Spending time on the Río Dulce is frequently a part of touring through Guatemala, so I obviously had to check it out. The river itself starts flowing from Lago Isabel and meanders approximately 25 miles east to the Caribbean Sea. The highlight of this region is best visited by taking a boat to/from the sea to the lake. The river winds through a canyon of beautiful limestone cliffs, connecting the two towns of interest in the region: Livingston, and Rio Dulce town. Livingston sits on the Caribbean coast and is defined by the Garífuna people that inhabit the village, which is not connected by road to the rest of Guatemala. Río Dulce town, which is at the eastern side of the lake, is the safest harbor in the Caribbean and therefore loaded with yachts that weather the hurricane season there (and many of the old salty dogs that man those yachts).
Livingston is popular for the Afro-Caribbean food and music, and being the closest southern Guatemalan town with boat access to Belize. Wandering the village streets is a unique experience in Guatemala because of the different culture. There are a few sights to be seen if you have time to visit. Siete Altares, a series of pools and cascades, is located a few miles outside of town, a thirty minute walk down an unremarkable beach. Playa Blanca, the only frequently visited white-sand Caribbean beach in Guatemala, is located a short boat ride away, however, I wouldn’t suggest it as an out-of-the-way excursion. A better option is to head to one of the beautiful, yet remote, jungle river lodges along the banks of the river.
I took the hour long journey through the canyon on my way to Finca Tatín, a nicely done lodge a short way up one of the many tributaries of the river. The lodge experience, at whichever lodge you may choose, will likely focus on relaxation and river swimming. Some boast an eco-friendly construction, and most promote limited electricity and internet in order to provide a truly disconnected time away.
Río Dulce town is mainly unremarkable except for the beautiful fort (Castillo de San Felipe) built along the lakeshore in the mid-1600s to defend the town’s departing Spanish merchant ships from pirates. Although recently reconstructed, the grounds offer a beautiful view of the lake, an opportunity to swim, and to explore a little bit of the town’s history. Unfortunately, most people pass through the town quickly on their way to a lodge or to get a bus towards the northern or western parts of the country.
However, there was one stop that I’d highly suggest if
you have the time to spare. About 25 miles from town there is a picturesque swimming area a few minutes’ walk north of the highway at Finca Paraíso. Here, the crystal clear waters of some hot springs emerge from the earth and slowly flow over a waterfall into a pool fed from below by cold springs. Its a tranquil spot, and the unique contrast of the water temperatures makes for an enjoyable dip.
If you do plan on traveling to the Río Dulce, I’d suggest a stay on the riverbanks and a canyon-view boat ride, and try to make it to the hot springs and castle if you have the time!