Destination: San Ignacio, Belize

San Ignacio: A quick look

Language: English*
Currency: Belizean Dollar
Drinking Age: 18
Public Transportation: Most Belizeans use “chicken buses,” old school buses that ply the major cities several times a day. Price varies depending on how far you go, but are always very cheap
Passport: Yes, US citizens can stay in Belize for up to 30 days without a visa
Vaccines: Routine

*The locals speak Belizean creole with each other, but generally speak perfect English

Before you leave:

Stay with Airbnb! San Ignacio has many cheap Airbnb options; I even found them to be cheaper than hostels for 2 people. I am in no way affiliated with Airbnb; I am such a satisfied customer that I’m encouraging you to give them a try simply because they are that great.

To get to San Ignacio from the Belize City airport, we hired a shuttle through Belize Shuttle and Transfers, which was $35USD/person. It was clean, air-conditioned, and we were dropped off right in front of our Airbnb.

Every time you exit Belize, you must pay a $40BZ ($20 USD) exit fee. It is not a scam! Even if you exit and re-enter on the same day, this fee applies. It also applies when you fly, although airlines typically include this fee in the price of your ticket.

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Once you get there:

San Ignacio isn’t very big, so walking is the best way to get around. It’s very hilly, so often it feels more like hiking, but the views are fantastic and a little exercise never hurt anyone. If it becomes overwhelming, there are a plethora of taxis and the drivers are very kind.

The Belizean dollar is tied to the US dollar at a fixed exchange rate of $2BZ to $1USD. Many places in Belize accept USD for this reason.

  1. Cahal Pech

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    Did you know there are Mayan ruins right in San Ignacio? We were able to walk from our Airbnb to the Cahal Pech ruins in San Ignacio. There’s a museum where you pay your entrance fee ($10BZ/person), can learn about Mayan history, and observe many of the artifacts that were discovered on site. You’re then free to walk around the ruins for as long as you like, with or without a tour guide. They aren’t very spread out, so it’s mostly exploring the ruins themselves, many of which are open and you can climb on top or inside.

  2. The Green Iguana Conservation Project

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    Green iguanas are endangered in Belize. This is due mostly to the local custom of eating iguanas, which they call “bamboo chicken.” The Green Iguana Project is a non-government organization dedicated to preserving green iguanas in Belize. It’s located outside of a hotel, and tours are offered about every hour for $9USD/person. You must visit with a tour guide. There is an iguana house with many green iguanas, including Gnome, a 10lbs, 5ft long male iguana, who is fabulous with people. Everyone on our tour was able to hold him, and he was very docile the entire time. If you want a unique opportunity, visiting the iguanas definitely fits the bill.

  3. AJAW Chocolate and Crafts

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    We stopped by AJAW Chocolate and Crafts hoping to pick up some local chocolate. What we found was so much better. They offer tours where you learn the ins and outs of traditional Mayan drinking chocolate, made with cocoa beans grown in southern Belize. They take you through step by step from fruit to drinking chocolate, with lots of taste test opportunities along the way. We even got to help grind the chocolate on a traditional volcanic rock. Then, you are able to try the chocolate with and without honey, cinnamon, allspice, and chili flakes. Finally, you’re given a sample of chocolate to take home. It’s a fantastic way to learn about traditional Mayan chocolate making.

  4. Farmer’s Market

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    Every day except Sunday a huge Farmer’s Market is open in downtown San Ignacio. You can buy everything from local fruits and veggies to crafts in this traditional farmer’s market. We visited during the week, but I’ve been told Saturday is the best day to go.

  5. Kayaking

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    Although we didn’t get a chance to do it, several tour companies in San Ignacio offer a kayaking trip down the river just outside the town. If you’re looking for some adventure in nature, this is your chance to do it!

  6. ATM Caves

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    This was another thing we didn’t get to try, but that absolutely everybody recommended. Considered one of the Top Ten Caves in the World by the National Geographic Society, it’s full of Mayan artifacts and stunning nature. Due to safety concerns, you must go with a guide. Virtually every guide service in Belize runs tours to this area, though.

Restaurants:

  1. Montero’s BBQ

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    It’s not always easy to GPS your way around San Ignacio, but this family-owned streetside barbeque joint is worth going off the beaten path for. It’s located “up the hill” near La Sante Pharmacy on Benque Viejo Rd. They offer just about anything you can throw on the grill including $3BZ burritos packed with chicken, beans, and veggies, stuffed jalapenos, local beer, and mixed drinks. Belikin is the beer of choice for Belizeans and you can get a bucket of 7 for $20BZ during happy hour at Montero’s. They offer local rums, and can mix up a rum and Coke, local favorite called the “Panty Ripper” which is fruity and tropical, or basically whatever you want, just ask. If you want to eat like a local, go straight to Montero’s.

  2. Eva’s Restaurant

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    Eva’s is located downtown on the pedestrian street, Burns Ave. It’s a bit more tourist-y, but they offer a selection of Belizean food, beers, and mixed drinks. I had the most amazing quesadilla of my life, while my husband had stewed chicken (a Belizean staple) and a Belikin stout.

  3. Serendib

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    Serendib is across the street from Eva’s, and is an Indian restaurant. While they offer many curry dishes, they also have Belizean food, and their stewed chicken is amazing.

  4. Pizza place next to Sweet Ting on Benque Viejo Rd

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    Cheap, made-to-order pizza in what looks like someone’s kitchen. They aren’t open all the time (on Sunday there was a yard sale going on out front) but it’s worth stopping by if you catch them.

If you are in Belize, you absolutely must go to San Ignacio.  It’s such a cool city that really captures Belizean culture, and its rich Mayan history.  The locals are friendly and genuine, and there’s a lot to do without being overly tourist-y.

Shout-outs!

San Ignacio Farmer’s Market Photo: http://rumorsresort.com/san-ignacio-farmers-market-2/

ATM Caves photo: http://www.vivabelize.com/tours-activities/atm-cave-expedition/

 

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Spontaneous Beach Trip

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I had a hard week at work the other week. I won’t go into details, but I was feeling very overworked and underappreciated. By Thursday I was a big ball of stress. My husband brought me dinner at work, and somehow we decided to go to the beach that weekend.

We live about 2-2.5 hours from the nearest beach, so it’s easy to do for a weekend. He wanted to go for just the day, but I didn’t think it would be worth it. So Friday evening we booked an Airbnb. Less than 24 hours in advance we booked accommodations for Saturday night. We packed in a flurry, thinking “are we really doing this?”

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Now, I don’t believe in fortune-telling and I firmly believe you make your own destiny. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy fortune cookies! A couple of weeks before this spontaneous trip, I went with some coworkers to a Chinese restaurant where I got a fortune cookie. My fortune was “there are unexpected adventures in your future.” I loved it. I taped it to the mirror in my bathroom. No, it doesn’t actually predict unexpected adventures, but perhaps it inspired them?

After a flurry of packing and a good night’s sleep, we got up and headed for the coast. This was before summer, so it wasn’t peak season yet and we were going to be among the only tourists around.

We arrived at the address of the Airbnb. We called our host who helped us with parking and brought us up to his apartment. Let me pause right there and say the idea of staying with a stranger makes me uncomfortable. Our previous Airbnb stays have always been whole apartments, and this time we were just renting a room from some guy off the internet. However, our host turned out to be a really nice doctor who showed us our room and pretty much left us alone.

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After dumping our stuff in the little bedroom with adjoining private bathroom, we changed into swimsuits and headed for the beach. It was a quick 10 minute drive, and getting out of the car, smelling that salt air and hearing the crashing of waves, I could already feel the stress of my crazy week fading away. While my husband braved swimming in the cold water in March, I set up my towel on the sand with a novel. After who knows how much long I woke up to my husband asking if I wanted to leave or if he should feed the parking meter. “Mmm I can stay longer” I answered sleepily. He kissed me and left to feed the meter. I tried to go back to my book, but ended up just soaking in the sun.

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That evening our host was at work, so we got some food to-go and ate at the counter in the kitchen of our Airbnb. We had talked about going to some bars, but ended up having a couple of glasses of wine at “home,” relaxing, and enjoying being away from home for the night.

The next morning we went to a cute bagel shop across the street from our Airbnb. It was predictably packed, as it was Sunday morning. The bagels were to die for! That’s why you should always try the local shops and restaurants when you travel–you might find the best bagel of your life!

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After our bagels, we drove about half an hour away to the aquarium. It’s a great aquarium, and we had a lot of fun looking at the fish, and feeling like kids again. Our stomachs started rumbling again, but we didn’t want to pay for overpriced food at the aquarium so we just started driving back home with the plan to stop when we saw something that looked good. A little burrito place caught our attention. We stopped and went in. It was probably 2-3pm, but we still had to wait for a table. The restaurant had kind of a Dia de los Muertos skulls theme. We were finally seated and found out we got unlimited access to their salsa bar. They had about a dozen different salsas and I think we tried most of them. Then came our meals. Oh man. To die for. The service was great, the food was great, the atmosphere was casual and cool, and the prices were low. Always. Eat. Local.

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After stuffing ourselves with burritos, the last thing we wanted to do was drive back home, but alas, our spontaneous beach trip was coming to an end. We dragged our full bellies back to the car, and drove home. Would I take a spontaneous trip again? Hell yeah. But when? Who knows…. 🙂

Have you taken a spontaneous trip? Tell me about it in the comments! Did you enjoy this post? Share via Facebook or Twitter. And, as always, follow me here on WordPress for more GREAT content like this!

6 Tips for Packing Light

A couple of weeks ago, I traveled with my 15-year-old cousin (who lives near me) to New England for a week to see her aunt, my cousin. I’ve traveled a lot, and lately I’ve been getting into backpacker style traveling. On my last trip to Europe I stayed in hostels and didn’t check any luggage. It mostly started because I’m cheap, but it’s become more of a hobby now (and I’m still cheap). I’ll share some tips for packing light so that you can also stop paying to check a bag!

“You don’t have a suitcase?” My younger cousin’s mom asked me when we met in the airport parking garage a couple of hours before our flight.

“Nope” I replied, and gestured towards my backpack. We trekked into the airport, my cousin, her mom, my husband, and I, chatting about school and work and traveling.

Later, inside the airport, when she was paying $25 extra for my cousin’s checked bag her mom turned to me and asked again “You aren’t checking anything?”

I shook my head and my husband chimed in “Once you’ve lost a bag, you’ll never go back” I’ve actually never had an airline lose my luggage, but I’m super cheap. Paying $25 on top of my $300 ticket AND risk them losing my belongings? No thanks.

We arrived in NY and when my older cousin came to pick us up, the first thing she said to me was “that’s it?” upon seeing my backpack. “I’ll tell you how, just keep an eye on my blog” I joked.

Tip #1: Ask yourself, “Do I really need this?” Despite impressing my cousins, my husband still accused me of taking too many toiletries. “Do you need all of this?” He asked as he watched me pack. It’s a good question to ask yourself. If you don’t normally need something, it’s probably best to leave it at home unless you know for a fact you will need it on your trip. I’ll admit, in a normal week I don’t need workout clothes (oops) but my cousin is pretty active, so I knew visiting her meant we’d hit the gym at least once. Just be adaptable and pack for your trip and yourself.

Tip #2: Wear your bulkiest clothes to the airport so you don’t have to pack them. Even if it’s going to be warmer and you end up carrying your coat/jacket, it’s a great way to save space in your luggage. Carrying a coat or jacket doesn’t count as a carry-on or personal item. You can also put stuff in the pockets if you’re really desperate, but I would recommend saving this for the return trip, since you’ll likely have souvenirs of some kind. Just be careful not to put anything “suspicious” looking in your pockets.

To the airport I wore:

A short sleeved top
A pair of leggings
A pair of boots
A warm jacket

Tip #3: Plan to wash and/or re-wear your clothes. I haven’t checked luggage in 3 years. You can pack everything you need in carry-on size luggage no matter how long your trip is. I’ve found that I need a certain amount of stuff, no matter how long I’m going away. You always need pants, shirts, etc, but the trick is to re-wear and/or wash your clothes. If you’ll be away for more than a week you’ll probably need to wash clothes, but if you were at home, wouldn’t you be doing laundry anyway?

Tip #4: Save and use small containers for traveling with small items. I’ve saved mint tins and plastic razor boxes for a while and they’re awesome for organizing bobby pins, jewelry, cotton swabs, and other small accessories.

Tip #5: Utilize packing cubes. Organizing your belongings into packing cubes is a great way to save space. It seems counterintuitive to add items to save space, but cubes (or honestly, any small zip-up cloth bags you have) help you to smoosh items down. Bonus: they also help you to organize into outfits or type of clothing.

Tip #6: What you should pack.

What I packed in a backpack for a one week trip:

2 dresses
2 pairs of jeans
1 pair of leggings
2 cardigan sweaters
2 pairs of PJ pants
2 comfy T’s for sleeping
2 tank tops
3 short sleeve shirts
1 long sleeve shirt
1 pair of tennis shoes
1 set of workout clothes (shirt, shorts, sports bra)
Socks and underwear for a week
A laptop
A magazine
An (empty) water bottle
I also packed travel sized toiletries. You’d be surprised what you can find in under 3 oz bottles. I have everything from deodorant to hairspray to baby powder to body spray.

Places to find small bottles of liquids:

Target/Walmart
5 Below
Bath and Body Works
Big Lots

If you can’t find your favorite shampoo or lotion in small bottles, you can purchase empty airplane sized bottles pretty much anywhere (Target, Walmart, Big Lots, REI, Dick’s, etc.) just check the travel section. You can then fill them at home with your favorite product. But lemme warn you, it’s messy and not the easiest task to accomplish. I would recommend just purchasing products that are already in travel sized bottles, but I’m not your dad.

If you follow this guide, you too can stop paying to check a bag when you travel!

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