Our intentions for our visit to San Ignacio were very one note: caves, caves, caves. We LOVE caves and with San Ignacio being an underground adventuring hot spot we were majorly looking forward to our three days there. Unfortunately we ran into a bit of a snag… the caves were (mostly) CLOSED (!!!).
Because of heavy rainfall in the previous weeks the river was unseasonably high and the caves were either flooded completely or were dangerously close, so no caves for us (sad face). The excessive water also meant that canoeing (another popular activity) was out of the question.
So what were two cave-loving, no-back-up-plan travelers to do? Ask Trip Advisor. Obviously.
Here is what we did with our three days in San Ignacio.
After all that whining about how the caves were closed, here I am saying we went cave tubing. By some miracle we were still able to go underground at least one time during our time in San Ignacio and (unsurprisingly) it was our favorite activity, hands down! Click here to read about our fantastic day floating down a subterranean river.
Many tourists use San Ignacio as a home base to visit the spectacular Mayan ruins of Caracol, Xunantunich and Tikal (in Guatemala). Because we knew that there would be other stops on our backpacking trip dedicated solely to exploring Mayan ruins we had not planned on visiting any of the spectacular sites in Belize.
As our grand plans of spending our days in San Ignacio underground got washed away by tropical thunderstorms we had to turn to previously ignored activities and ruins were back on the menu. The ruins of Cahal Pech are located just one mile from the main tourist drag in San Ignacio, making them by far the easiest and cheapest ruin-centered day trip available.
Cahal Pech is A LOT smaller and A LOT less famous than the other ruins on our itinerary, but a lack of international fame meant a corresponding lack of international tourists. We basically had the whole place to ourselves. During our afternoon of exploration we saw less than ten other adventurers and we were able to scale the moss-covered structures, climb through tunnels and take tons of rando free photos in peace.
Since it Cahal Pech so close to town, walking is the cheapest option to get to the site (you know, because walking is free…). However, the walk is STRAIGHT UPHILL and if you get super unlucky, like we did, then you may end up directly in the sun and it will turn into a tortuous, sweaty, cranky, annoying hassle which could easily be avoided by coughing up a few bucks to take a taxi or a few quarters to take the public bus. The ruins themselves cost only $5 to enter, so if it is a hot day seriously consider sucking it up and paying for a ride up the hill.
Iguana Conservation Project
The Iguana Conservation project was another activity we had not planned on doing while in San Ignacio. In fact, we had never even heard of it until we arrived, showing how laser-focused our caving intentions were, as this is the #1 thing to do in San Ignacio according to Trip Advisor.
Located on the grounds of the San Ignacio Resort Hotel (which is BEAUTIFUL by the way) this program focuses on raising green iguanas in a protected environment with the intention of sustaining, and hopefully growing, the endangered reptiles’ population. Iguana is considered a delicacy in Belize and poaching has caused the population to dwindle.
After learning a bit about iguanas and the purpose of the project visitors get to enter the iguana habitat and hold some of the little green dragon-esque creatures. Because of the cold weather, the cold-blooded reptiles were moving particularly slowly that day and the iguanas we happy to pile up on our warm-blooded bodies.
Eat (at Erva’s)
Everywhere we ate in San Ignacio was delicious and with a dozen or so options on the main tourist street in town you can be pretty choosy about where you want to get your dine on. We ate moist grilled chicken at Jimmy’s Grill (owned by Mayawalk), savory stew chicken at Cenidas, spicy chicken soup called escabeche at Flayvas, and creamy soursop ice cream at Paradise Ice Cream Shop.
Our favorite culinary discovery, however, were the foot long burritos served at Erva’s Restaurant. These burritos are budget traveler heaven. For $4.50 USD you get an enormous, delicious meal accompanied by what my husband believes to be the best homemade habanero hot sauce on the planet. All three times we ate at Erva’s involved in-depth plans on how we were going to carry home some of this unbelievable hot sauce. In the end it was decided that is would be extremely difficult to keep the coveted sauce safe in our backpacks for the eight remaining weeks of our journey, so I guess we will have to return to San Ignacio someday, if only so Logan can taste Erva’s sauce one more time.
5. Read and Relax
After what may have turned into an expensive mistake on Caye Caulker I was feeling a bit anxious about showing up in another town without a reservation so when I finally found some internet on the island I booked us a room at The Riverpark Inn in San Ignacio. For $35 a night we had a private room with a private bathroom, air conditioning, a television and a shared balcony with hammocks.
While we could have found somewhere cheaper to stay, I am really glad we chose The Riverpark Inn. The owners could not have been nicer and its location a little outside town (about 15 minutes walking) in the lush jungle gave it a decidedly oasis-like feel. We spent the vast majority of our time in San Ignacio hanging out at our hotel, reading and relaxing in the hammocks. I even was able to get some writing done!!
What we WISHED we could have done in San Ignacio was visit the ATM Cave. Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM for short) is a cave that that the ancient Mayan’s used as a sacred temple. There are still Mayan artifacts as well as human remains inside the cave. SO COOL!!
We had booked an ATM tour with Mayawalk. Unfortunately the water level never went low enough for tours to safely run, so we were not able to visit this incredible sounding site.
Dollars and Sense
Cahal Pech- $5/ person
Iguana exhibit $9/ person
Cave Tubing (lunch included) and ATM Tour: $160/ person with Mayawalk, (we were refunded $85/ person when our ATM tour was cancelled due to flooding)
TIP: Most companies will give discounts if you book multiple excursions at a time.
TIP: Most restaurants, tour companies and hotels are located on or near Burns Avenue, making it a one-stop shop for all things a backpacker might need.