I arrived in San Ignacio, Cayo District of Belize by bus from Flores, Guatemala. I have to admit I had a culture shock. The nature is almost the same, the distance from Flores to San Ignacio is about 3 hours by bus, but I arrived in a totally different country! From the relative cheap, lovely, tiny, Maya descendants, Spanish speaking, reggaeton music listening, almost shy people to more expensive, tall, dark black, Rasta hair, English/Creole speaking, reggae music listening, more pushy people. But after 3 days I was used to this interesting and vibrant people and beautiful country. The main reason why I stopped in San Ignacio, was to feel the jungle vibe at the Macal River and visit the Maya underworld in the Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) cave. In this travel blog tips, inspirations and information on San Ignacio and the ATM cave, Belize South America.
Tip: Ladies; be aware that the men here are more pushy and persisting than in the countries around.
Transport to and from San Ignacio
In Flores, Guatemala I booked the 8:10AM bus to San Ignacio, Belize with Fuente Del Norte La Pionera (125Q). The journey took us ±3 hours including border crossing. The bus dropped the tourists off at the Football Ground close to the center of San Ignacio; from where I could walk to my hotel.
My next destination in Belize is the Belize Zoo. At the bus stop on Savannah Street you can get two types of busses; the fast bus and the normal bus to Belize City. You have to take the latter in order to get out at the Belize Zoo or when you change busses in the capital of Belize, Belmopan to get to Hopkins, Placencia or other parts of Belize. Busses go frequently but they still could get busy; on the other hand the reggae music in the bus keeps you smiling!!
Tip: Watch your belongings in the public busses, I had no bad experiences at all and people are friendly, but be careful.
Things to do in San Ignacio
I did not much in San Ignacio itself, I stayed here only two nights and of which one day I went to the ATM caves (see below). It is nice to visit the local market of San Ignacio and walk around the streets. At the bridge you have a nice view over the river that crosses San Ignacio.
Very close to town you can see old Maya remains, but after Tikal I had seen the best; was my opinion. My room at the Maya Bella Downtown Hotel, which I will not recommend, is on Burns Avenue. The new rooms are overpriced and the hotel doesn’t have a good vibe. They were renovating and it was noisy; the rooms are not really comfortable and very basic. So not a typical jungle feeling….but I preferred to stay in town because easy access to restaurants and transport. That is why I booked my next accommodation close to the Belize Zoo; to get the real jungle feeling!!
Tip: Is was quite warm in San Ignacio and I wanted to cool off. The best way in town is to jump into the pool of the Midas Resort. Have a drink at the bar and relax at one of the beds besides the pool, perfect chill moment if your hotel doesn’t have a pool!!
Where to eat in San Ignacio?
In San Ignacio you can find decent restaurants with a diversity of food offering. My favorite is the Guava Limb; I would have returned if I stayed longer! Of course there are plenty of other restaurants and food vendors in the streets, pick your choice and enjoy the Creole kitchen; which mainly contains chicken and rice!
The Guava Limb Restaurant & Café: On Burns Street across the Macal River Park you have this nice cottage style restaurant with great fusion food. I loved my Gado Gado which I had on the balcony with view on the park and the display with cakes!!! So safe
Martha’s Kitchen: Perfect spot in the garden to have an English porridge with fruits and a breakfast tea. Something different than the tipico tortilla breakfast which I had over the last view weeks! It’s located at Bullet Tree Road and offers rooms as well.
Ko-Ox Han-Nah which means Let’s go Eat in Maya: Along the main Burns Road you will find this busy and very popular place where you have a great chicken curry (40BZ$). Go early; otherwise you have to wait in line outside.
Eva’s: Basic, colorful and popular restaurant in the busiest part of San Ignacio. The tables on the streets give a great Caribbean vibe and the shrimp ceviche (18BZ$) with taco chips tasted delicious!!
The Ice Cream Shoppe: If you want to cool-off and have a nice ice cream; go to this shop at West Street where you run into the local kids after school.
Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) Cave Belize
The Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) cave is the main highlight in the Cayo District and is even considered one of the best caves of Central America. I booked my ATM tour one day in advance at the well recommenced Mayawalk Tours in the main street of Burns Ave for 95US$/190BZ$. I heard and read that people find this tour very expensive; and indeed if you compare it to other counties it is. But please don’t skip this tour because of your budget; save money on beers and go visit these caves while you still can!!
Shuttle bus departed from the Mayawalk office in the center at 6:45AM; I borrowed some wet shoes there. I brought a small bag with me with some breakfast snacks (banana and muesli bars), dry clothes, flip flops, towel and some toiletries.
Tip: You will be get really wet during the whole trip so bring dry clothes and shoes with you; you can change after the tour in the special changing rooms.
After pick up we drove for more than an hour to the entrance of the Tapir Nature Reserve; a subtropical rainforest. Here you will get your helmet and instructions, which mainly contains; DON’T BRING YOUR CAMERA!! Which is a shame of course, so many nice things to see during this tour. A tourist damaged a human skull with a camera in the past; that’s why they have forbidden them…..what’s next… That is why the photos I used for my website are from Maya tours; this to give you a good impression of the tour.
After putting on our shoes and clothes that could get wet; and we walked for 45 min through the jungle. We crossed the Roaring River three times, so indeed you will get wet and cool off! Our guide stopped and explained a lot about the Maya culture and vegetation during our walk. After the walk we got our headlamp and instructions before entering the cave; I was getting very excited now!!
Tip: Don’t expect that you will be the only tourist here, during my visit I think ±100 people were entering the cave.
The entrance of the cave looks so amazing, the turquoise water and the mysterious cave in the background. Here the really adventure starts; climb and swim into the mysterious cave, which the ancient Mayas considered to be a portal to the underworld. Only Mayan priests and shamans dare to came to this cave and now we are walking the nine steps in and out of the Maya underworld.
The water in the cave can reach up to your ankles, knees, waist and at some points even your neck. Climbing is the other technique you need to control; at one point you will climb up to a big rock to enter one of the most attractive parts of the cave that looks like a natural Cathedral.
Archeologists found over thousand pieces of pottery and fourteen human sacrifices in the cave. To explore this Cathedral like chamber, you have to remove your shoes and walk on your socks to protect the natural surroundings. During the entire four hour walk in the cave you will witness impressive rock formations like: columns, stalactites, stalagmites and flowstones. Our guide shared fascinating stories about ancient Mayan rituals, human offerings and ceremonies that once took place here. The Maya displayed the pots in the cave as a symbolic way to communicate with their gods.
Walking back the same track along and through the Roaring River; made us hungry by now! We arrived around 14:00PM at the entrance where I changed into my dry clothes and ate the included lunch with the group. The rum punch made me sleepy and fell asleep in the shuttle. What a great tour!! Well organized, beautiful scenery, leaning about the Maya culture and surviving the adventures cave swimming and climbing! Go Go Go; ok it’s 95US$ but everything is included and it was definitely all worth it!
Thank you San Ignacio and ATM caves! Heading to Flores or Tikal, Guatemala or further to the Belize Zoo or Caye Caulker? Or more down South to Hopkins and Placencia.