Cayo District, Belize Travel Guide
Cayo District Summary
- Beautiful landscape, with lush rainforests and gorgeous countryside
- Home to some of the most famous Mayan ruins in Central America, including Caracol
- Limestone caves featuring Mayan artifacts that can be explored by canoeing or river tubing
- Swimming and canoeing along the Macal River
- Fantastic spot for bird watching
- Diverse wildlife including howler monkeys, jaguars, and crocodiles
- Around a two-hour drive to the Mayan ruins at Tikal in Guatemala
- Sunny, warm weather during peak season
- Most areas are private and secluded (a con for some!)
- Little nightlife
- Side roads can be bumpy
- Significant poverty
What It's Like
The Cayo District, an inland region in western Belize, is the country's second most popular destination, after the Cayes -- and it's easy to understand its appeal. It has beautiful countryside, lush rainforests, mountains, and impressive Mayan ruins.
The Cayo District attracts nature lovers and active travelers. It's a bird watcher's paradise, with species such as red-lored parrots and blue-crowned Motmots; other wildlife includes howler monkeys, jaguars, and crocodiles. The limestone caves here were sacred to the ancient Mayans, and Mayan pottery and artifacts can still be seen. There are caves tours of different levels of intensity, from Barton Creek Cave, which can be explored by canoe, to Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) Cave, explored by hiking, swimming, and tubing; one of the highlights is an actual calcified skeleton that may have been a Mayan victim of human sacrifice.
The Mayan ruins are among the country's most impressive, particularly those at the ancient Mayan city of Caracol. Dating back to the first century AD, this may be one of the largest Mayan cities ever discovered (not enough of the buildings have been excavated to determine this yet) and it is home to Belize's tallest structure, the Caana pyramid, reaching almost 140 feet. The Mayan ruins at Tikal in Guatemala are even more impressive; they're around a two-hour drive away from the Cayo District and a popular day trip.
Several other Mayan ruins are centered around San Ignacio, the main town in the Cayo District. This is where the majority of the restaurants in the area can be found (outside of the resorts), and many backpackers travel through town on their way to exploring other sights in Belize. Visitors shouldn't be surprised to see the occasional horse and buggy along the side of the road around these parts: A community of Conservative Mennonites is thriving in the region.
Where To Stay
Most visitors to the Cayo District stay in remote eco-lodges surrounded by rainforest. These lodges can range from uber-chic (with luxurious spas and top-notch restaurants) to rustic, with outdoor communal bathrooms and limited hot water. Most lodges are slightly difficult to get to (though roads in the area have improved, the side roads can still be a bit bumpy).
Those looking for hotels rather than self-contained resorts and lodges will find them along the Western Highway and in San Ignacio, the main town. Since many backpackers hike through this area, there are numerous budget hotels in San Ignacio. Belmopan has slightly higher-end options, as the area caters to business travelers.