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Cayo District

Bordering the El Petén department of Guatemala in Belize’s great west, the Cayo District, home to the country’s capital, Belmopan, is the largest of Belize’s six districts, and arguably its most beautiful. Dismissed at one time for being too remote, today Cayo tails only Ambergris Caye as the country’s most popular destination—boasting more than half of Belize’s visitors, in addition to restaurants, hotels, and other infrastructure.

The Cayo District is known for its rugged natural beauty: hills, Maya Mountains, amazing cave systems, thundering falls and winding rivers, lush jungles, and rainforests in addition to Maya ruins. Nearly two-thirds of the district is comprised of national parks and forest reserves, and this eco-tourism paradise teems with fauna and over 570 bird species, among countless other indigenous creatures. Since it’s located less than four hours or so from most of the country’s regions, you can enjoy all Cayo has to offer in a single day’s trip.

San Ignacio is the hub of the district, the small town an excellent base for exploring the region. The downtown sees backpackers and mestizo, Maya, Creole, and Mennonite locals alike; some great, affordable eateries; Colonial-era streets; and the largest open market in the country. Situated on the Macal and Mopan rivers, the town offers many opportunities for canoeing, kayaking, and swimming. Nearby Santa Elena is San Ignacio’s sister town, the two together comprising the district’s largest population. Also nearby is San Antonio, a predominantly Maya village.

Most visitors to the region are drawn to the spectacular underground cave systems such as Actun Tunichil Muknal and the Barton Creek Cave, both containing skeletal remains and ceramics left by the Maya. Also worth a visit are the impressive Maya ruins including Cahal Pech, with royal residences of the ancient Maya elite; the ceremonial center of Xunantunich; and Belize’s largest Maya site, Caracol, with a mammoth pyramid rising some 164 feet.

In addition to exploring caves and Maya ruins, you can also hike remote mountain or jungle trails, swim in waterfalls, horseback ride, camp, bike, spot wildlife in parks and reserves such as Chiquibul National Park (home to many endangered animals such as jaguars and Morelet’s crocodiles), birdwatch, and more.

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