Trust us when we tell you that most towns located within 30 minutes of a border crossing are best seen in your rear view mirror. Not so with San Ignacio. Sure it’s a border town. It’s less than 30 minutes from the Benque crossing into Belize from grimy Melchor on the Guatemala side. But despite its proximity to the border, San Ignacio is one of the more appealing towns in Belize with more Caribbean charm (festive colors, wooden bungalow architecture, creole accents, a languid pace) and less of the squalor of most towns in Belize.
Budget hotels in San Ignacio
San Ignacio also offers a range of budget accommodation options–a refreshing surprise in Belize which can sometimes be too pricey if you’re on a travel budget. We stayed at Nefry’s Retreat which has four peaceful, clean rooms with WiFi and A/C for around US$20. Not a rock bottom price, but it’s value for money. Located about a five minute walk from the bustle of the town’s main drag, we really liked the homey feel too.
Under construction when we were there (but open now) was a brand new very budget-friendly dorm WITH A/C located above the Mayawalk Tours office on the main street through town. The tour company has also added a new restaurant. Speaking of eating, be sure to have breakfast at Pop’s. This tiny diner-like institution is affordable and tasty but most of all it’s a magnet for the locals who sit around and gossip. Plus the coffee just keeps on coming…
One of the nicest pools in the area is tucked amidst private cottages in the back of the sprawling property at Windy Hill Resort. The infinity edge pool is on a small hill which means you get stunning views while you cool off. The 25 cottages at Windy Hill are not fancy, but they are solid value for money in the mid-range and perfect for groups, families or couples after a bit of privacy.
We liked owner Bob Hales right away, in part because he and his wife are from New Orleans. Even though it’s been years since they’ve lived there he still has his southern charm intact. We also like the love they’ve poured into this place, building it up from nothing but jungle over the past 25+ years. Opened in 1987, it was one of the first lodging options in the area. We were selfishly sad to learn that Bob has the place up for sale and we can only hope any new owners can manage to follow in his footsteps.
Oh, if the name Windy Hill sounds familiar that may be because one of the prizes on The Amazing Race was a week-long stay at the resort.
Jungle chic at Ka’ana Boutique Resort
Now for the very top end, which is surprisingly high. Ka’ana Boutique Resort manages to give the look and feel of the world’s chicest jungle lodges without the remote location (it’s just a few miles from town on the main paved road). The resort is owned by a very interesting group of shockingly young guys, one of whom has managed some of the best properties in Belize (Francis Ford Coppola’s Turtle Inn, for example).
The ambitious owners created a very world class design-centric boutique hotel with all the bells and whistles: great restaurant, wine cellar, festive bar, freshwater pool, a roster of top-notch tours and a full-service spa that also offers the unusual and powerful services of a Mayan Shaman who puts her intuitiveness, spiritual training and very strong hands to work after conducting a brief but revealing interview with you to determine what parts (physical and emotional) need her attention most.
Mahogany Hall southern plantation house, Belize style
Another luxe option in the nearby village of Bullet Tree Falls is Mahogany Hall, where the combination of sweeping and imposing architecture, polished wood and ample breeze and its location on the banks of the Mopan River give it a distinctly Southern plantation feel. That’s no accident. The gregarious owner is from the South. If you’re lucky he’ll take you tubing down the Mopan. Delicious.
No matter where you choose to set up your basecamp, be sure to book a few nights because San Ignacio is the gateway to a host of outdoor adventures in the area including the Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) cave, the Mountain Pine Ridge Area which includes the Caracol archaeological site, Barton Creek Cave, butterfly farms, horseback riding, wonderful hiking and more.
An exciting new development in the area is access to a brand new cave. Called Offering Cave, local operators told us the cave is an even more spectacular version of the ATM cave with its own ritual remains of ancient Mayan ceremonies and gorgeous cave formations. Tours should be available now.
Mayan ruins on your doorstep
There are even a couple of very local Mayan sites. We never made it to Cahal Pech but we did spend a couple of hours at Xunantunich archaeological site, just a short taxi ride from town. The name of this Mayan city, believed to be from the Classic period (200-900 AD), means stone woman in reference to a female ghost that’s said to wander around the place and into the stone walls. We were looking for her but we never saw her.
Xunantunich is a compact site with pleasant grounds and a handful of excavated structures–enough to pass a pleasant couple of hours and a great place to hang out (probably alone–except for the Stone Woman) on top of a temple and enjoy the park-like atmosphere.
Big truck. Small ferry. See how that worked out in our video, below.
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