Step out of town and Into the Jungle…Literally! San Ignacio Resort in the Cayo District, Belize
Last week, I took a trip, and man…it feels SO great to travel again! Small bag in hand- mainly filled with computer and device cords, I headed to the mainland of Belize, to the pretty riverside town of San Ignacio and the San Ignacio Resort Hotel. Located just minutes from the bustling downtown area known for its active farmers market and pedestrian shopping street, the resort is perfect for many reasons. But the most special part is that as soon as you walk thru the front doors – you immediately leave town and enter a shaded, secluded sanctuary. 17 acres of trees and vines, flowers on jungle right on the wide Macal River.
I LOVE the combo: the fun of town (the restaurants, sights, ice cream parlors and shopping) and the easy access to the many activities and tours that make the Cayo District world-famous plus the beautiful reserve in their own backyard. As it says on their website: “It’s the only jungle in town”.
Walk right through the elegant lobby…
Not forgetting my welcome drink – a wildly refreshing frozen lime juice with mint and ginger…
With the help of the concierge Onil, I packed an incredible amount into my 1 full day and 2 nights so let me first show you a bit of the resort and then the excursions that I took…
And also how I got there. Because it’s the perfect opportunity to visit one of Belize’s many treasures – the Belize Zoo.
Here’s my trip! I’m still finding it pretty incredible that I got all this done…But San Ignacio Resort Hotel (SIRH) made it so enjoyable, really easy and supremely comfortable.
Above I showed you the entrance and the lobby. How pretty is this huge bouquet of lobster claw heliconia?
And the view from the hotel’s restaurant patio overlooking the pool.
The beautiful pool area that slopes down into the jungle…birds are constantly swooping overhead. There is a huge royal palm that seems to attract every bird in the area.
Just steps below the pool is the balcony entrance to my suite and this view…
A keel-billed toucan was gathering twigs here the next morning.
Inside, a super-comfy bed (I overheard some fellow travelers at the table next to me at breakfast remarking what a great night’s sleep they’d had…) – I 100% concur.
And this welcome message – applied to my bed with the tiniest petals…by tweezers? Beautiful and impressive.
I had a kitchenette with fridge and coffee set-up, a very roomy bathroom and even another bedroom. Take a look at my River View Suite that can easily accommodate 3 or 4 people – perfect for a family.
And this beautiful replica of a Mayan carving just outside.
Dining with the Birds
Belize is well known for the huge array of birds – many of the most beautiful, like the toucans and the macaws, reside on the mainland and not the cayes. So…I expected to see birds. But I did not expect to see so many while eating at SIRH’s restaurant, The Running W Restaurant.
The very first morning while sipping coffee I spotted these guys. Jumping back and forth between the restaurant balcony and the nearest tree!
Aracari toucans, coffee and fresh orange juice, and a HUGE yogurt parfait.
The next morning the aracari brought friends…but I was too focused on my fluffy fry jacks.
Lunch was perhaps the best burger that I’ve eaten in Belize – and I shouldn’t have been surprised. The restaurant is operated by Running W Meats – a local family company that produces beef and pork for much of the country. You can see many of the cows out on the vast green pastures on your way into San Ignacio town.
Later that evening when I stopped in for a snack, THIS! A ferruginous pygmy owl had flown into the restaurant and was perched by the bar. A PYGMY OWL! Can birding get any easier than this?!
(FYI: Ferruginous is a fancy word for reddish-brown in color)
He looks as surprised to see me as I was to see him.
All the food I had at the restaurant was fantastic – and I will most certainly be back anytime I’m in San Ignacio for a cheeseburger…maybe next time with a parrot on the side?
It is also very cool to see that Queen Elizabeth visited the hotel in 1994 for lunch that included soursop ice cream and some time to refresh herself. (She overnighted on her private yacht harbored in Belize City)
You can read here about how I went to Belmopan, Belize in 2012 for the visit of Prince Harry for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. I know not all of you feel the same but I am obsessed with the Royal Family. It’s my thing. You most certainly can not talk me out of it.
How I Traveled to the Resort AND My Stop at the Belize Zoo
Here’s a map of Belize and my starting and ending points.
This map may make it look like Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker are far away from San Ignacio but Belize is such a tiny country. And the red arrow (Ambergris) to the green arrow (San Igacio and the Cayo District)…the distance is less than 90 miles. Seriously.
It’s part of the magic of Belize – you can go from coral reef to deep jungle all in one day.
I took the water taxi from San Pedro to Belize City – the cheapest way to go. You can also fly from San Pedro to Belize City or fly all the way to San Ignacio. (It’s a GORGEOUS flight). It all depends on your budget.
Jason from the San Ignacio Resort Hotel (I’m going to shorten to SIRH going forward!) met me at the boat – my name on a small sign. He grabbed my small bag and we were off in a huge cool van. He offered me iced water as we got in. The best.
We made our way to the Western Highway and a quick 29 miles out, we stopped at the Belize Zoo.
I LOVE LOVE LOVE the Belize Zoo. All animals native to Belize – all rescues from the wild (or babies of rescues) in beautiful wooded enclosures. Handmade signs with fun facts and sayings…it is a joy to walk around and get up close to some of Belize’s amazing and sometimes peculiar wildlife. And I love the flowers and shade along the entire path.
The zoo is an ABSOLUTE MUST in my book. It has done wonders in the country – educating a few generations of kids on the wonder and beauty and blessing that our natural enviornment is in Belize.
Jason took me on a guided tour and even brought along cold waters.
Sylvia the jaguar…called by the villagers of Slyvestre village in Orange Walk where she was becoming a threat to live stock and dogs, this gorgeous cat was relocated to the zoo.
Slyvia rolled and showed us her white spotted belly and then gave me this look! (There is no zoom here…I’m face to face with Slyvia!)
We saw harpy eagles and snoozing howler monkeys dangling from tree branches, parrots and the strange and beautiful tapirs.
We even saw the elusive jaguarundis snuggling shaded from the hot sun. (They are the smallest of Belize’s five cats...can you name them?)
This sign always gets me a bit choked up. Beautiful.
We headed over to a local restaurant…enjoyed the cool breeze and we were on our way. I’d say the drive takes about 2 hours…maybe a bit more in total. Nice and cool air conditioning and I asked 101 questions…
As you move from the Caribbean Sea to the savanna and to the hills at the edge of the Maya Mountains, Belize becomes greener and greener. It was a beautiful ride to town and to the resort – the beautiful pink flowering bukut trees dotting that landscape.
Beautiful but their fruit/pod is apparently an acquired taste. When Andrew ZImmern (Season One, Episode 1 of “Bizarre Foods”) visited Belize in 2009 he said: “Bukut, the stinky toe fruit… fantastic stuff. Tastes like anchovies and fish sauce mixed with molasses, interesting. It was kinda delicious; very nice to stand on top of someone’s car and yank down some big ripe pods of stinky toe fruit.”
A Morning at Xunantunich Mayan Site
Xunantunich (pronounced Shoe-nan-two-nich) is one of my favorite sites in the country. Located less than one mile from the Guatemalan border and not far from San Ignacio, you need to cross the river by pull-ferry to get to the site. There are some great little vendors on the river bank if you enjoy shopping, you can see spider monkeys AND the ruins are gorgeous and very do-able in an hour or so.
But…if you have a love of archaeology and history and you have a fantastic guide like Onil, the concierge and extremely knowledgeable guide from the San Ignacio Resort Hotel, you can absolutely make it a whole morning.
Let me show you my photos. Because the resort is so close to the ruins, we were there about 45 minutes before anyone else arrived and before the sun got too hot. What a gorgeous morning!
I stopped in one of the shops to buy a carved owl…
They offered a free puppy with purchase but…sadly I declined.
We loaded onto the ferry…some school kids were disembarking. In-person school JUST started again in Belize the previous week.
And took a short drive up the hill to Xunantunich. There were a few GORGEOUS Golden Shower orchids blooming…including this one right at the entrance!
We walked up to the main site – and visited the ball courts, the main plaza, and climbed El Castillo, the highest structure overlooking Belize and Guatemala.
Did you know that Maya royalty were around 6 feet tall? Me neither. Apparently, they got all the good nutrients and proteins while the majority of the people toiled in the fields. Also, that during the height of the Maya empire there were 1-2 million people living in what is now Belize? Today the population number is less than 400,000. I learned a bunch from my guide, Onil…he got me re-inspired to learn more about the history of Belize.
And there is so much more to know – an undiscovered burial chamber was found just 5 years ago at Xunantunich – containing jade, jewelry, jaguar bones, pots…all in the tomb of a royal WOMAN..
The spider monkeys were swinging from the trees – one mama with her baby – just behind the largest structure. It’s a magical spot.
Onward…this was just the beginning on my day.
The Green Iguana Project and the Medicine Trails
In the afternoon, I set out with Luis, a manager of the Green Iguana Conservation Project, to meet the iguanas. First started in 1996, the project seeks to raise and release the endangered green iguana and educate people about this beautiful animal that used to be plentiful around the rivers in Belize but is hunted, quite aggressively, for food. The money collected for admission is used to support the sanctuary AND for local school scholarships. 100s of school kids each year come to SIRH to meet the iguanas and to learn about their life cycles and their place in the environment.
I love this project.
We walked down a path lined with ginger flowers and heliconia to the enclosures.
I first met the big guys and girls…they’d already eaten their daily pile of veggies and fruits and were dozing on branches and in little wooden houses.
Meet Gomez, the most friendly male. He enjoys being stroked…closing his eyes as Luis pats him.
The eggs were buried in a different enclosure in sand – just as they would be on a riverbank.
And the youngsters. The hatchlings. While the adult males turn bright orange during mating season (Nov thru February), the young iguanas are BRIGHT green and have aqua blue markings. These guys are much more skittish than the adults. It’s a good thing. More than half will be released to the wild in about a year.
We then headed down the path on a tour of the medicinal plants of Belize. Luis has studied extensively the types and uses of all sorts of plants grown in Belize. I don’t have any pressing medical issues now but I’m really intrigued by his knowledge. I’m glad I now have him as a contact.
Teas and tonics – I’m ready to try them!
I’ll wrap it up there. But I had so much to show you. I’ll leave you with the three things that really stood out to me about my stay at the San Ignacio Resort Hotel.
- The location – the proximity to town and easy access to so many of the sights that make the Cayo District famous. The Mayan sites, the caves, and rivers. I absolutely plan to return to visit Barton Creek Cave with Onil. Plus…it is also very nice to return from your treks to a very comfortable, cool luxurious resort. Sitting in a lounge chair by the beautiful pool after a long day of adventure feels like heaven.
- The restaurant – the open-air restaurant serves great casual but elegant food and is a fantastic place, especially in the morning and the evening, to enjoy the sounds of the jungle and the birds. They serve hearty portions perfect for sending you off on a morning expedition into a cave (or just into town for the famous San Ignacio weekend Farmers Market)
- The Green Iguana Conservation Project – I love the passion of my guide, Luis, for the green iguana which has been overhunted to almost extinction in many parts of Belize. (You will see the black iguana – or “Wish Willy” – much more frequently on the cayes but lookout for the green ones!) It may not be the sexiest animal in Belize – show stoppers like jaguars or scarlet macaws tend to outshine them – but they are fascinating and beautiful in their own ways and need our help. Plus the focus on education and sending kids to school is amazing. I love the new program that allows you to bring a piece of Belize home with you – an adopted green iguana.
For more information on the rooms and the tours, the food, and beautiful photos of the San Ignacio Resort Hotel, see their website. And PIN it.