre, and you’ll also pass the Victor Galvez Stadium which is great if you fancy doing some exercise on your travels, or to go to a concert if there’s anything on.

Cahal Pech is an important Mayan Site, even if it’s smaller than others nearby. The museum is a good source of information as there isn’t much around the ruins, but it’s a lovely place to walk around for a coupe of hours.

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Mountain Pine Ridge Day Trip

Without a doubt, the most beautiful place I visited during my two months in Belize was Mountain Pine Ridge. It’s not an easy place to get to – both because of the location and road quality – but if you can get there, do it. I went on an ‘unofficial’ tour with the hostel which coast me 90BZD (£36) which was a bargain for what it was. In a group of 7 we drove in a 4×4 about an hour and a half south of San Ignacio to visit four stops on our Mountain Pine Ridge day out. Our first small stop was to an abandoned village where we wandered about an old research centre. I found it particularly interesting because it seemed to have been last used in the days of the British owning the country.

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The second was to visit Rio Frio cave which was astonishing. We spent about 45 minutes walking through and marvelling at the sheer size of it, before emerging the other side and heading back to our ride.

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The third stop was Rio on Pools, which is a series of cascading pools with far reaching views across the pine forest. This was my favourite stop. Our ‘guide’ dropped us off right at the top and had us trek down over the rocks, before swimming for about an hour. It was absolutely gorgeous. We then made our way back up (just about) and he had prepared a lovely BBQ for us, which traditional tortillas, chicken, frijoles (my favourite things – refried beans), veggies and of course lots of rum punch.

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Our final stop was Big Rock Falls. This was pretty breath-taking and we spent a while swimming, sunbathing and fighting the current under the waterfall. One thing we didn’t do and should’ve was hike up to the top of the fall. We were all knackered and kind of didn’t realise what a big deal it was. We should’ve gone up. Either way, it was a fantastic day and one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited.

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Evening Scene

If you’ve been busy on day trips, you may want to relax in the evening, but San Ignacio has a lot to offer and is a nice change from sleepy seaside villages. My favourite place I went was to the wine bar underneath the Old Town Hostel, which doubles up as a quirky art gallery and only opens on Wednesday and Friday. There’s homemade, slightly questionable, fruity wine, a piano and mic so people can sing and interesting artwork all around the space.

If you’re not quite done with the night after a couple of glasses of their finest cranberry wine, you can head to the Sunset karaoke bar where you’ll find lots of locals letting their hair down and singing to a wide range of music. There are other nice bars scattered around the city, as well as some clubs if you’re into that. For me, most nights were spent chilling on the hostel rooftop with music, new friends and a giant connect-4.

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Cristo Rey Village and Monkey Falls

On my first day staying in San Ignacio Town, a group of people from the hostel and I ventured out to Cristo Rey Village. It’s a 20-minute ride out of town on a shared minibus type thing, which costs 2BZD each way (£0.80). You get the buses around the corner from the bus station and I couldn’t tell you how to know which one to get on because I have no idea – just ask. The reason we headed out, and why a lot of people from the hostel do the same trip, is because Bella’s San Ignacio has a sister hostel in the village called Bella’s Jungle Camp. We stopped off there, picked up the dog, and headed to Monkey Falls which was about half an hour away.

The falls themselves were quiet and pretty. We walked a trail along the river before relaxing in the water and on the rocks for the afternoon. It’s a little hidden gem in the area and so easy to reach from San Ignacio. After our bathing, we walked back to the jungle camp via a shop, and cooked up a delicious BBQ. They have a kitchen available as well so it was easy to get everything sorted. We chilled out until early evening and then took the bus back to the town. In Cristo Rey there are also nice restaurants and you can canoe down the river which sounded like fun. If there’s a group, the jungle camp would be fun to stay at, but alone it might be a bit boring and lonely as there’s no wifi and its in the middle of nowhere.

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River Swimming/Boating

A last simple thing you can do whilst in San Ignacio is head to the river for a relax and swim. I’ve written about the gorgeous river and villages near San Ignacio in a couple of previous posts about my volunteering: Workaway in Belize. If you have time, you can take a local bus to Bullet Tree Falls or Santa Familia and go and chill by the river. The bus is only 2BZD (£0.80) each way and takes no more than half an hour. You pick it up by the wooden bridge down the hill from the market. In Bullet Tree there is a hotel which hires out canoes, kayaks and rubber rings for tubing.

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ATM Cave

I thought I’d finish this post with the most popular tour in San Ignacio, and one of the most popular in Belize. I was sceptical about doing this tour and almost skipped it altogether, but after hearing everyone I met raving about it, I decided to do it. It’s one of the most expensive tours I have ever been on at a hefty 180BZD (£72) but I can tell you its 100% worth it. I say ‘tell’, because I can’t show you. There are no cameras allowed in the cave for a number of reasons, so you just have your memories. The cave is absolutely massive and you’ll spend around 3 hours walking, swimming and climbing through it, learning about it’s history and geology, being completely bewildered by it. No cameras almost makes it better because there are no distractions. It’s definitely something that should be done in San Ignacio, and I’d do it again if I went back.

 

I was going to include a few more things in this post – other places to visit around San Ignacio and towards Belize City – but as it’s so long already, I’ll save it for the next post. I still have so much more to say about this amazing region and it’s making me miss it a lot just writing about it.

Next up: places to visit between Flores, San Ignacio and Belize City

 

From Lou

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