You might associate Guatemala with colonial cities and active volcanoes, but that’s just because you’ve probably never heard of Rio Dulce! This beautiful jungle area with lakes and the Rio Dulce River is a totally different side of Guatemala. The tropical atmosphere and beautiful nature make this area a must on your Guatemala travel itinerary. We can tell you exactly how to get to Rio Dulce in Guatemala, how to find the best hotel and what the must-do’s are.
The must-do’s in Rio Dulce
We can be quite simple about the must-do’s: the river is the biggest highlight of this area. You explore Rio Dulce the best from the water. Rent a kayak or canoe and go exploring yourself or with a guide. We ourselves paddled through the jungle through the tributaries of the Rio Dulce one morning. We were even treated to a group of howler monkeys high in the trees!
Another option is a boat trip on the river. Popular is the standard boat trip between the towns of Rio Dulce and Livingston. It is also one of the easiest ways to travel between the two villages. This boat will therefore also visit several sleeping places along the way to hand over travelers there.
Of course you can also arrange a private boat through your hotel, allowing you to choose where your boat will stop. Popular stops include San Felipe Castle, Finca El Paraiso Waterfalls, the Seven Altars, the Agua Caliente hot springs and Playa Blanca.
But these stops really matter less than the Rio Dulce itself. The main attraction is the river and the lakes. The town of Rio Dulce is located between two large lakes. In the west the huge Lago de Izabal and in the east towards the sea El Golfete. In El Golfete you will see a number of islands with countless birds. Rio Dulce is also a popular spot with bird watchers. The views over the lake are beautiful. But the most beautiful is the river between El Golfete and the coastal town of Livingston. Where the river has carved a canyon through the rocks.
The villages of Rio Dulce and Livingston
I referred a few times to the villages of Rio Dulce and Livingston. Livingston is the coastal town at the end of the Rio Dulce. The village with the same name as the river lies more inland, between the lakes Lago de Izabal and El Golfete.
Rio Dulce is connected to the rest of Guatemala by a road. Here is a bus station, which makes Rio Dulce an ideal starting point for traveling to the area. But the village is definitely not your destination, so don’t make that mistake when making a hotel booking. The village is no more than a busy road. Here the through traffic runs, buses stop and most shops and eateries can be found. Rio Dulce is not more than that. You can’t even really eat there. We can recommend Café de Paris for crepes and Sundog Café for the lake view and great pizzas.
Livingston is at the other end of the Rio Dulce area and on the Caribbean coast. The best way to get there is by boat from Rio Dulce. Several go that way every day. Livingston is also not a special highlight in Guatemala, but it is different from the rest of the country. Here you have the largest Garifuna community. Garifuna are descendants of a slave ship that was shipwrecked and then settled as free people in the Caribbean. Their language, music and culture is African with Caribbean influences. A unique culture that is totally different from the other ethnic groups in Guatemala!
How to get to Rio Dulce and Livingston?
Rio Dulce was the starting point for our days in the river area, because our bus arrived here. The drive to the river village takes about 7 hours from Guatemala City. The company that provides the journeys to this region is Litegua. The bus costs 80 or 100 Q from Guatemala City. The only difference is a screen with Spanish movies and free Wi-Fi on board (which of course didn’t work). From Rio Dulce you will undoubtedly travel on by boat to your place to sleep. So make sure you arrive here on time for the last boat and coordinate your arrival with your place to sleep.
You will find Livingston at the other end of the Rio Dulce. Which is easiest reached by boat from the more southern city of Puerto Barrios, but can also be done on the Rio Dulce River from the village of Rio Dulce. How else can you get there? From neighboring Belize, also by boat! We traveled from Rio Dulce for 125 Q (one way) to Livingston. From there we traveled further on to Belize.
Spend the night on and at the water
Livingston and Rio Dulce are therefore ideal starting points for your time on the river, but have little to offer themselves. You are concerned about the river itself! So don’t spend the night here, but on the water. Along the river you will find fairytale-like hotels that immediately bring you into a tropical atmosphere.
# 1 Boatique Hotel & Marina | current prices and availability Of all the sleeping places in the region, this one is without a doubt the most beautiful. Houses of wood and leaf roofs. On the water and in the middle of the jungle. In the evening everything is magically lit with lights for a magical atmosphere. The brand new Boatique Hotel & Marina is truly a beautiful jungle paradise in the Rio Dulce region. Read more in our blog about Boatique Hotel!
# 2 Dreamcatcher Eco Lodge | current prices and availability Dreamcatcher is a neighbor of Boatique and is therefore also close to the village of Rio Dulce. This sleeping place is still beautiful, but we found it less idyllic and we missed common areas to relax in the beautiful nature. The food is delicious, but pricey.
# 3 Hotellito Perdido | current prices and availability This idyllic hotel is a little further from the village of Rio Dulce and closer to Livingston. Even beyond the El Golfete lake, but before the canyon lies the popular Hotellito Perdido on a tributary of the Rio Dulce. Far away from civilization, you will completely relax here.
# 4 Finca Tatin | current prices and availavility This sleeping place is further away from civilization, not far from Hotellito Perdido. There is a dormitory, but the hotel also offers beautiful cabins made of natural materials. There is no WiFi, so you can completely separate yourself from your daily life.
The My Maps map above summarizes all our tips. The menu on the menu has separate layers that mark the best coffee spots, sleeping places and highlights. Click on the star to save the map to your own Google Maps or open the map in a new window for a larger version. Enjoy!