We have been to San Ignacio twice. Harold and I went in 2017 and we returned on a trip with our adult children in 2019. The town did not change much between the visits so this post reflects both visits.
You can get to San Ignacio from Belize City by air conditioned tourist bus for $20 US or you can take the local chicken bus for $9 B. The tourist bus leaves from the ferry terminals. The bus terminal for the local busses is a bit of walk from the ferry terminals and it’s a rougher area so we took a taxi for $20B. It is a walkable distance. There are local and express buses. We ended up on a local bus which took 2 ½ hours. You change buses in Belopan but it’s easy and everyone in the bus stations was always happy to help us find the right bus.
San Ignacio is the base for many outdoor adventure trips in Belize. The most famous of these is the ATM caves. When we went without the kids we skipped that tour because of the price. When we went back we planned to do the trip but skipped it again because it is pricey, somewhat crowded and there are lots of other great things to do. You can also go to Caracol. The tours may be pricey but overall San Ignacio was probably the cheapest place we stayed at in Belize.
Prices for tours and tourist transportation vary from agency to agency in San Ignacio. We made the mistake of having to travel to the airport on New Year’s Day. Something we swore we would never do again after our trip to Quito. We could not get confirmation from anyone about which buses would or would not be running so we decided to take a shuttle rather than risk missing the flight. After being told $60 US each was the only price available by two companies we found another who said $35 US each. Still a lot more than a bus but less than a missed flight. As it turned out the buses ran pretty regularly on New Year’s Day so we could have gone by bus.
The tourist section of San Ignacio is pretty compact. There is one main pedestrian street, Burns Avenue, which is where most of the tour operators are located. It’s just off the town square where the long distance buses come and go from.
San Ignacio has a large active local market. It’s open daily but it is really hopping on Saturdays when there are more vendors, bigger crowds and when we were there, singing Mennonites, lots of food, produce and used US clothing. There are a number of Mennonite communities in Belize. There is a tourist information center on the edge of the town square which has some exhibits, public bathrooms and AC. It’s government run and they were not very helpful about things like bus schedules.
We stayed at the Hi-et on both trips. It’s well located and inexpensive. The cheapest of the rooms are very small and have shared bathrooms. The more expensive rooms are a good size and have private bathrooms. The Hi-et is family run and you have to go through their living room to get to your room. They have small dogs and there is almost always someone watching the big scene TV but they are friendly and helpful. The rooms are clean and there is a common area with a fridge, microwave and coffee. The showers are hot and there is a common balcony area where you can watch the world go by. If you have a choice take one of the rooms at the back away from the street which can be a bit loud.
When we were in San Ignacio in 2017 none of the ATM’s worked for us and many others were having the same issue. Out of desperation we went into the Scotiabank in town (a Canadian bank) to exchange our Canadian money. They did exchanging it but they charged us $3 US per $25 Canadian to do it which is outrageous! But we were down to that or a cash advance on Visa.
San Ignacio has touristy restaurants with quite good happy hour drink prices but you don’t need to eat there. We had happy hour buckets of beer 7 bottles for $22B at Serendib There is lots of great street food including a couple of great taco/burrito carts on the main street, several places in the market and more local eateries outside of the main tourist hang outs. In 2019 there was actually a poutine truck with a Canadian owner. The local store at the corner of Burns and Hudson has great fresh handmade flour tortillas we paid $1.50B for 4.
A must visit is the New French Bakery it’s on Savannah St close to the market. The cinnamon rolls are awesome. It’s open 6:30 am to 6:30 pm and closed on Sundays.
The most interesting meal we had in town was breakfast at a local restaurant just across from the market where we were the only tourists and the other diners all knew each other an interesting mix of locals and expats, speaking Spanish and English.
The “local” Mayan site Cahal Pech is walking distance from the town square. It’s basically all uphill on the way there. Admission is $10B each without a guide. There is a visitor’s center at the entrance with guides available for hire. Pretty impressive and well worth the walk. You can walk all over everything on the site, it’s not crowded and when we were there someone was singing opera in one of the plazas.
We did not go but the Iguana Rescue Centre is in the same part of town entrance is $18 US.
Branch Mouth Park
This is where the Mopan and Macal rivers meet. It’s the local swimming hole a 1.5 mile walk from the market. Follow Branch Mouth Road past the Maya hotel and just keep going. The water is great, a bit muddy underfoot getting in but great once you are in there. There is a small suspension bridge across the river for people and motorbikes. We were told there was a small restaurant 10 minutes walk down the road over the bridge.
There is a snack place at branch mouth but it was not open when we were there. We were there in December so the locals think it’s cold. There was just us and a few guys drinking rum.
San Ignacio is on one side of the river and the larger less touristy town of Santa Elena is on the other side. There are two bridges and it makes a nice walk across one and back on the other. The suspension bridge is the largest in Belize.