Budget travelers are always pleased to see that their dollar goes farther in Cayo than in other parts of Belize. Days go by differently here than they do at the beach—maybe because of how busy most Cayo visitors find themselves, signing up for a new activity every day.
But there’s no rush, and you can easily bop around the area for weeks without getting weary (unless you’re the kind of person who gets bored by too many old trees, ruins, and spectacular waterfalls).
Begin in San Ignacio —strike up a friendship with fellow guests at your hotel, enjoy the narrow streets and cafés, then set off early in the morning for a local tour with a packed lunch and plenty of water.
Save one day for caving, one for canoeing, one for Maya ruins, and one for a hike—how many’s that? Add one or two more days to rest and recuperate before heading back to the Caribbean. And even if you’ve only got a day or two, San Ignacio is close enough to the coast and worth a trip; the forest runs right up to the city limits, where you’ll find several trails and a fascinating archaeological site.
Many visitors skip San Ignacio entirely, staying up the Macal River, in the Mountain Pine Ridge , down the Hydro Road, or at one of the campgrounds west or south of town—all of which get you even closer to nature.
Cayo District is home to a beautiful lattice of trails, from short nature walks and medicine trails to a range of hiking trips through the surrounding hills. Mountain biking the Cayo District is fun, beautiful, and a great way to burn off a few Belikins (but can be dusty in the dry season)
Equestrians will find horseback riding at a growing number of resorts and tour operators in and outside San Ignacio.
Many Cayo resorts offer excellent guided cave trips of varying levels of difficulty, for everyone from the beginning spelunker to the professional speleologist; day and overnight trips are available. Ask about the varied experiences to be had in Handprint Cave, Yaxsahau (Cave of the Ceiba Tree Lord), Actun Tunichil Muknal , Barton Creek Cave , Chechem Ha Cave and the Vaca Plateau , or any of the most recently discovered ones that are as yet unnamed.
A wise man once said, “The only way to float is downstream.” Canoeing, kayaking, and tubing are all popular ways to enjoy the Macal and Mopan Rivers. Actually, one popular trip is to paddle up the Macal River  from downtown San Ignacio, making your way to the Ix Chel Medicine Trail  or Belize Botanic Gardens .
There are small gift and supply shops along Burns Avenue in San Ignacio , but the best shopping in the area (some would say in all of Belize) is a few miles east of San Ignacio at Orange Gifts & Gallery (Mile 60 Western Hwy., tel. 501/824-2341, www.orangegifts.com ).
Orange Gifts (there’s also a shop in San Pedro) has an enormous collection of original and imported arts and crafts, including the custom hardwood furniture and art of proprietor Julian Sherrard. You’ll also find jewelry, paintings, textiles, and practical travelers’ items like laminated maps, books, postcards, and Gallon Jug Coffee. Orange has an excellent restaurant and bar.
Nearly across the highway from Orange, Hot Mama’s Belize (tel. 501/824-0444 or 501/610-1624, www.hotmamasfoods.biz ) makes some of the finest and spiciest condiments in the country. Gift packages and other sundries, as well as tours, are available.