San Ignacio Points of Interest and Places to Visit
The Actun Tunichil Muknal (Cave of the Stone Sepulchre) is the most well known cave in Cayo and the most popular tour just outside of San Ignacio: the entire experience is an Indiana Jones type of adventure, where youâll wonder if you will make it in and back out. Reaching the best parts of the once sacrificial cave requires hiking through a rainforest for an hour and a half, crossing three rivers on foot, swimming through parts of the cave and even going up a narrow ladder to reach the deeper, darker chambers. Efforts are rewarded with the sight of the âCrystal Maidenâ--the skeleton of a young female, fully preserved from thousands of years ago. Along the hike there are also ancient ceramics to see, and youâll leave with a definite sense that the Maya came before you thousands of years ago.
Established as a reserve in 1944, the over 100,000-acre Mountain Pine Ridge is easily the most breathtaking scenery in all of the Cayo District, if not Belize. The Chiquibul Road will lead you through pine forests, waterfalls, cascading water pools over granite boulders and the Maya Mountains in the distance – it’s a sight to be seen. Touring the area can be done from San Ignacio by car, as there is no public transportation out this way. The road can get fairly difficult in the wet summer season and requires strong knowledge of the area as well as a good dose of patience. There are opportunities for stops showing the varied landscapes of the reserve, including at the Rio on Pools for a fresh water swim or exploring the limestone Rio Frio Cave.
Belize’s Blue Hole National Park (officially St Herman’s Blue Hole National Park) sits near the capital city of Belmopan and is home to two cave systems (Crystal and St. Herman’s), along with nature trails and the jungle pool that gives rise to the park’s official name.
The caves are the main attractions in the park, with the cave and hole connected by an underground stream. The Blue Hole pool was formed by an underground limestone cave that collapsed, creating the sapphire blue pool at the bottom of the cenote. Visitors also typically visit Crystal Cave, also called Mountain Cow Cave, which can be seen on a guided tours through the Mayan underworld known as Xibalba.
The park has a series of small trails, many of which are good for birding, as the forest canopy is low-lying. Birds spotted in the region include jacamars, blue-crowned motmots, scarlet-rumped tanager, nightingale wren and the long-tailed hermit hummingbird.
Crystal Cave, also known as Mountain Cow Cave, is located within the Blue Hole National Park near Belmopan, Belize’s capital city. To get to Crystal Cave, you may have to start with a moderately challenging, 50-minute hike through lush rain forest and steep terrain. Depending on your entrance point, you then descend by rope for 15 feet to drop into the mouth of the cave.
Ancient Mayans believed this to be the domain of their gods, earning it the name of Xibalba. Mayans said this is the portal between the tangible human world and the invisible world of the gods. Sacred rituals and important ceremonies were once performed here, and visitors today will see remnants such as ceremonial bowls, pots, and even skeletal remains from sacrificial victims. Crystal Cave is also full of natural wonders including unique rock formations, massive stalagmites and crystal clusters, a major attraction. The calcite formations cover the floors, walls, and ceiling of Crystal Cave.
San Jose Succotz is one of Belize’s small villages in the Cayo District, near the Guatemalan border. This peaceful village lies along the banks of the Mopan River and is best known as the home of the Xunantunich Maya site. El Castillo is the signature temple of Xunantunich, the second tallest structure in Belize. Most travelers visit San Jose Succotz to explore the ancient Maya site, but there is more to this rural Maya village than many people realize.
Belizeans are quick to point out that Succotz is also the home of its championship San Jose Succotz Marching Band. The village also hosts the popular annual Succotz Fair that showcases traditional Maya and Mestizo culture. San Jose Succotz is also home to a number of important medicinal plants utilized in the Maya culture. At least 64 species utilized in over 100 remedies have been identified in the area.
Big Rock Falls is a large waterfall located in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve that attracts a number of visitors who enjoy swimming and cliff jumping.
Part of the Vaca Plateau, the falls can be reached via a short, but somewhat difficult, 15-minute hike. The trek is pretty much straight down and includes a fairly steep section with a not so sturdy railing and a rope to hold on to and aid in the climb down. Once at the water level, you must walk over slippery, uneven slabs of granite rock. The deep emerald pools are perfect for swimming or cliff jumping, and the water is very deep so there is little risk of hitting the bottom when jumping in.
Getting to Big Rock Falls from San Ignacio can be an adventure in itself. The drive is approximately 13 miles over unpaved roads throughout Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve with scenic views.