San Ignacio, along with its neighbor Santa Elena, make up the second largest urban area in Belize, but still only have a combined population of around 14,000. Far from Belize’s famous beach and island destinations, San Ignacio is near the border of Guatemala and a popular stopover for people traveling between Belize City and the Flores/Tikal ruins.
Situated between two rivers in a forest region, San Ignacio is also home to some excellent nature excursions in addition to the modest Mayan ruins of Cahal Pech nearby. English is the official language of Belize, but San Ignacio is a very mixed city and Spanish is often used. The towns also have quite a few ethnic groups represented, including a rather large Chinese population.
Hotels/hostels – There are no standard hostels operating in the San Ignacio area, even though this is a major hub for backpackers and young people. Prices of the small and friendly hotels in the area are quite reasonable so there isn’t much demand for dorm-style accommodation. There are plenty of budget San Ignacio hotel options in and around the town. Quite a few modest and family-owned small hotels are popular with the backpacker types, and a few large and lush resorts are available for people on a bigger budget.
What to do – Unlike the beach and island areas in Belize, there are many and varied options to keep visitors as busy as they’d like:
- Cahal Pech – These Mayan ruins are the most popular attraction in the area, but are still quite modest compared to Tikal near Flores in Guatemala. There are 34 structures that were abandoned for over 1,000 years on two acres in Cahel Pech. Tours last about an hour and admission to the grounds is about $2.50.
- Iguana Conservation Project – This facility was set up to save the local green iguanas, who had been hunted to near extinction. They grow up to 6 feet long and visitors can see them up close.
- Outdoor activities – There are kayak rentals on the Macal River, as well as bicycle rentals available in town. The city itself is fairly compact, but the area is rich in scenery so a bicycle is an ideal way to see some of the outlying sections. An interesting medicinal nature trail leaves from the San Ignacio Resort Hotel.
- Saturday Market – Each Saturday the locals from the surrounding villages all come together for a popular food market featuring loads of tropical specialties native to the area.
Getting there – There is no commercial airport near San Ignacio, but bus service is frequent. Buses from Belize City arrive about once an hour and the trip takes about 2 and a half hours. Some companies operate shuttles directly from the Belize City airport into San Ignacio, which are more reliable than the countries sometimes-questionable bus network. Long distance bus services between Belize City to Flores usually stop in San Ignacio, so this can also be used as a one-day stopover if you are connecting those two cities.