With shorelines that boast the largest Barrier Reef in the Northern Hemisphere and jungles that hide ancient Mayan ruins, Belize is one of the most captivating and diverse countries. More than just diverse in its geography, Belize is multiethnic, with a culture of mixed influence from around the globe.
It’s a beautiful thing to witness the Belizean culture as you journey through the nation. Filled with smiles and respect, I could count the number of times I walked through the San Ignacio town and was not acknowledged or greeted with welcome from the Belizean people. Luis, our tour guide, explained that San Ignacio is a small town where everyone knows each other; more than that, from a young age they are taught from their parents to respect their elders, to acknowledge people as they walk by, and ultimately, to be kind. This show of respect is seen throughout all of Belize.Our first stop on our adventure was to the west, a jungle paradise for wildlife lovers, relaxation seekers, and adventure enthusiasts: San Ignacio.
San Ignacio is the heart of the Cayo District. Filled with local colour, the small town is a melting pot of the different cultures seen in Belize. From bird watching in the morning over a cup of coffee and a plate of fry jacks, to floating, spelunking, and hiking through caves during the day, to chowing down on a delicious plate of jerk chicken, coconut rice, beans, and coleslaw for dinner, to roaming the jungle on a guided night walk, there is an abundance of things to do for every type of traveller.
With plenty to experience, San Ignacio stole my wanderlust-stricken heart.
Whether your heart takes you to the ruins of the once bustling Mayan civilization, or to the caves once considered sacred to the Mayan culture, Maya history is preserved through the stories told by the knowledgeable local guides. Respected and conserved, it’s as though you’re stepping back through time, as you learn about the history of Belize and the people that inhabited the land before on the many tours offered in San Ignacio.
Where to book: Belizing.com
Cave Tubing and ZipliningSpending the day in the middle of the jungle cave tubing and ziplining was unBELIZEable. Zipping atop the trees and lounging lazy river style as we floated through the cave systems and learned about their history from our amazing tour guide Luis was an incredible adventure.
Luis recommended we zipline first to avoid being wet and sticky–a recommendation we were definitely thankful for. After getting strapped into our harnesses and helmets, the guides led us to our first line and explained the safety instructions. As we glided from platform to platform, hiking higher and higher to our next lines, we were filled with giddy excitement. Laughing and joking with our guides, they teased us about getting stuck in the middle. Thankfully, if you are shy of reaching the platform, the guides are well equipped with getting you to the end safely. How do we know this? On our last line, I was awaiting Jess on the opposite end when we heard “I’m not going to make it!” She did however make it–or at least made it within reaching distance of our guide who pulled her in as she laughed. They explained that they do however have different systems in place to be able to pull someone in from a longer distance–phew.After, it was time to cave tube. It was about a 45 minute hike through the jungle to reach the cave system. Full disclosure, I use the word “hike” very loosely, as it was more leisurely than a typical hike.
When we reached our starting point we plopped into our tubes, refreshed by the water, and lounged in the tubes as we drifted through the caves. With parts that we’re nearly completely pitch black, we turned our lights on our helmets off to enjoy the peaceful tranquility the cave’s darkness offered.After having spent hours with Luis, he knew we were up for any and all adventures. He asked if we’d like to go on foot into part of the cave and witness complete darkness. After climbing up into one of the cave’s crevasses, we army crawled through another section and found ourselves in a part that had old Mayan plates and artifacts. When we reached a certain point, we turned off our lights and took in the complete darkness. It was mesmerizing.
After two hours in the caves, we devoured our delicious lunch of chips, salsa, chicken, coleslaw, coconut rice and beans. Sipping on coconuts spiked with rum and rum punch, we revelled in the amazing day.
Belize is filled with Maya history. The Actun Tunichil Muknal was once thought to be the passage to the afterlife. Offering a powerful window into the past, the ATM caves was a site for human ritual sacrifices, demonstrating how Mayans worshipped. Venturing here, you’ll bear witness to an abundance of different relics left behind, as well as human skeletons of the sacrificed.
FOODLocal cuisine is always something I look forward to trying while travelling–and Belizean food did not disappoint. Packing a flavourful punch, each dish is made with love, is fresh, and is never a disappointment. In fact, we didn’t have a single bad meal while in Belize.
Ko-ox Han-nahRecommended to us by our driver Avram and tour guide Luis, Jess and I walked into town to try Ko-Ox Han-Nah restaurant, affectionately called Han-Nahs by the locals.
Splitting the pork tacos, chicken quesadillas, and classic coconut rice, beans, and chicken dish, we couldn’t put our forks down–except when handling our tacos. Ko-Ox Han-Nah is a tasty haven filled with good people, delicious food, and tasty drinks. Exceeding our expectations, this restaurant is a must try if you’re headed to the Cayo District.
Running WLocated at San Ignacio Resort, Running W offers delicious breakfast, lunch, and dinner options. Whether trying local dishes or sticking to something more familiar, the menu is diverse and perfectly priced. Waking up and enjoying their Belizean Breakfast with Fry Jacks on the terrace while watching for the different birds was an experience in and of itself.
On our way back from our cave tubing and zip lining adventure, our amazing tour guide Luis stopped at a vendor owned by his friend’s mom. Here we tried creole buns and bread pudding. Whether trying the local baked goods, meat pies, or other delicacies, supporting local vendors is a great way travellers can contribute and give back to a town they are visiting.
San Ignacio ResortSan Ignacio Resort is a family-owned Belizean boutique Hotel located in the heart of the Cayo District. Situated looking over the jungle, the views from the room’s balconies, the restaurant, and the pool are all breathtakingly beautiful. On our last night, we stayed in the Royal Suite and woke to toucans on our balcony and Bradford, the iguana, in the tree out-front. It was simply magical. To add to the charm, the hotel is also home to the Green Iguana Conservation Project. The green iguana is a threatened species and the San Ignacio Resort is at the forefront of the conservation efforts. While visiting the conservation, you’ll learn about these dinosaur-like little creatures and how they are raised, cared for, and then released into the wild.
The details of this hotel are what make this accommodation standout. From the friendliest staff, to the most stunning grounds, to the many hammocks, to the conversation efforts, to the incredible turndown service at night, everything was well thought through and enjoyable at the resort.
GETTING TO SAN IGNACIO
Belize Ground ShuttleBelize Ground Shuttle offered the perfect shuttle service from the Belize City Airport to our hotel. The shuttle is clean, spacious, and the perfect way to travel the hour and thirty minute distance.
Our driver, Avram, was fantastic too. We asked where the best seat in the house was and he laughed, replying that the front was because of the uninterrupted views. As such, he allowed Jess and I to hop in the front with him. He was definitely not wrong! The roads might be bumpy, but the drive is scenic.
On route from San Ignacio to the water taxi terminal to head to the next stop on our Belizean adventure, Avram let us plug in our tunes. We all jammed out to old school hip hop and R&B as we cruised from the jungle into the city. Belize Ground Shuttle made our day of travel fun and easy rather than uneventful and stressful.
For more adventures and what to do in Belize, visit Belizing.com.