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A Quick Guide To San Ignacio, Belize: Food, Fun, And Lodging

Welcome To San Ignacio, The Heart Of Cayo In Belize

It still gives me a shiver driving over the low bridge that connects the town of Santa Elena to her sister town of San Ignacio, and not only because it means I’m home and get to see the beautiful Macal River.

It’s also because the rattle and shimmying of the clunky wooden bridge that is the gateway to San Ignacio still makes my heart skip a beat every time I drive over it, even after all these years as a happy resident here.

The Santa Elena-San Ignacio bridge has never collapsed, but you’ll understand my trepidation about crossing it when you see it for yourself.

San Ignacio is the biggest town in Belize’s Cayo District, located about 72 miles west of Belize City.

San Ignacio achieved town status in 1904. Before that, it was a logging outpost, first for logwood—valued by the crowns of Spain and England for the popular dyes that could be extracted from it—then later for mahogany.

After you cross the bridge and enter San Ignacio, on your left is the continually upgraded and expanded market area. Thursday through Saturday are full market days, but the stalls selling fruits and veggies are open seven days a week.

On your right you pass the New French Bakery, the best bakery Cayo District.

If arriving by bus, you’ll pull into the new town square, passing Atlantic International Bank (which I recommend for all your offshore banking needs). Then you’ll be dropped off outside the new Cayo Welcome Center. This modern tourism information center and small historical and cultural museum is a great place to start your exploration of Cayo District.

If you are driving, you can leave your vehicle in the center’s secure car park located behind the building.

Next door to the Welcome Center is the town amphitheater, where concerts and ceremonies are held.

Completed three years ago with assistance from international grant funding, the Cayo Welcome Center and renovated town square have come a long way. Once… not so long ago… a dilapidated park, the area is now a vibrant spot, the heart of the district, with great options for shopping dining, and having fun…

Venues In The Square

Bamboo Bar:  Famous for their smoothies, frozen drinks, and milkshakes…

A local bar with picnic tables outside
Bamboo Bar (©BTB)

Champions/Mom’s Backyard Bar And Eatery:  For a quieter place to cool off and watch the world go by, head next door and upstairs from Bamboo to find this locale known for its great atmosphere…

D’ Stock Burger: Serving good diner food at reasonable prices…

A burger joint in San Ignacio's town square
D’ Stock Burger (©BTB)

Blended: Famous for their smoothies, frozen drinks, and milk shakes… 

Yoli’s Pizza: Order by the slice or by the pie (remember that pizzas are not cheap in Belize because the specific cheeses and cured meats have to be imported)…

Bamboo Tea: Teas, juices, and drinks from all over the world to wet your whistle.

In the square you’ll also find clothing stores, furniture and appliance stores, an agricultural and veterinary supply, a spice store, corner stores, Heritage Bank, pharmacies, and more. 

The Action Along Burns Avenue

If the square is the heart of San Ignacio… Burns Avenue is its life line.

Burns Avenue starts at the police station and runs down into the town’s main intersection.

At the top of the avenue are two main banks, Atlantic Bank and Scotia Bank. Beyond these are shops, fast-food takeaways, clothing stores, the Casa Blanca Guesthouse, and one of the most popular restaurants in town, Ko Ox Han Nah (formerly Hannah’s).

Across the road from Hannah’s is its sister store, Meat Shop, where you’ll find the best cuts of meat and cheeses in San Ignacio.

From there, a pedestrian street designated for tourism and recreation beckons. Crowds are out and about here early. Things quiet down until sunset, when the temperature cools and the crowd re-emerges looking for fun. 

A woman selling beer at a local bar in San Ignacio
A man sitting on a bench in San Ignacio playing music

Nightlife in San Ignacio (©BTB)

Going hand in hand with the venues you pass are the street characters you see. The Rastafarian looking gentlemen peddling jewelry or aromatics are harmless and usually fun. These guys are typically up for a joke as they try to sell you their wares.

 While very common and part of the heritage and culture of Belize, marijuana is illegal here. Whether you partake for medical, stress relief, or social reasons, be aware of where you are and be discreet.

Serendib Restaurant: Great Indonesian and local food.

Eva’s Restaurant: Cayos’ original hangout, now frequented by expats for midday coffee and a beer or two. 

Back To My Roots: Rastafarian-themed wraps and smoothies.

Tandoor Restaurant: Tasty Indian food and cocktails. 

A Shoe shiner awaiting customers
Be sure to avoid the rush at the shoe repair stand (©BTB)

Belize Bank: The largest (but somewhat embattled) bank of Belize.

Dibary: San Ignacio’s newest clothing and accessories chain store.

Max’s Adventure Tours: Ask for Max; he’ll take care of you. He also fixes washing machines.

On Burns Avenue you’ll also come across appliance and furniture stores, a shoe repair stand (if you can avoid the rush), Central TV & Internet (CCV), BTL (the main phone company), UPS, hardware stores, guest houses, and more.

Further down towards the end of Burns Avenue is Guava Limb, the healthiest restaurant in downtown San Ignacio.

A (Very) Brief History Of San Ignacio

San Ignacio achieved town status in 1904. Before that, it was a logging outpost, first for logwood—valued by the crowns of Spain and England for the popular dyes that could be extracted from it—then later for mahogany.

An offshoot of the award-winning Chaa Creek Eco Lodge, Guava Limb’s international menu of delicate flavors is worth the treat. 

In-Town Activities (Other Than The Pubs)

While much smaller than other Maya sites, the Cahal Pech ruins are worth exploring before checking out the much larger Xunantunich and Caracol ruins located out of town. 

Iguana Sanctuary: San Ignacio Resort Hotel has an iguana hatchery and breeding program on their grounds.

Go up the steep hill beside the police station. The hotel is on your left at the top.

Swimming Pools: There are several hotels in town that allow outside guests to use their facilities for a small fee (BZ$10). The best in town are:

  • Cahal Pech Hotel: Located on top of the largest hill in town and beside the ruins.
  • Midas Resort: You’ll find this on Branch Mouth Road about 500 yards from the market.

When you come to San Ignacio for jungle and archaeological adventures, be sure to explore the scene along the square and Burns Avenue, the most happening places in town! 

Con Murphy
Belize Insider

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