Looking for the top things to do in San Ignacio, Belize?
When you’re planning a Belize vacation, you have options. Are you looking for a tropical beach adventure, or would you rather visit a small Belizian town steeped in traditional Mayan culture?
What’s great about Belize is that you don’t really need to choose, as you can easily do both. Spend a few days in San Ignacio, Belize, and spend a few days on one of the Belizian islands.
Though I enjoyed both, I’ll admit that I really favored my time in the small town of San Ignacio. Crumbly Mayan ruins, incredible traditional food, Mayan culture, and more!
Do yourself a favor and decide to visit this town. Here are the top things to do in San Ignacio, Belize, along with some great suggestions for where to stay and where to eat.
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8 Top Things to Do in San Ignacio, Belize
San Ignacio is a small town only a few miles from the border of Guatemala. It’s rich in Mayan history, and there are several ruins and caves in the area to explore.
When I was starting to research the different areas in Belize and where I wanted to go, this town was a sure thing. It offers a great mix of things to do to give you a great in-depth feel for Belize.
It is such a fun place, and there are a lot of different things to do here. Here are some favorites.
- Visit the Mayan ruins at Cahal Pech.
- Learn to make traditional Mayan Chocolate.
- Go on a Mayan medicinal plant walk.
- Visit endangered green lizards.
- Shop in the San Ignacio market.
- Enjoy a traditional Belizian meal.
- Visit the ruins of Xunantunich.
- Enjoy the painted murals.
US dollars are accepted anywhere, so you don’t have to convert your money to Belizian dollars. As of this writing, $1 USD is worth $2 BZD. It makes it convenient for Americans, though keep an eye on the change you get.
1. Visit the Mayan Ruins at Cahal Pech
There are several different ruins in San Ignacio and within day trips of the town. You have a lot of crumbly ruins to choose from but don’t miss Cahal Pech.
It’s right in San Ignacio and a 20-minute walk from the town center. It’s a bit of a steep walk, but it’s nice, and you quickly get views of the area. Take a few minutes to enjoy the view as you catch your breath.
Cahal Pech means “House of Ticks,” in homage to the fact that the area was pasture lands. The hilltop home was owned by an elite Mayan family and was inhabited from 1200 B.C. to the 9th century A.D. It’s one of the oldest Mayan sites in this area of Western Belize.
The area is a collection of 34 structures. The tallest temple is set around a central acropolis and the tallest temple is 82 feet tall (25 meters high).
The excavation of this site began in 1988, and the restoration was completed in 2000 through the National Institute of Archaeology in Belize. There is a small museum on-site with images, artifacts from the area, and some fascinating history to read.
Cahal Pech is located at Constellation Blvd, San Ignacio, Belize. It’s open from 8 to 5, Monday through Friday, and costs 10 BZD, or $5 USD. Guides are available at the visitor center.
2. Learn to Make Traditional Mayan Chocolate
Belize is a great way to learn about chocolate production in the traditional Mayan methods. You learn about the discovery of cacao, its health benefits, and the role it played in ancient Mayan culture.
Ajaw Chocolate is a great place to go to do this. It’s right on the main road, just off the central part of San Ignacio. The owners are of Mayan descent and offer one-hour tours hourly all day. You can also tour the farm where they cultivate cacao.
Learn about the history and the role of this special plant. You can actually taste the raw fruit and the roasted beans. Then, use Adrian’s mano and metate traditional Mayan grinder to grind the beans to make raw chocolate.
Then, try it in the traditional way, mixed with hot water, allspice, and chile. It’s such an interesting short tour, and you don’t have to go home empty-handed. They have a small shop where you can buy some of their products to bring home to share.
AJAW Chocolate is located at Benque Viejo Road, San Ignacio, Belize. Tours are available for ages 8+ from Monday to Saturday, 9 to 6, on the hour. Reservations are available but not required, except for large groups, and the farm tour. Chocolate-making tours cost $14 USD.
3. Go on a Mayan Medicinal Plant Walk
The Mayan people learned the healing benefits of the plants growing in the forest around them. The jungle is a smorgasbord of food and medicinal plants.
The Lodge at Chaa Creek is a great place to go to learn more. They offer tours daily by reservation only, where you walk through the woods on the resort grounds to see all of the plants that grow naturally in the area.
The guide is amazing and has a passion for plants and Mayan history. You’ll learn all about the plants and their traditional uses. Many are used today in addition to Western medicine.
The lodge is beautiful as well, so it’s worth bringing a bathing suit to enjoy the pool. They have an incredible outdoor bar with infused liquors as well, including fun flavors like pineapple sorrel, lychee, and more.
The Lodge at Chaa Creek is located here on a map. Tours are offered by reservation only, so contact the hotel to schedule. They last for around an hour and cost $15 USD.
4. Visit Endangered Green Lizards
You might see iguanas all over Central America, but the green iguana local to Belize is considered threatened. This place promotes conservation efforts for this species.
They offer an educational exhibit to share information about green iguanas, demonstrating their importance to the local habitat. The Belize Iguana Project raises money for this cause and provides scholarships to local children.
5. Shop in the San Ignacio Market
What would a Central American town be without a central market? San Ignacio has a small market daily, but the Saturday market is the real deal.
Most of the stalls open with a wide array of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices. You’ll find clothes and pretty much everything you can imagine.
Pick up some spices to take home to remember your trip, or try a new fruit to see what you think. There are some small restaurants that offer great local food, and you’ll find lots of souvenirs to take home to share.
The market is located here on a map, near the edge of the downtown area.
6. Enjoy a Traditional Belizian Meal
There are a lot of great restaurants in San Ignacio and plenty that serves up great local fare. Pop’s and Martha’s Kitchen are great for breakfast and lunch.
Fry jacks are popular here, a small fried dough. You can get them as a side or stuffed with great breakfast food like eggs, peppers, and more.
Johnie cakes are popular as well, small, flour-based baked dough, almost like a southern biscuit but with a different texture.
For lunch and dinner, try the rice and beans with stewed chicken and fried plantain. This traditional Latin American staple tastes a little different in every country, and it’s especially good in Belize.
Also, try the coconut curry and some of the typical Latin foods like tacos and burritos. It’s all good, and the flavors may be a little different from what you’re used to.
Some of the top spots recommended by locals are listed below!
7. Visit the Ruins of Xunantunich
San Ignacio has not one but two incredible Mayan ruins to explore. This one is a short distance from the town center, and you’ll need to catch a ride to get there. Xunantunich is one of the best Mayan ruins in the area.
For your effort, it’s well worth visiting. There is a great small market at the river where you cross on a hand-cranked “ferry.” It fits a few cars and takes only a few minutes to cross.
Then it’s a mile or so up a hill. Taxis can drop you to cross the river and walk up, or they can cross with you to save you the trek.
There is a really interesting visitor center with the history of the location, artifacts, and information life at Xunantunich and the excavation of the site.
The grounds are beautiful, and you can walk up most of the structures that remain.
One of the most incredible aspects of the site is the friezes near the top of the largest pyramid, El Castillo. It was reinforced and recreated to preserve it, but it’s truly beautiful.
8. Enjoy the Murals
There are murals all over the center of San Ignacio. Go exploring and wander the small side roads in addition to the main streets.
You’ll find lots of different murals. Some of them are beautiful, and many seem to tell a message. There are some truly beautiful ones.
How to Get to San Ignacio
You have a number of options to get to San Ignacio from the Belize international airport. You can rent a car, which provides flexibility as to when and where you want to go.
There are also buses that will take you anywhere in the country. While the “chicken bus” sounds like an interesting experience, you may want another option if you’re limited on time.
You’ll also find shuttle services. San Ignacio is small enough to walk in most of it. And when you need it, you can get a taxi. So, getting a shuttle and the one we chose is a great option.
I did some research and found William’s Shuttle. William is very responsive. The shuttle costs $120 USD now (and he was apologetic for the cost increase due to the high cost of gas).
His driver met us at the airport. He was easy to find, nice, and drove well—pretty much all you can ask for in a driver! He did stop along the way so we could grab some snacks and stretch our legs.
Contact William through his website. He has a team of great drivers who are friendly, safe, and informative. They offer rides to and from the airport and the ferry in Belize City to San Ignacio and also to Placencia.
San Ignacio Day Trips
There’s a lot to do in San Ignacio, but it’s also worth going on a couple of day trips when you visit. Here are a couple of the top trips not to miss!
Day trip from San Ignacio, Belize, to Tikal, Guatemala
A top day trip from San Ignacio is a visit to the Mayan ruins of Tikal. Under ten miles to the Guatemala border, you cross, then drive a short way to Tikal.
This Mayan ruin is a UNESCO World Heritage Site well worth visiting. Over 400,000 people once lived there in a structured and complex society. After a number of years of drought, the people dissipated and moved to other areas in the region.
The jungle quickly took over the site until 1848, when it was discovered and excavated. Decades were spent rebuilding some of the important structures and areas.
Only around 15% of Tikal has been excavated, and it’s still a magical place. You can see the outlines of pyramids covered by the jungle and you can climb a number of the temples and pyramids, offering incredible views of the surrounding area.
A day trip is hardly enough time to see this incredible archaeological site. However, you can see the top attractions in a day. They also offer sunrise and sunset tours which are very popular.
The Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave (ATM) Day Trip
One of the most incredible things to do in the San Ignacio, Belize, area is to visit the Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) Cave. It’s an ancient Mayan spiritual place, a physical representation of the underworld. The many deep caverns and channels make it easy to see why.
It was used at the height of the Mayan Empire and when the civilization was failing due to a prolonged drought. At first, rituals were done with broken pottery left as evidence. However, when that was not successful, humans were sacrificed.
The cave is quite an adventure, requiring wading across a river multiple times and a short hike. The only thing you can bring into the cave is helmets with lights.
You need to wade, swim, and climb through the cave, skirting through some narrow spaces and climbing in two areas to get to the large upper chamber known as the Cathedral. In this area, you will find evidence of the spiritual rituals and the 15 skeletons of those sacrificed.
The cave has some incredible natural beauty to join the spiritual awareness. It’s a challenging trek but worth it to those willing to give it a go.
Images courtesy of Benedict Kim, Photographer.
How to Get Around San Ignacio
You can walk around most of San Ignacio. The town center is small, and it takes only ten to fifteen minutes to walk the distance.
If you walk to the ruins of Cahal Pech, it does get a little steeper and takes around 20 minutes from the center of town. It’s not a bad walk, and you’ll be rewarded with lots of shade once you get there.
When to Visit San Ignacio
The best time to visit San Ignacio is from January to March. It’s the drier season, and temperatures are beautiful, though it is humid year-round.
May through December is also a good time, as temperatures are hot and there isn’t a lot of rain. January is the coldest month, with a high of around 78°F (26°C). The hottest month is April when it’s an average high of 91°F (or 33°C).
The peak season for travel is January to March, so expect it to be busier with higher prices. In return, you get the best weather of the year.
How Much Time to Spend in San Ignacio, Belize
Planning a trip to Belize can be challenging as there are so many incredible places to see. However, don’t skimp on time exploring San Ignacio!
Between exploring the town and the many day trip adventures, there’s much to do here! We spent a week on our trip and could have easily spent more time.
We got to hit the top spots on our list, including several day trips, but we didn’t have the opportunity to see it all. Not bad for a small town, eh?
Spend as much time as you can here. You’ll want to spend around a week, if possible, to be able to see the top spots and have some chill time to explore and soak in the environments. It’s well worth it!
Best Hotels in San Ignacio
There are a lot of hotel options in San Ignacio. You’ll find a wide range of places, from tourist-class budget hotels to luxury resorts.
Some are in the town center, and others are a short way out. There are some gorgeous eco-resorts as well, though they are a ways from the town. It would be a bit of a walk, so you’d need a car or arrange some regular transportation.
If you don’t have a car, consider staying in or near the town center. There are a lot of different places to choose from in the area for every type of traveler.
Budget—Rainforest Haven Inn: We stayed in this hotel, and it was perfect! It was only around $60 USD a night. Nothing fancy, but we had a good-sized room with two beds, a private bathroom, air conditioning, and shared use of a small kitchen. It is right on the main street down on a quiet end, so we could walk everywhere within minutes.
Mid-Range—Cahal Pech Village Resort: This may include “resort,” but the price is just right for most. It’s a comfortable place with lots of nice amenities on the edge of town. It’s quiet, the grounds are beautiful, and they offer a lot of great tours as well.
Luxury—The Lodge at Chaa Creek: If you read about my Mayan medicine plant walk, you may have expected this resort to be listed. Wow. The grounds are gorgeous, as is the pool. And the outside bar has incredible infused drinks. Try the pineapple sorrel or lychee. Yum. They offer a lot of different tours, and most are free for those staying here.
Best Restaurants in San Ignacio
We had an incredible time eating our way through San Ignacio! There are so many great traditional Belizian restaurants. And my attitude is that when you’re traveling somewhere, go local!
- Erva’s—This was our favorite dinner spot. Their traditional Belizian meal of beans and rice, stewed chicken, and plantain was the best we had anywhere. And they have great (and cheap!) drinks.
- Cenaida’s—This dinner spot was a close second to Ervas. The food was great, though on the day we went, the service wasn’t quite as good.
- Martha’s Kitchen—This was our favorite breakfast spot, and we liked it so much that we went twice. Don’t miss the fry jacks.
- Pop’s—This is the top breakfast spot in town. They have some great food, though their prices were higher than Martha’s, and honestly, we were so happy with the courtyard and food at Martha’s we never made it to Pop’s. People RAVE about this place, though.
- Ko-Ox Han-nah—Mayan for “Let’s go eat,” this is another top local spot. The food is tasty and cheap, and it’s a nice, casual place on the main street, Burns Ave., making for great people-watching.
We got a recommendation to go to Tolacca Smokehouse in Santa Elena, a neighboring town just over the small bridge crossing the river. A local raved about it, but we didn’t have the best experience.
The service wasn’t great, and the food wasn’t cooked very well. We got a meat sampler, and it was quite chewy. It did have a nice patio with good views, though. And it was pretty busy, so it may have been an off night.
Don’t Miss the Top Things to Do in San Ignacio, Belize
Belize is a popular tourist destination known for its gorgeous beaches and incredible living reef. There are other incredible areas to visit as well as on the coast, and one of the best is in San Ignacio.
If you want to visit a bustling small town rich in Mayan culture and history, it’s a great spot. And it’s perfect for a day trip to Tikal in Guatemala.
I went to two spots in Belize, and I have to say, San Ignacio was my favorite. It is touristed, but not as heavy as the coastal areas. It’s an incredible place to go with a lot to do and a really cute small town worth seeing.
You Might Also Like
- Chocolate Tour Belize—AJAW Chocolate, San Ignacio
- ATM Cave Tour—Most Sacred Cave in Belize
- Belize Barrier Reef Snorkeling from San Pedro, Ambergris Caye
- 5 Day Trips from San Ignacio, Belize
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