San Ignacio Town
Although it shares the West with the nation’s capital Belmopan, San Ignacio is the largest town in the Cayo district. 67 Miles from Belize City, San Ignacio is the base for many of the tourism activities in the west of the country and neighboring Guatemala. This is a place where many tourists come to relax and experience the true laid-back atmosphere of a remote town, yet have the comfort of a clean bed, a hot shower and a nice cup coffee to enjoy in the cool foggy mornings. .
The most visible landmark in San Ignacio is its grand entrance. Connecting San Ignacio to its twin town, Santa Elena, the Hawkesworth Bridge was built in 1949 during the time of British occupation, and a testament of this is permanently engraved in each one of the beams that make up the structure. If you look close enough, you can see the word “Middlesbrough”, the town where they were manufactured, embossed on the metal. It is a single lane bridge and this characteristic created problems in the past. If two vehicles entered the bridge at the same time from opposite directions, one of them would have to budge and reverse all the way back out in order to let the other pass through. The outcome of this duel was not always as easy so the problem was solved a few years ago by the installation of a much-needed traffic light.
This town is mainly a “back-packer’s” destination. There are many budget guesthouses and hotels most of which are located in the center of town. Don’t expect to find all the amenities and luxuries of other resorts in the surrounding areas. Of particular interest is Eva’s Restaurant and Guesthouse, not necessarily the ideal place to stay the night, but it is probably the most famous meeting and information point for tourists that visit the area. The owner “Bob” is known to be one of the most informed individuals in San Ignacio town and he will be able to give you tips and directions to many interesting tourist destinations. Eva’s offers Internet access so you will be able to check your e-mail or send pictures to your family and friends while enjoying a cold beer.
There are many places of interest in and around San Ignacio Town. Located on one of the hills that make up this town is Cahal Pech, a Maya site whose name translates to “Hill of Ticks”. Rest assured that you will not find a tick-infested site as the name implies, but you will see beautifully preserved Maya structures. Other important sites in the area are Xunantunich and El Pilar. You can also visit the Sacred Heart Roman Catholic church that dates back to 1926 or you can walk down to the Macal River for a day paddling or tubing down this magnificent river.
One of the most interesting attractions in San Ignacio town is the Iguana Hatchery project operated by the San Ignacio Hotel. When we visited in September of 2002, we were sad to learn that the project had been closed down. This project began a few years ago when locals noticed that the iguana population was declining in town and the surrounding area. Fortunately, however, its closure was short-lived.
The San Ignacio Hotel undertook the task of ensuring that the reptile population returned to normal levels. They established the nursery along the Macal River on the base of the hill that the hotel rests on; it is about a 10-minute descent by foot. Once there you could see cages and incubators where the eggs of the Iguanas are cared for until hatchlings emerge. These hatchlings are then released into the wild at the optimum time to ensure survival. The San Ignacio Hotel itself, is acutally home to a curious guest, who were were told, is called “Peerie”. He has taken a particular interest in the pool area of the hotel. We hope that it survives many more years and that its beauty encourages people to support and be proud of the Iguana hatchery project.