You can’t travel in Central America and not experience at least one ‘chicken bus’, and on our journey from Belize City to San Ignacio we discovered how they do busses in Belize. We grabbed seats at the back of the bus and kicked back listening to the calypso tunes, enjoying the flashing neon lights at the front and watching the countryside (mainly sugar cane fields) speed by. We stopped halfway for a ‘10 minute’ break which turned out to be 5 minutes at most and resulted in me screaming at the driver to stop as the bus started pulling out of the station before he’d made it back on to the bus. I was so relieved the driver had eventually agreed to stop that I forgot to be annoyed with him for jumping off the bus at the last-minute and almost ending up stranded with no means of communication in a random Belizean bus station.
When we eventually arrived into the border town of San Ignacio we were pretty hungry so headed straight to the local market for a lunch of very cheap (the entire lunch came to around £4) and very delicious, freshly cooked pupusas from an El Salvadoran family stall – accompanied by some radical evangelical preaching at full volume from a neighbouring stall’s television set. The church is incredibly powerful in Central America. Our guide was telling us how locals will be
asked expected to give all they have so that the priest can have a car, for example, while they are living on next to nothing.
The main reason for our visit to San Ignacio was it’s proximity to the incredible cave systems in the region, such as Crystal Cave and ‘ATM Cave’ which give visitors the opportunity to explore by wading/swimming/floating and clambering through them. The huge cavern of ATM was closed when we were in town due to the unseasonably high amount of rainfall. However, we took a day trip to ‘Barton Creek Cave’, traveling by minibus as far as the rain-swollen river crossing would allow us, before trekking the last mile down steep winding roads through beautiful jungle up to the mouth of the cave where we entered small 3-person kayaks and paddled into the cave itself. The history of the Cave is amazing, and as he paddled us gently along the passage between the cavernous walls, we heard about how the ancient Maya had seen the cave as a sacred place, leaving offerings of jewellery and pottery, remains of which can still be seen on high ledges above us. The natural features of the cave created several raised walkways and bridges that the Maya used to navigate the cave interior and place pots to collect the dripping fresh water from vast stalactites high above. Thanks to the high level of water entering the cave we couldn’t explore as far as we would have liked and our line of kayaks had to turn back in the darkness when confronted with a narrow gap under a ledge that would have been too tight a squeeze.
Food was high on the agenda for San Ignacio (oh you’re surprised, you say?) and we had two fantastic evening meals during our short visit. The first was at a small restaurant named Ko-Ox Han Nah (‘lets go eat’ in Mayan) which did delicious hearty meals for a relatively low price. It’s a very popular tourist spot so we had to wait a little for a table, but it gave us the opportunity to chat to an interesting guy from the USA who was a yachtsman and spent winters over the border in Guatemala, nipping into Belize every few months to keep the visa ticking over. Not a bad way to spend your days.
We’d planned to meet his cousin here in San Ignacio who had been travelling Central America in the opposite direction to us (she started in Costa Rica and journeyed north). We had a happy meal chatting all about our experiences and sharing tips on where each other we’re visiting next. It’s always nice to see a friendly face on your travels!
The second restaurant we’d highly recommend if you’re visiting San Ignacio is ‘Guava Limb Restaurant & Cafe’, at the other end of the Main Street. It is a little more pricey than the spots in the centre of town, but the service, presentation, atmosphere and incredible food are well worth it – even on a backpacker’s budget. I had a delicious ‘Gado Gado’ which is an Indonesian dish of local stir fried vegetables seasoned with a light sweet soy and ginger sauce, lemon grass, sesame seeds and peanuts, accompanied by a homemade peanut sauce served with rice noodles and satay chicken and he enjoyed a huge French Cafe Salad (Maya Farm mixed green salad with pan-seared chicken, warm brie & toasted almonds served with a creamy herb dressing). This meal was at least 10 weeks ago at the time of writing this post and we’re still raving about it, so if you’re ever in the area, go go go!