San Ignacio Tourist Attractions
San Ignacio sits in a valley of seven hills on the west bank of the Macal River. Also called "Cayo", San Ignacio is the administrative center for the Cayo District, relying on cattle ranching, tourism and small businesses.
San Ignacio offers a relaxing atmosphere and lively nightlife, and is a good base for exploring the Cayo District's outdoor attractions and Mayan ruins.Sandwiched between the confluence of the Mopal and Macal Rivers, San Ignacio was first known as El Cayo, Spanish for "The Island". During the time when river transportation was the norm, San Ignacio was a major collecting point for mahogany logs and chicle, a gum-like substance tapped from sapodilla trees. Boats carrying the mahogany and chicle would pass through the town, down the rivers en route to the coast.After the decline in logging and chicle tapping, San Ignacio's industrial focus shifted to agriculture and cattle farming. Today, the town has a diverse cultural makeup including Creoles, Mestizos, Mopans, Maya, Garifuna, Guatemalans and Sri Lankans. Spanish is widely spoken. Ecotourism is becoming one of San Ignacio's main industries, and several tour operators offering a variety of excursions are based in San Ignacio.
Green Iguana Conservation Project
Green Iguana Conservation Project is found on the grounds of the San Ignacio Resort Hotel, which is situated on a hilltop surrounded by 14mi/22km of rainforest. The grounds are home to 150 species of birds, various wildlife and 70 species of trees and plant life, earning the resort the nickname of the "only jungle in town". A 1mi/1.6km nature hike featuring labeled plants leads to the iguana hatchery, which features nurturing and breeding enclosures, incubators and a display of several iguanas. A few resting stops along the trail offer attractive vistas of the area.
Address: Box 33, Belize
La Ruta Maya Canoe River Challenge
Beginning in San Ignacio, the four-day La Ruta Maya Canoe River Challenge race retraces the river route of the ancient Maya and ends in Belize City. The race is held in early March.
Held during the Easter weekend, the Easter Fair in San Ignacio features live music, family entertainment and sporting events.
Held every Saturday morning, San Ignacio's market features farmers from all over the Cayo District offering fresh fruit, vegetables, jams and dairy products.
San Ignacio Surroundings
El Pilar Archaeological Reserve
El Pilar (Spanish for "water basin") is a Mayan archaeological site and jungle preserve shared by Guatemala and Belize. Situated 900ft/275m above the Belize River, the total estimate of the site is around 100ac/40ha. Only recently discovered, El Pilar is one of the largest archaeological sites in Belize, but little of its history is known since not much of it has been explored. El Pilar was inhabited and constructed over 15 centuries, beginning in 450 BC until 1000 AD.The large city was split into three districts and has 25 plazas and 70 major structures. Several structures remain underground and appear as jungle-covered mounds. Some of the largest buildings are centered around the 1.5ac/.6ha Plaza Copal, including 4 large pyramids and a ball court. Also a nature reserve, a variety of wildlife can be seen at El Pilar, including sloth, deer, tapir and armadillo. Birding is very good, recorded species including toucans, scarlet macaws and parrots.Six hiking trail systems are found throughout the reserve, emphasizing both nature and archaeology. Jungle preservation is a key goal of the reserve, which is only slightly cleared to emphasize the ruins. El Pilar was only reported in 1972 after a looting of the site, and excavations did not begin until 1993. In 1997, El Pilar was listed on the World Monuments Fund's 100 Most Endangered Sites in the World.
Xunantunich Archaeological Site
The Xunantunich archaeological site is situated on a limestone ridge overlooking the Mopan River. Built between 600 AD and 1000 AD, Xunantunich was a major ceremonial center. Archaeologists theorize that a possible earthquake in 900 may have badly damaged the city leading to its abandonment.The site has been open to the public since 1954 and includes 6 main plazas and 25 temples and other structures. There is an on-site museum offering the history of Xunantunich and its excavation. Xunantunich is Mayan for "Maiden of the Rock".
The El Castillo Pyramid is Xunantunich's dominant structure, and at 130ft.40m is the second tallest Mayan structure in Belize. Visitors can climb to the top and enjoy a panoramic vista of the Belize River valley and the rest of the archaeological site. The pyramid itself is lined with a stucco frieze, which is a decorative horizontal band encircling the exterior walls. Pieces of the temple's frieze were excavated in 1933, and work to uncover the temple's east side is ongoing.
Cahal Pech Archaeological Site
Located on a hill overlooking San Ignacio, Cahal Pech is a medium sized archaeological site of an ancient Mayan center. Its Mayan name means "Tick City", a nickname earned in the 1950s because the cows in the surrounding pasture were bothered by ticks. Settled around 1000 BC, the site was an important city between 300 BC and 800 AD, when it was then abandoned. The site spreads over 6ac/2.4ha and includes 34 buildings arranged around seven plazas.The tallest building at Cahal Pech is a pyramid temple rising 77ft/23m located off Plaza A. Other structures of interest include five stela (pillar monuments), an alter and two ball courts. A tomb revealed artifacts such as jade and obsidian blades, pottery and a mosaic mask made of jade and shell. The site was first recorded in the 1950s and heavily looted until the first major excavation led by Jaime Awe in 1988.
Rainforest Medicine Trail & Ix Chel Farm
Ix Chel Farm is an herbal-cure research center established by Dr Rosita Arvigo, who studied medicinal plants with a local healer named Don Elijio Panti. Panti used traditional Mayan healing methods in the village of San Antonio until his death in 1996 at the age of 103. Arvigo has pioneered several projects to spread the knowledge of Mayan healing traditions and rainforest conservation.The Rainforest Medicinal Trail (formerly Panti Rainforest Trail) is a self-guided path outlining the jungle's natural cures. Ix Chel Farm also features a botanic display called Granny's Garden with labeled plants such as lemongrass, ginger and basil. Associated medicinal uses and myths are described.
Address: General Delivery, Belize
Medicinal tonics made at the Ix Chel Farm are sold at Rainforest Remedies and can treat several maladies ranging from colds, backaches and digestive problems. The store is run by the Ix Chel Tropical Research Foundation, which also supports rainforest conservation and traditional Mayan healers.
Address: General Delivery, Belize
Western Belize Caves
Tropical Wings Nature Center
The Tropical Wings Nature Center is situated on 22ac/9ha of second-growth tropical forest in the Cayo District. The grounds feature a small museum offering exhibits and videos on tropical ecology, a screened butterfly house and an outdoor butterfly breeding facility. Ornamental and medicinal botanical gardens attract several bird species to the grounds, which also feature signed nature trails leading to on-site Mayan ruins.
Belize Botanical Garden
More than 150 native orchid species, palms, heliconias and other plant species are featured in the Belize Botanical Gardens near San Ignacio. The gardens offer several trails, one of which leads to a reconstructed Mayan home. The grounds also feature two ponds that attract several species of waterfowl. The Belize Botanical Garden was the country's first, registered in 1997.
Chaa Creek Resort and Blue Morpho Butterfly Farm
The Blue Morpho Butterfly Farm at Chaa Creek Resort offers a small display on the early Maya and archaeology. In the butterfly farm, only the blue morpho (Morpho peleides) is bred for export to the United States.The Chaa Creek Resort offers a variety of activities to guests including hiking, canoeing, and organized tours to Mayan ruins.
Address: Box 53, Belize
The Macal River winds through the towns of San Ignacio and Santa Elena and offers many opportunities for canoeing, kayaking and swimming. The Macal River was once a major throughway for lumber and chicle (a gum-like sap from trees) moving from western Belize to the coast. Several resorts and some of Belize's best jungle lodges lie along the Macal River.
Green Hills Butterfly Ranch
The largest living butterfly exhibit in Belize, the Green Hills Butterfly House was established by biologists Tineke Boomsma and Jan Meerman. Guided tours through the farm explain the butterfly life cycle and point out the several species of butterflies that are raised and in some cases exported.
Address: Box 208, Belize
There is a hiking trail around Aguacate Lagoon, offering opportunities for birding and crocodile sightings.
Yalbac Mayan Ruins
The small Yalbac Mayan Ruins site is situated in the Yalbac Hills and is reached by hiking.