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The Jungles of San Ignacio, Belize

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Part two of our birding adventure in Belize takes place in and around San Ignacio. San Ignacio is inland Belize near the Guatemala border, here you can find rivers, jungles, caves and Mayan ruins to explore. We stayed just outside San Ignacio in Bullet Tree Falls at the Mahogany Hall Resort which is a very unique three-story building with about six units right on the Mopan River. It was a beautiful spot as we were able to view birds right outside our window as well as the stunning river. The Macal River divides San Ignacio from it’s sister city of Santa Elena, and then meets the Mopan to become the Belize River which runs all the way to Belize City and the ocean.

Above the deck at the Mahogany Hall were many palm trees, one was particularly loaded with berries. The palm berries acted as a bird feeder and attracted a steady stream of wildlife for us to enjoy. The most impressive visitor was the Collared Aracari Toucan. Their bills are painted like they are celebrating Dia de Los Meurtos with some nice yellows and reds mixed into their mostly black coloring. They travel in small flocks, three arrived on our first morning in the fog to breakfast on some of the palm berries while we enjoyed our own breakfast on the deck. A Rufous-tailed Hummingbird fed each morning at the nearby Lobster-claw flowers.   Other birds arrived throughout the day but the other most interesting visitor came in the night. Resting in the canopy during the daytime the nocturnal Kinkajou came down to the same tree for a nighttime feeding. Kinkajou are related to racoons but  me of something of a raccoon or opossum mix though much more adorable than either!

There are many things to see in the area and with only three days we chose to do a tour of Xunantunich and the Barton Creek Cave. Our guide Abimael Moralez was amazing, we told him we enjoyed birding and he was quite excited as he said birding is also his passion, everywhere we went he stopped to show us birds he spotted despite it not being a birding tour. The first stop, Xunantunich (pronounced Shoo-non-tunich), is one of the Mayan archeological sites in the area, located just near the border of Guatemala, it requires a crossing of the Mopan River on a hand-cranked ferry. At the ferry crossing we got a great shot of an Amazon Kingfisher, one of five Kingfisher’s native to Belize according to Abi. At the peak of the Xunantunich pyramid is the highest point in Belize, here you can see far into Guatemala on the east and Belize to the west, and more importantly to the Mayan’s, was closest to the gods. Inhabiting the carved out walkways in the pyramid were Fruit Bat’s and Stingless Bee’s.

The history of the ruins was quite interesting, learning about the Mayan’s game of pok-ta-pok for instance that my nine year old son seemed to know a lot about already. The victor of pok-ta-pok won the right to be sacrificed to the Mayan gods, quite an honor for the time. To honor the Mayan culture the game is still played today with each Central American country having their own national pok-ta-pok team. We also were shown native trees on the site that when cut into emit a white sap that looks and is used just like Elmer’s glue. Amazingly there are still many uncovered mounds there with more ruins still to be discovered. On exiting the site we were delighted to be visited by on of the two native monkey’s in Belize, a Spider Monkey.

On our second adventure we were taken deeper into the wilderness to canoe into the Barton Creek Cave. Interestingly to get there you pass a number of large Mennonite farms, there is a large population of Mennonites in Belize that produce most of the countries quite delicious dairy products as well as grain. In the fields we spotted some of the incredible Ceiba Tree’s, these tall trees are very bare with a distinct looking base and then just a few sections of branches and canopy giving them a very unique look, the Mayans believed they connected the gods in the sky to the underworld below. The entrance to the Barton Creek Cave is a jungle paradise, with a large blue pool for swimming and large vines hanging down above the creek. Using headlamps and handheld lights you peacefully canoe into the cave which the Mayan’s believed was an entrance to the underworld. This is where some of the human sacrifices took place.

On our second day we spent our time stopping by the local market in San Ignacio and visiting the Iguana Conservatory at the very nice San Ignacio Resort Hotel. Just outside the hotel was a large greenspace where we saw Summer Tanager’s, Yellow-winged Tanager’s, and even Warbler’s that spend their summers up here in the Pacific Northwest. It is amazing that these tiny Warbler’s can travel so far each year. We were also lucky enough to hear and see the other native monkey of Belize, a Howler Monkey making quite the commotion in the canopy above the Iguana Conservatory!

Useful Links:

  • Read our last Belize post about the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary!
  • Check out all our other birding and nature adventures here.
  • If you’re looking to visit San Ignacio there are plenty of options – two very nice options we would recommend are the Mahogany Hall Resort and the San Ignacio Resort Hotel.
  • Want an excellent tour guide? Abimael Moralez contracts with Andy’s Mayan Expedition’s– or you can contact him directly by email at
  • Please check out the Kingsyard banner above and give it click. They make some really cool bird feeders and bird houses that you’ll want to check out!
  • Most of these shots were taken with the Sony a7 along with the Sony FE 200-600mm lens.


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