During our week-long getaway to Belize, we spent half our time in the Cayo District, exploring in and around San Ignacio.
I really enjoyed this portion of our trip – the people, the jungle, the activities, the food! Here are a few of the highlights from our day in downtown San Ignacio, including things to do, places to eat, and places to stay.
Things to Do in San Ignacio
Green Iguana Conservation Project
I want to preface this recommendation by saying that I am usually skeptical of wildlife encounters during our travels and tend to stay well away from unverified activities. Happily, the Green Iguana Conservation Project is a legitimate operation working to restore the green iguana population in the wild, which is primarily at risk due to human consumption (of the animals themselves, not their habitat, as I originally thought).
The hotel staff were helpful and sold us tickets for the next available tour – currently offered on the hour, each hour – and we wandered around outside until it was our turn. There was a family on the tour before us and a couple after us, but we were the only ones in our group and I appreciated being able to ask our guide lots of questions.
We learned about the different species of iguana in the area, their preferred habitat, how the conservation project ensures they are breeding and releasing females, and how they’ve worked to train individuals who previously poached these animals to help identify and bring in animals in need of protection.
Neither of us were thrilled getting up-close-and-personal with the juvenile iguanas, but the rest of the tour was very informative and the adult iguanas were strangely beautiful!
The Macal River separates San Ignacio from its sister city, Santa Elena. During our afternoon walk, we crossed the river over the Hawkesworth bridge, walked a lovely trail along its eastern bank, and then crossed back into San Ignacio via the wooden bridge you see Brian standing on below!
In addition to wandering along the river, you can spend time on it too. I came across canoe rentals during my research, and we saw one couple out on the water while we were there. We also spotted some wildlife enjoying the river too, including the great egret featured below.
We visited two very different Maya sites during our time in the Cayo district – Cahal Pech and Xunantunich. Cahal Pech is in downtown San Ignacio – no excursion required! – and has a great visitor center / museum. I detailed our experience at both places in this post.
Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) tour
Not in downtown San Ignacio, but if you’re in the area, I HIGHLY recommend considering the Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) cave tour. I shared more about our experience on this tour in this post – it was truly one of the highlights of our trip!
Places to Eat and Drink in San Ignacio
When I researched places to eat in San Ignacio, there were a few that seemed to reappear – one being Pop’s. What I most enjoyed about this breakfast joint is that we were the only tourists. With a very unassuming storefront and bustling diner feel, this felt like the local hangout it’s purported to be.
Our breakfasts were both tasty but the high point was having our first taste of fry jacks! This Belizean breakfast item is fried dough in the shape of a triangle that has a large pocket of air in the center. This makes them perfect for stuffing full of eggs, cheese, breakfast meats and veggies, like Brian ordered below. I ordered mine on the side with honey for dipping – both ways are excellent!
French Baked Bakery
If you find yourself on the outskirts of San Ignacio headed for Bullet Tree Falls, I recommend popping into French Baked Bakery, a hyper-local spot with a couple of tables and delicious-looking baked goods.
We were there around lunch time and I had a yummy slice of veggie pizza while Brian had a ham and jalapeño pocket. The breads and dessert items were tempting as well, but it was a really hot afternoon and what we had was more than satisfactory.
KO-OX HAN-NAH (Hannah’s)
Known locally as Hannah’s, this restaurant topped every list I found online during my research and was also where every local we met – from cab drivers to hotel staff – told us to have dinner. While I would like to think their recommendation was strictly based on the good food, when we found the restaurant filled with only tourists, I couldn’t refrain from the suspicion that we had been herded here and away from the local watering holes.
In any event, we had our first taste of stew chicken with rice-and-beans – the most Belizean dish you can order! – and our first Belikins – “the beer of Belize.” It was also our first time tasting Marie Sharp’s hot sauce, which is addicting and delicious. I am not exaggerating when I tell you this carrot and habanero- based hot sauce is on every table of every establishment in Belize and generously applied to breakfast, lunch and dinner dishes. We were instantly hooked our first night and looked forward to having it the rest of our trip!
Side note: You might notice all of the local art hanging on every available wall space in the photo below. My sole purchase of the trip was a lovely hand-stitched rendering of a river running through some hills at dusk, featured top and center of the back wall below!
The Cooling Rack at Cahal Pech Village
Brian’s favorite ‘dish’ of the trip was a drink called a Belizean Snow (or Cahal Pech Snow), available only at Cahal Pech Village, which is a resort perched on a hill overlooking San Ignacio right next to the Maya site of the same name. As the waiter joked on a couple of occasions, “it’s the only snow you’ll find in Belize!”
I don’t remember what blog I read that recommended stopping here, but I’m here to validate the recommendation! This drink is like a pina colada, only better – I think maybe it has more lime? It was like a dangerous dessert in a goblet, and after having climbed uphill in the pouring rain and time exploring Cahal Pech, we were ready for a snack. We ordered some apps and these drinks and just sat back and enjoyed the incredible view.
Places to Stay in San Ignacio
We stayed at both Martha’s Guesthouse in downtown San Ignacio as well as Mahogany Hall, a boutique resort-like hotel about 4 miles away in Bullet Tree Falls. I recommend both of them and detailed our experiences at each one in this post.
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