Tour of Belize: San Ignacio, Pine Ridge, Placencia

After having lived in Corozal for awhile now I headed out with a friend to San Ignacio on a week-long mini tour of Belize.  Our first stop would be San Ignacio.  We got a slightly late start so we didn’t get in to San Ignacio until 9pm but the drive really only took a few hours from Corozal which completely surprised me.  Lucky for us the reception desk at Cahal Pech resort didn’t close until 10pm so we were able to get in to the cabin for the night.  So the following is a short chronicle of some of the adventures that I had while exploring…

Monday night:
We really didn’t do too much Monday night besides check in but it was very beautiful that night. The resort, Cahal Pech Village Resort ( is named after a Mayan ruin site close by called Cahal Pech and is located on the very top of San Ignacio (it may not be the tallest point there but it certainly seemed like it). You can see the entire city from the resort balcony and it is really breathtaking. I didn’t realize that San Ignacio was so large (for Belize) but there was an excellent span of town lights below us. I was excited to see the town the next day. I asked one of the staff people at the resort what Cahal Pech what the name meant and he told me, “land of the ticks.” Hmm – I immediately wondered to myself when I would see a tick on my body.

Tuesday – San Ignacio:
Tuesday morning we did a quick tour of the town after breakfast with a friend who lives in a village outside of San Ignacio.  Hugh took us around the main parts of town and pointed out a few restaurants to try later.  It was such a cool little town and I immediately loved it.  I got the vibe right away that there are a lot more tourists going through San Ignacio and that was evident by all the tourist type signage along with the random groups of obvious foreigners with their backpacks attached to them.  It was still a very laid back atmosphere and with the town being set in the hills it was a different look than I had been used to in this country.  It really reminded me of a little college town but with tourists instead of students.

After the town tour we decided to hire a guide to go horseback riding through the jungle and to the Barton Creek Caves.  I was officially a tourist on this trip so I would be doing tourist type activities.  Our guide’s name was Allyson and he is the bull riding champion of Belize and a complete cowboy.  His face was all scraped up on one side and we found out that he had just been in a horse/traffic incident the day before.  He was trying to avoid a collision of the horse he was riding and some oncoming vehicles on the highway and as he was turning the horses aggressively he fell off of it and landed head first in to the pavement.  I asked him if he went to the hospital and he immediately retorted, “cowboys don’t go to the hospital!”  I just laughed and we continued on the horses.

It was a beautiful and informative ride through the jungle.  My horse’s name was Grey and he was obviously a little older.  I’ve ridden horses as a kid but it does always take a little bit for me to get reacquainted with riding a horse.  I liked Grey a lot but we had to compromise on how many times he needed to stop walking and eat grass on the side of the path.  He didn’t really want to compromise but finally on the trip back we seemed to come to some sort of agreement.  For the first and last part of the ride we saw a good sized Mennonite community which was very interesting – we passed a bunch of horse drawn carriages carrying Mennonite men, women and children all dressed in the typical long dress and a bonnet for the girls and long pants, suspenders with a blue shirt for the boys.  Everyone was very friendly and offered a wave and a smile when we would pass by.

We arrived at the caves with an appetite and parched.  So before we headed in with the canoes we stopped and ate the lunch Allyson’s wife had packed.  After lunch we piled in to a canoe and Allyson grabbed a light to use.  If I’ve learned anything in this country it’s that safety just doesn’t mean the same thing as in the states.  Allyson plopped the car battery in the front of the canoe in a pool of water and attached the jumper cables to the spot light that would be our guide through the dark tunnel we would be exploring.   We just laughed and went with it.  The ride through wasn’t too long and it was a little spooky.  All we heard along the way were the tiny splashes of water from the stalactites above and the occasional sound of a tiny bat flying over our heads.  On the way out of the cave is when the excitement happened.  Suddenly the hand held light that I was in charge of started going dim.  I announced that it seemed we were going to lose our light and on that sentence Allyson started really paddling hard to get us out of the cave faster.  I started laughing as our light got dimmer and dimmer – I started to wonder what it would feel like to be stuck in this cave with absolutely no light and way to see the path out.  I didn’t have to worry about it too much though because just as our light stopped working we saw the small circle of light that was the cave opening in the distance so we made it out safely.

Wednesday – Pine Ridge Mountains – Five Sisters:
Wednesday morning was the day I discovered the ticks on me.  I knew it had to happen and these were the first ticks I had ever had on my body despite the fact that I lived and camped all over the Oregon woods.  It was disturbing but I always had imagined that I would freak out a little more if I ever found a tick on me.  I was very calm despite the tiny little insect burrowing into my skin – yuck.  I discovered the first tick at breakfast and based on what I had read I asked the waitress for a match to try and put some heat to it (I didn’t know what to do but I had always heard to not just pull them out).  The girl at the counter just laughed at me and told me to give her my arm – I did and she simply plucked the little thing out.  I didn’t really care as long as it was out of me.

This was my absolute favorite part of the whole trip.  The Pine Ridge area is a totally different look to Belize.  Instead of the blue waters of the Caribbean and towering palm trees, we were surrounded by pine trees and small creeks and rivers.  It was all so green and the butterflies were almost everywhere my eyes looked.  The plan was to head to a resort called Five Sisters ( which was named after a grouping of five waterfalls located just below the resort.  It was a little trek down to the falls but well worth it.  Since it is the rainy season and therefore the off season for tourists we essentially had the place to ourselves.  So for the rest of the day we swam and played in the waterfalls.  It was perfect barring the tiny little worms that seemed to be in the water and I had to brush off every now and then – I guess that’s the compromise to get to swim in nature’s pools.  That night I discovered the second tick on me and this time it had dug in even more so I tried again to ask for some matches but the waiter just pulled that one out as well.

Thursday – Pine Ridge Mountains – Big Rock, Rio On Pools and 1,000 foot falls:
My very favorite location of the entire trip was Big Rock.  Interestingly enough it was also the least hyped by far.  It wasn’t listed on any of the things to do lists, or suggested by the various people we had been talking to.  We would have missed it except one of the hosts at the Five Sisters Lodge suggested we check it out since it was only about 5 minutes away.  I remembered seeing the very small, wooden sign along the road that had “Big Rock” simply etched on it and I remembered laughing at it.  I take it all back – and make sure it gets on your list if you’re in the area.  It was another waterfall which wasn’t too big to play in and not too small to be aesthetically pleasing.  There were two pools of crystal blue, invigorating water to swim in and we spent most of the day playing in the water here.  Again, because of the off-season we had the whole place to ourselves which made the experience that much more fun.  Everything else this day was amazing to see but none of it lived up to the Big Rock experience.  After searching all day for a black orchid (flower of Belize) growing in the wild I finally saw one at the resort we stayed at Thursday night – unfortunately it wasn’t growing wild but rather, in a pot hanging from the deck.  Oh well, at least I saw one.  Later I would read in a Belize guide book that they grow wild beside the gift shop at 1,000 foot falls – I was kicking myself that I didn’t know that before we saw the 1,000 foot falls.  I guess I have something to look for next time.

Friday & Saturday – Placencia:
Placencia was the last stop on the trip.  Placencia is a beach town in southern Belize.  I didn’t know a whole lot about it going in so I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I knew it would be nice to see a beach here though.  It was instantly apparent that this was home to a larger expat community because driving in to the town we were greeted by a collection of partially to wholly completed enormous houses being built in a new development.  They looked totally out of place compared to the rest of the country so I wasn’t sure what to expect when we arrived in town.  The houses along the road to Placencia seemed to all be like this and I wondered when the actual town would start.  Finally we got in to a small village just outside of Placencia that looked more like the Belize that I know.

We basically spent our two days here lounging around and not really doing too much.  It was all about lying on the beach, writing and relaxing for me.  The ocean was washing in a bunch of debris so I only went in once but it was gorgeous to look at.  Saturday night we got to see a local band play punta rock at the Tispy Tuna which was a nice treat.  We also got to be treated like tourists and got hit up by a local rasta to sell us anything he could from ganja to day trips out on the water.  Bartenders in Placencia are a little more creative with their drink menus than Corozal so I tried all sorts of different concoctions with a mix of coconut rum, grapefruit and hibiscus being my favorite.  It was clear that this was a town of expats because almost every establishment we went in to had a foreigner working or owning the place.

We left Placencia in the thunder and lightning so it was a good day to end the trip.  The ride back to the Belize City international airport only took about 3.5 hours and I headed out on a Tropic Air plane to Corozal.  I got lucky for my trip back because I got to experience a rare trip direct to Corozal from Belize City in the co-pilot chair since I was the lone person flying back to Corozal.

Overall it was a fantastic experience and I am so happy I got to take the trip. Now I can actually recommend a few more areas of this country and I now know how much Belize has to offer.  If you get a chance to visit someday do not pass it up!

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