San Ignacio is also only 15 miles from the Guatemalan border town of Melchor de Mencos where visitors can buy Guatemalan fabric and items at low prices. Melchor de Mencos borders with the Cayo town of Benque Viejo del Carmen The Government maintains a modern immigration and customs facility located on 22 acres of land. The new western border facility features comfortable arrival and departure areas, separate areas for tourists, cargo, Belizeans and cross border traffic, as well as proper offices for immigration, customs and Border Management Agency (BMA) officials. The BMA comes under the Ministry of Tourism.
Hundreds of Belizeans, expats and tourists cross over into Melchor de Mencos every day. The town is within Guatemala’s El Peten Department. Rapidly developing, Melchor offers many shops, boutiques, a large market – and what is most attractive – low prices for food and beer. Belize bans the importation of beer and soft drinks from most countries but in Melchor – like the rest of Guatemala – brews and soft drinks from all over Central America and Mexico are readily available.
Benque Viejo del Carmen is also home to a House of Culture. Located at the site of the old police station, it offers exhibits such as its recent “Art for the People” and “Women in Art.” Additionally, the Benque House of Culture periodically offers cultural lectures and holds cultural workshops, recent ones being classes in the playing of marimba music and accordion music. The Coordinator is Belizean writer David Ruiz.
Benque Viejo del Carmen is the western most population center of Belize, located about 130 km (81 miles) west of Belize City, near the border with Guatemala. San Ignacio Cayo is located 13 km (8 miles) to the east of the town, while Melchor de Mencos is 2 km (1 mile) to the west in Petén, Guatemala. The northern edge of the town lies along the Mopan River which that forms the border with Guatemala.
The town was established in the 19th century, mostly by immigrants from Guatemala and Corozal in northern Belize. During the first years of the 21st century, the town experienced a rapid boom in population. Benque is mainly a suburban settlement with schools, cheap Chinese supermarkets and other facilities catering to the border trade between Guatemala and Belize. Many expatriates and public officers make this town their home mostly due to a reasonable cost of living and proximity to the border with Guatemala.
San Jose Succotz
On the short drive between San Ignacio and Benque, you will pass San Jose Succotz Village . It is home to the Xunantunich Maya Site; one catches a quaint ferry ride from the main highway as one enters Succotz – feel free to purchase a Mayan slate carving or other handicraft sold from cultural stalls at the mouth of the ferry. A short climb up after the ferry disembarks leads one to Xunantunich.
Succotz is a peaceful Maya village on the banks of the Mopan and is famous for the San Jose Succotz Marching Band that has won several championships in the annual marching band festival. The folks take their music seriously and the primary and high schools in the area practice year round. No wonder that a small village frequently trounces other marching bands including those from the larger towns and cities. Expats find San Jose Succotz an excellent hideaway where life if very economical and access to the border with Guatemala is almost within walking distance.
Succotz is also famous for the annual Succotz Fair that includes nights of culture, folklore, dances and a fair featuring mechanical rides and traditional Mestizo and Maya cuisine such as bollos, tamales, escabeche, cochinita pibil, carne al pastor, beer drinking contests and dances with music from the best bands in Belize and invited music groups from Mexico and Guatemala.
South of San Ignacio is the quaint village of San Antonio , Cayo, famous for wood and slate carvings. The Garcia Sisters, Cayo’s famous slate carvers, are established there. Their Tanah Mayan Art Museum is worth the visit. San Antonio , Cayo is also the home of the late Don Elijio Panti, who was the shaman guide for much of the work later developed at Ix Chel Farms. The Mayan ruin of Pacbitun is located on the outskirts of San Antonio Village.
On one of the back roads of Benque, you will find an anomaly – Arenal village. Half of the village is in Belize and the other half on Guatemalan territory. The village football field is another oddity, one goal post is in Belize and the other in Guatemala.