Depending on what time your flight lands in Belize City, you can opt to spend the night or head east to San Ignacio directly from the airport. Don’t worry about missing the sites of Belize City – you will see them when you head to the water taxi terminals.
San Ignacio is only 100 kilometers (63 miles) from Belize City, but the road has numerous few speed bumps that will catch you off guard if you aren’t paying attention! Expect a travel time of 2-3 hours. San Ignacio is a great base for visiting the Maya ruins of Caracol, Tikal, Guatemala, Xunantunich, Cahal Pech, as well as cave tubing or spelunking the ATM Cave.
What to do:
* Start with the Xunantunich and Cahal Pech Maya ruins close to town
* Take a guided tour across the Guatemalan border to UNESCO Heritage Site Tikal
* Join a military escort to see Caracol, a few hours drive from town
* Cave Tubing and the ATM Cave
There are quite a few options for accommodation in the center of town. Settle in and then head out for a meal. The downtown is small and easily walkable, including a pedestrian only street. If you arrive early enough, you may be able to see a few of the nearby Maya ruins. If not, save your energy for the next day.
The two closest ruins are Xunantunich and Cahal Pech. You will need transportation (driving, local bus or taxi) to get the Xunantunich. A few miles out of town, before the Guatemalan border you will see a small hand cranked ferry on the right that will transport you to the archaeological site. Once inside, visit the courts of ancient ball games, and climb the 40-meter (130 feet) tall El Castillo for a panoramic view of the lush rainforest below.
Cahal Pech is walkable from the San Ignacio city center. Built in a different era than Xunantunich, Cahal Pech has a maze-like feel through several adjacent rooms.
Local guides are available for most of the historic sites in Belize for a reasonable price. They will enhance your knowledge of the area, although there are times when you may opt to wander the site at your own pace.
Your next few days in San Ignacio will take some planning due to the number of nearby activities, but there are plenty of tour operators in town that can help you. You are close enough to Guatemala to see Tikal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the largest urban centers of Maya civilization.
Back on the Belize side, 40 kilometers away from San Ignacio is the Maya Ruin of Caracol. It is recommended to join the military convoy from Douglas Da Silva Station to this site, which leaves at 9:30 am and returns at 2 pm. You can take a guided tour from San Ignacio or self-drive.
You can also use San Ignacio as a base for cave tubing and touring the Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) cave. These activities can also be visited from Belize City or Caye Caulker with a local guide.
If you are cave tubing, try to avoid cruise ship days as you will be subject to in-cave traffic jams. Cave tubing is a fairly relaxing adventure with a beautiful nature hike at the beginning. For all cave entries, you will need an approved guide, although it is possible to drop in and join a group.
The ATM cave is an experience not to be missed. A moderate level of physical activity is recommended as you there will be swimming (life jackets are available), climbing, and squeezing your way through the cave’s chambers. In the dry chamber you will walk among ceramic, stoneware, and skeletal remains of Maya sacrifices dating back to 700-900 AD.
Off the beaten path:
The ATM cave is a must see. It is unbelievable that tours are still allowed at this ancient site, although cameras are not allowed after one of the site’s skulls was damaged. According to local guides, other caves have been discovered nearby that contain thousands of human remains.
Head south along the Hummingbird Highway to Hopkins and Placentia, appreciating the scenic drive along the way.