This morning we get back on the speed boat and head to the mainland. We board onto one of those chicken buses again in Belize City and head west. A sweaty hot bumpy ride to the next destination! This bus is more crowded and uncomfortable than the last ones. At one stop, a guy brings a MATTRESS on the bus.
The only place it fits is in the aisle. This is the fun part of travel….never thought I’d see this sight!
After a couple of hours we arrive in San Ignacio, the second largest settlement in Belize.
The town is a convenient base if you want to explore the many amazing sites in this area. It’s located on the banks of the Macal River, with the ancient ruins of Cahal Pech located high on the hill overlooking the city. San Ignacio is a vibrant city, with many different cultures living together peacefully.
We pull up to Midas Hotel, and it is actually a really nice place.
I get the single room tonight, so I’m pretty stoked.
Then we take a short walk into the main part of town, passing through the market. It’s open every day, but really comes alive every Saturday.
San Ignacio also has many cool murals around town…
We grab a late lunch at a place called Ko-Ox Han Nah. Fun fact: the name means – “Let’s go eat!” I order a chicken burrito and OMG it is huge!
And so yummy. I pair it with a soursop juice. Soursop is a fruit from a type of evergreen tree only found in the tropics of the Americas. It has a wide range of health benefits, so I think it’s a good choice! It tastes like berry, apple and citrus. I’m not able to finish my giant burrito and the woman that owns the restaurant asks if something is wrong with it….nope, it’s just a lot of food! So then I feel bad for not finishing it…she is just too sweet. Needless to say the service here is amazing!
After lunch we take a wander around the town to snap some pics and get a feel for the place. We are in the aftermath of a giant storm that rolled through.
I’m not a huge fan of thunderstorms, so all of the lightning was a little intense for me. The air smells of fresh rain, the sky is slowly clearing up after the dark clouds have moved on. People are starting to return out into the streets and the city comes alive for the evening.
We grab some snacks at a small grocery store, and head back to the hotel to sit by the pool. Tomorrow we will explore the ATM caves, one the top attractions here in the Cayo district of Belize. There are a few more really cool things to do but sadly we either don’t have enough time, or it is not weather permitting. I’ll just have to stay longer next time!
This morning we are picked up by Belize Adventure Trails Tours to go explore the Actun Tunichil Muknal cave, also translated as the Cave of The Stone Sepulchre. It takes around an hours drive to get to the starting point for the trek. The cave is located in the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve and is around 3 miles long. The cave is a really important Mayan archaeological site. Fun Fact: National Geographic lists this cave as #1 on their Top Ten Sacred Caves list! And it wasn’t even discovered until 1989!
The best way everyone describes this tour is like an Indiana Jones adventure and they couldn’t be more right. It is an incredible and challenging adventure. You cannot do this on your own because the cave is protected and can only be explored with experienced guides. Personally, I would have never in a million years been able to do it on my own so thank god for our awesome guide, Ranan! There are no cameras allowed, because years ago someone dropped their camera on an ancient skull and cracked it. I’m ok with this…I’m too busy trying to keep myself alive and injury free to worry about taking pictures!
At camp, we get into our caving gear….
Lifejackets and helmets with lights…as the howler monkeys carry on in the distance. If you’ve never heard a howler monkey before…well let’s just say they make a slightly terrifying sound. Now we must start the 30 minute trek in the jungle rainforest to get to the cave entrance. And right away we’re crossing a deep river…no prob. Just hold onto the rope and swim across. There are two more river crossings, but they are no more than knee deep. Along the paths, Ranan shows us jaguar paw prints; he says we probably won’t run into any………
At the entrance of the cave, we must climb down some rocks and then swim into it.
The water is icy cold, and I follow right behind Ranan so I know where it’s safe to go…he’s the expert! This guy is maybe 5’4 and probably weighs close to 200 pounds so if this guy can do it, I hope I can!
The cave is a dark underworld so those headlamps are a necessity. We stop along the way to have a chat and admire the stalagmites and stalactites that sparkle in the light from our headlamps.
We then get to an area called the decapitator! Yikes!( of course you can go around it but it’s much more fun to go through it!). It’s a super tight squeeze around your head and neck and you must be at the perfect angle to get through. Awesome!
After about an hour we come to the part where we must climb atop a giant boulder to get to the upper archaeological chambers. I take one look and think oh NO WAY I’m getting up that thing! If I could take a guess, I’ll say the chamber ledge is at least 20 feet above us. But with Ranan’s skilled rock climbing talent, he successfully guides us up to the ledge. Wow! I’m not kidding here…this whole experience is extremely challenging for me so I’m super proud that I’m doing it! And it really is amazing that they even allow regular folks like us to do this, due to its level of difficulty.
Now we must take off our shoes and wander around in just our socks. There are many burial sites up here so we can only walk on the raised areas so as not to disturb anything. There are many types of pottery, and one interesting fact is that some of these have “kill holes” which tells us they were used for ceremonial purposes.
You can even find tiny spearheads laying in the sandy ground. At this point in the exploration I’m starting to feel hot from the damp cave air and I’m getting a little claustrophobic and panicky. Thinking the farther in we go…the farther we have to come back out! And lets just say this…I’ve been having stomach issues for the last couple of days so this is also stressing me out(luckily I have no bathroom emergencies while in the cave). Phew! I find it easier to move around without the lifejacket on so Ranan carries it for me. This man is seriously a superstar! Continuing on past more human skulls and tiny bones; one is definitely a baby. Now we reach a 13 rung ladder to climb up to the most popular chamber in this cave…
It contains the full skeletal bones of a young girl named the Crystal Maiden. Her bones have calcified which makes them sparkle in the light. It’s very cool.
They figure this person was sacrificed as well. But I wonder…how in the world did the Mayans get up to this area? Did they have some kind of ladder? And the archaeologists who found this…they must have shit their pants!!!
Now it’s back the way we came in, and let me tell you climbing down that large boulder is just as scary as climbing up it. Ranan does his absolute best to make sure we’re safe, but accidents can happen.
On the way back to the cave exit there is an option to slide down a small rock waterslide…I think it sounds like fun…it is, until I scrape my knee. But if that’s the only real injury I take from this crazy adventure, that’s ok with me! Another cool thing….we join together and turn off the headlamps to walk through the water in total darkness. Overall, an incredible experience! If you have a fear of heights, the dark, water, small spaces, creepy crawlies…maybe DON’T do this tour. But unless it’s a crippling fear……JUST DO IT!! You will be challenged physically and mentally and you’ll have so many stories to tell when you make it out alive!
We walk back to the jungle camp to change into dry clothes and we have a lunch of chicken, rice and beans, salad and of course…..rum punch! The tour driver takes us back to San Ignacio and drops us off at the ancient Mayan ruins site, Cahal Pech.
The name means “Place of Ticks”. Yep, let’s hope we don’t see any ticks today! Cahal Pech sits on a hill above the city and is fairly small and easy to navigate on your own. There is hardly anyone here…we basically have the ruins to ourselves.
This site is said to have been the home of an elite Mayan family. There are a few large plazas with pyramids, and then housing areas with different rooms. It’s a really cool site to explore.
We walk back downhill into the town, past the houses up on the hill. One guy yells out to us…”Hey you want some avocados?” Seriously I can’t make this stuff up! So he proceeds to throw down a bunch of avocados; I am not very good at catching them but I do finally snag one. Now this is the perfect walking home snack – It’s mushy and ripe. Yes! When I arrive back in town, I head over to check out the Hawksworth Bridge, Belize’s only drivable suspension bridge.
I walk halfway across and snap a pic of the Macal river that flows below.
On the way home I stop at a local bakery to try a piece of tres leche cake. It’s a sponge cake that is soaked in 3 different types of milk, with whipped cream on top. It just melts in your mouth! For dinner the group heads out to Guava Limb, which has the reputation of being the best restaurant here in San Ignacio. It is in a turquoise two storey house, and we sit outside in the garden area.
They boast a farm-to-table experience; the owners get a lot of their ingredients from their own farm. I feel like something different so I order a pizza and beer – it is so good. It’s a little fancier and pricier than the other places in town, but it is a nice treat. A perfect way to end 2 days in western Belize!