San Ignacio 101

November 2013

HOW TO GET THERE – RENTING A CAR
My boyfriend and I decided to rent a car and drive across Belize, spending a little over 24 hours in Guatemala before spending a few days in San Ignacio (just a few miles away from the Guatemalan border). We used the car rental company, Crystal Auto Rental in Belize City, to rent our car because they also organize your border crossing visa which you will need if you plan to drive across the border to Tikal. You’ll still need to pay the $18.75 USD per person fee once you get to the border, but at least the paperwork is taken care of in advance (48 hours minimum advance notice)

Crystal Auto Rental
reservations@crystal-belize.com
502-223-1600 (BZE) 936-307-1325 (US)
Website
1532034_10201460260895905_1404852892_o
Do yourself a favor and DRIVE THIS IN THE DAYTIME. Don’t let the Google Maps deceive you, while it may say it takes 1 hour and 50 minutes to drive this distance, it doesn’t take into account is the physical state of the highway. It definitely takes closer to 3 hours. In other words, what is considered the main highway through Belize changed intermittently from a narrow 2-lane highway to a gravel road. There were constantly dogs and people walking along the side of the road, and WE ALMOST HIT A HORSE that decided to just chill in the middle of the “highway” during the night. Not only do you have to worry about people or animals in the road, but it isn’t always clear what road is actually the main road when you reach various intersections. Just do yourself a favor and make sure to do this drive during the day.

Other great resources for how to get around Belize:
www.belizeadventure.com
www.slickrock.com

WHAT TO DO & THINGS TO SEE

I used websites like Slickrock and Virtual Tourist to formulate my original “what do to” list, but we ultimately only ended up having 2 full days to spend in the Cayo District. If you’re like us and only have 2 days to spend, you MUST go to the ATM Cave (it’s like something straight out of Indiana Jones) and do a cave tubing tour. (Note: The ATM Tour is only for those in moderate shape as it requires a lot of hiking and squeezing through small places).

CAVE TOURS
Most of the caves that you can visit are located in the Cayo District right outside of San Ignacio. There are many different tubing companies that will take you to these caves, but we booked both ATM and a Cave Tubing tour through CaveTubing.bz which made everything very easy.


Actun Tunichil Munkal (ATM or The Crystal Maiden)
atm_1atmimg_2394-skeleton800
Photo Credit: http://www.discoverbelize.bz/belizetours/ATMCavehttp://ambergriscaye.com

This is by far one of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced and straight out of Indiana Jones. After hiking into the jungle along the bank of a river we found the source of the river: it was coming out of a cave in the side of a sheer rock wall. We then proceeded to hike a mile into the cave and against the current of the river, squeezing through narrow walkways and hiking upwards into the side of the mountain. Each time we reached a large dry “shelf” of rock above the water we found fully intact pottery and human bones left by the Mayans during sacrificial ceremonies.

Nohoch Che’en Caves Branch Archaeological Reserve
9597
Known as “Caves Branch,” this archaeological reserve is home to an intricate system of caves that you can visit by floating on inner tubes through an underground river. The best thing about these tours is how relaxing they are – You simply kick up your feet in your inner tube and relax while you float down the river. The tour I did with cavetubing.bz consisted of a 30-minute walk through the jungle and past a dry cave called the Fertility Cave. Then the following 1.5 hours we spent tubing through a series of underground canals and 4 large caves. Our guide provided a lot of interesting information about the caves and surrounding jungle, and he pointed out notable rock formations in the limestone that resembled lions, eagles and other animals.

Barton Creek Cave
bartoncreek
Photo Credit: http://www.pacztours.net/belize/barton-creek-cave.html

Crystal Cave
crystalcave
Photo Credit: http://www.mundomayabelize.com/caves.html

Rio Frio Cave
rio-frio-cave-system
Photo Credit: https://www.cahalpech.com/blog/rio-frio-cave/

St Herman’s Cave
st-hermans-cave-belize
Photo Credit: http://www.vivabelize.com/


CAVE TUBING COMPANIES

Vitalino Reyes’ CaveTubing.BZ
501-602-8975 / 501-832-2640
info@cavetubing.bz
Website / TripAdvisor Link
We booked both the ATM Tour and the Cave Tubing Tour with Vitalino and we were not disappointed. Vitalino was very responsive over email and very helpful booking our tours since we had limited time to spare. Even when one of his tour guides wasn’t available for the ATM cave he found another guide from another company called River Rat to lead our tour (see below). The Cave Tubing tour I did cavetubing.bz consisted of a 30-minute walk through the jungle and past a dry cave called the Fertility Cave. Then the following 1.5 hours were spent tubing through a series of underground canals and 4 large caves. Our guide provided a lot of interesting information about the caves and surrounding jungle, and he pointed out notable rock formations in the limestone that resembled lions, eagles and other animals. Additionally, the home cooked meal that we had after cave tubing was one of the best chicken and rice dishes we had our whole vacation!
The CaveTubing.bz shop is located off the George Price Highway (formerly the Western Highway) at Mile 37 between Belmopan and Belize City.

River Rat
Website / TripAdvisor Link
We were lucky enough to have Gonzo from River Rat as our guide for the ATM Cave and we couldn’t have gotten a better guide. Not only was Gonzo a guide, but he had been helping map and handle maintenance of the cave systems throughout Belize. He was extremely knowledgeable about the rainforest flora and fauna, stopping to point out different plant or animal species during our hike. After hiking into the jungle along the bank of a river we found the source of the river: it was coming out of a cave carved into a sheer rock wall. We then proceeded to hike a mile into the cave and against the current of the river, squeezing through narrow walkways and hiking upwards into the side of the mountain. Each time we reached a large dry “shelf” of rock above the water we found fully intact pottery and human bones left by the Mayans during sacrificial ceremonies.

Ian Anderson Cave’s Branch
Website / TripAdvisor Link
One of the more well-known cave tubing tour guides in the area does a 7-mile cave tubing tour

Maya Walk Tours
Website / Trip Advisor Link
A very well-known tour guide company that does other Mayan ruins in addition to cave tubing

Cayo Adventure Tour
Website / TripAdvisor Link

Jaguar Paw
Website

MAYAN RUINS

Unfortunately, I never got a chance to see any other Mayan ruins outside of Tikal in Guatemala, but from photos and other people that these are definitely worth checking out. Virtual Tourist has a comprehensive list of sites to see and Slickrock has this really great map of all the Mayan ruins so you can plan your adventures. If you’re looking for a guided tour, I’ve read good things about the Maya Walk tour company for their guided tours of the Mayan ruins across Belize.

Xunantunich (pronounced “CHEW-nahn-too-neech“)
xunantunich-mayan-ruins-belize
P
hoto Credit: https://www.cahalpech.com/blog/xunantunich-mayan-ruins/

Cahal Pech
cahal-pech
Photo Credit: https://www.cavesbranch.com/xunantunich-cahal-pech-tour

Caracol
caracol
Photo Credit: http://breakawaybelize.com/adventures/caracol-mayan-site/

Lamanai
lamanai_temple_masks_right_mask
Photo Credit: http://www.delange.org 

MOUNTAIN PINE RIDGE
Waterfalls, Swimming Pools & Hiking

Another area of the country I wish I would have had time to visit is Mountain Pine Ridge (You can find a lot of great info via ambergriscaye.com). The mountaneous environment provides a surprising contrast to the tropical forests and beaches that cover the majority of the country. Pine trees and a rocky terran make this area entirely different, and large-leaf forests hide hiking trails, waterfalls and swimming pools to keep hikers cool. Some well-known attractions include Rio on Pools, Five Sisters Falls, Big Rock Falls and One Thousand Feet Falls (regarded as one of the highest waterfalls in Central America).

Rio on Pools
rio-on-pools
Photo Credit: https://belize-travel-blog.chaacreek.com

Five Sisters Falls
five-sisters-falls
Photo Credit: http://www.pbase.com/zangezi/image/87914677&exif=Y

Big Rock Falls
big_rock_falls_belize6
Photo Credit: http://www.belizetravelmag.com/big-rock-falls/

LODGING – WHERE TO STAY
When researching what to do and where to stay in San Ignacio, I found a few options but we ended up staying at Rumors Resort which was about a 5-minute drive from downtown San Ignacio. In hindsight, I would recommend staying somewhere right in the city.

Rumors Resort
Mile 68 Western Highway | mile 2 1/2 Benque Viejo Road, San Ignacio, Belize
Website / TripAdvisor Link
As I’ve previously mentioned, this resort was located about a 5 minute drive from downtown San Ignacio on the Western Highway near mile 68. The resort was nice and the staff was SUPER helpful in helping to get us get ahold of tour guides, restaurant recommendations, etc. The room was very basic with air conditioning and a shower, but the real reason we enjoyed this place was because we had a private balcony that was AMAZING for star-gazing away from the light pollution of the city.

Parrot Nest
Bullet Tree Falls | P.O Box 108, San Ignacio, Belize
Website / TripAdvisor Link
parrotnestlodge@gmail.com
Tree house lodging between $55-93 USD per night with optional “free breakfast” upgrade

The Lodge at Chaa Creek
San Ignacio, Chaa Creek Road, Belize
Website / TripAdvisor Link
A B&B located outside the city to the south of San Ignacio 


FOOD & DRINK

Ko Xa Han-nah
5 Burns Avenue, San Ignacio, Belize
TripAdvisor Link
The name is the restaurant means “Let’s Go Eat” in Mayan and one of my favorite phrases in any language. We came here both for dinner and breakfast the next morning because the food was that good. When my boyfriend and I were trying to find the best place to have authentic Belizian food, we were told by our hotel and our tour guide that Ko Xa Han-nah was the place. The menu is inspired by Indian cuisine but it also takes staples of Belizian food (coconut, rice, grilled chicken, grilled/fried plantains, and Belizian hot sauce) and brings traditional dishes to another level. We both went the more traditional route of spicy chicken with rice and beans coupled with a side of buttery, garlicky mashed potatoes that melted in your mouth. The various rum we tried was the highlight of the meal, and Ron Zacapa (23 years) immediately became our favorite.

D’ Catch
Cayo Welcome Center, San Ignacio 00501, Belize
TripAdvisor Link
Located right on the plaza this restaurant doubles as a popular open-air bar that serves up seafood and cocktails late into the evening. Often there are different events or performances in the plaza which makes this place a good spot to watch all of the action. All of the bartenders we met were very friendly and fun to talk to!

Flayvas
NOW CLOSED – RIP
TripAdvisor Link

 

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About Kailee Crawford

I'm an Oregon-born travel addict living in New York making the most of my vacation days. I started this travel blog to keep track of my bucket list and it's morphed into a journal of my adventures and recommendations for things to see, do, eat and drink. My hope is that I can help other travelers find their way. I want to try everything once and to live a life without regrets or missed opportunities. I call my philosophy on life the "the death bed philosophy" - I want to be laying in my death bed reflecting on all of the things I've done and seen in this world, not the things I wished I had done. It's not meant to be morbid, just a reminder to take risks, go out of your comfort zone and live life to the fullest. ♫♫♫♫♫ "You were only waiting for this moment to be free" --- "Blackbird" by The Beatles This quote is undoubtedly my favorite quote because it's a reminder of the infinite opportunities available to us. That in each moment there is an opportunity to find true happiness, and a sense of freedom when you're doing what you love. Freedom to explore, to create, to improve oneself, and to find fulfillment even during the 9 to 5 grind. ♫♫♫♫♫ I'm an incredibly pensive person with a wide variety of interests. In addition to traveling, my guilty pleasures include wine, food, music, art, languages and history. I grew up a nerd, watching The History Channel and reading The Lord of the Rings with my Dad. I'm driven by my pursuit of knowledge and growth and most passionate when I'm able to be creative. ♫♫♫♫♫
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