We are on the third day of this trip to the Cayo district. We have climbed waterfalls, toured Botanical gardens, walked through the rainforest medicinal trail at Chaa Creek, toured the markets, shops and Mennonite farming area in Spanish Lookout. Such a beautiful area, and I’m so happy my son was able to explore this area of Belize. However, my body is say…” Are you really going to try to climb to the top….are you forgetting.you are closer to 60 now and you do have a knee replacement.” Again, the little voice of “What The Hell??”
Having visited this ruin site a couple times, I really wanted him to experience this unique area. It did cross my mind to sit at the bottom and watch him climb, but I tried, I made it and so glad I did!
This is one of the local attractions that is easily done on an independent tour if you want to out on your own. There are numerous tour operators that offer packages to tour the site, however, if you are renting a car, it’s very easy to do the self guided option. If taking a guided tour, another option is tour on horseback through the adjoining property. Hanna Stables offers guided tours of Xunantunich area, as well as small cabanas for overnight stays. http://www.hannastables.com
Just a short distance outside San Ignacio, you will arrive at the river entrance you will cross the small river on a cable drawn ferry, a short half mile drive and you are at entrance gate for parking, then proceed up the hill for the walking tour into the ruins.
The ruins are breathtaking and several degrees of difficulty. Smaller ones can easily be navigated by most people, but there are lots of narrow stairs if you attempt to scale the larger site. You’ll observe many people venture to the peak, others stay back and take photos. It’s worth the work for the priceless view from the top. On a clear day, the views into the Guatemalan jungle are unbelievable.
When deciding to tour the country, there are tons of options on where to go, how to get there, is it safe, is it a good tour, is it worth the price?? If you are visiting the area for a week, as most people do. Typically, you will want to explore the Placencia village, enjoy the great restaurants, beach bars and soak in the atmosphere of this wonderful community.
You may also want to enjoy a couple of the day trips that leave from the village and explore the inland areas. What amazes most people is the vast difference from one region of this country to the next. So, yes, enjoy the village, take a couple trips, whether its guided fishing, river rafting, Maya ruins, snorkeling or touring the farms and jungles of the Cayo & Toledo district, this can all be done through tour operators while staying in Placencia. There are several great operators who can customize the trips to fit your needs.
So, if you are here for a few more days and really want to get a feel for all this country has to offer. Take the extra time, rent a car and see where the road takes you! You can go from beach to farm to rainforest and jungle in a short few hours.
Saturday Farmers Market
Day two into our trip to the Cayo district, we knew San Ignacio Saturday market was a definite “must-do.” We arranged our trip to ensure we would be in town on Saturday. With this falling on Sep 10th and being the country’s celebration of St. Georges Caye day, it was especially busy.
The market is packed with vendors from all areas in the Cayo district selling fruits, vegetables, spices, fish and some of the best food vendors you will find anywhere in this diverse area of the country. Fresh grilled authentic Belizean dishes all in the unique atmosphere of this wonderful Saturday market. Many vendors are from the local Mennonite communities of nearby Spanish Lookout, providing home baked breads, cakes, granola and a variety of cheeses.
We were amazed at the number of food vendors and the variety of food they offered. Papusas, tortillas, quesadillas, meat pies and fry jacks, just to name a few. ( Yes, we tried most of them…I justified it as “research”)
With September 10th being St George’s Caye Day and September 21st the country’s Independence Day the celebrations will last all month. It was apparent this weekend marked the beginning of the festivities. Not only in San Ignacio area, but in every small village we visited this week, cars and houses were being decorated with Belizean flags and colors, events are scheduled throughout the month. People were preparing for the afternoon parade, children were enjoying the ice cream vendors and local musicians were performing throughout the town.
For anyone who wants to immerse themselves in the true culture of this area, this cannot be missed!
After a few hours at the market, it’s hard to believe, but yes, we were starving and ready for lunch!
The Guava Limb Café
Having visited the area last year we remembered a cozy little organic restaurant on the edge of town, with great food. A perfect place for a relaxing lunch after a few hours at the hectic market. The Guava Limb. What a great surprise when we easily found it, but even more so, to see the transformation that has occurred since our last visit. What was once a tiny quaint little cafe, has expanded outside into a beautifully landscaped patio area, overlooking the park.
Upstairs now has additional seating both inside and out, expanded the kitchen and added a beautiful dessert case and larger bar area.
We arrived about 15 minutes before opening time, but they gladly seated us on the shaded patio until the kitchen was ready to open. What a great surprise with the food choices, the service was first class and the food was some of the best we have had anywhere in the country. Salads, lettuce wraps, Hibiscus herbal teas and fresh squeezed orange juice made for the perfect lunch in the perfect atmosphere. The staff went above and beyond with service, ensuring we were enjoying our meal and our afternoon.
As we left, the manager mentioned they were having drum percussion music for dinner and invited us back. By 5 pm….when choosing where to go for dinner, we knew we couldn’t go wrong with The Guava Limb Cafe!
We had no idea the elegant meal and impeccable service we would receive. In addition to the music, which topped off the evening as the absolute best of the trip. Pesto Pasta, Steak Burger, and one of the biggest T-Bone steaks I have ever seen served for dinner. We were amazed the dinner meal was even better than the lunch!
After speaking with the manager, she explained the five guys in the kitchen are all under the age of 25. Unbelievable for such a young staff to provide this level of top quality dishes.
I cannot recommend this place more highly if you are anywhere near the San Ignacio area, you must visit this place for a guaranteed delightful experience. With the atmosphere, the employees and the five star food offers, you will not be disappointed at The Guava Limb Cafe in San Ignacio!
This being our second full day in San Ignacio….. the Saturday Market and Guava Limb Café will be hard to beat!
Roadtrip to San Ignacio ! Day 1: Bocawina Waterfalls & Maya Mountain Lodge
Having my youngest son in town visiting for a week was the perfect excuse to head to the Cayo district to explore this beautiful region of Belize. His interest in nutrition, organic foods and farming makes this the ideal place to experience the natural, healthy options this country has to offer.
Our tentative plan is to travel from Placencia to San Ignacio through the Maya mountain region via the Hummingbird Highway. A beautiful trip through the mountains, the capital city of Belmopan and on into San Ignacio on the western border should be about 3 1/2 hours. About an hour into the trip, we see Bocawina National Park & waterfalls… 4 miles. How can we just pass this up and not take a quick look? Famous last words!
A relatively easy drive down the bumpy gravel road to the entrance of the park. Beautiful! well, we came this far, we have to hike up a little just to see the falls. The park attendant said its a beautiful hike. He didn’t seem to make it sound very difficult, just a short hike, then nice swim in the falls. I now wonder what they were thinking… as we wandered off into the jungle in our sandals, shorts and swimsuit tops…..no boots, no long pants, no bug spray…..oh those tourists!
Four hours later we “stumble” back into our car, we have accomplished the most strenuous feat I have ever attempted! After about a mile into the hike, the trails turn into steep steps with ropes attached. Yes, to pull yourself up, one by one For the next 30 minutes, you are grabbing at the ropes attempting to balance on the steps and avoid falling down the side of the mountain. This was suppose to be just a quick stop on our way to San Ignacio!! At this point, it’s a mind game, as your mind is saying..”you’ve come this far you can’t turn back now”.. and your body is saying….”WHAT the HELL!!
Once we arrived at the top, the views were breathtaking with a great swimming hole at the base of the falls. There are numerous tour companies that have guided day trips to this park and region, but it’s also easily accessibly off the southern highway about an hour out of Placencia, if you are driving through the area. Park fees were $10 BZ ($5 US). Continue past the park entrance for guided zip lining and waterfall rappeling options. This is definitely something I would recommend, although it was a great challenge for a 55yr old with a knee replacement…..and I made it. The younger fit and energetic crowd will love it!!
Ok, back in the car headed to San Ignacio. Here are a few of the sights along the way…
MAYA MOUNTAIN LODGE & WELLNESS CENTER
Obviously this “detour” extended our time arriving into San Ignacio, but we easily arrived before dark and were able to find our jungle lodge with no problems. Maya Mountain Lodge just on the outskirts of San Ignacio/Santa Elena is a perfect spot for easy access to all the Cayo district has to offer.
Having eight individual cabanas, pool, beautiful landscaped gardens and on-site restaurant, in addition to a wellness center, you can’t go wrong with this option. Visiting the area in the slow season of September has both advantages and disadvantages. While you can find very reasonable rates at most resorts and minimal tourists at this time, you’ll also find several places are closed for the a few weeks to allow employees time off and to prepare their facilities for the upcoming high season. But at the lodge, the slow season was wonderful, as we had lots of time and space to relax by the pool, enjoy quiet evenings for dinner and explore the beautiful gardens throughout the lodge. The herb garden is wonderful and supplies many of the herbs for the delicious dinners in the lodge dining room.
The location of this lodge allows great easy access to anything you may want to do downtown, but gives you the peacefulness and ambience of a classic jungle atmosphere. Their addition of the Wellness Center provides numerous options for health and wellness services from counseling to spa treatments and massages onsite. Healthy organic Belizean meals are served in the lodge restaurant. Making it very convenient to stay onsite for the evening meals rather than venture back out after a day of tours or sightseeing. Relaxing in the pool, or several hammocks is also an option for an afternoon of relaxation. Coffee and afternoon snack is served daily in the lounge at 5pm, with dinner service around 6:30. We enjoyed great conversation around dinner with Bart the owner, who was very knowledgeable about the area, the Maya culture and the Wellness Center. Offering tours to Maya ruins, caves, nature walks and waterfalls, provides something for everyone.
The options for dinners were wonderful and they served some of the best authentic Belizean food we have found. Healthy, organic and so well prepared, making for a great end to our perfect days spent at this lovely piece of paradise in the jungle. The employees are awesome and make every effort to ensure you are well taken care of and have any of your needs addressed. From tours around the property, to brewing some lemongrass tea, fresh from the herb garden….they take care of you.
So, if you’re looking for a great jungle lodge with a perfect location just on the outskirts of San Ignacio town, you’ll have easy access to all the tours and options the area has to offer. The prices are reasonable, the food is fabulous and the employees make you feel a part of the family. You will not be disappointed with Maya Mountain Lodge!
We decided to rent a car and venture south for the day to Punta Gorda. Having planned this daytrip as just a drive down south to explore the region and uncertain as to what we would find, we were pleasantly surprised at the beauty of the countryside. Having only small villages along the route, you can drive for miles without seeing another vehicle. This area of Belize is the least developed and is home to some of the most beautiful rainforest in the country. On previous trips to Belize, we visited many of the different regions of this small country. San Ignacio in the Cayo district, Corozal in the northern most region and the islands of Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker. Visiting the different regions reinforces how vastly different these areas can be. A day trip to Punta Gorda was an easy drive from Placencia village and definitely provides some options for future daytrips.
The Toledo District is the furthest south, and although very densely populated is beautiful and charming with small fishing communities and small farms dotting the countryside. We quickly realized the numerous options this area of the country has to offer. Banana plantations, spice farms and cacao plantations can be seen from the Southern Highway; the only road going south after Placencia.
Many people have told me the Ixcacao chocolate tour is something you definitely must do while in the area. Although we ventured off the “beaten path” and found it located deep within the rainforest, we were not scheduled to do a tour, but were able to see their process and purchase some chocolate. Definitely worth the drive! Tours and daytrips can be scheduled at any tour office in the village.
The countryside is dotted with small villages, wild turkeys, horses and some of the most beautiful churches you will see anywhere you may travel. Two major Maya ruin sites are along this route to Punta Gorda and said to be definitely worth a visit. Nim Li Punit and Lubaantun. Both looked easily accessible from the Southern Highway, as well as Hokeb Ha Cave which is near the village of Blue Creek.
Some additional sights along the way….
The major lesson we learned on this short day trip to Punta Gorda in the Toledo district, is we must go back! A visit to the ruins, Spice Farm Nursery, Ixcacao Chocolate Tour and the downtown area of Punta Gorda on market days is definitely on my list of “to do’s” in this beautiful little country I’m loving more everyday!
Relaxing at the SailFish | Placencia Hotel & Hostel
One of the great jewels we have found in the Placencia area is tucked away near the end of Sunset Pointe, just a short walk from the heart of the village. www.sailfishbelize.com
Sailfish was highly recommended by several places in town as a great place to hangout for the day! For a small “pool-use fee” of $5 BZ, you can enjoy the infinite pool and lounging area with a beautiful view. A great place to enjoy the afternoon at the swim-up bar, relax in the loungers or play ball with the resident dog…”Einstein”. The bartender David, quickly makes you feel welcome and advises that “Einstein” loves to play ball, but hates to share his floater!
While providing accommodations ranging from small hostel rooms to larger waterfront suites, the resort seems to have something for everyone. An ideal location, just a couple minutes walk from the village with restaurants, shops and beaches. Having direct access to the lagoon, it’s a great location for renting kayaks and paddleboards.
If you are traveling to Placencia, Sailfish is definitely worth the visit while in the village. Whether you are looking for a place to stay for a few days, kayak or paddleboard rentals, or just a place to hang out for a few hours in the pool….you can’t go wrong at the Sailfish Resort!