Flashback: San Ignacio, Belize 2012

We arrived in Belize City early in the morning, rented a car, and immediately headed for San Ignacio (about a two hour drive). There are loads of accommodations to choose from while in San Ignacio, but the most popular is a jungle lodge. Of course the jungle lodges aren’t right in town and are instead scattered around the town in the jungle itself. Of course, these aren’t exactly in the budget category, but there are plenty of hostels in San Ignacio itself if you are looking for something cheaper. There is a wide range of prices and luxury available within the jungle lodge category. We choose one on the lower end (at least it was back in 2012) and loved our few nights stay there. The one major caveat if you choose a jungle lodge, is factoring in how to get into town. Many hotels can arrange transportation into town and to tours themselves, but it may be cheaper in the long run to rent a car for the days you are staying in San Ignacio. We rented a car for this portion of our trip and were happy we had the flexibility to drive ourselves around and offset some of the cost by being able to drive ourselves into town without having to pay extra.

We stayed at Table Rock Jungle Lodge, which is an eco-resort owned by an American couple who moved to Belize in 2002 and built the lodge. The lodge is surrounded by a wide variety of fruit trees, which you are allowed to pick and enjoy while staying on property. The lodge is a proud eco-lodge and provides electricity for only small electronics. Larger electronics including hair dryers will have to put aside for the duration of your stay at Table Rock. They provide outstanding meals for an extra charge and require a reservation the day prior. We ate two breakfasts and one dinner here and all three meals were excellent. I would highly recommend this lodge and would more than happily stay here again.

Table Rock Jungle Lodge Table Rock Jungle Lodge

Table Rock Jungle Lodge Resident donkeys at Table Rock Resident donkeys at Table Rock Fruit trees at Table Rock

Xunantunich was our first site we wanted to visit which is located just outside of San Ignacio. In order to reach the actual site, you have to cross the river which at least in 2012, was a hand cranked ferry crossing. Xunatunich dates from the Classical Period but was in prominence as late as AD 1000. The largest structure remaining is El Castillo which stands over 130 feet above the plaza level. El Castillo was likely a massive complex used for dwelling and administration by residents. We were able to climb to the top of El Castillo, and the view from the top was outstanding.

Hand cranked ferry across the river Xunantunich Xunantunich Xunantunich View from El Castillo Xunantunich Xunantunich

Cahal Pech was another Mayan site we visited on our first day in San Ignacio. Cahal Pech is one of the oldest Mayan sites in Belize, dating back to 1000 BC. It was the home of an elite Mayan family. While the site isn’t as well preserved as Xunantunich, it is in an idyllic setting within the jungle. It is also less crowded than the other nearby sites (Xunantunich and Caracol), so it’s a nice place to really walk around and enjoy the history there.

Cahal Pech Cahal Pech Cahal Pech Cahal Pech Cahal Pech

We did a couple tours while in San Ignacio, including a visit to Tikal, Guatemala. I will have a whole post dedicated to that day trip, but our trip to the ATM (Actun Tunichil Muknal) cave, I will mention here because I have no photos from that trip. About a week prior to our visit to ATM, a tourist dropped their camera damaging the famous skeleton in the cave. Tours were briefly halted altogether but were re-started just days before we came with the condition that cameras were no longer allowed. In the end, I’m actually glad of the decision. We were able to be fully in the moment inside the cave without worrying about trying to document everything. Also, pictures inside of a cave rarely turn out anyways because of such poor lighting.

When visiting the ATM cave, you will have a 30-40 minute drive from San Ignacio to the Mountain Tapir Nature Reserve, with a majority of the trip off road. After arriving at the sight, you will then hike 30-40 minutes through the jungle, crossing several rivers on the way to the cave entrance. You do need to swim a short distance to enter (and later exit) the cave. The ATM cave sight dates back to AD 300 and has been open to the public since 1998. Within the cave itself you will see the obvious cave formations in addition to lots of pots and sacrifice remains that were made to the fertility god. Of course, the most famous remain within the cave is ‘The Crystal Maiden’, a very intact skeleton that was thought to be a sacrifice victim. The Crystal Maiden is from AD 700-900. When we were there our guide mentioned that while they originally thought the remains were a female but that they were redoing testing because new evidence was pointing to it being a male instead. Doing research now, it does seem to be a male skeleton but is still referred to as The Crystal Maiden. Other notes for the tour, you will have to take your shoes off part way through the cave system in order to preserve the integrity of the remains, so make sure to bring an old pair of socks that you don’t mind if they get ruined. Bring a change of clothes also to change back into after the tour so you don’t have to ride back to San Ignacio in wet clothes and shoes. The tour is a bit challenging, but anyone with relatively decent physical shape should be able to handle it.

Another possible tour option you can do from San Ignacio is to the Mountain Pine Region, which we visited part of the region on our own our last day in San Ignacio. I will have a post upcoming about what we saw in that area, and what we didn’t have time for. You can read about all the Belize posts here.

Restaurant wise, we visited a couple restaurants in the San Ignacio region while in town. Our first day, we ate at Benny’s Kitchen near Xunantunich. Brian ordered their well known dish of rice and beans with chicken and I ate a chicken soup dish and watermelon juice. The food was good and incredibly cheap. Back in 2012 at least, our whole meal was under $15 USD. We also dinner one night at our hotel, Table Rock. The food there was excellent and highly recommend it as a breakfast and dinner place if you are staying onsite. I definitely would say not to eat all your meals there, as the food is more international in style, but very well prepared. Our final night in San Ignacio, we ate dinner at Han-nah’s, which was recommend by just about everyone we asked where we should eat in town. The food and drinks were both good!

Travel Tip: If you aren’t renting a car, there is public transportation available via taxi from the airport to the bus station and then a bus to San Ignacio town. We originally were going to go this route, until we decided to stay at a Jungle Lodge outside of town. The extra cost to transport back and forth from the jungle lodge to town for tours and such offset the price of a rental car. If you are staying in town itself, the bus is the cheapest way to go.


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