Monthly Archives: September 2012

In-land Adventures, San Ignacio/Santa Elena — Where to Stay, What to Do, Where to Eat, Updated 2017



Years ago, on our first trip to Belize, a Belizean from San Ignacio who had befriended us took us out for supper at the Aguada.  We spent a very pleasant few hours there, surprised that such an attractive hotel existed outside of down-town San Ignacio, impressed by the art work on the walls, pleased with the menu that offered a tasty combination of Belizean and North American food, delighted by the sparkling pool behind the restaurant and astonished at the reasonable price of the rooms.

We determined then and there to return on our next visit and we did. We met the Butcher family, the entire staff from maintenance to housekeepers to servers and had a wonderful time.  It immediately became an automatic destination on any trip to Belize. Until a couple of years ago, when we realized that after many trips to Belize traveling from hotel to hotel, mostly by bus we had to cut back on our itinerary and spend more time at fewer places. We eventually narrowed our visits down to two: the Aguada in the rain forest area of the Cayo District and Oasi Apartments on the island of Caye Caulker in the Caribbean Sea.

This year we had the most relaxing time ever.

The Aguada Hotel is, strictly speaking, in the town of Santa Elena, a town twinned with San Ignacio, like Kitchener/Waterloo in Ontario or Minneapolis/St. Paul in Minnesota. The twin towns are divided by the Macal River and both are in the Cayo Region which is in-land in the rain forest and borders on Guetamala.

The Hotel was owned and managed by an American/Belizean couple, Bill and Cathy Butcher;  they have since retired, which is another way of saying they are very busy doing other things and their daughter, Shalue, has taken over. Shalue is a bright, hospitable and high-powered host whose first and foremost concern is the welfare of her guests. In that respect, she follows in the footsteps of her parents. But in other ways, she had brought a new energy to the Aguada.

Watering Hole at the Aguada Hotel

Watering Hole at the Aguada Hotel

‘Aguada’  itself is a Spanish word meaning ‘the watering hole’ and many years ago it was used by cattlemen  who brought their herds of cattle there for a drink of water. The Butchers built their hotel beside it and it can be seen today as a spring-fed water-hole stocked with fish and alive with frogs and turtles. Trees from the rain-forest  ring the watering hole and the trees are alive with the songs of many different kinds of birds.

The hotel is well run and spanking clean.  The pool is rigourously maintained on a daily basis.  The rooms are large and bright, cleaned daily and with great care, and the bathrooms have ceramic tiling with modern fixtures.  And the prices are still very reasonable, ranging from $60.00 for a couple to  family units available at $65.00 and new junior suites at $75.00 or more. (You best check on-line for room prices.)Budget-priced rooms are also available on the main floor. Several years ago, three more units were built apart from the original hotel complex with verandahs facing the watering-hotel. That is where we stayed on our last 3 visits. And that’s where we stayed upon our return. It’s more secluded and a perfect place to watch for iguanas which are very plentiful at the Aguada.

You can take all your meals in the hotel restaurant if you wish. The meals are reasonably priced and the food (and service) is exceptional.You can dine inside or outside under a palapa overlooking the aguada. On special occasions, especially Valentine’s Day,  be prepared for an extravaganza.

On top of all this, when you stay at the Aguada you become part of the Butcher  extended family.  If you have a problem, as we did one year with our luggage,  the Butchers will step right up and help you solve the problem.  They have contacts across the country and will use them if necessary  to set things straight.

Because we have returned to the Aguada Hotel year after year, I cannot comment with first-hand authority on the many hotels and resorts offering good and safe lodgings at a reasonable price, but based on reports from friends and acquaintances who have stayed there, I will mention the following:

Check out Martha’s Guest House, smack downtown just off Burns Ave. Seems to have a very good reputation and a good restaurant attached. We’ve been told it has a couple very nicely appointed apartments at a good price. Definitely worth looking into.

Then there are the more budget-minded hotels like the Hi-Et (get it?) Guest House, The Tropicool, Vern’s, Central and Richies. Rooms at around $40.00 usd with shared bath. Check them out.


If you are looking for a high-end hotel at high-end prices, check out the San Ignacio Hotel. It has a swimming pool or two, a casino and an iguana sanctuary rolled into one.

If a resort is more to your liking (i.e. a place where you are lodged on a compound and take your meals there), there are many such places outside of San Ignacio/Santa Elena offering attractive accommodation packages not to be mistaken with all-inclusive resort hotels in places like the Dominican etc. There is nothing quite like that in most of Belize so make sure you know exactly what you are going to get before you commit. These resorts often specialize in one activity like horse-riding, bird-watching or hiking and rafting, so get on line and see what you can find out.


San Ignacio offers great opportunities for day-trip adventures. We have visited all the local Mayan ruins, nowadays more appropriately called ‘sites’. Xunantunich (Maiden of the Rock) was our favourite site until the road was improved and we could access Caracol (the Snail) without permanently damaging our spines. Now it is our number 1.

We have canoed an underwater cave system called the Barton Creek Cave. Our son took his young family down the Macal River on rubber tubes. And, we’ve heard from many travelers that their ultimate jungle (rain forest) adventure is the day-trip to Acton Tunichil Muknab. Check it out.

The Aguada Hotel can arrange many half and full day trips for you, from caving, swimming, cave and river tubing, canoeing and horseback riding to bird and butterfly watching or visiting the many Mayan ruins in the area including the famous Tikal site across the border in Guatemala. (Contact Shalue Butcher by email  or their website  for info on day trips.)

Or, you can go on-line  and search for tour companies in San Ignacio. Or you can wait until you arrive in San Ignacio and have checked into your hotel before you start shopping for a tour guide. Head right downtown to Burns Ave where you will find many reputable tour companies. Check them out and make your choice.

One of the many tour shops in San Ignacio

One of the many tour shops in San Ignacio

You can’t do everything in a short period of time, so you have to decide how many activities you want to take on and how much time you want to spend exploring San Ignacio or just lazing around the pool with a good book, a cross-word puzzle or a sudoku.

Your biggest problem will be to decide which of the many adventures you want to pack into your vacation, or how few.

At first, we found a couple trips a week suited us, but, as we visited again and again, we tripped less.  Now, more often than not, we start the day with a walk into San Ignacio (about half an hour if you take the short cut), walk around town for awhile (San Ignacio is a bustling town of approximately 7,000 Belizeans, many of whom are Indian, Mayan or Spanish descent),  maybe have some breakfast, shop around, then head back to the Aguada and the pool. For lunch we may share the Aguada’s famous Nachos Supreme, a scrumptious dish made up of fresh nachos, cooked ground beef, hot melted cheese  liberally sprinkled with hot halapeno peppers accompanied by a cold Belikin beer. After that, depending on how hot it is , we generally go out for another walk or relax for the rest of the day.  By nightfall, around 7:00 p.m., we might take a cab into San Ignacio for supper or eat in, chat with the server or fellow travelers, and go back to our room to read or write or sit out under the palapa or on the verandah for a night cap till it’s time for lights out.

Very easy living, but I daresay that you will be as adventurous as we once were.


For restaurant food, try the Serandib, formerly a Sri Lankan restaurant still famous for delicious curries and Belizean food and one of the most popular hot spots on Burns Ave. in downtown San Ignacio.

Early morning on Burns Ave.

Early morning on Burns Ave.

At the end of Burns is a new restaurant called Guava Limb. We ate there last year and enjoyed a fantastic lunch. Visited again this year and if anything it’s better than ever. It’s a little high-end but worth every nickle

There are and many other well-established restaurants  such as Pop’s and Hanna’s  on or near Burns Ave., the main drag. Up the hill, you will find Sanny’s,  a little hard to walk to but very good food and you might also check out Hode’s Place and the Business Lounge at 48 Baymen in San Ignacio.

And here is a newsflash. Check out Craves a block behind Burns Ave. It’s quite new and quite pricey but the favourite of many of our friends. We didn’t hear about it till it was too late to visit…but next year.

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There is a great bakery by the recently opened civic park. Try their fresh-baked bread and tasty pastries and cookies and sausage in a bun.

Especially on the weekends you can get out on the street and buy bar-b-q-ed chicken with cole slaw or potato salad on the side, and at any time around town you will discover kiosks with quesidillas and other Spanish/Mexican delights such as garnaches, enchiladas, tortillas, and tamales.

Belize 2013 269

If you stay at the Aguada in Santa Elena, a 10 minute walk to the Western Highway will get you at least two Chinese Restaurants with very good and inexpensive Chinese food for eat-in or take-out back to the hotel.

Or, of course, you can eat at the Aguada three meals a day, except Wednesday when it is breakfast only and chef’s night off.

There is so much to do if you wish and so little to do if you want to.  By the end of your visit inland to San Ignacio/Santa Elena, you should be leaving Belize with some very fond memories and a belly full of stories for family and friends.

Inland Adventures, San Ignacio, How To Get There

An Iguana people watching

An Iguana people watching

Going Where?

Let’s say you have landed at the Belize International Airport and have cleared customs. Where do you want to go? Land or Sea? And how long do you plan to stay?

In the posts that follow I will be serving up well-seasoned and hearty  In-Land Adventures (2) and Coastal Adventures (3)  for a 7-10  day or a two-week(or longer) visit.


When you land at the international airport outside of Belize City you have to decide how best to get from the airport to San Ignacio.

You can arrange to be picked up by the hotel you are going to. It’s $90-100 usd for two but it takes the guessing out of how to get there and it gets you there the fastest, about an hour and a half. If you are vacationing on borrowed time, that’s significant. Try to plan your trip so that you land in Belize between 2:30 and 4:30 p.m. That way you will be checking into your hotel before nightfall and looking foreword to supper. This is an option I resisted for years, preferring instead to taxi into Belize City and stay at a hotel and get an early bus in the morning. Much cheaper but you lose a day getting to your destination. Now that I have capitulated to common-sense (and my favourite hotel has shut down) we always arrange to be picked up at the airport by our host or someone our host has recommended.

Crossing the bridge to San Ignacio

Crossing the bridge to San Ignacio

You can rent a car, make the pick-up, and, as long as you are driving in day-light, head west on the George Price Highway (formerly the Western Hgwy). It’s a fairly easy drive and you’ll get there in a couple hours. Ask your host for directions. I’ve never rented a car in Belize, being more of a bus guy, and apparently it is fairly expensive, but if you want to be independent and day-trip on your own, it is a good choice.

You can hire a taxi, but it is prohibitively expensive, at least by for me.

You can arrange with your host to be picked up at the airport or arrange for your own shuttle service by contacting Tosh and Danielia at  Either option will cost you between $100-110 usd for two.

You can catch a bus, the cheapest way to travel, but you will have to take a taxi from the airport to Belize City, $25.00 usd. , have the taxi take you to the main bus station, and get a bus to San Ignacio. It will cost you about $5.00 usd per person and it will take between 2 and 3 hours or more but you really have to get to the bus station before 5 p.m. and you will get into San Ignacio at night.

If you take the bus,  ask at the bus station what bus goes to San Ignacio. Sometime the San Ignacio bus is marked Benque Viejo, which is the end of the line after San Ignacio. That’s the one you want. (You will have to stop at Belmopan, the capital of Belize. You may have to change buses. Beware the taxi driver who tells you you’ve missed the last bus to San Ignacio but he will take you there for $50.00 or $60.00 usd.. Check the schedules at the bus station and ask around before you make a rash choice.) Take the bus right into San Ignacio and get a taxi to take you to your hotel if you are not staying downtown. The fare should be between $3 and $4 usd.

At some point you will be comfortably ensconced in a hotel room or a cabana in or around San Ignacio and your inland adventure will begin.

A "Cool Spot" in  San Ignacio

A “Cool Spot” in San Ignacio

In my next post, I will introduce you to our favourite hotel in the area, the Aguada Hotel  and I will further describe San Ignacio and suggest some activities that should challenge you and fill your vacation days. In the meantime, you can do some home-cooking on the internet on your own and check out hotels and activities in the San Ignacio/Santa Elena area.