Who said a commune with the wild Belizean jungle can't be comfortable and modern, too?
SAN IGNACIO, Belize — For most, a trip to Belize means visiting the coast for the famed diving, fishing, and Central American beach life. But should you find yourself heading to that part of the world, you’d be missing out if you didn’t spend at least a few days in the heart of this small country, the birthplace of the Maya civilization. Once you discover that the Belizean jungle offers experiences and sightseeing you can’t find anywhere else the world, you should also know there’s a great hotel tucked deep into the countryside: .
Escandar Bedran, the hotel’s founder, passed down the property to his four daughters over 20 years ago, and the family-run atmosphere is still evident today from the moment you arrive. Yes, the rooms are clean and beautiful, and the food is delicious, but my favorite part of the experience is the staff: It’s clear that their priority is the guest, and the hospitality is positively first rate. You can feel their warmth and attention everywhere, whether on-site in the lobby and hotel restaurant, or on excursions led by their guides, who are some of the best in the country and one of the many draws of the resort. Belize isn’t exactly easy to navigate, so having the San Ignacio staff there to lead you to and through some of the most exciting parts of the jungle allows you to unplug and enjoy some thrilling moments. Cruz and Onil, the two guides I had the pleasure of touring with, led me on hikes through underground cave systems and into the heart of the jungle, and their knowledge of Belizean culture and history made the exploration even more meaningful.
I was surprised to find a boutique resort here, so deep into the country, but it ended up being exactly the type of place I seek out when traveling.
During the high season, from December 1 through April 30, rates begin at $200/night for a garden room and go up to $660/night for the Royal Suite. Rates during the low season are slightly cheaper. , or get in touch with the Popupla Travel Concierge and we'll plan your trip for you.
Belize only has one international airport, and the town of San Ignacio is about a 90-minute drive west, not far from the Guatemalan border. Thankfully, the main road through the country is paved, so the ride is a relatively smooth one. The hotel can arrange your pickup and drop-off, with a driver who can regale you with history and anecdotes about the small country. The hotel is less than a five-minute walk from the center of San Ignacio. This small, colorful town doesn’t offer much, but it’s not without a few quaint spots to eat, drink, and mingle with other travelers. Souvenir shops signal the presence of tourists, of which they get their fair share, but the town isn’t what people come here to see.
This boutique hotel wouldn’t feel out of place in the Caribbean, with high ceilings, marble floors, big archways, and breezy outdoor passageways. The property is pristine and comfortable without being ostentatious, and for the price point strikes just the right note of luxury. The hotel is built into the side of a hill, and from most vantage points guests can look out over the pool into the dense, beautiful jungle.
This Place Is Perfect For
Travelers who are looking for a little adventure but also enjoy the comforts, security, and resources of a resort.
But No So Perfect For
Anyone on a tight budget: The rates are reasonable, but the guided excursions are on the pricier side. Additionally, any travelers looking for a party won’t find it in this corner of Belize: The party scene is on the coast.
What’s on Site
The is located in the jungle behind the hotel, and not only is it one of the best reasons to stay at the resort, but it may be one of the best on-site experiences I’ve ever had at a hotel. About 30 endangered green iguanas live in a protected area where you can hold, , and interact with these incredible creatures. It might just make for the best Instagram opportunity in Western Belize. For birdwatchers, if you can wake with the sun, each morning you’ll be treated to quite a site right off the balcony of the hotel restaurant (this is where I saw my first toucan!). There’s also a day spa and outdoor pool on the property.
Food + Drink
The Running W Steakhouse & Restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily. Breakfast is especially lovely on the covered patio, as the early morning sounds of the Belizean jungle serenade you. At breakfast, be sure to order fry jacks: A Belizean specialty, fry jacks are deep-fried pieces of dough somewhere between a beignet and a fluffy tortilla. They are delicious. The food is solid and reasonably priced, and the menu has a fairly international feel, so there’s something for everyone. The meat on the menu is locally sourced from the family cattle ranch. The restaurant is also very accommodating to food allergies and dietary preferences. The hotel has a bar as well, but it’s decidedly low-key.
One notable amenity is air-conditioning, which I’ve been told is not very common around Belize. Unsurprisingly, it can get pretty hot and humid, so I was very grateful to have it. WiFi is free and relatively reliable, though the signal isn’t the strongest. Beds are big and comfortable, the bathrooms are clean, and a few of the suites have an outdoor Jacuzzi tub on the balcony overlooking San Ignacio.
What to do Nearby
If you’re venturing into this part of the country, chances are you’re here to get outside and explore. Belize is the birthplace of the Maya civilization, and there are several nearby ruins to check out, including Cahal Pech, which is just around the corner from the hotel. Caves also played an important role in Maya culture: They were considered to be part of the underworld and sometimes served as the final resting place for important leaders, or as the site of human sacrifices. My favorite parts of the trip were the tours through these caves, especially my tour through Jaguar Paw. You drift through the caves a la Lazy River, but through magnificent underground rock formations. It’s four hours of floating downstream in a tube through crystal clear water, wearing a helmet and a headlamp, stopping here and there to do some hiking and spelunking. It’s not particularly grueling, but those with claustrophobia should steer clear (or opt for zip-lining instead).
Other tours include strenuous hikes through Che Chem Ha and Actun Tunichil Muknal, Maya cave systems that feature artifacts, calcified human remains, and some of the largest collections of Maya pottery in the world. For those that enjoy canyoneering, I recommend a tour through the underground waterfall systems at Caves Branch. Canoeing through Barton Creek, another Maya cave system where you can find ancient artifacts, is a less intense, more family-friend option. Some of the tours are located an hour or more from the hotel, so one benefit of organizing your excursion through the hotel is having the San Ignacio guides transport you to and from each destination.
Plan Your Trip
San Ignacio is a 90-minute, not-so-scenic drive from the only international airport in the country. The easiest and most convenient way to get around the country on your own is by car, as almost nothing is near anything else, so I would recommend renting your own. Belize is not a wealthy country, so expect rough terrain, unpaved roads, and very few street signs. It's also worth noting that English is the official language in Belize, and the Belize dollar is worth exactly $.50 cents on the American dollar.