Located approx 10 miles from the Guatemalan border, San Ignacio and it’s across the river neighbor, Santa Elena make up the majority population of the Cayo district, Belize’s most historical district. Hot spots such as Tikal (2 hrs), Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM, 1.5 hrs) and various eco-tourism have made San Ignacio a must see destination for anyone coming to Belize. Granted they can steal themselves away from the coast for a couple days. I would recommend 3-4 days here to really take advantage of the abundance of excursions, tours, and wanderings. A sample of what can be had here is below.
- Barton Cave Creek- canoeing through a couple of the local rivers.
- Mountain Pine Ridge- Bumpy ride showing off a cave, waterfall and relaxing secluded swimming spot.
- Actun Tunichil Muknal or ATM
- Tikal Tour- See the famous Guatemalan Mayan Ruin
- Spanish Lookout- Mennonite Village- yes, there is a thriving Mennonite community in Belize.
- Horseback riding
- Birdseeing tours
Even though Belize can aptly be described as 3rd world, the tour prices definitely are not. Expect to pay upwards of $50 to $125 per person for most of the tours around here. You need to do some bargaining or vie for group discounting to save here. There are also tour alternatives to see out- see below info box.
TIP: Inquire with your concierge about alternatives to the expensive tours, some locals will do 1-off tours for a fraction of the tour operator prices. I found a taxi driver named Tosh
willing to do a Mountain Pine Ridge tour at $125 USD for the entire day compared with paying $70 USD each for a ½ day through a tour company. When another couple joined this tour, our price dropped down to $85 USD
Suspension bridge connecting San Igancio and Santa Elena
San Ignacio also has some nicely priced guest houses and resorts that offer 1st world comfort at reasonable rates. I stayed at the Midas Resort. I was in one of their cabanas with hot showers, cable tv, and comfy beds, free wifi and breakfast for $64 USD a night excluding a 9% Belize gov’t tax. The property is 500 yards from the main river in San Ignacio and feels extremely secluded but is only a 10 minute walk to the main parts of town. If you want a more homely feel, you should check out Belize vacation rentals, there are some nice ones to be had and maybe you’ll find one that is a pre-fab Mennonite home (some of the best manufactured houses in the country)!!
The town itself is a quiet town and much like the country is a mix of cultures and heritages. It’s very easy to walk and you’ll notice heightened alerts for around AIDS messaging. Several walls are painted with various warnings and colorful advisories about the disease. I asked a couple doctors about the virus here and they said it represented less than 3% of the population and that teenage pregnancy was a larger threat. Other than that, there is not a whole lot to absorb your time in the town save for a couple good restaurants, Hannah’s (written locally as Ko Ox Han nah) being one that is referenced in every guide book and worth a visit.
Mennonite home in Spanish Lookout
Waterfall at the end of the Mountain Pine Ridge Tour
The 5000 stairs leading to the waterfall on the Mountain Pine Ridge Tour
The 2nd and only other bridge leading to Santa Elena
Welcome to San Ignacio