16 AWESOME Things to Do in San Ignacio, Belize

San Ignacio is a popular hub for adventure-seekers to Belize and one of the best places to visit in Central America. Located in the Cayo District in far western Belize, a visit to San Ignacio will not only give you a true taste of Belizean culture, it will situate you nearby many of the most popular things to do in mainland Belize.

From Mayan ruins to waterfalls, caves, nightlife and rugged Eco-friendly lodging, San Ignacio is an unforgettable experience.

Traveling to this region of Belize provides a real understanding of the culture and the way of life in western Belize. Although the small town draws its fair share of tourism, it does not have a touristy feel at all.

Still you’ll find plenty of things to do in San Ignacio, Belize whether you’re visiting Belize with kids, traveling alone, or traveling as a couple

This San Ignacio travel guide details the best places to visit and the most popular tours and things to do in San Ignacio and the surrounding area.

About San Ignacio, Belize

San Ignacio Belize
Wandering the streets of San Ignacio in the morning, when it is still quiet and streets are empty.

San Ignacio is roughly 20 minutes from the Guatemalan border. It serves as a popular base town for adventurers who want to explore the dense jungles of Belize and visit some of the famous Mayan ruins in Belize. It also is a great stopping point for backpackers who are planning to cross into Guatemala from Belize

The Cayo District is known for its dense forest filled with ancient archaeological wonders and natural beauty. 

With a population of less than 25,000, San Ignacio is a relatively small town, although it is the second largest city in the country. You will not find fast food restaurants or American chains in San Ignacio. Instead, you’ll find delicious, homegrown food prepared in locally-owned restaurants.

You’ll stay in boutique hotels and Eco-lodges, and shop in local markets and small businesses run by local artisans and pop-up vendors. 

It is a refreshing place to slow down and enjoy a simpler way of life, to connect with nature, and feel completely immersed in a culture that may feel very different from that which you are accustomed to.

Also read: Weird things you’ll see in Belize and Guatemala

The most memorable things to do in San Ignacio, Belize

While many people stay in the town and venture out to explore the area around it, there are plenty of things to do in San Ignacio, as well. If you plan to visit this part of Belize, here are seven awesome and memorable things to do in San Ignacio and the Cayo District.

  • Stay in a jungle lodge
    • Chaa Chaa Creek Lodge
    • Table Rock Jungle Lodge
  • Enjoy the atmosphere of the town
  • Get in touch with nature
    • Green Iguana Conservation Project
    • Medicinal Jungle Trail
    • Green Hills Butterfly Ranch
  • Visit Mayan ruins
    • Xunantunich
    • Cahal Pech
    • Caracol
  • Visit majestic waterfalls
    • Thousand Foot Falls
    • Big Rock Falls
    • Rio On Falls
  • Explore the underworld
    • ATM Cave
    • Rio Frio Cave
    • Barton Creek Cave
  • Swim, tube, or canoe along the Macal River
  • Day-trip into Guatemala to see Tikal National Park

See the best excursions and guided tours in San Ignacio, Belize

Stay in an Eco-lodge jungle resort

In the remote jungle surrounding San Ignacio you will find a variety of beautiful, relaxing resorts offering private cabanas and plenty of on-site activities. Many of these jungle lodges are sustainable and Eco-friendly, an environmentally friendly concept that Belize is known for

While many think that green lodging will be basic or primitive, that is not the case at many of the jungle lodges in Belize. Many offer exceptional family amenities and on-site activities like canoeing and hiking, and have concierge services that can assist in booking excursions or guided tours. 

The properties are beautiful and luxurious and intended to help you relax while reducing the inflated carbon footprint many typical hotels create.

Staying in a jungle Eco-lodge in San Ignacio allows families to escape the busyness of modern life and explore nature off the grid.

Here are the best Eco-lodges near San Ignacio.

Table Rock Jungle Lodge

Table Rock Jungle Lodge in Cayo District Belize
There are a lot of great jungle lodges that are perfect for a fun and relaxing trip to San Ignacio.

Table Rock Jungle Lodge is one of the premier places to stay in San Ignacio. Located about 10 miles outside the town, down a small, rural road, the property utilizes commercial fans powered by solar energy instead of air conditioning.

In this area of the country, very few buildings or homes have central heat or air. Electricity and Wi-Fi are also limited.

Food is grown on the property. And the water from the faucet is not drinkable because it is rain water that has been collected for use.

Complimentary on-site activities include hiking, canoeing, bird watching, swimming, and visiting the resident donkeys. 

Read our full review of Table Rock Jungle Lodge or book your stay here.

The Lodge at Chaa-Chaa Creek

The Lodge at Chaa-Chaa Creek is perhaps one of the most popular jungle lodges in Belize, particularly for family travelers.

Set on a 33-acre organic farm in the secluded jungle, this jungle resort offers complimentary guided tours of the Rainforest Medicine Trail and their on-site Butterfly Farm, as well as canoeing, hiking and bird watching with a naturalist guide.  

The accommodations range from Eco-pods, similar to tree houses, to fully air-conditioned villas with private Jacuzzi and butler. 

Other places to stay in San Ignacio

Not interested in a jungle lodge? San Ignacio Resort Hotel will give you the jungle feel with the luxury of a modern resort.

Bonus: it is in town within walking distance to restaurants and shops and right next to the Iguana Project! 

Enjoy the atmosphere of the town of San Ignacio

San Ignacio Belize at night
Wandering the streets in town is one of the best things to do in San Ignacio, Belize. The town has a great atmosphere both during the day and at night.

In the heart of San Ignacio there are a variety of unique shops and restaurants. It is a great place to spend an afternoon shopping and roaming the streets or an evening out enjoying the atmosphere and nightlife.

Eat at least one meal at one of the locally-owned restaurants in the town and order authentic Belizean cuisine.

Belize has some of the best food that we have tried throughout our travels across Central America. Rice and beans are both staples in Belize, as they are in many Latin cultures. In fact, beans are often served with breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Fry jacks are another incredible food often served with breakfast in Belize. A fry jack is similar to a sopapilla and can be dipped in honey if you like your breakfast on the sweet side.

We found the price of food and drinks in San Ignacio very reasonable and inexpensive. Our beers cost about $2 American dollars.

A margarita or mixed drink will cost about $5 American dollars. A plate of food typically costs less than $10.

Visit the San Ignacio Market

San Ignacio Local Markets
Visiting the San Ignacio market is one of the best things to do in San Ignacio on weekends.

Saturday is a great day to walk around San Ignacio because the city hosts a thriving large weekend market. Local vendors bring their goods, fresh produce, and handmade crafts to the market to sell.

Music carries across the tents and stalls, and you’ll find locals breaking out in spontaneous dance. It is a great atmosphere! 

When you buy from the market you know you are also helping to support a local family. The prices are all very inexpensive compared to American standards. You can find some unique gifts or special souvenirs.

We loved walking around the market, perusing the different tents, and taking in all the sights, sounds, and smells.

Get in touch with nature

All around San Ignacio you’ll find jungles, nature reserves, and conservation initiatives aimed at maintaining and restoring the natural ecosystem in the Central American country.

In fact, learning about the plants, animals and wildlife that are native to the country is one of the best things to do in San Ignacio, Belize and the surrounding area because it will give you a better appreciation of the region.

Green Iguana Conservation Project

a green iguana in Belize
While you can find iguanas in the wild in Belize, you can learn about these fascinating lizards and their habitat at the Green Iguana Conservation Project in San Ignacio.

Iguanas are native to Belize and can be found throughout Central America, the Caribbean, and South America.

At the Green Iguana Conservation Project, run by the San Ignacio Resort Hotel, you can learn about the Green Iguana, it’s threatened habitat, its life cycle, and its vital role in maintaining ecological balance.

The iguanas at the sanctuary are very friendly and are not scared of humans, so you’ll have the opportunity to hold them and bond with these beautiful creatures. 

Medicine Jungle Trail

The Medicine Jungle Trail is a quick 45-minute leisure walk surrounded by plants and herbs that have been used for medicinal purposes for centuries. Some of the plants are believed to have antibacterial and anti-fungal properties while others are used to treat stomach aches, cramps, or numb pain.

You’ll also find plants that were once used as a form or torture by the ancient Maya people due to the painful blistery rash, similar to poison ivy. 

Green Hills Butterfly Ranch

a blue morpho butterfly sitting on a leaf
The Blue Morpho is one of the main attractions at the Green Hills Butterfly Ranch

Belize is home to more than 700 species of butterflies. The largest live butterfly display in the country can be found just outside San Ignacio at Green Hills Butterfly Ranch.

You’ll find a variety of different butterflies at the ranch, including the beautiful Blue Morpho, one of the main attractions at the ranch. 

Visit ancient ruins

Around San Ignacio, you will find several of the best Mayan ruins in Belize. While there are ruins across the country, the tallest, largest, and most impressive ruins are located in the Cayo District, where San Ignacio is located. 

Xunantunich

people walking up steps at Xunantunich, one of the best attractions in San Ignacio Belize
Xunantunich is one of the best Maya sites in Belize, and it’s only 10-15 minutes outside of San Ignacio.

About 10-15 minutes outside of San Ignacio and about a mile from the Guatemala border, you’ll find Xunantunich. Xunantunich is the tallest of the Mayan pyramids in Belize. In fact, from Xunantunich you can look across the border into Guatemala.

It is an easy self-drive if you are renting a car and driving in Belize, or you can book an excursion or guided tour. 

Cahal Pech

Cahal Pech is located near the southern edge of San Ignacio, and it is definitely worth a short visit. You can easily walk to it from the town center.

Although not as impressive as some of Belize’s other Mayan ruins, it is conveniently located and doesn’t take long to explore. It was once believed to be the home of a wealthy and powerful Maya family. 

Caracol

Caracol mayan pyramids
Caracol is the largest Mayan ruins site in Belize, and makes for a fun day trip from San Ignacio.

Although Caracol is roughly a 2-hour drive from San Ignacio, we are including it because most people who visit Caracol stay near San Ignacio and book a guided excursion.

Caracol is the largest of the excavated Mayan ruins in Belize, making it the most impressive to visit. 

Getting to Caracol from San Ignacio requires driving through a mountain forest reserve on some very bumpy dirt roads, so if you do not rent an SUV, we strongly recommend booking a guided tour that will pick you up at your hotel, hostel,  or jungle lodge. 

Discover majestic waterfalls 

Another one of the great things to do in San Ignacio, or in the nearby area, is to venture into the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve. If you plan to do a self-drive into the reserve you will want to rent a 4-wheel drive, all-terrain vehicle.

While a 4-wheel drive vehicle isn’t necessary when driving in Belize, when sticking to the highways and main roads, in reserves, like Mountain Pine Ridge Forest, the roads are not paved and very rough and bumpy.

Thousand Foot Falls

thousand foot falls in belize
Thousand Foot Falls is the highest waterfall in Central America.

The reserve is home to several popular waterfalls, including Thousand Foot Falls, the highest waterfall in Central America. The cascading waterfall, also known as Hidden Valley Falls, plunges 1,600 feet into a deep pool at the bottom of the mountain.

The waterfall derives its name from its awe-inspiring height. There are hiking trails leading to viewpoints that provide stunning vistas of the falls and the surrounding dense jungle.

Big Rock Falls

big rock falls in the mountain pine ridge forest reserve
Big Rock Falls is a beautiful waterfall near San Ignacio that cascades into a calm pool that is perfect for swimming.

Another great waterfall in Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve, Big Rock Falls is one of the most beautiful cascades in the nature reserve.

Cascading over massive granite boulders, the falls is just a short scenic hike from the small parking area. It is important to note however, getting to the parking area requires a drive down a very bumpy road that can become quite muddy after it rains.

The pool that forms at the base of the waterfall is gentle enough for a refreshing swim on a hot day.

Rio On Pools

Rio On Pools Belize
Rio On Pools, a great place to cool off while chasing waterfalls near San Ignacio.

Another popular swimming hole in the Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve, Rio On Pools is a popular stop on guided tours to Caracol. Comprised of a series series of small cascades, that create shallow pools, this is a great place for splashing in the water. 

Plan to spend a full day in Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve, as the road is very rough and bumpy, so driving will be slow and challenging.

Explore the underworld of Belize 

Besides ruins, mainland Belize is perhaps best known for its extensive systems of caves, and there are several notable around San Ignacio to explore.

ATM Cave

For adults and those traveling with older children, San Ignacio is also a great place to stay if you plan to visit the Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) cave, one of the more adventurous and challenging cave experiences in Belize.

ATM is the most popular cave tour in Belize, and takes you deep into a cave once used for human sacrifices to the Mayan gods.

Getting into the cave requires hiking and swimming, but once inside you’ll see ancient artifacts and skeletons of those sacrificed and left in their final resting place.

Rio Frio Cave

Father and child exploring Rio Frio Cave one of the best things to do in San Ignacio, Belize
Rio Frio Cave in Belize, one of the best caves in Belize to explore with kids

One of the only dry caves you can explore near San Ignacio, Rio Frio Cave is also the cave with the largest natural opening in Belize. The 70-foot high opening to the cave greets visitors with what promises to be an exciting adventure.

Located in Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, and not far from Rio On Pools, Rio Frio Cave is home to enormous boulders you can scramble across as you make your way through the dimly lit cave surrounded by stalactites and stalagmites.

The walk through the entire cave from the main entrance to the other side is roughly a quarter of a mile. Unlike many other caves in Belize, this one can be explored without a guide.

Barton Creek Cave

a canoe on Barton Creek
Taking a canoe along Barton Creek into Barton Creek Cave is one of the best cave tours in Belize.

Barton Creek is another popular wet cave near San Ignacio, Belize. But rather than swimming to get inside the cave, you’ll canoe into it.

Because Barton Creek Cave is another significant Mayan archeological site where remains from at least 28 people have been found, touring it requires a guide. But because no swimming is required, this tour is more suitable if visiting Belize with young children, elderly individuals or those with physical limitations.

Swim, tube, or canoe in the Macal River

The Macal River in Belize
The Macal River, which flows through San Ignacio, Belize is a popular place for water activities.

Right next to the market in San Ignacio, you’ll find a shallow river where locals like to splash and play.

The Macal River also runs directly through many of the jungle lodges, many of which offer complimentary canoes and river tubes for guests enjoyment. River activities are especially refreshing on a hot, muggy summer day.

Day trip into Guatemala  

Tikal National Park with a toddler and father walking in front of a pyramid
A day trip into Guatemala is one of the best things to do while vacationing in San Ignacio, Belize.

San Ignacio’s location in far west Belize makes it the perfect place to base yourself for a quick day trip into neighboring Guatemala. In fact, perhaps one of the best things to do in San Ignacio, Belize is to leave it – at least for a day.

Just on the other side of the Belize-Guatemala border, about 2.5 hours away from San Ignacio, you’ll find the largest excavated Mayan ruins site in the world. Located in Eastern Guatemala it is an easy and incredible day trip to Tikal National Park from San Ignacio.

With jaw-dropping pyramids, this ancient city was once believed to be home to at least 90,000 Maya people!

Tikal is much easier to visit from San Ignacio, Belize then it is from Guatemala City, so it is a must-do on any San Ignacio itinerary. Plus, its a great history lesson and educational opportunity if visiting Tikal in Guatemala with kids.

How much time do you need in San Ignacio?

San Ignacio during the day
San Ignacio is more than just a stopover, you should plan to spend several days here to explore the surrounding area.

Many of the best things to do in San Ignacio, Belize are actually found outside of the town. So, give yourself at least three days in San Ignacio, as each day will likely require some driving to get to your adventure.

However, be sure to give yourself plenty of time to relax, unwind, and enjoy the beauty of nature in the Cayo District. So, while three days may be enough time to see and do all the best activities in San Ignacio, four or five days would be even better! 🙂

How do you get to San Ignacio from Belize City?

You can either rent a car and drive to San Ignacio from Belize City, or you can book a transfer from the Belize airport to San Ignacio.

Although San Ignacio is easy to explore on foot, if you want to stay in a jungle lodge, or do any self-guided day trip to places like the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve or some of the surrounding Mayan ruins, you will either want to rent a car or book guided tours to explore those attractions.

Is San Ignacio worth visiting?

San Ignacio is one of the best places to visit in Belize. While often considered a stopover for travelers on their way to Guatemala, there are a lot of things to do in San Ignacio, Belize that makes the city worth spending a few days.

While many people stick to the Belizean islands, like Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker, there is so much to do deeper into the mainland portion of the country, as well.

From the Mayan ruins nearby to the natural beauty of the nearby Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, and the unique jungle lodges that are great for a relaxing vacation, San Ignacio is the gem of western Belize.

Do you have a question about any of these things to do in San Ignacio, Belize with kids? We’d love to hear from you! Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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This post on the best things to do in San Ignacio, Belize was originally published in June 2016 and has been updated for accuracy and current information.

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Photo credits: Photos: 3 and 17 by Meritt Thomas on Unsplash | Photo 5: Fum Bally from Unsplash | Photo 6: Gaby from Pixabay | Photo 8: Stephanie Klepacki from Unsplash | Photo 9, 10, 11, 14: Ronald Plett from Pixabay

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