In my last travel post (read that one here!), I detailed my tips and favorite features of a couple of Mayan sites in Western Belize. My Belize city posts can be found here and here. There is so much more to do than just visit the sites. Many of the resorts (you don’t have to be a guest at the resort to book through them – so hostel peeps – you too can get the good stuff without paying premium prices) offer amazing tours for reasonable prices. I would suggest visits to the various caves, jungle adventures that This experience was $9.00 US and included an amazingly informative seminar on chocolate production by the Maya. There were hands on and taste buds on elements too! The family that operates the chocolate experience show you how to grind roasted beans into a paste that is then sweetened with honey and flavored with cinnamon, pepper or anything else on hand.
The guides let me have a turn with the grinder. It was actually a lot harder than it looked to grind the beans into the very fine particles that the guides were able to (isn’t it always!). Once the grinding was done, the guides made two different types of chocolate drink much like the Maya would have made.
I do love it when I get to literally taste history. The family does give you a bit of the paste to take home, and they operate a small shop just behind the demonstration and tasting room where you can purchase a bit of history to take home. Of course, I did and I think the kids are going to LOVE it!
Another new addition to down town is the face lift around the visitor center. The town has really placed a great deal of time, effort and money into beautification over the past couple of years. The tiny plaza is beautiful and surrounded by new and upcoming restaurants. My favorite of these is about two blocks away and one street up from the visitor’s center itself. On Burns Avenue sits a small wine bar and bistro called Krave. It is AMAZING! The desserts are divine and the atmosphere can’t be beat. This is a new concept for this part of the world, and it has become a hit with locals and tourists alike. I have been a few times over the past few visits and have not had a bad meal yet. On my past visit I had baby back ribs. The portion was so large I had to share with a friend. It came with two other sides as well as bread. The wine selection is excellent for the area, but isn’t what you would find in major US cities. That being said, it is respectable in its own right. To finish off our meal, we also split a lovely concoction called the “impossible cake.” Oh, it was possible. The rich, made from scratch, devils food cake base was topped by a creamy and delicious layer of flan and caramelized sugar wisps that shown like amber in the light. The presentation is stunning.
You absolutely must get a photo under the colorful San Ignacio sign that caps the entrance to the market before you spend some time browsing the stalls for fruit, vegies and my fave, photo opps. I love the colors and textures that ripe fruit, fresh from the vine and field give. There is an earthy quality to the produce that I think I lack in the hyper lit grocery stores back home. The smells, colors and flavors are all much more intense. I love the manzana bananas (apple bananas) they are tiny, super sweet bananas that I love so much I could bathe in them. I can usually get about 10 for a dollar Belize (50 cents US) at the market.
There are also some vendors who sell souvenirs and other things to take home for friends and family. Be sure to buy local, made in Belize products so that the economy and artist community of the area stay strong. If you happen to be there around meal time, don’t be afraid to stop by the fast food stands (well, sort of fast) and pick up a pupusa, some tamales or dukunus to have there or take back to the hotel. You will get them at local prices and have a few minutes to hang out with the locals before you head to your next adventure.
San Ignacio Resort Hotel is my high end favorite. I love the sweeping views, canopy level mezzanine that also serves as an outdoor dining area, and friendly staff. Take a night, dress up, and enjoy some lobster bites as you watch the night animals emerge from their slumber and start to move about. The resort also boasts a very well done Maya medicine walk that starts every hour on the hour for about $9.00 US, and an iguana rescue that can bring you up close and personal with a new scaly friend. Some of these guys are approaching six feet long! No healthy iguana is ever captured, so only those who could not survive without the assistance of the project are housed in the facility. These are some well fed, happy babies. The restaurant features Running W brand meats which are heavenly as well.
In the middle are quite a few establishments that deserve a nod. Hode’s Place is a local favorite with great Belizean fare, Mayan specialties (I love the corn platter) and cold beer. Hode’s also has a small inn behind the orange groves and is located very close to the football field and market. I love to walk from Hode’s down to the New French Bakery for breakfast each morning. This tiny little bakery has amazing home made pastries of both Belizean and French origin, and some fusion ones as well. The scent of baking bread loaves wafts over you as you approach the ever open front door. I highly recommend the apple turn over and chocolate croissant. A cup of coffee and a pastry, followed by a banana from the market is my favorite way to start the morning. I love to sit at the tables on their porch and chat with locals and tourists as they get ready to start their day.
I mentioned Krave above, but my absolute favorite little place in San Ignacio is Guava Limb, Located in the same little neighborhood as Hode’s and very near the market as well, sits a bright green house that has been converted into a beautiful garden oasis. Upon entering the fenced in area, you are greeted by candle light and gently blowing fans. Tall potted palms and other plants provide a lovely privacy fence and enclose the seating area downstairs. There is also seating upstairs and on the balcony, but I prefer the down stairs garden seating. The menu is shaped like a little guava and each page has a number of tasty offerings. I opted for a red snapper special over a bed of fresh lettuce on my last visit and did not regret it one bit! They are also known for their cheesecakes. I happened to have time to stop in with a couple of colleagues for a creamy night cap and we decided to each get a different selection and share. Oh – My – Goodness! I can certainly attest to the fact that their reputation is well deserved. Banana layer cake (we have already discussed my love for local produce), Snickers Cheesecake, and a local favorite Cheesecake with a crumb topping were our choices. I will have a hard time staying away from the sweets the next time I work in San Ignacio.
While there, sample as many local establishments as you can, and give the local dishes a try. If you like rice, beans or chicken, you are all set! As always, take care of you wait staff and tip generously. While servers are paid more than in the US as a base service wage, it is still not much to live on at all. If you experienced good service from any server, tour guide or establishment take care of the service provider.
San Ignacio is charming, relatively safe, and has options for the budget traveler, mid grade traveler and high end resort traveler a like. No matter your budget you can find delicious local and fusion restaurants that are sure to make you want to visit again.
If you want to learn more about service in Belize, visit Ardenti Global Learning. I have personally seen their project results in the communities I work in and would highly recommend them as a service learning provider. I do not have any affiliation or financial arrangement with Ardenti, all opinions are my own.