Guide to Cayo District

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macal river canoeing in San Ignacio, Cayo, Belize

Cayo is one of the six districts of Belize and it’s perhaps the number one stop for travelers looking to spend a few days on Belize’s mainland.

Its wealth of natural attractions, concentration of Mayan sites, and excellent display of local cuisine have earned this district the distinction of being known as the cultural heart of Belize.

On this page
About Cayo
Things to Do
Where to Eat
Where to Stay
Best Time to Visit
Safety Concerns
Getting Here & Around

About Cayo

San Ignacio, Cayo

Located on the western side of Belize, Cayo borders Guatemala and it’s Belize’s largest district, spreading over nearly a million acres. The twin towns of San Ignacio and Santa Elena are the most popular stops for travelers. The border town of Benque Viejo del Carmen is home to many Mayan settlements as well. Also, Belmopan City, the capital of Belize is located within the district.

See also: 10-Step Belize Travel Guide and Top Jungle Resorts in Belize

Culturally, the Cayo District 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 Maya, Mennonite, Creole, and even pockets of Lebanese and Chinese.

Things to Do in Cayo

El Castillo is the tallest temple at Xunantunich

Like many travelers, if you’re looking to split your holiday between 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 countless rainforest tours 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 Things to Do in Cayo

  1. Visit the lively downtown San Ignacio where you can eat at popular restaurants, and visit the Cayo Farmers’ Market, Iguana Hatchery, and San Ignacio murals.
  2. Caving is recommended in Cayo since the district has many of Belize’s top caves, such as Actun Tunichil Muknal and Barton Creek Cave
  3. Explore Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve or go birdwatching at top birding spots in Belize
  4. Visit top Maya sites such as Xunantunich and Cahal Pech to name a few
  5. Go on an adventure via cave tubing or zip-lining

Where to Eat in Cayo

Guava Limb Restaurant in San Ignacio, 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 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 Food Spots in San Ignacio, Cayo

  1. Guava Limb Cafe
  2. Ko-Ox Hannah
  3. Pop’s Restaurant
  4. Crave House of Flavour
  5. Erva’s Restaurant

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.

Best Time to Visit Cayo

Downtown San Ignacio, Belize

The best time to visit Cayo is from December to May, during Belize’s dry season. This coincides with Belize’s high tourism season and you can expect sunny days and clear blue skies. However, due to the popularity of this travel period, the downside is that things are more expensive.

But honestly, visiting Belize during the tourism offseason is not that different and a plus is that many discounts are available. Belize’s offseason is during Central America’s rainy season, but unless you’re visiting during a tropical storm, often the rain is overnight or for brief 1 or 2 hour periods, and the rest of the day is fine.

As for a specific time that is the best to be in Cayo, this is possibly during in December and January. During this time you will enjoy nice cool and sunny days which are great for going on hikes and eco-adventures. Additionally, if you’re there in December, you can witness the town of San Ignacio come alive as everyone prepares for the Christmas holidays.

Safety and Security Risks in Cayo

Food Stall at San Ignacio Market

Popular destinations in Belize, such as Cayo, are typically just as safe as where you live.

The most common crime is petty theft so normal safety precautions apply. Do not flash large sums of money, do not leave personal belongings unattended, refrain from walking alone late at night (especially if drunk), and lock your doors when you leave your hotel room or Airbnb. Resorts typically provide in-room safes for valuables and have security guards at night.

Most food and beverages are safe to consume in Cayo. But don’t drink the tap water. If drinking water isn’t included in your stay, which may happen at vacation rentals, bottled water can be bought at supermarkets. Resorts and hotels provide “purified” water for guests so pack a reusable water bottle for tour expeditions and daily use.

Lastly, young women that are traveling alone/ are single may receive unwanted attention from Belizean men. Unfortunately, there is no “right way” to deal with catcalling but often the best response is to ignore it. Sorry.

Getting Here & Around

Maya Flats Airstrip near San Ignacio in Cayo, Belize

Cayo is an easy place to get to. If you arrive in Belize via the Philip Goldson International Airport (PGIA), you have four options. The most popular method is arranging a private transfer from the airport to your destination in Cayo. The quickest option involves taking a short flight from PGIA to the Maya Flats Airstrip, which is located 15 minutes outside of San Ignacio Town. Then there are the options of renting a car or catching the local bus.

Cayo doesn’t have an international airport, so you’ll have to fly to the Philip Goldson International Airport (PGIA) in Belize City. From there you’ll need to either take a domestic flight, rent a car, or hire a taxi/ shuttle to go to where you want in Cayo. You can also take the local bus from Belize City. A cab from the international airport to the Belize City bus terminal is US$25.

If you’re visiting San Ignacio in Cayo, taking a domestic flight is the most direct option. The flight from PGIA to the Maya Flats Airstrip, which is 10 minutes outside of San Ignacio, costs about US$140 and it takes about 20 minutes. For other places in Cayo, it’s best to go by land. Getting to San Ignacio or Belmopan by vehicle involves a 1- to 1.5-hour trip if it’s a shuttle/ taxi (US$150-$300) or car rental (US$125/day). Buses from Belize City to San Ignacio or Belmopan take about 2-3 hours and the trip costs about US$6.

Once in Cayo, transportation options to get around include taxis, buses or car rentals.

Cayo Pictures

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