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Things to do in San Ignacio Belize (Without a Tour Guide!)

Caracol Maya Ruins in the Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve near San Ignacio Belize

Unfortunately, Belize is one of the most expensive countries to visit in Central America, probably due to it being an ex-British colony, and popular with American and Canadian expats and visitors which has helped to push up prices.  However, if you are backpacking Belize on a budget, then don’t worry – there are still plenty of activities to see and do close to San Ignacio that don’t need a tour guide.  Here are my top picks for things to do in San Ignacio Belize without a tour guide.

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Popular destinations like Caye Caulker and San Ignacio are prime examples of how expensive tours can be. To put things in perspective, even a half-day tour snorkelling on Caye Caulker can cost $50 USD, and popular tours in San Ignacio such as the (incredible) ATM cave tour will set you back close to $100 USD.  If you have the cash to spend, I highly recommend doing the ATM cave tour, but if not then never fear, just choose some of these ways to explore San Ignacio without a guide.

Xunantunich Maya Ruins near San Ignacio Belize
Xunantunich Maya Ruins near San Ignacio Belize

Explore San Ignacio Belize without a Tour Guide

Xunantunich Ruins

Despite its complicated name, Xunantunich is really easy to get to without a tour guide, as any bus to Benque will take you through the village of San Jose Succotz where these Mayan ruins are.  

In San Jose Succotz there is a ferry which crosses the river where you can walk up to the ruins. The hand-cranked ferry is free to cross, and the entrance fee to Xunantunich is just $10 BZ ($5 USD), which is ideal for cash-strapped backpackers!  The museum at the site is worth a visit, and keep an eye (and ear) out for the resident monkeys.

Take your swimsuit with you so you can take a dip in the river after your visit; cross the river and walk up to where people are cleaning clothes & bathing for the cleanest spots.  A great place to eat in San Jose Succotz is Benny’s kitchen; they also do take-away meals so you can eat it by the river. 

To get back to San Ignacio, hitchhiking is quite common, but check the driver hasn’t been drinking before you get in.  Buses leave every 30 minutes or so from the Uno gas station by the roundabout in the village, or take a colectivo taxi (any taxi that takes more than one person/group).

Carvings on one of the pyaramids at Xunantunich Maya ruins near San Ignacio Belize
Carvings on one of the pyramids at Xunantunich Maya ruins near San Ignacio Belize

*TOP TIP* Back in San Ignacio you can get off the bus at the gas station & turn right at the roundabout to go to Cahal Pech ruins, & Cahal Pech Resort Hotel for awesome sunset views, or continue back into town.

READ MORE: I took a horse riding tour to Xunantunich, and loved it 

Cahal Pech Ruins

San Ignacio was built around Cahal Pech ruins, more remnants from the Maya empire.  Cahal Pech is very different to the Xunantunich because the ruins are more like a maze rather than the more traditional pyramids which we find at Xunantunich and other Maya ruins like Tikal.

The museum there is very interesting too, so spend some time in the museum before you head out to the ruins. After visiting you can also enjoy a drink and beautiful panoramic views by carrying on to the Cahal Pech Village Resort hotel that is 300 yards further uphill.  The bar at the resort is open to the public and has two pools where you can swim as a non-guest for a $10 BZ fee.  This is also a great place to watch the sunset before heading back into town.

Things to do in San Ignacio Belize without a tour guide - Cahal Pech Ruins
Things to do in San Ignacio Belize – Cahal Pech Ruins. Credit: Tinker & Rove via Flickr

The Iguana Sanctuary at the San Ignacio Resort Hotel

The San Ignacio Resort Hotel on the Western Highway has an iguana sanctuary that is also very nice to visit. The entry fee is 18BZ and they have two tours daily at 10am and 2pm where a guide will explain the resorts conservation efforts to protect the iguanas, and you go inside the iguana enclosure to feed the beasts.  The sanctuary is walking distance from the hostel; up the hill by the police station.

*TOP TIP* You could combine visits to the Iguana Sanctuary & Cahal Pech together, which would take around 3-5 hours.  You could also visit Xunantanich in the morning, and come back to town to visit Cahal Pech and the Iguana Sanctuary to fill a whole day.

Iguanas at the San Ignacio Resort Hotel Iguana Sanctuary
Iguanas at the San Ignacio Resort Hotel Iguana Sanctuary

Swim in the River

You can swim in the river in San Ignacio, in town go across the metal bridge & turn left, where the water is cleaner.  You will usually see locals cooling off here too.  If you fancy a few beers, call at the Highway Supermarket on your way, and remember to take the empties away with you.

Further afield, around 3/4 mile from town is a pretty place called Branch Mouth where the Macal and the Mopan rivers meet to become the Belize River.  It is a nice place to swim and have a picnic, and the walk there is a nice bit of exercise, however, it is not a good idea to go alone as robberies have occurred here.

It is best to go in a group, and keep an eye your belongings on the shore.  Instead of walking you could also take a cab for $10 BZ.

Swim or Canoe in the River at San Ignacio Belize - Things to do in San Ignacio Belize without a guide
Swim or Canoe in the River at San Ignacio Belize

Canoeing on the River

For more adventurous types, why not hire a canoe to explore along the river?  By the board bridge in San Ignacio town most days you will find a man called Tony who has six canoes he rents for the day for $30BZ each, cheaper than the agencies in town.  His wife also cooks meals you can take with you, or grab some food at the market for a packed lunch.  

A good place to visit on the river is the Creek Resort, which has pretty medicinal gardens and a butterfly farm. To tour the facilities, there is a $20 BZ fee, and you can have lunch there if you like but the prices are quite expensive, so bring a packed lunch to keep your costs down. 

The canoe trip takes around 2-3 hours upstream, it isn’t difficult, but it is easier in the morning as there is less water flow – leave here by 10am at the latest to avoid the higher water when the damn opens at 2pm.

There are a couple of small rapids on the river, where you can pick up the canoe & pull it over the rocks.  On the way back, the trip is much easier as it’s downstream, so you should be home in about an hour.

Rion Pools in the Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve near San Ignacio Belize
Rion Pools in the Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve near San Ignacio Belize

Caracol & the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve

In the beautiful Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, there are waterfalls and caves, and Caracol to explore (the largest Maya ruin in Belize).  A tour to Caracol will cost you $85-95USD, and usually includes a stop at Big Rock Falls & Rio Frio Cave. 

However, you can also rent a car and do this trip on your own for about half the cost if you share the price of renting the car.  Car rental in Belize is easy enough to arrange if you get full insurance cover, and 4×4 cars are better than standard drives as they can handle the roads much better!

We hired a car with Flames Car Hire which cost us $145BZ plus gas, so about $200BZ in total.  The entrance fee to Caracol ruin is $20BZ per person, plus whatever food you take with you.  There were 4 of us sharing the cost of the hire car which saved us quite a bit of cash!  

Rio Frio Cave in the Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve near San Ignacio Belize
Rio Frio Cave in the Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve near San Ignacio Belize – Spot the Person!

If you want to visit Caracol then you must try and reach the ranger station by 9AM to go in an army convoy into Caracol ruin, so get an early start and leave San Ignacio town by 7.30am.  There are occasionally problems with security, so it is best to join the caravan if you can. 

When we went, the army weren’t concerned so they let us carry on alone.  At the entrance to the reserve the ranger will take your license plate & check how many people you are, but the reserve entrance is free.  It takes about 2 hours in total to get to Caracol, so it’s best to go to Caracol first, then visit Rio Frio, Rion Pools & Big Rock Falls on the way back. 

It is possible to camp at the Ranger Station if you have your own gear or ask your hostel in San Ignacio if they know someone who will rent you the equipment.

If you prefer to take guided tours, you could go to the ATM Caves with Carlos the Caveman, or horseback riding to Xunantunich.  You can also check out these options with GetYourGuide:


Restaurants in San Ignacio

Before you eat out in any fancy restaurant, remember that street food in San Ignacio is AMAZING!  It is cheap and delicious, and I defy anyone not to enjoy a hot fry jack! 

Any one of the street food stands around the main cross roads in town serves up cheap and tasty meals, pick one which is busy with locals and you can’t go wrong.  However, if you would like a proper meal, these are some of my favourite restaurants in San Ignacio Belize:

Cheap Restaurants in San Ignacio

I loved the street food style shack that is Mickey’s Snack Shop, for super cheap fry jacks, burritos and empanadas, among others.  Queue up at the counter to place your order & grab a seat on the picnic bench outside.  Pop’s is the best breakfast place in town, and you HAVE to have dessert at The Ice Cream Shoppe.

Mid-Range & Expensive Restaurants in San Ignacio

One of the most highly rated (and expensive) restaurants in San Ignacio, Guava Limb is nice treat for dinner or a date night.  A more reasonable option is Ko-Ox Han nah which has a good range of dishes to suit all the family.

A Delicious Fry Jack
A Delicious Fry Jack

Accommodation in San Ignacio

Book accommodation in San Ignacio on hotelscombined | Tripadvisor | Hostelworld

Hostels in San Ignacio

I volunteered at Bella’s Backpackers Bella’s Backpackers hostel in San Ignacio for a month, which is a good value option and just a couple of minutes from the bus station and main square.  I also tried D’s Hostel D’s Hostelwhich was great for relaxing and getting some work done but lacked the social vibe of Bella’s.  You could also try The Old House Hostel, which gets great reviews and is just a couple of minutes’ walk from the centre of town.  


Hotels in San Ignacio

There are plenty of great hotels and resorts in San Ignacio to choose from.  Cahal Pech Village Resort is one of the most popular hotels in San Ignacio, with an outdoor pool and great views of the sunset.  The 4 star Ka’ana Resort & Spa gets great reviews, as does Mystic River Resort


Airbnb in San Ignacio

Or check the options for Airbnb in San Ignacio.  There are lots of options to choose from, like this cute cabin! If you have never used Airbnb before, use this link to sign up & get up to $40 credit to use on your first trip!  Read more about the Airbnb first time discount code or click below for your Airbnb coupon.


Have you been to San Ignacio Belize?  Have I missed any other activities to do in the town?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

If you’re planning to visit more of Belize then check out this one week Belize itinerary from the Globe Guide. 

If you’re looking for travel insurance for your trip to Belize, get a quote now from World Nomads.

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Unfortunately, tours in Belize can be very expensive. However, If you are backpacking Belize on a budget, then don’t worry – there are still plenty of activities to see and do close to San Ignacio that don’t need a tour guide.  Here are my top picks for things to do in San Ignacio Belize without a guide. #Belize #CentralAmerica #Travel #SanIgnacio #Budgettravel #Belizeonabudget #explore #adventure

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Last updated: June 3, 2020

14 thoughts on “Things to do in San Ignacio Belize (Without a Tour Guide!)

  1. Anna Hicks says:

    I would also recommend the market in San Ignacio it is open every day and at its biggest on Saturdays. Sunday and Monday are very quiet and don’t have much available. You can get yummy food at the street food vendors and the produce is very good. The prices are very affordable and it’s a great way to eat and shop where the locals do.

  2. Ilona says:

    I just arrived in San Ignacio and am still shocked how expensive the tours are. I knew about the prizes in advance but it’s just crazy and it makes me wonder how many people actually do them, especially the less popular ones.

    We thought about going to Caracol, but since tours are so expensive (and a rental car is cheaper but still expensive), we are planning on doing Xunantunich tomorrow. Depending on the weather, we will then either go on to the Iguana Station or warm up with a tea in our hostel.

    Thanks a lot for this guide! It is one of the best ones I’ve read about San Ignacio.

  3. Sandy N Vyjay says:

    Have always been fascinated by the Mayan ruins. The stones tell some intriguing tales of a lost chapter of history. San Ignacio seems to be a perfect place to spend time amongst the ruins. Xunantunich Ruins especially looks promising. I also love the fact that you can combine visits to the ruins with activities like swimming and canoeing.

  4. Suruchi says:

    Belize sounds like an interesting place to visit but the fact of being one of the most expensive place is stopping us. Thanks for compiling up this list of cheap price places we can enjoy once in Belize. I liked the way you have mentioned tips.

  5. Ami Bhat says:

    You have two of my favorite activities covered here. The Canoeing in the river sounds like absolute fun and of course, the ruins. Xunantunich Ruins with those carvings intrigues me and I am out on google trying to find out more about it. Thanks for sharing this.

  6. Archana Singh says:

    I really wanna visit Belize but as you mentioned it is one of the most expensive countries to visit in Central America. And, that has been stopping me to explore it. I am so glad to know that there are many activities that you can do without a tour guide.

  7. Renata Green says:

    Actually, I used to live in Placencia when my daughter was a toddler. Yes, everything was pretty expensive compared to the neighboring countries – mainly since Belize has like 200K inhabitants, no industry and basically everything has to be imported. However, it is a very beautiful country.

  8. Marvi says:

    San Ignacio in Belize looks wonderful! I love to explore places on my own lately (minus the tour guide) and knowing that you can do this in San Ignacio is pretty cool! The ruins (Xunantunich and the Cahal Pech) are definitely going to the top of my list. As well as the Caracol & the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve. Renting a car to explore this sounds good. Are there maps and guides that we can bring along to help us navigate?

  9. Chris Bloomfield says:

    Some of us who travel must be extremely frugal. Thanks for helping us out with the tips. We love renting canoes and exploring, but the prices are all over the place. It is great that you found a cheaper place just outside of town. Thanks for letting us know about how to see Belize without breaking the bank.

  10. Tamara Elliott says:

    Great post- I was in Belize a few months ago and loved it, but was definitely taken aback by how expensive it was. To be fair though, organized tours I’ve done pretty much anywhere else in the world cost at least $100, so I guess they’re in line with that.

  11. Stella Jane says:

    I had no idea that Belize was so expensive. I would love to go there and see those iguanas. Those pictures are amazing. I like the idea of the cave tour but it’s good to know that there are cheaper things to do in Belize as well.

  12. Vibeke says:

    I have wanted to visit Belize for a long time. I wasn’t aware of the ruins there. I like to visit places like this without a guide, but I sometimes think it is good to know the history of the places I visit. I hope I can visit San Ignazio in Belize one day. Thank you for the tips 🙂

  13. Paige says:

    I love that there are some amazing archaeological options to partake in without a guide. Great tip about getting off at the gas station to visit Cahal Pech ruins. I would love to explore all of these ruins. It’s too bad that Belize is so expensive comparatively. It’s been on the back of my mind lately.

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