Two and half hour drive from Belize City is the small town of San Ignacio—I arrived with a full bladder and an empty stomach at Hode’s, the restaurant where my AirBnB contact was meeting me. I filled my belly with my first chicken “stew” with beans and rice and coleslaw. I would eat a lot more of both in the weeks to come. Not complaining by the way, it was always delicious. On Caye Caulker, I ate a lot of chicken and shrimp kabobs, also yummy and healthy. Other common selections on most local menus include burritos and fajitas.
After my meal, Suzy and her husband took me to the open air market for some fruits, veggies, and eggs, followed by the grocery store, before taking me to my home for the next seven days, located outside of town.
I walked into the small cabin and was amazed by how modern, well decorated, quaint and cozy it was. It lacked nothing—it even had a blender for me to make protein shakes. I knew right away it wouldn’t be difficult to be productive here.
I started each morning with a cup of coffee either down by the Mopan River watching the sunrise or comfortably lounging in the hammock on the porch before getting my sweat on exercising.
Once I’d cooled off in the shower from my workouts, and a proper breakfast, I normally spent a couple of hours writing before venturing out to do some exploring of the local Mayan Ruins. The first ruins I visited were right in town called Cahal Pech. 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 following day, I took the 20 minute drive to Xunantunich. I embarked on the manually ran ferry across the Mopan River to make my way to the ruins. This site was bigger, but just as peaceful, well groomed, and even more impressive than Cahal Pech. Xunantunich served as a Maya civic ceremonial center in the Late and Terminal Classic periods to the Belize Valley region. During this period, the region was at its peak, nearly 200,000 people lived in Belize, which is impressive considering that the current population in Belize is about 300,000.
The Mayans definitely knew how to pick prime real estate. I didn’t hire a guide, although one could have been procured before getting on the ferry for $60 BZE. I wanted to be able to walk the site at my own leisure.
I spent a full day writing, the next day, in anticipation of taking a day off to check-out the Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) cave. I only stopped writing to cool off in the river by doing some tubing. River and cave tubing are very popular activities in Belize, but you do have to be careful of the little fish who like to nibble on whatever they find in their environment. I’ll admit it freaked me out when they surrounded me, it felt like I was getting stung. Needless to say, I didn’t stay in the river very long. It was none the less quite refreshing.
I booked my ATM tour with Pacz Tour which is located on Burns Street (the main street in San Ignacio). You can’t visit the ATM cave without a tour guide…and quite frankly, you couldn’t even if you wanted to. It’s a dark, wet, and confusing place. The guide provided us with a helmet and head lamp. He used a larger flashlight to make sure we didn’t miss the highlights of the cave.
The ATM cave is 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.
We learned during the tour that the ceramics at the site are significant partially because they are marked with “kill holes”, which indicates they were used for ceremonial purposes. The kill holes ensured the bowls could never be used again.
The sheer size of the cave, with its rock formations, and large chamber where the remains are located competed as attractions with the almost 3,000 years old artifacts and skeletons. It was impressive.
Pictures are not allowed inside the ATM, since a few years ago, someone dropped their phones and destroyed one of the skeletons.
I would’ve liked to have visited Caracol, which is the largest Mayan ruins in Belize, located in another worth attraction, Mountain Pine Ridge, but I had more writing to do and was running out of time. I figured it’s a wonderful reason to go back to San Ignacio. I can definitely see myself spending more time in that lovely cabin by the river writing another book!