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The 21 Best Things to Do in San Ignacio Belize (2023)

The 21 Best Things to Do in San Ignacio Belize (2023)

San Ignacio, in Belize, is a popular destination for backpackers to visit. During a trip to Central America, many backpackers end up in San Ignacio as they travel between Belize City and Guatemala. It’s certainly worth spending (at least) a few days in San Ignacio, Belize. There are several decent things to do in the town. But, in reality, it’s more about the awesome things you can do from San Ignacio in Belize.

To that end, in this San Ignacio travel guide, we’re going to tell you about the best things to do in and near the town. We’ll also cover details about all of the practical information to help you plan your trip.

Please read: 46 AWESOME Things to Do in Belize (Best Tours and Travel Tips)

San Ignacio Belize: The Ultimate Visitor’s Guide (2023)

Naturally, if you’re bouncing along the Central America Gringo Trail, you’ll wind up in the town of San Ignacio in Belize. After visiting Caye Caulker or Ambergris Caye on the Caribbean coast, most backpackers will head west to get to Guatemala to visit the famous Tikal National Park.

Those tight on time may simply bypass San Ignacio. Whilst those with a bit more time up their sleeve will usually spend 3–5 days in San Ignacio, Belize. After all, San Ignacio is positioned in an area rich with natural beauty and historical attractions. Indeed, for the ultimate Belize adventure, add San Ignacio to your itinerary.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll not only tell you what to do in San Ignacio, Belize. We’ll also cover all of the logistics of visiting. This will include information about how to get there, where to stay, the best tour company and what to pack.

FYI – the population of San Ignacio, Belize, is roughly 24,000 people, making it the second biggest town in the country.

Where Is San Ignacio, Belize?

San Ignacio is located in western Belize near the Guatemala-Belize border. Please click on the image below to access an interactive map of the area on Google Maps.

A screenshot of a map showing the location of San Ignacio in Belize
Map of San Ignacio, Belize

Best Things to Do From San Ignacio (Cayo District)

Let’s look at the best things to do during a visit to San Ignacio in Belize. As mentioned, the town itself has some interesting things to do and some nice places to visit. But, really, the best things to do are actually near San Ignacio – the town is essentially a gateway to some mindblowing historical and natural attractions located in the Cayo District.

With this in mind, we’re going to start by telling you about the best things to do from San Ignacio in Belize. We’ll then finish with some great things to do in the town itself.

1. ATM Cave

The Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave, commonly shortened to the ATM Cave, is a famous cave located in the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve. The cave is well-known for being a Mayan sacrificial site. Within the cave, you’ll find ancient Mayan artifacts, including skeletal remains, which are thought to be human sacrifices. A visit to the cave is an extraordinary adventure that involves hiking, wading, swimming and caving.

You’re only allowed to visit the ATM Caves with a licensed tour operator and guide. MayaWalk Tours is the most reputable tour company in San Ignacio, Belize, and they offer a brilliant ATM Cave Tour. We highly recommend booking this tour on Viator as the cancellation policy is much better compared with booking directly with the tour company.

Read more: ATM Cave Belize – The Ultimate Guide to ATM Cave Tours

Skeletal remains in the ATM Cave
Photo courtesy of MayaWalk Tours

2. Caracol Ruins

Located in the Chiquibul Forest Reserve, just south of the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, are the outstanding Caracol Mayan Ruins (AKA Caracol Natural Monument Reservation). Certainly, Caracol is one of the best Maya ruins in Central America, let alone Belize. One of the best things about visiting Caracol is that you’re allowed to climb some of the ruins. By doing so, you’ll enjoy sensational views of the archeological site as well as the surrounding forest.

There is no public transport heading to Caracol. Basically, unless you hire a 4WD and drive there yourself, doing a tour from San Ignacio to Caracol is really the only way of visiting the ruins. Because you’ll need to drive through the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve to access Caracol, most tours combine visiting Caracol with visiting Mountain Pine Ridge.

Viator offers this excellent Caracol, Rio Frio Cave and Rio on Pools Tour From San Ignacio.

Viator also offers another tour from San Ignacio that visits Caracol, Rio on Pools and Big Rock Falls. If you like chasing waterfalls, we recommend this option instead.

Otherwise, GetYourGuide offers a similar Caracol and Waterfalls Tour From San Ignacio that visits Rio on Pools and Big Rock Falls.

Read more: Caracol Belize – Key Things to Know About Caracol Ruins Tours

Beck and Dan at Caracol near San Ignacio, Belize.

3. Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve

The Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve is one of the most beautiful areas near San Ignacio in Belize. It’s been a protected area since 1944, mainly because the area is rich in pine forest – a type of forest that is unique in Belize. The forest reserve is around 776 square km (300 square miles), whilst the Macal River helps to form its boundaries to the west and south.

There are plenty of incredible things to do in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve near San Ignacio, Belize. The main attractions are wondrous natural sites such as Big Rocks Falls, Rio on Pools, Rio Frio Cave, Barton Creek Caves, Thousand Foot Falls, Butterfly Falls and Baldy Beacon.

Read more: Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve – The 9 BEST Things to Do

Dan and Beck at Caracol in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve

4. Big Rock Falls

Big Rock Falls is one of the best natural attractions near San Ignacio in Belize. Located in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, the captivating single-tier waterfall tumbles roughly 45 metres. Swimming to the Big Rock Falls is an awesome experience and one of the best things you can do during a trip to the forest reserve.

To visit Big Rock Falls, you’ll want to book one of the previously mentioned tours. These include Viator’s Caracol, Rio on Pools and Big Rock Falls Tour or GetYourGuide’s Caracol and Waterfalls Tour, both departing from San Ignacio.

Big Rock Falls in Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve

5. Rio on Pools

Rio on Pools is another spectacular natural site in Mountain Pine Ridge. It isn’t a waterfall, but rather a series of cascades, flowing over granite boulders. It’s also possible to swim at Rio on Pools, or, you can just simply observe the pools from a lookout.

You’ll find most tour operators offer Rio on Pools in their Caracol and Mountain Pine Ridge tour itineraries as it’s accessible and easy to visit. Indeed, all of the tours we’ve mentioned above include visiting Rio on Pools.

Rio on Pools, near San Ignacio, Belize.

6. Rio Frio Cave

Rio Frio Cave is yet another fantastic natural attraction in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve near San Ignacio, Belize. Undoubtedly, Rio Frio Cave is one of the finest caves in Belize. Best of all, it’s easy to access and explore. After a short walk, you’ll reach the amazing cave, where you can freely roam inside.

Often, Rio Frio Cave isn’t included in Caracol and Mountain Pine Ridge tour itineraries as a focus tends to be towards visiting Big Rock Falls and Rio on Pools. This is a shame as we think Rio Frio Cave is a stellar location worth exploring. To visit Rio Frio Cave, you could do Viators’ Caracol, Rio Frio Cave and Rio on Pools Tour From San Ignacio.

Alternatively, another option is to visit Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve without going to Caracol. That way, you’ll maximise your time seeing the natural delights of the reserve. This means more time exploring Rio Frio Cave and swimming at Big Rock Falls and Rio on Pools. Viator offers this Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve from San Ignacio, which exclusively explores the forest reserve.

Rio Frio Cave near San Ignacio, Belize

7. ​​​​​​​Barton Creek Caves

Barton Creek Caves (AKA Barton Creek Cave Reserve) is an awesome cave that is commonly explored by canoe. Alongside Rio Frio Cave, Barton Creek Caves is one of the best caves in Belize.

The best way to visit and canoe the cathedral-like wet cave is to do a tour from San Ignacio, Belize. Viator offers this incredible Barton Creek Caves Half-Day Tour.

GetYourGuide offers a similar Half-Day Cave Canoeing Adventure Tour, departing from San Ignacio.

Perhaps, the most action-packed option is to combine canoeing inside the Barton Creek Caves with doing the Barton Creek Zip Line. The zip line is a thrilling activity, which really makes the most of your time at the Barton Creek Caves. Viator offers this Barton Reek Caves and Optional Zip Line Tour.

8. Thousand Foot Falls

Thousand Foot Falls is another waterfall found in Mountain Pine Ridge. The Thousand Foot Falls are actually the highest waterfall in Central America. Unfortunately, the waterfall is difficult to reach because of extremely poor road conditions leading to the site. That’s why tour companies tend not to offer tours to visit this waterfall.

Unless you can negotiate a private trip with a tour company or hire a 4WD, then you may have to be content with just visiting Big Rock Falls and Rio on Pools (when it comes to chasing waterfalls).

9. Butterfly Falls

Butterfly Falls is yet another impressive waterfall within the forest reserve that isn’t straightforward to visit. The falls beautifully cascade 25 metres down into a turquoise-coloured pool. But, the waterfall is located on private property owned by the Hidden Valley Wilderness Lodge. Basically, to see Butterfly Falls, you’ll have to stay at Hidden Valley Wilderness Lodge. To get from the lodge to the waterfall, you’ll do an intense 30 minute hike.

10. Baldy Beacon

A lesser-known attraction in Mountain Pine Ridge, near San Ignacio, is Baldy Beacon. It’s essentially a small mountain, that’s one of the highest points in the forest reserve. But, the main interest surrounding Baldy Beacon is its unfertile soil. Certainly, the barren terrain of the area considerably contrasts with the dense pine forests, synonymous with Mountain Pine Ridge.

Admittedly, you won’t find Baldy Beacon included in any tours from San Ignacio, Belize. To visit, you’ll need to organise private transportation with a tour company or hire a 4WD and drive there yourself. Upon arrival, there is a trail leading to the summit.

11. Xunantunich Mayan Ruins

The Xunantunich Mayan Ruins are one of the most well-known Mayan sites in Belize. The ancient Mayan city once served as a ceremonial centre to the Belize Valley region. Nowadays, the ruins are one of the most popular tourist attractions near San Ignacio, Belize. Personally, Beck and I visited independently from San Ignacio. But, if you’d like to learn more about the Xunantunich Mayan Ruins, consider doing a guided tour.

Often, Xunantunich tours are combined with another activity, such as horseback riding or cave tubing.

Read more: Xunantunich Mayan Ruins – The Ultimate Visitor’s Guide

Dan at Xunantunich, which is just outside of San Ignacio in Belize.

12. Horse Riding Through Ancient Maya City Jungle

The Xunantunich and Horse Riding Tour is one of the most popular tours to do from San Ignacio, Belize. By doing this tour, you’ll not only enjoy a guided tour of Xunantunich, but you’ll get to ride a horse to the Mayan ruins! Indeed, horse riding through the jungle of the ancient Maya city is a truly unforgettable experience.

13. Jaguar Paw Cave Tubing

Another popular tour option that involves visiting Xunantunich is the Xunantunich and Nohoch Che’en (Jaguar Paw) Cave Tubing tour. Undoubtedly, Belize is one of the best destinations in the world for cave tubing. There are numerous cave tubing sites across the country. Certainly, cave tubing at Nohoch Che’en Cave (AKA Jaguar Paw) is another memorable experience. By doing this tour, you’ll really maximise your time exploring the best historical and natural attractions near San Ignacio, Belize.

14. Birds of Prey at the Belize Raptor Centre

The Belize Raptor Centre is an educational and animal rehabilitation centre located just outside of San Ignacio in the Cayo District. Visiting the Belize Raptor Centre is a fun ecotourism activity, where you’ll learn about birds of prey such as owls, kites, hawks and eagles. It’s an interactive experience, which is donation-based.

15. Belize Botanic Gardens

Located between San Ignacio and Mountain Pine Ridge, you’ll find the Belize Botanic Gardens. First-time visitors are recommended to do a tour (which usually costs around $7.50USD) to make the most of your experience. You’ll learn loads about the native flora, whilst the tour invites the opportunity for lots of walking and photography in a naturally beautiful setting.

16. Tikal National Park

One of the most popular things to do from San Ignacio is to visit the world-famous Tikal National Park in Guatemala. Indeed, San Ignacio is a great base for ticking off this bucket list item as it’s located near the Guatemala-Belize border. Viator offers this excellent and highly-rated San Ignacio to Tikal Day Trip.

Personally speaking, Beck and I didn’t visit Tikal from San Ignacio. Like other backpackers on the Gringo Trail, we made our way to Guatemala from San Ignacio, visiting Tikal from Flores. But, if you don’t have the luxury of time and you’re only based in San Ignacio for a few days, a day trip to Tikal could be the perfect option.

Best Things to Do in Downtown San Ignacio

So, now you know all about the best things to do from San Ignacio, Belize. Indeed, you wouldn’t visit this town without visiting at least some of the places mentioned above. Of course, there are some neat things to do in San Ignacio itself. Certainly, it’s also worth spending some time in the town itself rather than just jet-setting to nearby historical and natural attractions.

17. Cahal Pech

Cahal Pech is an outstanding Mayan ruin located in San Ignacio, Belize. Archaeologists believe that Cahal Pech is older than Xunantunich, despite Cahal Pech being a lesser-known site nowadays. The origins of Cahal Pech date back to roughly 1500–1000 B.C. The small Mayan site was once a ceremonial centre, with temples, palaces and a ball court. From town, it takes around 10 minutes to walk to Cahal Pech.

18. Green Iguana Conservation Project

Similar to the Belize Raptor Centre, the Green Iguana Conservation Project is a great wildlife conservation initiative. You’ll find an educational exhibit set up at the San Ignacio Resort Hotel, which tells you more about the endangered Green Iguana. The staff at the San Ignacio Resort Hotel are involved with the conservation of this amazing creature, so paying for a tour at the site helps support this initiative.

FYI – truth be told, you should see many Green Iguanas in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve!

19. Mayan Chocolate Making and Tasting Tour

AJAW Chocolate and Crafts offer fantastic chocolate making and tasting tours in town. They also offer combined chocolate making tours with wine tasting as well as tours with a visit to their cacao farm.

20. San Ignacio Market

San Ignacio is home to a huge market, where you’ll find excellent Belizean street food and local produce. Indeed, Beck and I found excellent fresh tropical fruits and vegetables during our visit. We found the locals at the markets really friendly and helpful. The market is especially buzzing on a Saturday when artisans from around the country set up stalls with handmade goods.

21. San Ignacio Street Art

One of the best ‘free things to do’ in San Ignacio is scoping out the town’s epic street art. There are a collection of amazing murals throughout the town, which tell the story of Belize’s heritage and culture. You’ll find the greatest concentration of street art at the corner of West and Far West Street and on Burns Avenue.

So, now you know about all of the best things to do in and near San Ignacio in Belize. We’ll now look at all of the nitty-gritty details for helping you book and plan your trip.

How to Get to San Ignacio, Belize

To do this trip from abroad, you’ll need to fly to Belize City as this is where the only international airport in Belize is located. Yes, San Ignacio airport is only a domestic aiport. When booking flights, you should definitely use Skyscanner to search for the cheapest flights. That’s what Beck and I always do.

To get from Belize City to San Ignacio, it’s possible to catch a domestic flight. But, flight departures to San Ignacio can be limited. By far, the easiest way to get from Belize City to San Ignacio is by driving. Viator offers excellent shared and private shuttle services to San Ignacio from Belize City International Airport. This shared shuttle service is the most highly rated on Viator.

If you’re travelling along the Central America Gringo Trail, you’ll likely be looking for an inexpensive option to get to San Ignacio. It’s easy to catch a chicken bus from Belize City to San Ignacio. This bus usually costs around $9BZ ($4.50USD) and takes three hours. There are usually a fair few daily departures.

Of course, you might be going from Guatemala to San Ignacio. In that case, it’s possible to catch a bus or shuttle service from Flores to the Guatemala-Belize border, cross the border and then catch a taxi to San Ignacio.

Guatemala-Belize border
Guatemala-Belize border

Last but not least, you could definitely hire a car in Belize City and drive yourself to San Ignacio. For car hire in Belize City, we highly recommend using DiscoverCars.com. You’ll find a wide variety of cars on Discover Cars for reasonable prices. Also, the website is user-friendly and booking online is super easy.

Where to Stay in San Ignacio

There are many excellent accommodation options in San Ignacio, Belize. Given the moderate size of the town, there should be an accommodation type to suit your budget. With this in mind, let’s look at the best budget, mid-range and luxury San Ignacio hotels and other accommodation types.

  • Budget – Yellow Belly Backpackers: if you’re looking for the cheapest accommodation, head to Yellow Belly Backpackers. The hostel is highly-rated and is popular with backpackers.
  • Mid-range – Matus Guest House: Beck and I stayed at Matus Guest House and thoroughly enjoyed it. The guest house is certainly the best value for money option in San Ignacio. A stay in a private room at this lovely guest house is a similar price to staying in a dorm room in a hostel.
  • Mid-range – Venus Hotel: indeed, Venus Hotel is one of the most highly-rated and best-reviewed places to stay in San Ignacio. With a spa and wellness centre on-site, Venus Hotel feels like a luxury stay without needing to pay an extortionate amount.
  • Mid-range – River Park Inn San Ignacio: a lesser-known mid-range option is River Park Inn. Guests rave about the value for money, the friendliness of the staff and the excellent Wifi.
  • Luxury – San Ignacio Resort Hotel: the San Ignacio Resort Hotel is definitely one of the nicest places to stay in San Ignacio. As mentioned, you’ll find the Green Iguana Conservation Project at the hotel.
  • Luxury – The Lodge at Chaa Creek: located in between San Ignacio and Santa Elena in the Cayo District of Belize, the Lodge at Chaa Creek is one of the most impressive places to stay in western Belize.

Where to Stay in Mountain Pine Ridge

Other than staying in San Ignacio itself, many visitors to the area stay in the nearby Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve. Indeed, there are many beautiful forest lodges and resorts in the reserve. Below, we’ll look at the best accommodation options in Mountain Pine Ridge, near San Ignacio.

  • Blancaneaux Lodge: this lodge is easily one of the best places to stay in the forest reserve. The lodge is beautifully set within dense pine forest, offering an excellent vantage point for birdwatching. The lodge features a forest garden, a shared lounge, terrace, restaurant and a bar.
  • Gaia Riverlodge: this is another gorgeous lodge found in the forest reserve. Offering a mixture of air-conditioned cabins, villas, bungalows and suites, there are plenty of great accommodation options at the lodge. Similar to Blancaneaux Lodge, Gaia Riverlodge also features a shared lounge, terrace, restaurant and bar. You’ll also have access to bikes, whilst swimming in the river at the property is another popular thing to do on-site.
  • Pine Ridge Lodge: this is yet another highly-rated lodge in the forest reserve, located near Blancaneaux Lodge. The lodge has all the necessary amenities and facilities you’ll need during a remote forest stay. Certainly, you’re guaranteed an excellent stay at Pine Ridge Lodge.

The Best San Ignacio Belize Tour Company

There are a handful of tour companies based in San Ignacio, Belize. But, without a doubt, the most highly reputable tour company in San Ignacio is MayaWalk Tours. Personally, Beck and I visited the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, Caracol and the ATM Cave with MayaWalk Tours. During these tours, we had exceptional tour guides, who were friendly and knowledgeable.

Beck stands next to Maya Walk bus

San Ignacio Belize Packing Checklist

These are the things you’ll want to wear and pack for your trip to San Ignacio in Belize.

  • Merrell Moab Mid Gore-Tex Hiking Boots: these are my favourite hiking boots. They’re super comfortable and lightweight. You’ll decent hiking boots when exploring the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve.
  • The North Face Venture Jacket: you’ll want a waterproof jacket when exploring Belize during the rainy season.
  • Osprey Skarab 30L Day Backpack: a great backpack for exploring the great outdoors, which has plenty of space to store your gear.
  • Columbia Convertible Trousers: a great way to cover your skin to protect yourself from the sun and ticks!
  • Swimming gear: you’ll need your swimmers if you want to swim at Rio on Pools, Big Rock Falls Barton Creek Caves and you’ll definitely need them at the ATM Caves!
  • Microfibre towel: a small lightweight microfibre towel is a great addition to dry off after swimming.
  • Sunscreen, hat and insect repellant

Travel Insurance For San Ignacio Belize

You’ll need travel insurance if you’re travelling to San Ignacio, Belize. This is especially true if you’re doing adventurous activities that are a little off the beaten track.

SafetyWing is an excellent budget-friendly travel insurance provider. Personally, Beck and I have used SafetyWing’s Nomad Insurance many times to insure our trips. The Nomad Insurance is fantastic value for money with a smaller additional cost to add a partner. Unlike most other insurance companies, there’s an option to pay on a monthly basis, similar to having a prepaid phone plan. Better yet, there’s no lock-in contract. In addition, you can cancel at any time, which will take effect the month after.

For shorter trips, it’s also possible to use Nomad Insurance for trips lasting just days or just 2–3 weeks. Indeed, SafetyWing is cheaper than almost all other travel insurance policies and covers just as much and sometimes more.

SafetyWing is a modern travel insurance company that is certainly leading the way in terms of how travel insurance should work in the future.

FAQs About San Ignacio Belize

Below, we’ll answer the most frequently asked questions about San Ignacio in Belize.

Why Visit San Ignacio, Belize?

As you’ve figured out from reading this guide, there are nice things to do in the town, whilst there are awesome historical and natural attractions to explore nearby in the Cayo District.

What Is San Ignacio, Belize Known For?

It’s the cultural and economic hub of western Belize. Whilst, it’s known to backpackers as a great base for exploring historical ruins and caves.

How Long to Spend in San Ignacio, Belize?

This all comes down to personal preference. Most backpackers on the Central America Gringo Trail will spend, on average, 3–5 days in San Ignacio. Personally, Beck and I spent three nights in the town and that gave us ample time to see many attractions in and near the town. Although, keep in mind, we travelled to Flores, in Guatemala, afterwards to do a day trip to Tikal.

To do all of the activities listed in this guide, you’ll want to spend at least one week in San Ignacio. Of course, if you wanted some chill time in between doing all the day trips and tours suggested in this guide, you may need closer to 10 days in San Ignacio.

Is it Safe to Go to San Ignacio, Belize?

Yes, it’s a safe place. But, of course, as always in Central America, use common sense and exercise caution to avoid any trouble.

How Far Is San Ignacio From Belize Airport?

San Ignacio is roughly 115km southwest of Belize City, which takes around 2–3 hours to drive.

Can You Drink the Water in San Ignacio?

No, tourists shouldn’t drink tap water in this town.

Is San Ignacio Worth Visiting?

Yes, absolutely. With so many brilliant historical and natural attractions near the town, San Ignacio is certainly worth visiting.

Bonus Tips

  • San Ignacio pronunciation: thankfully, pronouncing the name of the town is very straightforward. It’s pronounced practically as it’s spelled – san ig-nah-sea-oh.
  • Where to eat in San Ignacio, Belize: personally, Beck and I spent a bit of time at The Spot Cafe and Lounge. Located on Burns Avenue, The Spot Cafe and Lounge has lovely decor and great food. Otherwise, when it comes to the best San Ignacio restaurants, consider visiting Pop’s, Ko-Ox Han-Nah and Evra’s Restaurant.
  • Book your tours on Viator or GetYourGuide: yes, we highly recommend doing tours with MayaWalk Tours. But, honestly speaking, they offer a very lousy cancellation fee. If we’ve learnt anything from the pandemic, it’s to book tours in the most risk-averse way. It’s possible to book tours with MayaWalk on online travel operators such as Viator and GetYourGuide. That way, you can enjoy a tour with the best company in San Ignacio with the peace of mind of having a good cancellation policy in case the worst-case scenario plays out.

Central America Guides

Dan watches Volcan Fuego erupt
Volcan Fuego erupts – seen during a Volcan Acatenango tour

Please read our other Belize travel guides. Specifically, read more about the best snorkeling tours of the Belize Barrier Reef, including tours from Caye Caulker.

Daniel Piggott

Physiotherapist turned travel blogger, Dan is a keen hiker, natural wonder seeker and world traveller. He loves writing travel guides to help his readers explore the most beautiful destinations in the world.

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