San Ignacio, Belize
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What to See
Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM)
If you are wanting to do the ATM tour, try to go with Mayawalk Tours in the main street on San Ignacio and, if possible, ask to go with Martin. While on our tour, he was incredibly insightful with regards to the traditional medicinal plants found in the jungle and offered us a great introduction to some Maya beliefs and rituals whilst inside the caves. There were other tour groups simply trudging through the cave with guides who clearly did not respect the environment as much as Martin did. Definitely a tour well-worth the money!
I can't believe I almost skipped this!! It is now on my top 5 travel experiences of all time! The day begins early with an hour long bumpy ride to the edge of the jungle. Then you follow an easy trail through thick rainforest that crosses through a river three times for about a mile and a half (bring shoes that can be totally submerged). Next you hop into the river and follow it up into one of the most beautiful cave entrances imaginable. Then you swim, squeeze, and crawl your way into the cave until you are about half a mile in. Next, you climb up a series of ledges emerging into a series of naturally carved rooms used by the Mayans for making offerings to the Gods. The entire trip takes the better part of the day, but is so amazing!
Where to Stay
We stayed with Bing (or Mr Bing depending on who tells you to go there) for close to a week in June, 2013. He has a number of private rooms and two cabanas on his property, and also allows camping amongst his fruit trees. He is an extremely friendly, accommodating and helpful host, who loved to have a chat, and help wherever he could. Not 100% sure of the private room prices, but camping was about $10BZ per night, per person. The property is right on the river and is a lot quieter than anywhere in town. Ask around in town, and someone should be able to direct you there (about 5-10min walking).
The Tropicool Hotel is a great place to serve as a base for your adventures in San Ignacio. It's located behind Pacz Tours on the main drag, but the reception is actually a few doors down at the gift shop. The hot showers were an added bonus. Tropicool provides their guests with towels and soap, and keeps the place tidy and clean. Rates are BZD$30 (USD$15) for a private with shared bath.
What to Eat
Mincho's serves up some thirst-quenching natural juices. Choose from their list of watermelon, papaya, orange, lime, coconut and horchata. Drinks are only BZD$1.25. We didn't try the menu though their garnaches have been vouched for.
So spicy. So good. If you're in San Ignacio, head to Benque Viejo Rd and look for the taco stand across the street from Cayo Twist. Ask for Gloria to know you're in the right place. The tacos are stuffed with shredded chicken, cabbage or onion, and a delicious green sauce. I don't know what kind of appetite you guys have, but I put down 12 myself. Gloria's is open from 6:30am until 10:00pm every day.
Where to Shop
Every Saturday, all the local farmers and handicraft artists around Cayo come to San Ignacio for Market Day. The day gets started early around here with booths being setup and ready for business by 5:30am. The market is right next to the bus station and has over 100 vendors, including fruit/vegetables, meats, street foods, toys, handicrafts, art, and other random stuff.
On Saturday, you can find a dizzying array of street food, produce, orchids, souvenirs, household goods, homemade rum, meat, fish, and everything else you can think of at the San Ignacio market. The market draws in farmers, artisans, and other vendors from the region, including the Mennonites, who are known for their sausage, dairy products, and produce. Head toward the tents near the main bus terminal and bring cash.