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San Ignacio With Kids

Updated: Jul 18, 2022

A couple of hours west of Belize City on the border with Guatemala is the lovely town of San Ignacio. It’s a colourful little place with lots going on. Like all of Belize it still feels quite authentic and unspoilt, but there are loads of activities, sites and adventures in the area.

San Ignacio had loads of activities that were specifically suitable and interesting for the kids, with our three year old saying it was her favourite part of Belize. We only spent one full day in this town but it was jam packed and we could have easily spent 2/3 days here.


Xunantunich (the “Xu” is pronounced like “shoe”) is a 1,500 year old Mayan settlement, with an impressive, very tall pyramid (“El Castillo"). Unlike the previous ruins we visited in Mexico, these ones are scalable, which the kids loved - ours just love to climb! Beware: this pyramid is very steep with uneven stairs with no guardrails to stop you falling off and barely any hand rails to help with the climb. To reach the top, climbing on all fours was necessary for all of us but Andrew.

It’s very easy to get to, just 20 minutes’ drive from the town of San Ignacio. There is a hand cranked car ferry that the kids took turns operating with the help of the driver. It only takes four cars but as usual we were the only people here at 8:30am. The car park is only a short (but steep) walk to the main plaza. We were pleased to find an information centre with displays to read, there wasn’t any info at all at Mexican sites (not that you get to read much with kids hopping about from one arrogant to the next!!). We brought the stroller for use between climbs and the carrier for the pyramids themselves. No one there (again!!) which made it all the more special. Quinn loved the bats we discovered in an alcove and a Black Spine-Tailed Iguana chilling on a grassy patch about half way up the main Pyramid! Andrew claims this to be his favourite ruin so far due to the peacefulness, jungle noises and brilliant view from the top.

Cahal Pech:

These ruins are again completely scalable, and very easy to access. They’re not as impressive as Xunatunich as the site is smaller and structures aren’t as impressively tall by any stretch, but I’d still recommend you drop in.

The site is at the top of the town, within walking distance, but steeply uphill. We had a car and therefore drove. The car park is right at the foot of the reserve, next to the office. We didn’t bother with a stroller for this one as we knew it was smaller and we would be there for less time, so Willow had the carrier. Again, there is a decent amount of info about the history of the site and artefacts.

We saw our third wild snake of the trip, and a very fast one at that as it slithered across the ruins. It gave the whole experience a truly wild and unexplored feel.

We had probably done the lot at the kids fast pace within 45 mins. I’d recommend you visit this one before Xunatunich so it isn’t underwhelming after the amazing El Castillo as it is a beautiful setting in its own right but not quite as spectacular.

Green Iguana Conservation Project:

An absolute must visit activity, this places lies quietly within the the San Ignacio Resort Hotel.

This classy £300+ per night hotel recently hosted Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge on their 2022 Caribbean tour. The hidden gem we were here for is a conservation project to protect one of the countries beloved creatures, the iguana! We weren’t sure what to expect but we headed down to check it out.

On arrival we found out that you must be accompanied to the project by a tour guide, and he is available every hour on the hour with the last tour at 4pm. We arrived at 3:15 but decided to pay some outrageous prices for a round a drinks - a great decision as they bought the kids unexpected, complimentary homemade chocolate chip cookies which went down a treat!

When it was finally time to start, our guide gave us load of information about these fascinating creatures. We learnt about how they’re producing more males than females due to climate change warming eggs up, and how further compounding this, the existing females are hunted for meat. Once we arrived at the breeding centre we were gobsmacked by the hands on experience. It was such an amazing afternoon feeding, cuddling and observing the iguanas, the kids went absolutely nuts for it, even the baby was clearly really enjoying the experience!

It turned out to be pretty steep by local prices at around £25 for two adults and one paying child but I’m pleased to report it’s totally worth it. The proceeds not only go to the upkeep of the captive breeding and release program but the hotel also provides scholarships and work experience programmes to local young people interested in conservation. I’d advise anyone coming here to do the tour early in the morning and bring swimming gear to use the lovely pool. As had no real idea of what to expect here so take my advice and swim as well.

Exploring the Town:

The town itself is quite colourful. There is a central area with a grass verge, a few parks dotted around and lots of interesting food stalls, cafes, a busy market and restaurants. We spent an hour or two just wandering around. All the locals are so friendly you can’t take five steps without stopping for a chat, especially with a red headed blue eyed baby!

What Else?

For those with more time you might want to check out AJAW for a chocolate making tour and workshop. We didn’t do this as chocolate was part of our incredible home stay adventure in Toledo.

The ATM cave is also a highlight for the entire country and we were very sad to miss this. It is one of a very small minority of hit list “must include” stops that we deemed unsuitable for kids (they’re physically not allowed). These caves contain real remains of human sacrifices and mysterious crystal skulls and it requires short dives to get through the trails of this underground labyrinth cave system.

Chaa Creek is a world class luxury lodge in the jungle, only half an hour from San Ignacio. They own a huge reserve where you can float down the river, tour the jungle, ride horses and all sorts. Our budget couldn’t really stretch to this but it’s a huge regret of mine that I didn’t just get the credit card out for it tbh. It looks utterly gorgeous.

Sleeping and Eating:

Sadly we’ve got another dud here in terms of accommodation. There is a lot to choose from around here and despite amazing reviews and a really friendly manager, Max Rooms wasn’t for us. It was dark, dingy, leaky AC, dirty around the edges, cockroaches etc. it was cheap at $30 a night for four beds so I made my peace with it. Can’t win them all, but I wouldn’t recommend this one for family travel.

There are loads of great and really cheap options for eating in town. We had great success with a number of nameless hole in the wall and road side stall type places. $17 Belizean (£7.50) for three large breakfast burritos and two huge fresh orange juices from next door to Max Rooms can’t be bad. Rodriguez BBQ was a great one, easy to spot due to the massive queue of locals snaking around the street. $6 Belizean for a quarter chicken in a massive tortilla and a refreshing lime juice - that’s around £2.70 at the time to writing.

We also managed quite a few $1 tacos in the centre of town. We found a Western Dairies cafe which was amazing for an ice cream stop off (you can read about our visit to their factory on the way back from Hopkins here!).

Getting Around:

When trying to figure out how we could travel the length and breadth of this beautiful nation cheaply we decided to hire a car. The difficulty was how to avoided being charged a high fee for dropping off in a different area to that which we collected it - this didn’t even really seem possible.

Therefore once we arrived in Belize City from the Cayes, we decided to take a bus to San Ignacio, pick up a car from there and immediately drive in a loop of sorts to return the car and properly explore San Ignacio at the end of our stay in Belize. We rented our car from Cayo Rentals. I’ve got to say, it was a piece of s***, worst car I’ve ever seen. Everything was falling off it. We didn’t actually run into any completely breakdowns, though it was very stressful with every possible engine light on. It was much cheaper than alternatives at £250 for an SUV with maximum insurance for five days, and worth the gamble in the end I’d say (but if it had refused to start or broken down I wouldn’t be saying this).

Without the car, San Ignacio is quite walkable and this is also the first place I’ve actually seen taxis despite travelling all over the country. Don’t feel like you need to rent a car if you’re not confident, though as I previous wrote, there is no traffic and good quality roads in this country. The scenery is to die for so I would highly recommend driving. We mention places to stop and explore around San Ignacio on the way to/from Hopkins here.

In Summary:

We loved our time in San Ignacio and could have spent days here soaking up the local vibes. There is loads to do and the kids had an absolute blast. Not to be missed!

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