Belize is the longest leg of our Central America travels and San Ignacio is the western town where we have been living and volunteering for the past 28 days.
San Ignacio is a very popular tourist destination in Belize and when I talked to fellow travelers and locals in the Cayes about it, it got mixed reviews.
“Oh you’re going to San Ignacio? You’ll LOVE it”
“You’re going there for a MONTH? You’re gonna be bored out of your mind”
After almost a month here I can say with assurance that my opinion is somewhere in the middle, skewing closer to either side depending on the day. Here are the highs and lows of my month in San Ignacio.
After 8 leisurely days on the breezy Cayes, stepping out of the shuttle in he dusty mainland town of San Ignacio was like walking into a wall of heat. I almost fell over.
Some days are over 100 degrees late into the afternoon. The fans are on constantly in the house and one is always pointed toward me. But to be fair, it hasn’t been a constant heat wave. There have been a few blissfully mild, overcast, breezy days which I have cherished. I never thought I would refer to a 90 degrees day as “mild” but here we are. I knew to expect this, still, I’m ready for some ocean breezes.
Caveat: I wrote this three days ago and, of course, the weather has been perfect ever since. Of course.
There is a reason why San Ignacio is so popular. It’s the perfect location in Belize. It’s 15 minutes from the Guatemala border so it’s a great place to stop over before heading there or to take a day trip to Tikal. There are also ruins in the area that are reachable in less than 2 hours, many less than an hour. There’s ATM, Caracol, Xunantunich, Mountain Pine Ridge and others. There’s cave tubing, iguana petting, river canoeing and horseback riding. For an adventurous type, it’s fantastic.
Caveat: some of these tours are a bit pricey (Tikal was $125, ATM was $85) so while there are a ton of things to do, it’s also a matter of being able to afford them.
LOW: Night life
Unlike the touristy island towns, especially San Pedro, San Ignacio nightlife is a bit lacking. Downtown is basically 3 blocks of scattered bars/restaurants. There isn’t much variety (especially if you’re coming from a city) and most close by 10. There is also a night club called Blue Angel but it’s the type of place I’d go on a triple dog dare. (In general it’s a good traveling practice to avoid nightclubs, especially as a woman).
Although I was curious about their “Mother’s Day Dance”. Oh, Belize.
There is also the casino which is a cab ride or steep uphill walk from downtown. I went twice, won 5 dollars then lost 17. Those slot machines are addictive and I’m simply too cheap to go back again. There is a night club attached to the casino but there was a cover charge and I refuse to pay cover charges after the age of 22. There are also bars outside of downtown but i find the prospect of paying for cabs to and from home very demotivational. Most days, I am home by 10. For my wallet and liver, that’s probably a good thing.
As volunteers, we get free lunches every week day. All of the food is cooked by Miss Martha from scratch. The microwave doesn’t even work. Thus, even after 2 straight days of rice and beans (I’m off meat again) I heap enormous portions on my plate and scarf it down like a competitive eater.
The food at the restaurants is also pretty good. I preferred the sea food entrees at the beach for obvious reasons. But there have been a few restaurants with stand out dishes and good service: Let’s go Eat, Erva’s and Serendib all get high marks. Jill has also raved about the grilled steaks at Maya Walk. If you can finagle an invitation to Miss Martha’s house, you will eat like a king.
By shopping I don’t mean grocery shopping: those stores are everywhere. I mean clothes and accessories. I packed pretty light because I imagined I would be purchasing some cheap dresses like I did in Thailand. Travel tip: nope. There are a few clothing stores but the selections scream “19 year old at a European night club, circa 2002”. I was able to purchase new sunglasses but they were so flimsy they broke within 3 days. I learned my lesson after the second pair fell apart when I just looked at them. Last night, desperate for some variety, I fashioned a tube top out of the fabric I’d cut off my long dress. I will absolutely never wear this in public but it made my inner fashionista feel a little better.
Do these shorts look familiar? They should. I’ve been wearing them for a month.
HIGH: Locals. Before I came here I was told by multiple people how “friendly” San Ignacio was. “Even friendlier than Caye Caulker” they said. While I wouldn’t characterize it as the friendliest place in the world (and certainly not friendlier than Caye Caulker where half the island knew my name by week’s end) most of the people I’ve met have been polite, warm and welcoming. I could do without the ubiquitous creepy cat calling men but that’s a worldwide issue.
My favorite people in San Ignacio
HIGH: Volunteer experience (will discuss details in another post) which included free lunches, free laundry, free wi-fi and most importantly, free access to this God send of a pool.
Gotta earn my keep
Crime is an unfortunate reality of inhabiting this planet. And while I have never been the victim of anything beyond petty crime, I am always aware of the potential for it. It would be easy for me to think of San Ignacio as a dangerous place. I read all the warnings about Central America. And seemingly every couple days Miss Martha has a new story about a family member or friend of a friend who was the victim of a violent crime. At first, listening to these stories, I was very nervous to be out after dark. I imagined an attacker lurking behind every night post. Then I remembered that I have lived in Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York City. I didn’t sit home at night because of the possibility of being a victim in these cities. I took precautions. Central America is no different. I take a cab after 10, I keep money hidden, I never walk alone at night.
Almost a month in and I’ve had no issues (high) but I continue to hear stories about crimes against locals (low). Let’s call this one a draw.
Overall rating: HIGH.
Over the past 4 weeks, through the highs and lows, San Ignacio has really come to feel like home. And while I’m ready to move on to the next adventure, the people I’ve met and the experiences I’ve had here, won’t soon be forgotten.
Tomorrow we take a bus to Belize city to pick up a good friend of mine from Baltimore then head onward via 3 more buses to Southern Belize for a week. A la playa!