San Ignacio Belize: The Top 7 Cultural Attractions
San Ignacio, Belize is a small lovely town located on the Cayo region of the country and mere minutes away from the border with Guatemala.
Considered as the heartland of the Belizean Mayan World, San Ignacio has its fair share of cultural and adventure attractions, even for those who travel with a tight budget.
Here’s some of my favorite ones:
1. Discover the Cave of the Crystal Maiden (Actun Tunichil Muknal or ATM)
Probably the number one cultural adventure of Belize is this ancient cave located one hour away from town. The entrance fee is kind of high (95 USD for a guided tour plus lunch) but it’s the only way to explore it. You will be crossing rivers on foot as you make your way through the Mayan jungle before reaching the ATM cave.
After one hour of cave exploring, you will reach the archaeological vestiges of pottery and skeletons that once belonged to Mayans that were sacrificed in order to please the ancient Gods. Unfortunately photos are not allowed inside of the ATM cave thanks to a clueless visitor who damaged one of the skulls when he dropped his camera.
2. Explore the charm of the downtown
Sure, nothing of historical significance happened in this small Belizean town but due to San Ignacio’s fame as a tourist hub, you can expect the classical expat/tourist street. In Burns Avenue you can sample many Belizean dishes (mainly rice and beans with an extra side of rice) as well as some international cuisine. For some reason, all local supermarkets are populated by Taiwanese immigrants. Did you know that Belize has very close ties with Taiwan? Their political alliance is so strong that the visa fees for Chinese tourists (2,000 USD. Yes, two thousand.) is over the top!
3. Climb the ancient Mayan Pyramids:
There are three main Mayan Pyramids for you to choose: Cahal Pech, Xunantunich and Caracol. Cahal Pech is located within the town of San Ignacio and can be easily reached on foot. Xunantunich is 15 minutes away by car or one hour away by horse. Caracol, on the other hand, can only be reached by organized tour since it’s located two hours away from San Ignacio and there are military men patrolling the road. Entrance fee is 10 Belizean dollars (5 USD) for each site and yes, all of the Pyramids can be climbed. I specially recommend a small day trip to Cahal Pech since hardly anyone visits it!
4. Enjoy horseback riding
The Cayo region of Belize has a beautiful countryside and the best way to explore it is by horse. There are many routes you can take in order to enjoy horseback riding. My favorite by far is the one that goes from San Ignacio all the way to the Mayan Ruins of Xunantunich. The whole experience is absolutely breath taking. Even when it rains since you’ll truly feel as if you’re in an Indiana Jones movie. Exploring new lands has never been so romantic!
5. Learn about the unique history of Belize
Belize, formally known as British Honduras is the only Central American country whose official language is English. The reason for that is because it used to be a colony of the British Empire until recently. In fact, it’s still part of the Commonwealth and you can find the face of Queen Elizabeth II on their coins.
What makes Belize so unique is the mixture of Kriol (Caribbean African) and Mestizo (Indigenous + Spaniards) culture. The unity of both cultures is so strong that it’s even featured on the country’s flag.
6. Go tubing down the river
While not as popular as it was before, you can still tube down the river that goes across San Ignacio. The cost is about 25 USD for the equipment. Alternatively, you can go cave tubing near Belmopan, the capital of Belize. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to do this activity so here’s an amazing article by a traveler friend of mine where she shares her experience of cave tubing in Belize. Enjoy!
7. Visit the Iguana Conservation Center
The highlight of my Belizean experience by far was being able to play with the amazing Iguanas of the Iguana Conservation Center. Especially the cute baby ones! Did you know that Iguanas are actually very harmless to humans? Don’t let their lizard appearance scare you off, they’re actually very well-behaved! Stay tuned for this week’s article about Iguana facts to learn more about the day that a baby Iguana almost became my new travel companion!
Later this month I will be back to Belize (this time on the Caribbean side) as I’ll make my way back to Mexico and yes, I would definitely recommend you to experience the Cayo region of this wonderful country. It’s like nothing you’ll ever see in Mexico or Guatemala.
The culture shock of seeing Mestizo looking people speaking English and only English is more than enough to keep you wondering for weeks!
Have you ever been to San Ignacio, Belize? Would you like to? Share your thoughts and let me know what you think!
This blogpost was written by Raphael Zoren