Tourist Attractions Close to San Ignacio Town
Lying in a valley between the Mopal and Macal Rivers, San Ignacio is a great base for exploring the tourist attractions of the Cayo District. It is a bustling, friendly town in the western part of the country. Cayo is committed to conservation and eco-tourism with an astonishing 880,000 acres of protected areas, nature reserves, and national parks jungles, Maya ruins, rivers, nature reserves, waterfalls, caves, etc. Many ex-pats from all over the world have made this their home and integrated with the local people.
San Ignacio is the hub of commerce and tourism for the Cayo District, and along with its sister town – Santa Elena – make up the largest populated area in the District. San Ignacio, known locally as “Cayo”, is conveniently located less than two-hours by road from Belize City and the International Airport.
San Ignacio is a unique blend of America’s Old West and tropical backwater with frontier-like wooden shops on narrow streets. Burns Avenue is “Main Street” and a good place to begin a tour of the town. Most days it’s a busy thoroughfare with lots of people walking in the streets. Burns Avenue and the adjacent streets are packed with shops, hotels and places to eat where hospitable towns people mingle in restaurants, bars and wooden shops
In San Ignacio Town, you will find the following tourist attractions –
Located at the San Ignacio Resort Hotel, the project is a continuous effort that aims to conserve and look after the endangered Green Iguana species in Belize. Here, you are given the opportunity to mingle with these wonderful reptiles and also, learn about the incubation, hatching, rearing, and releasing process.
This ancient Maya site features a museum and several dozen surviving structures. The site was a hilltop palacio home for an elite Maya family, and though most major construction dates to the Classic period, evidence of continuous habitation has been dated to as far back as far as 1200 BCE (Before the Common Era).
If you want to experience real Western Belize life, this is the place, and what a pleasant, heady experience it is. This is the largest market in the country and every Saturday, vendors from nearby and remote communities contribute to the melodic mix of Maya, Creole, English and Spanish while Mennonite farmers can be heard conversing in German. In addition to local market staples such as fruits and vegetables, there are also dried fruits, homemade cereals and condiments, Maya herbal remedies, arts and crafts, clothing and tropical plants to be found.
The House of Culture is envisioned as a dynamic, creative community centre where neighbours, residents and students can come together to learn, teach, and pursue their favourite cultural activity. H.O.C. works with children, youth, adults, and senior citizens as well as with the physically impaired, in the fields of music, literature, dance, drama and the plastic arts. H.O.C. conducts activities at health centres, disability centres, and homes for children and senior citizens using schools as the most important centre. Activities at the House of Culture are meant to inspire and uplift all through the various cultural areas.
The Casino boasts of a total of 168 bill and coin accepting video slot machines in a friendly atmosphere. They also have 5 live game tables, Black Jack, American Roulette and Poker games. Perla Bar & Grill is located inside the casino where you can enjoy a variety of local and international cuisines every day. The Next Lounge Bar is also located inside the casino where you could drink, dance and enjoy the exciting nightlife with special events every weekend.
Taking place annually in early March, La Ruta Maya Belize River Challenge is a grueling, 4-day canoe race traveling a perilous river route across the country of Belize. The route runs West to East along the Macal and Belize Rivers, once the only link between beautiful San Ignacio, in the foothills of the Maya Mountains, and the bustling port of Belize City. This is a race for everyone (not just professional racers).
Close to San Ignacio, you will find the following tourist attractions –
A great place to spend from a few hours to the whole day. Come and take one of our guided tours through the gardens and discover some of the secrets within the plants and trees. Do you know what perfumes Chanel No. 5? – or what tree can colour your clothes? come and find the answers. Visit our Orchid house with over 120 orchids species of Belize.
Located directly between the Chaa Creek and the Macal River Jungle Camp, this is the former Ix Chel Farm, which was set up by Drs. Rosita Arvigo and Greg Shropshire. Rosita studied traditional herbal medicine with Don Elijio Panti, a local Mayan medicine man and a folk hero in Belize. Panti died in February 1996 at the estimated age of 104. Here on the farm, they built a trail through the forest to share with visitors the fascinating medicinal values of many of the tropical forest’s plants.
The Chaa Creek Natural History Centre, takes students and visitors along a fascinating time line, which begins with prehistoric land formation through to the shifting of the continents. Visitors are able to see the movement of life in Belize through the ages; from Mayan temples in the steaming jungle to modern day traditional healers. On one hand we provide a comprehensive introduction to the history and geography of Belize while on the other we provide visual displays of archaeological artefacts, butterflies, moths, insects and amphibians that capture the curiosity of young children, students and scientists alike.
The forested area surrounding the Centre has become an educational destination which, combined with the Rainforest Medicine Trail, this offers an excellent opportunity to study medicinal and useful plants.
The Maya ruins of Xunantunich are located atop a ridge above the Mopan River near San Ignacio, within sight of the Guatemala border. Most of the structures date from about 200 to 900 BC. Xunantunich consists of a series of six plazas surrounded by more than 26 temples and palaces. At 130 ft. the pyramid known as “El Castillo” is the tallest structure in Xunantunich and the second tallest structure in Belize, after the temple at Caracol.
You can also take a horseback ride with Hanna Stables from San Ignacio along the Mopan River and through a private organic farm to the ruins.
ATM is a cave in the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve near San Ignacio. The cave was discovered in 1992 and is named the top sacred cave in the world by National Geographic. A sacred site for the Mayans, the cave contains many examples of pottery, ceramics and stoneware, as well as several sets of human sacrificial remains, one of which (known as the “Crystal Maiden”) has been almost entirely covered in limestone crystals by the natural processes of the cave.
This guided, action-packed day trip into the heart of the Mayan underworld kicks off with a 45-minute jungle hike through the Tapir Nature Reserve to the entrance of the cave. Swim, climb, and spelunk your way through astonishing caverns into the depths of the cave, where you’ll get an up-close look at ancient artifacts and offerings used in ancient Mayan ceremonies.
Note: This is a physically intense adventure and not recommended for those with a fear of the dark, enclosed spaces, or heights. You will need sturdy, closed-toed shoes with socks. Photography is not permitted inside the cave.
El Pilar is an ancient Maya city centre located on the Belize-Guatemala border, located 12 miles (19 km) north-west of the town of San Ignacio.
The El Pilar Archaeological Reserve for Maya Flora and Fauna, was declared a cultural monument both in Guatemala and Belize, and covers 5,000 acres, half of which lies in each country. It is jointly managed by the Belize Institute of Archaeology and Guatemala’s Instituto de Antropología e Historia. El Pilar is the largest site in the Belize River area with over 25 plazas, hundreds of other buildings, covering about 50 hectares (120 acres).
Located just off the Western Hwy. at Mile Marker 71 1/2 near the village of San José Succotz, is this small attraction. You’ll find an enclosed butterfly garden with scores of brightly coloured and varied species flitting about. There’s also a butterfly breeding centre, as well as an open-air medicinal plant nature trail. Hummingbird feeders ensure that you’ll be buzzed by these frenetic, flighty creatures.
A little further afield, but still in the Cayo District, you will find –
Caracol is the name given to a large ancient Maya archaeological site, located in the Cayo District of Belize. It is situated approximately 25 miles south of Xunantunich and the town of San Ignacio Cayo in the foothills of the Maya Mountains. Long thought to be a tertiary centre, it is now known that the site was one of the most important regional political centres of the Maya Lowlands during the Classic Period. Caracol covered approximately 77 square miles, covering an area much larger than present-day Belize City (the largest metropolitan area in the country) and supported more than twice the modern city’s population. The warriors of Caracol were known for their military victories, defeating both the powerful cities of Tikal and Naranjo.
Caracol is the largest archaeological site in Belize and the 141 ft. high Caana (Sky Palace) pyramid is the tallest human-made structure in all of Belize and offers breath-taking vistas of the site and surrounding jungle from the top.
St. Herman’s Blue Hole National Park is a national park located just off the Hummingbird Highway in Cayo District of Belize, near Belmopan, the capital city. It is over 500 acres in area, and contains two cave systems (St. Hermans and Crystal), various natural trails, and the cool jungle pool from which the park gets its name. The park is managed by the Belize Audubon Society.
This inland “blue hole” is not to be confused with the offshore Great Blue Hole, also in Belize.
Board the jungle pontoon and let it be your river gypsy guide as you sail to meet three beautiful waterfalls. With optional swimming, cliff jumps and tubing, this fun filled adventure is perfect for all ages and fitness levels. Spot different flora and fauna from on board your jungle pontoon as you cruise along, through the Mayan mountains.
Located in the Mountain Pine Ridge reserve, the 1000 Foot Falls is the tallest waterfall in Central America. It has recently been proclaimed a National Monument and has been opened to the public. Even though the name suggests otherwise, this waterfall is closer to 1,600 feet.
This ancient Maya burial cave was discovered by accident when a local hunter went chasing after his errant dog. When the cave was explored, a cache of Mayan artefacts, including many large, fully preserved pots, was discovered. Archaeologists estimate the relics could have been placed here over 2,000 years ago. This cave is one of only two in the area with an elaborate altar used for ceremonial purposes by the religious and ruling classes. The cave is located 10 miles south of Benque Viejo Del Carmen. Chechem Ha means “Cave of Poisonwood Water”.
Hiking among the pine forests, visitors can explore cool gushing rivers, waterfalls, pools, and caves. One of the top attractions within the reserve is the Río Frio Cave & Nature Trail, once used by the Maya as burial grounds. A river runs through the centre of the cave.
At the Five Sister Falls, five cascades spill into a beautiful pool.
For a refreshing dip head to Río On Pools where small waterfalls connect a series of pools carved from granite boulders. The slabs of rock are great for basking in the sun after a swim.
Float through a flooded cave system then soar through the jungle canopy on a full-day combination tubing and ziplining adventure from San Ignacio with a small group. Hike through a lush forest to reach the Caves Branch River, then float alongside your guide as you explore the natural formations, glittering crystals and stalactites inside a spacious series of caverns. Swap your inner tube for a harness, then strap in to a series of exciting ziplines that take you from tree to tree with a bird’s-eye view of the forest floor.
The largest live butterfly display in Belize, flocks of butterflies fly freely in a 3,300 sq. ft., beautifully landscaped flight area. Several native butterfly species are being reared at Green Hills with the magnificent Blue Morpho (Morpho peleides) being the star of the show.
Visiting Hours – the butterflies are best visited early in the morning. Pupae emerge early and butterflies tend to sun themselves only in the morning, providing better opportunities for picture taking. For this reason, the butterfly house is open daily from 8 am – 1 pm. Last tour of the day starts at 12 nn. Closed on Sundays and on public holidays.
Since Barton Creek flows through the cave, canoes are the only way to see the Mayan underworld. This also makes this tour the most accessible and least difficult of all the cave tours to explore. The trip is conducted entirely by canoe, and while there are a few tight squeezes and areas with low ceilings, in general you won’t get wet or claustrophobic here as you will at many of the other caves in Belize. Along the way, by the light of headlamps and strong flashlights, you’ll see wonderful natural formations, a large gallery, and numerous Mayan artefacts, including several skeletons, believed to be the remains of ritual sacrifices. The remains of at least 28 humans have been found within the cave.
Located beside a small Mennonite community, Barton Creek is navigable for nearly a mile inside the cave.
Also worth a visit in Belize –
Set in natural forest, 31 miles from Belize City and just outside of the Cayo District, the Belize Zoo is one of the finest zoos in the Americas. Many of the animals in Belize Zoo are wild animals that were kept as pets by individual collectors and the zoo tries to recondition such animals for a return to the wild. It enables visitors to see the native animals of Belize at close quarters, housed in spacious enclosures that closely resemble their natural habitats. Unless you’re a seasoned wildlife photographer, this is likely to be the best place to get excellent photographs of the animals of Belize.
The Guatemalan border is only about 12 miles from San Ignacio and the Guatemalan border town of Melchor de Mencos is a lively, bustling town. Many Belizeans shop here in the large and colourful market complexes.
Further afield but still possible for a day’s visit, is the beautiful island of Flores on Lake Peten Itza
and the world-famous Maya ruin complex at Tikal.
There are many Sightseeing or Nature & Wildlife Tour operators in San Ignacio. Here are a few –
In addition, serious bird-watchers might want to sign up for a tour with Birding in Belize (tel. 610-5593 – www.birdinginbelize.com)
Or, give a call to Birds Without Borders (tel. + -824-4416).