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.
Waking up at 6:30am to the sounds of cockerels calling, walking in the misty morning air to the village and being greeted by the three most gorgeous horses was the make up of my four weeks volunteering in Belize, and I loved it. I experienced the kindest hospitality by the locals and expats and felt part of a family that I didn’t want to leave. I also managed to get some great architectural experience which was a lucky bonus, and for me, this workaway ended up being the perfect way to spend a month.
Being based in San Ignacio for a month had many benefits, including being just a short ride away from Guatemala. It’s a well-traversed path and most travellers in San Ignacio are either heading to Flores or have just been there. I decided to use a few days off during my workaway to visit Flores and take a tour around the largest Mayan site, Tikal. It was a tantalising taste of Guatemala and it’s left me itching to get back to travel around this unique country.
Doing workaway programmes is a great way to travel cheaply by staying somewhere for longer, getting to know local life and learning new things. They are often described as cultural exchanges between locals and travellers. When I arrived at mine, I firstly met the lovely people I’d be working for, and was then unceremoniously dropped of at the volunteer house, on my own, to then find no wifi and a large ant infestation. It’s all cultural, right? This preceded a week of bugs, no water and working in 35 degree heat.
If you head down south, away from the Caribbean vibes and backpacker hotspots of the islands, you’ll find the petite village of Hopkins. This string of local houses, beachfront cabanas and vibrant bars and restaurants is lined with a long sandy beach and crystal clear water. With access to nearby national parks, a serene river trail and an abundance of diving and snorkeling, it’s a brilliant place to visit.
Something that was high on my Belize Bucket List was diving on the reef, the second largest barrier reef in the world. I definitely ticked it off and completed my Open Water PADI training throughout six dives on this stunning reef. I completely fell in love with diving, and with the small, characterful island of Caye Caulker, where I spent almost a week. I filled the rest of my days with hammocks, puppies and yoga and I loved it.
Sarteneja is affectionately known as the place where the sun sets on the water. It’s the only place in Belize where you can witness this and it gave me some of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen. Not only that, this small fishing village, visited by few tourists, is a quiet respite from the bustling islands and vibrant towns around the country. There are only boats, animals and jungle here, and it was perfect.
San Pedro gave me my first impressions of Belize, ahead of spending almost 2 months in the country. Snorkeling in the area is well worth it for the abundance of life you’ll see, mixed with the gorgeous clear water and a few cups of rum punch on board the boat.
Bacalar is a really unique spot in southern Mexico, just an hour from the border to Belize. It’s a standard stop off point for all backpackers traversing Belize and Mexico and unbelievably beautiful. Known as the Lagoon of Seven Colours, it’s crystal clear, shallow freshwater invites everybody to jump in or relax on the swings dangling above the surface. At sunrise, it becomes a whole new place was by far my favourite time on the lake.
Valladolid is a colourful city with gorgeous architecture and a Spanish feel to it. The streets are laid out on an easy grid and culminate in impressive plazas surrounded by pretty restaurants and live music any time of day. It feels bright and happy through the day and comes alive with salsa music and street food in the evening. Staying in this lovely little city is only the start of it though as it’s surrounded by magical cenotes, is close to the sprawling Rio Lagartos and is the gateway to the famous Chichen Itza.