San Ignacio area, Belize-- Part 1

Visiting family in Cayo district this past week, we included in our agenda a few things we have missed on our previous trips.  Alan's sister (and my BFF, Diane) and brother-in-law,
David, live in the tiny village of Bullet Tree, near San Ignacio.  So, we were near a variety of beautiful and historically relevant places that warranted a visit.  Arriving on Friday evening meant we would be able to start our visit the following morning with a trip to the popular Saturday San Ignacio Market.  A wide selection of fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, seafood, as well as some baked products and cheese, are available.  We stocked up on ingredients for a week's worth of delicious meals and indulged in tasty and inexpensive fair from one of the many vendors selling prepared foods.

On a past trip, we had visited the Mayan ruins of Tikal located in the rainforest in nearby Guatemala, and had by-passed ruins just outside of San Ignacio.  While the ruins a Tikal are spectacular, and definitely worth a trip if you are in the area, the Xunantunich ruins are impressive.  Access to the site is via a hand-cranked ferry over the Mopan River.  Climbing to the top of El Castillo, 133 feet up, provided a view of the valley and the roadways leading into nearby Guatemala.  When the settlement was constructed is unknown, it is believed that no Mayan lived in Belize prior to 1200 BC, and this ruin was probably built around 600-300 BC.  It was abandoned by between 700-1000 AD.  Howler monkeys, which are frequently present near the site, were missing during our visit.

Following a "traditional" Belizean lunch of roast pork (pibil), rice and beans, and empanadas, we
moved on to Cahal Pech located at the edge of town.  Inhabited from roughly 1000 BC until 800 AD, these ruins are less expansive than Xunantunich but no less impressive.  Hiring a guide for an introductory tour, gave us an overview of the culture and layout of the ruins.  He even, inexplicably, threw in a quick palm reading, which promised us all long and happy lives.  At this point though, his readings would be more observational than fortune telling.

Located at the San Ignacio Hotel, we visited the Green Iguana Conservation Project.  Our guide, Nigel, was enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the threatened reptile.  As we learned about the Project, the iguanas walked up our arms or across our shoulders, though Nigel pulled them away from visitors not wanting that part of the experience.   The Project's goal is to raise the iguanas and then set them free if they are healthy enough to live on their own.  Unfortunately, a few of their borders will be there for life due to accidents or deformities due to malnutrition suffered at the hands of unknowing pet owners.

Looking to add an adventure component to our trip, we considered the nearby Actun Tunichil Muknal
(ATM) Cave outing, but in the end decided the hike through the jungle and swimming through rivers to get the the caves was more than we wanted to take on, especially since no cameras were allowed to document the trip and daytime temperatures were flirting with the 90's.  We wound up taking a pontoon trip on the waterway above the dam outside of nearby Benque Veijo.  Driving to the launching point at Martz Farm was an adventure in itself, and would be a challenge without a 4X4.  Located 8.5 miles off the turnoff, we were met by brothers Joe and Laz, part of the extended family living on the extensive property (around 1200 acres).  Operating the tour boat is only one aspect of the enterprises on the farm, with a highly reviewed lodge and horse back riding tours with Joe also available.  Laz was our captian and guide for the day on La Capitana.  The trip combined a relaxing jungle river cruise with the excitement of climbing a waterfall, a mini-"Maid of the Mist" experience and hiking to yet another waterfall beneath the Rio Frio (Cold River), where Alan ducked under the frigid falls for an extra thrill.  Toucans, crocodiles, iguanas and even a bush dog/snake encounter provided the animal sightings for the trip.  Sadly, the howler monkeys didn't show up here either.  But, of course,  this is Mother Nature, not a zoo, so we were grateful for the animals we did get to see.

More exploring to come.

Diane at our "Maid of the Mist" experience

Crossing the Mopan River

Atop Xunantunich

At Xunantunich


In San Ignacio

Alan with a new buddy at the Iguana Project

In downtown San Ignacio, many tour companies provide trips to the ruins and caves.

Below Rio Frio

Alan with Capt. Laz going into the icy falls.

Our captain, Laz

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