We arrived at Chaa Creek by car from Tikal, the transport provided by the ever-reliable STP. Tikal is quite near the border so it wasn’t a long drive – about an hour till we reached the border. On the way we stopped briefly at this viewpoint of Lake Peten Itza – the wooded promontory is said to resemble the snout of a crocodile. But as you can see the weather wasn’t great for photos – in fact this was to be the first of three days of almost constant rain!
At the border we filled out the necessary forms – customs declarations and entry form for Belize. We had to get out of our vehicle and walk the few yards between control posts. Everything was handled very quickly and in a very friendly manner – the Belizean border guards were particularly chatty and pleasant as they welcomed us to their country (on seeing that we were from England one of them asked now “Aunt Betty” (aka the Queen) was these days!)
Once across the border it immediately struck us that the countryside and building style here was a real contrast to that of Guatemala. In a few short miles we had gone from Latin America to the Caribbean! The village houses we passed were much more reminiscent of those we had previously seen in Jamaica than the Spanish colonial style we had been seeing for the last week or so.
It was only about 30 minutes further to Chaa Creek, the last part on a rough track that led us up into the low hills that line the main road to San Ignacio, under ever darkening skies. Even in this light though the scenery was lovely, and we were excited to be in Belize even while feeling sorry that we had to say farewell to Guatemala.
If you don’t have transport arranged separately, Chaa Creek offer private transfers to and from the airport in air conditioned mini vans. We used this facility on leaving as we needed to pick up our transfer to our next destination at the airport. The drive takes approximately 1 ½ hours, and the cost for a one way transfer is $150.00 for a group of 1 to 4. Our driver was friendly and informative, and he got us to the airport in good time and made sure we’d linked up with our onward connection before leaving.
On the way to Xunantunich, you have to cross the Mopan River by way of a small ferry. This ferry can carry cars but only one at a time. The ferry is actually operated by a crank that guides it along a rope to the far bank of the river. It is free to use the ferry and the pilot is friendly.
We were almost at the end of our 3-weeks in Belize when we had to leave the San Ignacio area for a final night in Belize City, prior to flying out the next day. This photo shows the mini-van shuttle that took us the 72-miles from San Ignacio to the 'big city'. We had actually planned to catch one of the local busses, but the Trek Stop owners suggested we hop on their shuttle since they had a planned run into the city for an airport drop-off. This cost us US$15 each, which was not a bad deal considering that the much slower and uncomfortable bus would have cost US$6 each. It was just us and the driver, Tino, as we took off, and we had a great conversation with him, because he was one of the Belizian co-owners of the Trek Stop who we had come to know during our stay. A brief stop at the side of the highway near the Capitol city of Belmopan saw us pick up the two passengers, Americans from North Carolina, that had to be delivered to the airport, and we were underway again. He was a retired dentist and they had been visiting their son who was now living in Belize. They joined in our conversations as well and the drive to Belize City passed quickly. They had lots of time before their flight, so the shuttle took us directly into Belize City and dropped us off at our Seaside Guest House accommodations, where we said our good-byes.
Our Trek Stop accommodations, just outside the hamlet of San Jose de Succotz, was very conveniently located for visiting the Mayan ruins at Xunantunich - a short 15 minute walk along the main highway toward Guatemala brought us to the this scenic ferry crossing. This hand-cranked affair crosses back and forth over the Mopan River, providing the only access to Xunantunich. The single operator winches the the ferry back and forth for both cars and pedestrians as they turn up on one side of the river or the other (second photo).
I had a good talk with him as we crossed on our 8:30 AM walk to the ruins, and he pointed out a very large Green Iguana (they can reach 7-feet in length) to me, as it lay out over the river on a tree branch, warming up in the morning sunshine. Tourists taking kayak tours on the Mopan (and ourselves as well on our tubing ride) have to keep an eye out here as they pass the ferry but it is not difficult since the aerial cable used to winch the ferry is plenty high above the water level. I gave the ferry operator $BZ2 (US$1) for his efforts on our short crossings here.
Whenever we wanted to make the 6-mile (10-km) drive from the Trek Stop into San Ignacio itself, we found that 'share cabs' were a great option. These green license-plated taxis are to be found everywhere in the San Ignacio area, as they cruise the roads between the town and the Guatemalan border. All you have to do is stand on the side of the street or highway and make a hand signal if you see one approaching. If there is room in the cab, it will pull over and, if not, the driver will give a shrugging gesture and keep on moving. You may have to share the cab with other passengers that he has picked up before you, and the first to be dropped off will depend on the destinations of whoever is in the cab. The standard fare is $BZ6 (US$3), even for a couple travelling together, as we were. Some of the cars were a bit rough around the edges (Sue said the suspension was so bad in one that it felt like she was sitting directly on the rear axle every time it hit a bump), but the drivers were friendly and it was a cheap service. When we went on our 2-day jaunt to Tikal National Park in Guatemala, we also used share cabs for our trip from the Trek Stop to the border and back.
It was Day 12 of our Belize trip by the time we arrived in the San Ignacio area. We had finished up with our very enjoyable two days of bird-watching in the watery world of the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary and were fortunate to link up with a couple of American tourists who were also enjoying the sights there.
Hubie and Marie are from Springfield, Massachusetts and, in the course of a morning discussion with Hubie, I found out that they were leaving for San Ignacio the next morning (as we were) in a rental vehicle. Since we had not yet finalized exactly how we were getting from Crooked Tree to San Ignacio ourselves, I asked him if they would mind taking us along for the ride, saving us the bother of either catching a couple of different local busses or using the expensive lodge shuttle service. It was no problem for them, so away we went the next morning with our backpacks and their suitcases thrown into the box of his rental Ford Ranger, while Sue and I crammed into the 'jump-seats' in the cab.
It was an interesting ride as we drove along the Western Highway laughing at various life stories and taking in the countryside. I paid for gasoline in Roaring Creek as we briefly stopped there and our new-found buddies actually drove us straight through San Ignacio to drop us off at our Trek Stop lodgings about 6 miles short of the Guatemala border. Meeting people like this is one of the great joys of travelling!
If you are arriving at the international airport in Belize City and intend to head directly to San Ignacio, I would recommend arranging for a shuttle.
This option will save you the hassle of catching a $20 taxi into town to the bus station and then waiting for the next bus to Cayo. The bus station is neither in a nice nor safe part of Belize City so it is not recommended to go sightseeing while waiting for your bus to depart.
In that case, you will probably take the first available bus, like I did, which was a local bus. On this bus, you can expect a 3hr journey since the local buses stop anywhere for anybody and there seems to be no limit as to the number of passengers. On my bus, the aisles were packed with passengers standing and I ended up holding my luggage on my lap while someone squeezed onto the seat beside me. Needless to say, it was quite uncomfortable and was made worse when it began to rain outside and everyone immediately closed the windows. You can imagine how stifling it was with all those people crammed into a small enclosed space!
If you would like to hang out at the bus station, you can wait for the express bus which may cost an extra dollar, but it will get there in half the time and probably with half the passengers. The express buses are not as popular with the locals since these people need to get off and on at places other than the Belmopan or San Ignacio bus stations.
Since both of these options are time consuming, I recommend booking a shuttle directly to San Ignacio.
If you have prearranged accomodations in San Ignacio, check with them, they may offer this service to you for about $30/person. They may even stop at the Belize Zoo en route. Otherwise email Bob at Eva's (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Mayawalk Tours (email@example.com). Either of them can arrange a shuttle for you for a comparable price,although you need a min of 2 passengers.
The cheapest way to San Ignacio is by bus. A bus from Belize City cost only a few dollars and takes a little over 3 hours. However, the Belize City bus terminal is not the safiest or most comfortable of places and it is very difficult to tell which is your bus. The bus itself was packed and rather uncomfortable. Expect to share your seat with a local. Dont take too much in the way of bags on the bus as there is no place to keep them or store them. It is a cheap way to get to San Ignacio, but uncomfortable (old US school buses - no A/C) and becomes filled with school children.
San Ignacio is the second built up area the bus stops at. There are no signs showing where you are, but you will know San Ignacio when you cross the wooden bridge.
When you get off the bus, there will be many taxi drivers wanting to give you a ride, but this is probably not necessary as it is a small town and hotels are within walking distance.