Things to do in Belize – Top tours in San Ignacio, Cayo
Belize offers something for everyone! Maya temple cities, white sandy beaches, best snorkeling in the region, spectacular scuba diving in the second largest barrier reef in the world, horseback riding through jungle trails, kayaking on pristine rivers, jungle hiking, adventurous zip lining, and unique caving exploration are just a few of a plethora of tours that you can do in Belize.
If you are vacationing in the San Ignacio, Cayo District area, here are 10 popular tours that you might want to consider:
Xunantunich was the first Maya ruin to be opened for visitors in 1950, because of its proximity to San Ignacio. Extensive archeological work has been carried out at the site providing a wealth of historical information about the Mayas.
It was known to be a major ceremonial center during the Maya Classical period (600 to 900 AD). El Castillo (The Castle) is the most prominent temple and stands at 130 feet high. The East and West sides are pretty well decorated with friezes depicting art of this enigmatic civilization.
Known as the “maiden of the rock” or “stone lady”, the site is a classic period ceremonial center and the core covers only 300 square meters but the periphery covers several square kilometers. The structure “El Castillo” is the second tallest structure in Belize and reaches a height of 130 feet above plaza level. The lower temple is famous its large stucco frieze, on both east and west end. It flourished in the terminal period 700 to 900 A.D. about the time of the Maya collapse.
It is located on the Western Highway across the village of San Jose Succotz and can be reached by a hand cranked ferry daily between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. The site is one mile away from the river and the top of the temple provides an amazing view of the entire Belize River Valley.
Cahal Pech Maya Ruins is just a 15-minute walk from town. Cahal Pech means “place of ticks” in modern-day Maya, and refers to the fact that the surrounding area was once used as pasture land. However, this was the royal acropolis-palace of an elite Maya ruling family who lived here during the Classic period. Cahal Pech was settled around 1000 BC and abandoned by 800 AD.
The site consists of seven plazas and over 30 structures including temples, residential buildings, ballcourts, an altar, and a sweathouse, all situated on just 2 acres. A royal burial chamber was found in one of the structures. Inside the tomb a ruler had been laid to rest with the accouterments necessary for the afterlife. Included in the find were shell & bone ornaments, pottery vessels, obsidian blades, and jade objects, the most impressive being a jade & shell mosaic mask. One of the temples in this small complex commands the best view of the surrounding Belize River Valley. The visitor center and museum has a model of the site, excellent paintings showing Cahal Pech in its heyday, and an interpretive film.
Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave
The Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) Tour can best be described as an “Indiana Jones” type experience because it promises a thrilling experience with impressive stalactites and stalagmites rock formations coupled with Maya pottery that have been undisturbed for hundreds of years. On your journey from San Ignacio Town we will reveal ancient passageways, stories of Maya Gods and evidence of a Maya princess burial scene. This adventure is a history lesson of a lifetime!
ATM Cave Tour Highlights
ATM Cave (Actun Tunichil Muknal) “Cave of the Stone Sepulcher” is one of the most impressive caves in the Maya Lowland. Located in the heart of the Belizean Rainforest, this cave was a sacred place to the Maya of Belize, who first began to use the entrance during the early classic period (300-600AD). It was not until the late terminal classic period (700-900AD) that the Mayas traveled deeper into the Cave to conduct their spiritual ceremonies.
The ATM Cave system consists of a series of chambers, ending in a 300 by 50 meter Cathedral where sacrificial ceremonies once took place. Here you will be exposed to the individuals sacrificed to the gods of the underworld. This ATM Cave Tour offer visitors the opportunity to travel into the Maya past and witness a living museum where human sacrifices and artifacts can be viewed in their original context.
Barton Creek Cave
Barton Creek Cave is popular among San Ignacio Cayo visitors who might enjoy floating through the tall, quiet cavern. The experience is impressive and available to anybody physically able enough to step into a canoe.
Barton Creek Cave Highlights
This is a cathedral-like wet cave, once used for ceremonial purposes and human sacrifices by the Maya. A pair of Peace Corps volunteers stumbled on the cave in 1970 and found that it had been looted but still contained an enormous amount of pottery and artifacts. Archaeologists didn’t study the cave until 1998; they found large ceramics on high ledges, plus evidence of 20 human remains, including a necklace made of finger bones.
As your guide slowly paddles you deeper into the earth, the watery sound of his paddle echoing on the limestone. The cave is at least seven miles deep, but tours only go in about a mile or so before turning around.
Tikal is a place for wondering, not only at the engineering accomplishments of the Maya, but at the jungle of the Peten region in Guatemala. Tikal site is a national park where the local still practice dancing and other cultural activities handed down through generations.
Tikal Tour Highlights
The five great pyramids of Tikal give this ceremonial centre a majestic grandeur unique among Maya cities. The origins of Tikal are only barely visible. Pottery findings of dating from a few hundred years before Christ is evidence that Tikal was inhabited at that time. Around the time of Christ, the Plaza had already taken its basic form, with platforms and stairways on the north side.
Cave Tubing and Zip Lining Adventures in Belize
Cave tubing is the experience of floating through a cave system and has become one of Belize’s most popular attractions.
You can gently cruise down the Caves Branch River System into an underground cave used by ancient Maya. Within these vast caverns you can witness incredible formations of stalactites and stalagmites some shaped like human and wildlife figures.
The access point is at mile 37 on the Western Highway and is one hour away from San Ignacio. It also includes a forty minutes hike through the jungle. After you float down the river you arrive at the same spot that you entered.
At this same location the visitor also has the thrilling opportunity to do zipling. You can soar through the jungle of treetops high above the forest floor, with nothing below you but green and lush vegetation. You will do a total of seven platforms with a beginners run of only 150 feet and six other runs which range from 200 to 600 feet between treetop platforms. It also entails a jungle hike from one platform to the other.
We then move on to Rio On Pools, where you can enjoy a wide span of naturally formed pools and cascading falls. Guest can enjoy sunbathing, swimming or getting a unique waterfall massage in several jacuzzi type natural basins.
Another stop is the highest of all the falls, the 1000ft falls, ascending from 1500ft amidst lush flora and fauna. This magnificent fall, the largest in Central America has been proclaimed a National Monument of Belize.
Caracol Maya Ruins is located in the Cayo District, deep in the jungles of the Chiquibul Reserve. The Caracol tour includes a visit to the on site museum that hosts the ancient artifacts narrating the a story of Caracol in it’s era.
The Maya City of Caracol and its massive temples “Caana”, prominently peeks through the surrounding tree top canopy. The archeological site of Caracol towers an impressive 140 feet and is the largest discovered Maya city in Belize. It’s timeline teaches of the prowess conquer over the Tikal empire.
Caracol boasts several hieroglyphic carvings on stelae alters, ball court and capstones. Among these recovered items is a ritual mask and ceremonial altar. The excavation at Caracol is ongoing to date.
Horseback ride in an open farmland or lush jungle trails and enjoy the picturesque views of the surrounding Belizean countryside.
Experience wildlife in their natural habitat and the numerous species of fauna indigenous to Belize. If you love horseback riding, then this is a must do tour, one you won’t soon forget.
This horseback riding tour can combine with River Canoeing, Cahal Pech Mayan Ruins or Xunantunich Mayan Ruins.
Canoeing the Macal River
Driving up the Western highway, passing farms and orange groves before reaching the pristine Macal river. Paddling slowly downstream, our knowledgeable guide will point out the different Belizean wildlife along the way including giant Iguanas perched high above the jungle canopy.
We take you across to our sister ranch Carmelita Farm and from here, you canoe down the scenic Belize River where you will see exotic birds, river turtles and other wildlife. Along the way, we pass by a hand-cranked ferry and several small villages.
We also stop off for a swim and have a chance to view the fruit fish, which tourists often mistake for Piranhas.