San Ignacio, Belize
Belize has a wonderfully unique landscape that can cater to any traveler. For our trip, we decided to focus our time on the jungle and in the ocean. For the jungle portion of the trip, we decided to centralize in the town of San Ignacio as it serves as a hub for the Cayo District and western Belize. San Ignacio is located on the Macal River right across from the town of Santa Elena – the towns together make up the “twin towns” and are often referred to by that name. Here you have access to all the adventure and wildlife in the jungle. From caves to hiking to ruins to birding and iguanas to kayaking and horseback riding- there is a lot to do when visiting San Ignacio. We had lots planned for our short three days here!
The drive from Belize City International Airport itself was an easy hour and a half from the city and into the jungle. The scenery slowly changed as we drove closer and closer to San Ignacio. Farm land turned into lush and hilly jungle.
We arrived at the Airbnb – Wish Willy River Cabanas – greeted by two lovely people, Gary and Julie (as well as their two dogs!). Our Airbnb was wonderful – the Wish Willy River Cabanas property overlooked the river which was full of activity and wildlife. Our accommodations were clean, private, and had air conditioning which was much needed during the high humidity and 100 degree days.
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We did not have much time to enjoy as our Airbnb host set up our first activity in Belize – exploring Mayan ruins. There are several ruins to explore in Belize but with this short trip, we picked one – Xunantunich Archaeological Reserve.
Read about our experience exploring Xunantunich Archaeological Reserve – here!
When we returned from the ruins, our Airbnb host took us for a drive to get to know the area – which was extremely generous. The Airbnb was perfectly located in under a ten minute walk to the downtown area so we had easy access to everything. After a long day of travel that immediately threw us into a flurry of activity, we were starving! Our Airbnb host dropped us off a few blocks away from the Airbnb for us to enjoy dinner at Tolacca SmokeHouse. Kevin and I split the full rack of ribs entree and could not have been more pleased at this spread.
It was so much food and we were both immediately happy that we decided to share. The ribs were super tender and flavorful, slow cooked for two hours then fished on oak firewood. In addition there were cheese potatoes, corn, watermelon, and a salad. Perfection for our first meal.
Just as we finished dinner, the skies turned dark and rain plummeted down. After waiting a few minutes, we seemed to find a window of opportunity to run back to the Airbnb without getting stuck – luck was on our side. We turned in for an early night – due to daylight savings, Belize was two hours ahead and we had a long day tomorrow.
We had an all day adventure planned for this morning. With a 7AM pickup, that gave us enough time to walk downtown for breakfast before our day exploring. We stopped at New French Bakery for a ham and cheese along with a chocolate croissant. That with granola bars and bananas should be enough to fill our day until lunch. We also got a sneak peek at the San Ignacio Farmer’s Market.
We made it back to the Airbnb for our 7AM pick up where our driver would be taking us to our final destination to meet our guide. Today, we will be exploring the Crystal Cave.
Caves are one of the highlights of visiting this region of Belize. There are many scattered throughout the country that contain Mayan ruins and artifacts through only a handful are eligible for public entry. Exploring caves is a very unique experience that adventurous travelers to Belize should take full advantage of.
By far the most popular cave for visitors is ATM (Actun Tunichil Muknal) Cave. ATM is a wet cave so the cave contains water. Venturing into this cave means you will be wet while exploring the cave for the benefit of seeing crystal formations, and many artifacts, including a skeleton. In doing research on which cave to explore, I found another cave known as the Crystal Cave (also known as Cow Mountain Cave). While I could not find much about it, I did read it was more physically challenging than ATM. We are always up for a physical challenge so we decided to give it a go. And wow, we had no clue what we were in for.
Read about our insane experience exploring the Crystal Cave – here!
When we arrived back at the Airbnb, the pain of the journey certainly started to set in. I could not believe how dirty we were. Our host saw us and took us directly to the washing machine – a bonus we did not expect to be using this trip but were happy to have around. And the showers at Wish Willy River have the best pressure around so I know the dirty was coming right off our bodies.
Exhausted but ready for another meal, we made our way into town for dinner. We first treated ourselves to some ice cream from Western Dairies where we shared a scoop of chocolate and sour sap (a local fruit that is not sour at all). Then we sat at the popular Ko-Ox Han-Nah (Let’s Go Eat) where we ordered chicken quesadillas and pork tacos.
Both were delicious and the portions were enormous. They nicely gave us a take out box for the leftovers which we were happy to munch on later.
As soon as we arrived back at the Airbnb, we popped an ibuprofen and we went straight to bed for one of the best nights of sleep.
I can speak for myself that I was really sore waking up. My shoulders and upper body especially needed a bit of healing time from Crystal Cave. Luckily our activity today was very low key in the physical sense. We were going bird watching! Belize is home to over 500 bird species and we were hoping to get a better look at these tropical birds. We ate some leftover quesadillas before heading out for the morning – thank god for leftovers!
Read more about our bird watching experience – here!
We had two hours before our next activity so we headed into town. The San Ignacio market was in full swing so we got to really enjoy seeing the offerings. The produce here was just wonderful and I can imagine living here and purchasing from this market is extra delicious. We popped into another favorite of San Ignacio – Pop’s Restaurant. We walked in and immediately got diner feels – the interior looked just like a diner! And they served breakfast all day along with other Belizean fare. At our server’s recommendation, we both ordered the Chaya Pockets – eggs scrambled with chaya stuffed in a fry jack, served with beans and a meat of choice (we chose stewed chicken).
All the noms here – so delicious! We ended up putting the beans and chicken into the fry jack pocket with the eggs and it was wonderful. Funny enough, I do not prefer Mexican food but the Belizean food here was just amazing. I am not even a chicken person and the way the stewed chicken is prepared makes it so flavorful.
Stuffed, we returned to the Airbnb, packed up our stuff, and headed out to our next destination. We arrived at a tiny airport in San Ignacio to take us to the opposite side of Belize to Caye Caulker. Note here that there are many ways to get across to the coast. If driving or taking a bus, it is two hours to the port where a ferry is then used to get to the island. The ferry is a forty five minute ride to Caye Caulker. Flying was more expensive but only a half hour in total landing on the island itself. With so little time on this trip, the minutes add up!
We were so impressed by everything we did in San Ignacio and I know we barely scratched the surface of all there is to do! There were many things we would have loved to hit on this trip and making those cuts was extremely difficult. That being said, we were so happy with the experiences we had in San Ignacio and highly recommend making this stop in your Belize itinerary. A visit to the jungle can be as adventurous or relaxing as you want it to be.