Yesterday we returned from a five-day trip to San Ignacio, which is a town in the Cayo District in the western part of Belize. We had never visited this part of the mainland before and were looking to do some hiking, birdwatching, and escape some of the traffic and general busy-ness of high season in San Pedro. San Ignacio does get tourists (especially eco-tourists, adventure-seekers, and backpackers), but it is not the big tourist destination that Ambergris Caye is, and we were craving some recharge time away from crowds.
As usual, we planned to do this trip on a fairly tight budget, so we chose to take the ferry to Belize City, then a "chicken bus" to San Ignacio. This is not the most luxurious or fastest way to travel around the country, but it is very budget-friendly. So, on Monday morning, we caught a ride to town from Mr. Raymond here at Grand Caribe. We dropped Paisley off at Pampered Paws for boarding, where she was happy to see her friend Bess the Doberman in doggie day care. She trotted right off and never looked back -- she really seems to enjoy her stays at Pampered Paws as she gets to play all the time. She returns home completely exhausted!
We then hoofed it over to the ferry terminal, just a block or so away. We were traveling with backpacks again, and Barry was able to carry more this time thanks to our friend Paula, who gifted him with a Vaude backpack she no longer needed, before leaving San Pedro to head back to the US. He had only a smallish backpack here, so this was a big help for a trip of this length. (Thank you so much, Paula!)
The ferry ride to Belize City ($50 BZD round trip for each of us with a 10% off coupon) takes about an hour and a half, then we caught a quick taxi to the bus terminal ($10 BZD). As we were entering the terminal, a female taxi driver asked if we were looking to go to San Ignacio, and indicated that the bus had just left. Of course she offered us a taxi ride for a "good price", but we told her we'd wait for the next bus, as they leave frequently, and we knew the bus would be much cheaper than a taxi all that way.
When we boarded the bus, we realized that we were the only non-locals aboard, which is pretty typical. Most tourists either fly, rent a car, or take a taxi or private shuttle when traveling the country. It's true that the buses are not very comfortable; they were previously US school buses, and the seats are sized for kids, not larger adults, which works fine for me, but certainly not for taller folk. They are not air-conditioned; they stop often to let off and pick up locals; and they can be crowded; but for $7 BZD ($3.50 US) each from Belize City to San Ignacio, we were left with a lot more in our pockets for meals and tours than if we'd chosen another transportation option. And what better way to experience the local culture?
We had reservations for four nights at the Casa Blanca Guesthouse, right on the main street of San Ignacio, Burns Avenue. (I liked this street before I even saw it because my maiden name is Burns!) And it was a very convenient place to stay; we could walk to all the restaurants in town easily and down to the river nearby as well. It was not a fancy place, but it was scrupulously clean, safe, air-conditioned (which kept the road noise down), and non-smoking; and had cable TV, daily maid service, and private baths. And the price was right at $49 US per night. From what we could see as we walked around, it was the nicest place to stay if you wished to be right in the heart of town, and we did, so we were pleased with our choice.
We ran into a touring cyclist who had just arrived in San Ignacio. He was doing a fully loaded solo bike tour from Mexico!
After unpacking a bit and settling in, we spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around town and getting our bearings. In addition to shops, grocery stores, pharmacies, and restaurants, there's a great fruit and vegetable market square where vendors sell their wares. Both the variety and cost of produce is noticeably better than in San Pedro since Cayo is where many of the farms in the country are located and produce doesn't have to be shipped so far, or on a ferry, to get to this market.