Guide to Cayo District

macal river canoeing in San Ignacio, Cayo, Belize

1. About Cayo

Cayo is probably the number one stop for travelers looking to spend a few days on Belize’s mainland. It’s wealth of natural attractions, concentration of Mayan history sites, and its excellent display of local cuisine have earned this district the distinction of being known as the cultural heart of Belize.

Located on the western side of the country, Cayo borders Guatemala and is geographically Belize’s largest district, spread over nearly a million acres. The twin towns of Santa Elena and San Ignacio are the most popular stops for travellers. The border town of Benque Viejo del Carmen is home to many Mayan settlements as well.

Related: 10 Step Belize Travel Guide

Culturally, Cayo is one of the most diverse spots in Belize. The Mestizos, people of mixed Mayan and Spanish descent, were historically one of the largest ethnic groups in Cayo. Today, look for Mayan, Mennonite, Creole, and even pockets of Lebanese and Chinese.

2. Things to Do in Cayo

Like many travelers, If you are looking to split your holiday with a few days in the jungle and a few days on the beach, be prepared for a full itinerary while in Cayo. Adventure seekers and history buffs often find Cayo to be the most desirable spot in Belize with its abundant nature and high concentration of Mayan sites.

Whether it’s canoeing or tubing, Cayo has you covered. With its dynamic mountainous terrain, Cayo is also home to a number of spectacular waterfalls that travelers can hike to, especially in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve. Here you can go hiking, explore caves or take a swim at Butterfly Falls.

Travelers interested in hitting a number of Mayan sites will find Cayo the perfect home base with Caracol, Xunantunich, and Cahal Pech within easy reach. Those wanting to visit Tikal in Guatemala on a day trip will find departing from Cayo is the best option as well.

Go horseback riding or learn about Belize’s preservation efforts of the Blue Morpho Butterfly at the Natural History Museum, the famous Belize Botanic Gardens, and the Green Iguana hatchery at the San Ignacio Hotel. Bird watchers will want to keep Cayo on their radar as the region is home to some of the most endangered and rare bird species in Belize.

Top Activities in Cayo

(1) ATM Cave

(2) Mountain Pine Ridge Day Tour

(3) San Ignacio’s Farmers’ Market

3. Where to Eat in Cayo

It’s more like what is there NOT to eat Cayo? Some of the most traditional Belizean dishes can be found throughout Cayo, including garnaches, salbutes, black relleno, panades, “bollos”, and boil up, also known as “bile-up”. Cayo’s Saturday Farmers’ Market and the Mennonite village of Spanish Lookout are ideal spots to score fresh produce. The Mennonites have adopted an organic lifestyle; they also supply much of the country with poultry and dairy products.

As Cayo is home to a number of higher-end resorts, look for gourmet dining out options. Spots like the Guava Limb Cafe showcase local Belizean dishes with a gourmet twist and they feature some truly one-of-a-kind local cocktails and an impressive wine list.

Top Restaurants in Cayo

(1) Guava Limb Cafe

(2) Ko Ox Hannah

(3) Erva’s Restaurant

4. Where to Stay in Cayo

Here you will find everything from budget-friendly campsites and hotels to luxurious award-winning eco-resorts. Eco-tourism is the focus in Cayo and even the luxury resorts are mindful of the environment, many offering a wealth of onsite educational opportunities. Venture beyond the towns of San Ignacio and Santa Elena and you will find more remote mountainous and jungle resorts, some set on the riverbank or in a nature reserve.

Lodging in Cayo is likely the most diverse and can appeal to every type of traveler looking to experience Belize’s natural wonders.

Top Hotels in Cayo

(1) The Lodge at Chaa Creek

(2) Ka’ana Resort

(3) duPlooy’s Jungle Lodge

5. Getting there and back

Cayo is an easy place to get to. If you arrive to Belize via the Phillip Goldson International Airport (PGIA), you can take a short flight to Maya Flats Airstrip located between San Ignacio and Benque Viejo Del Carmen. Another option would be renting a car, catching the bus or arranging a private transfer.