San Ignacio, a small town in the mainland Belize, near to the border of Guatemala, just becomes one of the top ten destinations in Central America by the TripAdvisor Travelers Choice this year. I visited the town before the Travelers Choice’s result, and I am not surprised why San Ignacio was chosen by travelers as the Top Ten destinations in Central America.
I was beguiled by its charms as a vibrant town with local vibes that combined with a rustic atmosphere. Dutchie and I took easy with our travel days in San Ignacio. We stayed at an eco-lodge that was a bit far from the town. Since there were not many options to take public transport from our lodge to the town, we used a taxi as recommended by our lodge’s staff. Our cab driver was very friendly and very informative, in the end, we always used his service to travel around in San Ignacio. And here what we did in San Ignacio:
Early Morning Visit at the Xunantunich Maya Temple
William, our taxi driver, suggested visiting the Xunantunich at early morning to avoid the tourists from the cruise ships. We went at 8 am, and we were the only visitors at the site. When we finished exploring the site at around 11 am, the tourists from the cruise ship came. Thanks to William, otherwise we would explore the site with a large number of crowds!
Xunantunich is one of the largest Maya sites in the Belize River Valley. The site has numerous plazas, temples, and palaces. The largest and the tallest building in the location called as “El Castillo” that looks like it was used in the past as the primary temple. But since there was an absence of the elites burials, El Castillo was actually a multi-purpose building where the elites and their families lived and held meetings.
The name of Xunantunich meant “Stone Woman” in Maya language. The actual ancient name from the Maya era itself is still unknown. The site was named after the villagers who lived nearby to the site admitted that they had seen a Mayan lady dressed in white huipil, dazzled in whiteness. She appeared in front of the El Castillo, ascended to the top and walked through the stone wall. The Xunantunich was named after this mysterious lady. Just to let you know, I did not see her during my visit….
Cahal Pech is another Maya site in Belize, located around 8 kilometers from Xunantunich. It is a smaller site compared to Xunantunich. Presumably, the site was occupied at least 1000 B.C. until the ninth century A.D. It has temple pyramid and residential buildings.
Dutchie and I, once again, were the only visitors. There was no guide in the area, and we depended on the information from the museum of the ruin’s story. If I am not mistaken, the tallest ruin in the area was used for musical and theatrical performance. Meanwhile, the elites lived in the highest location of Cahal Pech. The name of Cahal Pech itself was given after the finding of the site. It is still unknown of what its original name in Maya era.
Tour the Sacred Cave of Actun Tunichil Muknal
The National Geographic mentioned the Cave of Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) as one of the top-ten sacred caves in the world. The ancient Maya did their rituals in a particular cave’s chamber that has beautiful stalactites and stalagmites. The Maya Rituals in the ATM Cave were aimed to please their gods for the agriculture prosperity. The rituals included human sacrifices, this was especially done after failure in their farm harvest. When the cave was found in 1989, the archaeologist also found a 1,000 years old skeleton with broken vertebrae (backbones) that calcified into sparkling appearance. The skeleton was assumed as a virgin girl who became a human sacrifice for the Maya ritual. She was called as the Crystal Maiden because of its sparks appearance. However, after further research by the scientists from the U.S., the skeleton actually belonged to a teenage boy. The skeleton was not the only human sacrifice found in the cave. There were many more skeletons found of a variety of ages from infants to mature persons.
No cameras allowed during the cave tour. However, to give you an idea how to reach the cave and the Crystal Maiden looked like, just take a look at this following video…
The cave tour is different to the cave tubing activity. The cave tubing was more relaxing without intense human history attached to it. And no skeletons. Well, it is part of the cave where the Mayans did their human sacrifice rituals. The cave tubing was a way exploring the river inside and outside the cave using a round plastic tube that looked liked a band buoy.
Ziplining above the Jungle Floor
I will be honest, I am not a fan of being in high places. It was Dutchie’s idea to try the zip lines. The zip line is an inclined cable with a suspended harness and handles that goes down, and we slide the line(s). The zip lines were available near to the ATM cave, and it has five levels. First, we had to climb up to the highest zip lines, and the lines would continue to the lower level, from the treetops to the canopy and under the canopy. It was fun to slide on top of “green floor,” the tropical jungle! Here is our video of when sliding through the zip line…
Exploring the Town and Having Delicious Dining
The local vibes could be felt in the center of the town, from the colorful walls of the street arts and houses to the laid back atmosphere. Personally, my favorite part of the town was the street arts around the town center. A special blog post about it as you can read on the post entitled Lively Mural in San Ignacio.
We tried several local restaurants in the town and most of them had delightful Belizean and international meals. We even discovered a restaurant that played Dutch music and offered Indonesian Gado-Gado as one of their menu – how bizarre was that. However, from all of them, I found the Crave house of flavors by Chef Alejandro as the most outstanding restaurant (I do not get paid to mention the restaurant on this blog). The small restaurant is managed by a passionate young chef, Alejandro with his two staff. It is worth to acknowledge the restaurant here as the Chef has an impressive talent in culinary that makes the restaurant has potential to grow. I hope the best for Chef Alejandro and his team. The food and its presentation were impressive, something that I did not expect to be available in a small town like San Ignacio. We ate there twice and totally enjoyed our dining times with Chef Alejandro and his friendly staff.
Well preserved nature and heritage, delicious food, vibrant life, and friendly people are something you can expect from visiting San Ignacio. Even more, we wished we had more time to do the Mountain Pine Ridge tour and crossing the border to Guatemala to visit Tikal, a Maya site that has the largest ancient Maya’s dam in the Central America. Hopefully at another time!