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San Ignacio, Belize

San Ignacio was next on our radar. We had heard good things about the area from fellow travelers and were recommended a good place to stay to take day trips from. There are a lot of options to hike, visit caves, waterfalls, and national parks in the area which sounded like a great contrast to the island time we had been on. The camp area was conveniently near the main market in town, as well as a little bakery where we could buy coffee for $.50 a day. Sometimes it’s the little things. The first day in San Ignacio we drove into the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve and explored the Rio On Pools, which are a series of pools and small waterfalls mingled between granite rocks. The drive was mainly dirt roads which meant we settled in for a slow and steady paced of 15-20 mph. When we arrived there was a poor guy who had dislocated his shoulder while climbing around the pools. We showed up to a team of two paramedics giving him what looked like too much morphine and taking him to the waiting helicopter. Eric comforted me with the fact that if that happened, he knew we had a flask of whiskey in the car and Pedro could actually take those washboards much faster… Problem solving at its best. Luckily, we enjoyed the beautiful pools and natural granite water slides without any injuries!

So far, Eric and I have stayed away from tours while travelling. Besides the issue of budget, tour guides often take you to their friend’s store to purchase something or rope you into more than you thought you bargained for. For the Nelson family, that would be getting ‘earwigged’. With all that said, we caved. Literally. After hearing at least four people, all in separate instances, recommend the Actun Tunichil Muknal caves, we took the bait, paid the guide and prepped for the 8 AM departure.

We had done just a bit of research on the tour, more commonly known as the ATM caves. We began by walking about 30 minutes into the jungle, where we reached an hourglass shaped opening into the hillside. The first step was to get into the icy blue water and swim until you could touch ground again. In total we were in the cave for 3 hours. Sometimes you would have to swim and sometimes the water level was just above the ankle. The walkways were often large enough to walk comfortably, but in some areas you had to squeeze yourself between cracks in the limestone rock. The last part of the tour before retracing our steps was to climb into an upper chamber where the Mayan people left sacrifices to their gods. Once in the chamber it was incredible how close you could get to intact ceremonial pots, dishes, and calcified bones and skeletons. This upper chamber was the most impressive part of the cave. Our guide, Hugh, was incredibly knowledgeable about all aspects of the tour. He provided information on the Mayan culture, past and present, the entire time. He explained the rock types and formations, and pointed out many details of the cave. We felt lucky as we were being taken into deeper areas and around corners that larger groups and other guides could not take the time to do. The whole time I was thinking about my younger brother, who as a recently graduated geology student, would have been pretty pumped on the whole experience. Unfortunately, cameras are no longer allowed due to a tourist dropping a camera onto a skull and crushing it. You’ll just have to go see for yourself. Or at least Google it.

Our last night in San Ignacio, we splurged and went out to dinner at The Guava Limb Café, which had a cute sign and even more attractive cottage location right next to the park. The dinner and drinks were great and the service and ambiance were on par with the meal. We love our street tacos and market meals, but sometimes a night out is what makes the perfect end to an already great day.

The next morning we left around 10 AM to tackle the Guatemalan border!

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