Sites of the ancient MayaThe whole area around San Ignacio is covered with Mayan temples and artifacts. Some of them have been uncovered and excavated (xunantunich). Others, like El Pilar, are places that the jungle has reclaimed and are now just odd shaped hills and grass covered courtyards. The Mayan culture and civilization was vast. There were more pleople living here when the Maya were here than there are now. The ruins here are something you really don't want to miss.
Jump to Actun Chapat, Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM), Cahal Pech, Caracol, El Pilar, Tikal, or Xunantunich
First a quick note on going places.There are two ways to get most places, take a tour or take yourself. The tours are organized and mostly safe, but they will cost you more. Finding your own way there requires a sense of humor and that you think. You'll find directions here to most spots. If you aren't sure about something, just ask around. It's a small country and most people will know how to get where you want to go.
If you are looking for something to do around San Ignacio (that hasn't been done by a million people before you) and like caves, Actun Chapat should be your number one choice. At the site there are actually 3 caves: Actun Chapat, Halal, and Son of Chapat.
These caves have only recently been opened up to outsiders and are known by very few. The gentleman who owns the property is the only one allowed to take in tours and he is very particular about the state of items in the cave and not allowing destruction of artifacts, thus he only takes small groups.
Actun Chapat has no known ending, two known entrances and several thousand feet of passages riddled with pottery, cave formations, terraces, and human bones. It has a lake with blind catfish, crabs and more bat than you can imagine. Someone even spotted a possum running along a ledge more than 100 feet off the floor.
Actun Halal has evidence of people living there around 4400 B.C. It's not so much of a cave as Chapat but great none the less.
Son of Chapat, which has yet to be fully explored, is believed to have a subterrenian passage that leads into Actun Chapat.
Getting thereWhen you go caving, you need a guide. Because of the nature of these caves, Ken dart at Belizean Sun Tours and Travel is the only person allowed to take in cavers. These are caves that most will never hear about and even fewer yet, will ever see.
Actun Tunichil Muknal is a cave in Belize, near San Ignacio Cayo, notable as a Maya archaeological site that includes skeletons, ceramics, and stoneware. The most famous of the human remains is known as "The Crystal Maiden", the skeleton of a teenage girl, probably a sacrifice victim, whose bones which have been completely covered by the natural processes of the cave, leaving them with a sparkling appearance. There are several such skeletons in the main chamber.
The ceramics at the site are significant partially because they are marked with "kill holes", which indicates they were used for ceremonial purposes.
Entry to the cave is made by wading or swimming across a large pool before scrambling up and into the cave. The caverns where the relics are found are dry even when the area is hit by a hurricane.
Getting thereThis is pretty much the only thing you need a tour for. Because of the rare nature of the cave, it's been protected from further damage by limiting the number of people allowed to enter. It's well worth the price though. It's probably one of the neatest things to see. As for a guide, you should check out River Rat Expeditions. They are the only company that is owned and operated by the guide and the specialize in ATM.
Cahal Pech is a Maya site located in the Town of San Ignacio in the Cayo District of Belize. The site was a palacio home for an elite Maya family, and though most major construction dates to the Classic period, evidence of continuous habitation has been dated back as far as 900 BC, making Cahal Pech one of the oldest recognizably Maya sites in Western Belize. The site is a collection of 34 structures, with the tallest being about 25 meters in height. The site was abandoned in the 9th century AD for unknown reasons.
The name Cahal Pech, meaning "place of ticks", was given when this site was a pasture during the first archaeological studies in the 1950s. It is now an archaeological park, and houses a small museum with artifacts from various ongoing excavations.
Getting thereThis is another of the really easy ones. From in town, go to the police station and take the road on the right. It's a huge hill. Follow the road all the way. Eventually you'll get to an intersection with "Cayo Twist" ice cream shop on the corner. On the left you'll see a park, and at the intersection you'll see a sign that says Cahal Pech. At the intersection take a left, then a fairly quick right. You should be going uphill. If you get to Saddleback Grill, you've gone too far. It's about 45min there and 20min back. Entrance is 10bz. If you don't want to walk, take a cab. Be forewarned though, they don't like to drive up the hill, so it'll be around 10bz.
Caracol or El Caracol is the name given to a large ancient Maya archaeological site, located in what is now the Cayo District of Belize. It is situated approximately 25 miles south of Xunantunich and San Ignacio Cayo, at an elevation of 1500 feet (460 m) above sea-level, in the foothills of the Maya Mountains. The site was the most important political centre of Lowland Maya during the Classic Period within Belize. On the way to Caracol, you will have to drive the the Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve. This is a wonderful place full of trails and water falls. It's well worth it to add a jaunt through the park on your way back.
Getting thereThis one is a bit tougher. You'll first need to rent a car. Between 9am and 9:30am, there is a convoy of armed guards that go into the area. Make sure you get there early. You'll want to follow them in, and to the site. On the way out there are quite a few different places that you can stop and swim or get something to eat.
El Pilar is an ancient Maya city center located on the Belize-Guatemala border. It can be accessed from Bullet Tree Falls, 12 miles north-west of San Ignacio Town.
So that is the official statement. The real reason El Pilar is listed here is because it is one of the most interesting sites around. The reason being that if you go to Tikal or Xunantunich or really any Maya site, there is always a lot of short well maintained grass. That's nice and all but you don't really get the feeling that your are seeing things that are 3000 to 5000 years old. That is just why El Pilar is so nice. It's not fully excavated and there is no well kempt grass. It's much closer in feeling to you just wandering through the jungle one day and you are the first person to stumble across the remains of some long dead civilization. It's a bit more awe inspiring.
Getting thereYou get there from Bullet Tree Falls, but it's a little way back, so you'll need your own transportation, like a rent a car. You'll first need to get tickets in Bullet Tree. The place you get those is pretty easy to find. When you are driving through Bullet Tree, you'll pass a soccer field on the right, and then a bus stop on the right, stay to the left of the bus stop. Maybe 3 buildings down on the left you'll see a sign that says you can get tickets there. They'll tell you whatever else you need to know.
Tikal is one of the largest archaeological sites and urban centers of the Pre-Columbian Maya civilization. It is located in the archaeological region of the Petén Basin in what is now modern-day northern Guatemala. The site is part of Guatemala's Tikal National Park and in 1979 was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The closest large modern settlements are Flores and Santa Elena, approximately 40 miles by road to the southwest.
Getting thereNow you might be saying,"What, Tikal is in Guatemala." I know, but it is a huge destination and lots of people who come to San Ignacio want to see Tikal. The cheapest way to get there is to take a bus to Benque and cross the border. If you want to stay the night, head for Flores. You can camp outside Tikal, but it's expensive and not so nice. From Flores it's really easy to get there.
` Xunantunich (shoo-NAHN-too-nich) is a Maya archaeological site in western Belize, in the Cayo District. Its name means "Stone Woman". The "Stone Woman" refers to the ghost of a woman claimed by several people to inhabit the site, beginning in 1892. She is dressed completely in white, and has fire-red glowing eyes. She generally appears in front of El Castillo; ascends the stone stairs and disappears into a stone wall.
Most of the structures date from the Maya Classic Era, about 200 to 900. There is evidence that some structures were damaged by an earthquake while they were occupied; this earthquake may have been a reason for the site's abandonment.