15 Chill Things to Do in Rio Dulce & Livingston

by | Nov 14, 2022 | Guatemala, Travel

Trying to decide whether to add Rio Dulce and Livingston to your Guatemala itinerary? 

Are you wondering what there is to do along Guatemala’s Caribbean Coast?

In this travel guide, I’m going to share with you all the fun things to do in Rio Dulce and Livingston. They’re two perfect destinations for history, culture, food, and nature lovers as well as for anyone who just wants to chill out.

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I have to admit that I wasn’t all that excited at first about visiting Rio Dulce and Livingston. There wasn’t much clear information in guidebooks or online on what to do there and where to stay. I was honestly worried both places would be a waste of time.

But other travelers I met on the road assured me that both places were worth the visit. So, I packed my bags and headed there on a tourist shuttle from Flores intending to stay for 3 nights max.

In the end, I stayed a week.

Rio Dulce became one of my favorite places in Guatemala. It was the perfect place for me to chill out and get away from all the stress and anxiety of traveling around Central America.

There are also tons of things to do in Rio Dulce besides lying in a hammock beside a river. There’s kayaking through mangroves and lagoons, swimming in waterfalls, lying on Caribbean beaches, eating coconuts and seafood, visiting castles, exploring ancient ruins seeing and hearing wildlife, and hiking through the jungle. Perfect for those who love history, culture, food, and nature.

The only 2 things I was disappointed about were that I didn’t get to see any manatees and take a deep dive into Garifuna culture. The weather just wasn’t the best when I was there.

But before I share with you all that there is to do in Rio Dulce and Livingston, let’s talk about what the differences are between the two towns and where you should base yourself. In my opinion, where you stay makes all the difference in whether or not you fall in love with this part of Guatemala.

Check out my 2022-2023 Guatemala Travel Guide for more tips, tricks, ideas, and inspiration for visiting the land of eternal spring. You’ll find over 15 travel articles to help you explore the history, culture, food, and natural beauty of Guatemala.

Table of Contents

About Rio Dulce and Livingston

Rio Dulce River
Rio Dulce

I used the Lonely Planet Guide Guatemala to plan my trip to Rio Dulce, Unfortunately, the current guide is an absolute mess when it comes to the Caribbean Coast, so it was really difficult for me to figure out where to stay and what to do there. Hopefully, this guide will make it easier for you than it was for me.

map of Rio Dulce and Livingston
Click map or here to view it in Google Maps

Here are the main cities and bodies of water on the Caribbean Coast:

  1. Rio Dulce (town)
  2. Rio Dulce (river)
  3. Livingston (town)
  4. Caribbean Sea
  5. Puerto Barrios (city)
  6. Lago Izabal (lake)

1. Rio Dulce Town

An aerial view of Rio Dulce town and Rio Dulce river and Lake Izabal
Rio Dulce Town along with Rio Dulce (river)

If you’re coming to the Caribbean Coast from Flores or a tourist shuttle from Antigua or Guatemala City, you’re going to be dropped off in Rio Dulce Town.

Rio Dulce is a small town of about 7,000 people. It’s the town that you see in the photo above. On one side of the town is the river, Rio Dulce, and on the other is the lake, Lago Izabal. There is a major road, CA-13, that runs through the center of town.

The town used to be called Fronteras when the only way to cross the river was by boat. Fortunately, a bridge was constructed over it, and crossing the river became as easy as pie. Thus, the town’s name changed to Rio Dulce (the same as the river’s name).

A fun fact is that at 3.5 kilometers, the bridge is supposedly the longest one in Central America.

people walking down a busy street full of cars and tuk-tuks and lined with busy shops
The main road, CA-13, in Rio Dulce Town

That main road CA-13 is a nightmare to walk along. No sidewalks. Shops spill out onto the street, Pedestrians, pedestrians, pedestrians. Cars, trucks, semis, buses, tuk-tuks. All honking their horns and not caring whether they run you over or not.

Rio Dulce Town is nothing to write home about.

Avoid basing yourself here.

That all being said, there are important reasons why you’ll probably need to visit Rio Dulce Town.

  • It’s the transportation hub of the area
  • It’s got tons of fabulous places to pick up essentials like food, toiletries, money, SIM cards, etc.

Rio Dulce – Transportation Hub

vehicles passing by the Litegua Bus Station in Rio Dulce
The Litegua Bus Station is where to get buses to Honduras and Guatemala City.

If you need to go somewhere else on the Caribbean Coast or to another city in Guatemala, then you would do it in Rio Dulce.

  • Tourist shuttles – (Google Maps) When I arrived in Rio Dulce from Flores (and Guatemala City as well), the tourist shuttle dropped me and all the other passengers off in front of Rio Dulce Travels (Google Maps). This is a small travel agency located in a Colifato restaurant and coffee shop in a strip mall. It’s run by a helpful guy who speaks good English. I bought my tourist shuttle ticket to Honduras here and he was good at making sure I filled out all the necessary online forms and had all the essential documents to cross the border. You can also book tours here.
  • Litegua Bus Station (Google Maps) – There’s a bus station on CA-13 called Litegua Station. You can get a bus here to the border with Honduras, Flores, Puerto Barrios, and Guatemala City.
  • Fuente del Norte Bus Station (Google Maps) – Across from the Litegua Bus Station is the ticket office and pick-up-point for another bus company, Fuente del Norte Buses. They have buses to Flores.
  • Colectivo Stop – You can also catch a colectivo (public minivan) across from the Litegua bus station on CA-13 to different places in the area such as Quirigua and Puerto Barrios.
  • Buses to Lago Izabal– Take a colectivo or bus heading to El Estero from the intersection of CA-13 and A-7 in Rio dulce for tourist attractions such as El Paraiso, the Castle of San Felipe de Lara, and the El Boqueron Canyon.
  • Water taxi – You can take a water taxi to Livingston and to your hotel along the Rio Dulce (river).

Rio Dulce – Shopping for Travel Essentials

an unpaved road leading to Rio Dulce lake and lined with restaurants
This side road off of CA-13 has 2 popular restaurants along it as well as the dock where you catch the boat to Boatique Hotel

The other reason to spend time in Rio Dulce Town is to pick up essentials like food, money, toiletries, bus tickets, and SIM cards. You can find pretty much all you need along CA-13 or at the strip malls near Supermercado La Torre Rio Dulce and Rio Dulce Travels.

  • Supermercado La Torre Rio Dulce (Google Maps) has a pretty good stock of medicine for headaches, colds, diarrhea, etc, and vitamins and other toiletries. It also has a good selection of western food like peanut butter as well as fruits and vegetables.
  • Rio Dulce Travels – (Google Maps) Buy your tourist shuttle tickets here; it’s also where you get on and off the shuttle; they also offer tours to attractions around Rio Dulce. I bought my shuttle to Honduras here.
  • ATMs – (Google Maps) There is a row of ATMs in front of Supermercado La Torre Rio Dulce as well as an ATM on CA-13 between Sundog Café and the Supermercado La Torre Rio Dulce.
  • Pharmacy – (Google Maps) I picked up some medicine at a pharmacy on CA-13 between Sundog Café and the Supermercado
  • Cell phone stores – There was a Claro shop in the strip mall near the Supermercado where you can get a SIM card. I’m not sure if it’s still there, but I stopped in to ask about a SIM card.
  • Restaurants:
    • Sundog Café is VERY popular with ex-pats; it’s right on the water and is good for a beer and pizza. I always went there to catch the boat to my hotel
    • Colifato – I just had a coffee here while I waited for my boat; they sell western food as well
    • Churrasqueria Chusin –I had a huge tortilla stuffed with freshly grilled meat and veggies. It’s got very affordable and tasty Guatemalan food. Locals seem to love this place. It’s located on CA-13.

2. Rio Dulce (river)

the wide part of the River Dulce
River Dulce

After arriving in Rio Dulce town, you’re probably going to head straight to your accommodations.

Most likely it will be in some secluded hotel or hostel along the river also called Rio Dulce (Dulce River or Sweet River). And most likely you will plan to stay 2 or 3 nights and end up staying 4 or 5 or 7, because you will become so relaxed that you won’t be able to extract yourself from your hammock.

The 43-kilometer river starts at Lago Izabal and flows past Rio Dulce town. It eventually widens so much that it becomes a lake called El Golfete. Eventually, though, the river narrows again and starts to meander its way past Livingston before emptying out into the Caribbean Sea.

The river and its surrounding shores and mangroves, lagoons, and forests are located within Rio Dulce National Park—home to an assortment of migratory birds as well as manatees, tapirs, and crocodiles.

3. Livingston (town)

a motorcycle riding down a street in Livingston
A street in Livingston

Livingston is a town of 7,000 people located at the point where the Rio Dulce enters the Caribbean Sea.

It’s important to note that the ONLY way to get to Livingston is by boat from either Rio Dulce or Puerto Barrios. From Rio Dulce, expect to pay at least Q150 one-way or Q300 roundtrip. There are 2 boats a day that go to Livingston (morning and afternoon), but if there are enough people, a boat will go at any time during the day.

Livingston is the home to the Garifuna ethnic group. The Garifuna are of African and Caribbean heritage who migrated to the eastern coast of Central America from the Caribbean islands. They have their own language, cuisine, and music. You’ll find Garifuna people in Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica.

Lonely Planet describes this town as having a “friendly, fun, and relaxed vibe.” THAT, sadly, was NOT what I experienced at all. My impression was the same as what I had in Rio Dulce town. Nothing to write home about. A sad, unfriendly, and not very pretty town. But in all fairness, I visited on a cold, wet, and cloudy day. The streets were wet from the rain and I was wearing flip-flops that with horrible traction.

The town has a few hotels and hostels. But I wouldn’t stay here. Stay along the Rio Dulce (river) instead and visit Livingston on a day trip. Perhaps the only reason to stay overnight would be to hear Garifuna music in one of the town’s local bars.

There are 2 attractions near Livingston that are popular, but you can easily visit them on a boat trip from your accommodation.

4. Caribbean Sea

The Rio Dulce flows into the Caribbean Sea. Along the coast are a few beaches. But if you’re expecting Caribbean ones like those in Mexico or Jamaica, you’re going to be sadly disappointed. Don’t expect pristine sandy white beaches and crystal clear blue water. There’s one beach where the sand is nice but most are not. From my experience, the water was a bit murky.

5. Puerto Barrios (city)

Located along the Caribbean Sea, Puerto Barrios (population 120,000) is not a place you want to spend too much time in. There are only 2 reasons for visiting Puerto Barrios:

  • You’re taking a boat to or from Punta Gorda, Belize, and thus, entering or exiting Guatemala.
  • You’re coming from Guatemala City by bus and then taking a boat in Puerto Barrios to Livingston. Or vice versa coming from Livingston by boat and then taking a bus to the Honduras border or Guatemala City. 

6. Lago Izabal (lake)

Lago Izabal is the main lake that you see on the map. It is the largest lake in Guatemala. There are a few cities and villages along the lake that are tourist hubs:

  • El Estor (population 21,000)
  • Mariscos
  • San Felipe de Lara

There are 4 main tourist attractions near the lake that are worth checking out:

  • El Paraiso Waterfalls/Hot spring
  • Castillo de Sal Felipe de Lara
  • El Boqueron Canyon
  • Parque Nacional Bocas del Bolochi

How to get to Rio Dulce

Flores – You can get to Rio Dulce from Flores by tourist shuttle or public bus. Purchase your tourist shuttle ticket at a travel agency or hotel in Flores. I booked mine with Getaway Travels in Flores. The shuttle arrives at Rio Dulce Travels in Rio Dulce. It’ll take 4 hours and cost Q160 (US$23). Alternatively, get the public bus from the Fuente del Norte Station in Flores.

Guatemala City – There are 3 bus companies that can take you to Rio Dulce: Litegua (US$25), Maya de Oro (US$43), and Fuente Del Norte (US$38). I think there is just 1 bus a day. They vary in terms of comfort. Check the Book A Way website for times and tickets. I haven’t used this website before, so I can’t say if it’s reliable.

Antigua – When I did this route, there was one tourist shuttle a day that picked you up at your hotel in Antigua at 6:00 am and arrived in Rio Dulce around 2:00 pm. It was the same shuttle that terminates in Flores. I booked from A Viajar Guatemala.

Honduras – You can take a bus from the border to Rio Dulce and vice versa. You might need to transfer in Morales or some other place along CA-9. There’s also a tourist shuttle that goes between La Ceiba (the port to Roatan and Utila) and Rio Dulce. This is how I got to La Ceiba from Rio Dulce. I used Roneey Shuttle Service for my ride but booked through Rio Dulce Travels. The driver was an American guy who was really helpful.

How to get to Livingston

Flores – You can take a shuttle or bus to Rio Dulce Town and then take a boat down the Rio Dulce (river) to Livingston.

Guatemala City – You can take a bus to Puerto Barrios and then a boat to Livingston or a bus to Rio Dulce and a boat to Livingston.

Antigua – Take a tourist shuttle to Rio Dulce and then a boat to Livingston. In Antigua, I booked from A Viajar Guatemala.

Honduras – Take a bus to either Rio Dulce or Puerto Barrios and then a boat to Livingston. Try contacting Roneey Shuttle Service for shuttles from La Ceiba to Rio Dulce.

15 Things to do in Rio Dulce

Map of Rio Dulce Area
Click map or here to view it in Google Maps

What to do in Rio Dulce? How about Livingston? Here are 15 things to do along Guatemala’s Caribbean Coast for those who love history, culture, food, and/or nature or even just doing nothing.

1. Stay in a jungle lodge along the Rio Dulce

a wooden walkway leading to rows of bungalows
The Boatique Hotel and Marina is a super chill place to stay for a few days

The absolute best thing to do in Rio Dulce is to just chill out. That’s pretty much what I did for most of my week there.

In order to do that, you need to find a place to stay along the river where you’re surrounded by the jungle and where you can hear the roar of howler monkeys. Ideally, a place where you can hang out in a hammock with a cold beer (or a fruit smoothie) and a good book and do nothing for a while.

thatched roof buildings along the Rio Dulce

Luckily, there are loads of secluded hotels and hostels along the river and among the mangroves and lagoons that are affordable and comfortable.

These hotels and hostels vary in level of rusticness. Some are bug-free while others require more tolerance for the insects of the jungle.

Most are so remote that the only way to get to these places is by boat.

I had a hard time finding a place to stay at first. Lots of places were booked up. Not all the places show up under search results when you look under “Rio Dulce.”

So to save you the frustration of searching for accommodations, here are the BEST of the BEST in Rio Dulce. For a list of more places to say, check on Booking.com.

Boatique Hotel and Marina

Average Price: US$22/dorm & US$56/private room  | Breakfast: Not included | Rating: 9.2 (400+ Reviews)

The main reason why I stayed so long in Rio Dulce is that I found the hotel/hostel I stayed at to be the perfect place to relax. This was the Boatique Hotel and Marina.

If the Boatique Hotel has vacancies (it’s very popular), don’t hesitate to stay here. It’s quiet, comfortable, surrounded by nature, secluded, and peaceful. Even though it’s right in the jungle, there are no bugs in the rooms or restaurant. The hotel has a swimming pool and kayaks for rent and does sunset sailboat cruises along the river.

a swimming pool
Swimming pool at Boutique Hotel and Marina

The place has both boutique-style bungalows as well as small dorm rooms for up to 4 people.

It’s not too far from Rio Dulce compared to other places I’m listing here.

a plate of 3 pieces of French toast
Very delicious French toast at Boatique Hotel and Marina

The food is really good but quite expensive. If staying here, get the French toast and the Greek salad with pita bread.

The only thing I didn’t like about the hotel was that the owners weren’t all that friendly.


Here are some more chill places to stay at along the river:

El Hotelito Perdido

Average Price: US$10/dorm & US$25 – $40/private room | Breakfast: Not included  | Rating: 9.4 (360+ Reviews)

Credit: Agoda
Credit: Agoda

When I was first looking for a place to stay in Rio Dulce, El Hotelito Perdido was ALWAYS booked solid. It’s so popular! Located right on the River Dulce, the place is very rustic, so if you’re afraid of bugs then you might want to try a different place. It’s got dorms as well as private rooms with or without an ensuite bathroom. You can rent kayaks here and take them out to the nearby mangroves and waterfalls. Everyone I met who has stayed here raved about how wonderful the American owner and staff were. It’s closer to Livingston than to Rio Dulce.


Finca Tatin

AVERAGE PRICE: US$13 – $51 | BREAKFAST: Not Included | RATING: 8.9 (345+ Reviews)

Credit- Agoda
Credit: Agoda

I absolutely love Finca Tatin. It’s got these really cool bungalows with their own private patio right on the river. This place is still pretty secluded like Hotelito Perdido, but not as rustic. Still, there are bugs. It’s got a bar, restaurant, lots of hammocks to chill out in, kayaks to explore the river and mangroves, tours to take you around River Dulce, and hiking trails to explore.

READ REVIEWS & BOOK YOUR STAY: Booking.com | Agoda

The Round House Hotel

AVERAGE PRICE: US$33 – $50 | BREAKFAST: Not included  | RATING: 9.1 (77+ Reviews)

Credit: Agoda
Credit: Agoda

This is another fabulous place right on the river and enveloped by the jungle. It comes with the usual Rio Dulce amenities: hammocks, kayaks, good food, peace and quiet, and a chill atmosphere. Bungalows all have private bathrooms. It’s closer to Livingston than to Rio Dulce.

READ REVIEWS & BOOK YOUR STAY: Booking.com | Agoda

Tortugal Boutique River Lodge

AVERAGE PRICE: US$46 – $73 | BREAKFAST: Included | RATING: 8.9 (345+ Reviews)

Credit: Agoda
Credit: Agoda

Tortugal Lodge isn’t as secluded as the other places on this list, but it’s still right on the river and it’s very popular. The rooms and facilities don’t look as rustic as the other places either. The hotel is located close to Rio Dulce making it easier to dine somewhere else besides your hotel and it’s close to Lago Izabal, making the tourist attractions around there easier to get to than other hotels.

READ REVIEWS & BOOK YOUR STAY: Booking.com | Agoda

2. Explore the ruins of Quirigua

COST: Q80 (US$10.36) | TIME: 8:00 am – 5:00 pm | LOCATION: Google Maps

Zoomorph P
Zoomorph P at Quirigua

The second best thing I did during my stay in Rio Dulce was to take a day trip to the Maya ruins of Quirigua.

These ruins are not in Rio Dulce. You need to take a public bus or colectivo, but they are so worth it. Probably one of the greatest works of art in Central America.

Quirigua has a fascinating history. For centuries it was a vassal state of the more powerful Copan (Honduras), but through treachery, it defeated them and took over Copan’s trade network.

But what is more interesting for archaeology buffs like me is that it built magnificent structures and works of art, which were modeled on Copan’s. The architecture is gone but the works of art are the BEST in Mesoamerica. When you visit Quirigua, you’ll see these beautifully sculpted stelae depicting its rulers and writing recounting its history.

Don’t expect large pyramids and temples like at Tikal. Those are all gone.

For more info on the Maya ruins, check out this list of the best books on the ancient Maya.

How to get to Quirigua ruins:

Check out my guide to Quirigua for info on how to get there by public transportation.

3. Go kayaking on the Rio Dulce

a kayak moving through a mangrove swamp
Kayaking through one of the tributaries of Rio Dulce

The third best thing I did in Rio Dulce was to go kayaking along the river and its tributaries. It’s so relaxing and it’s a great way to get close to nature. There’s not that much boat traffic on the river, either.

For those staying closer to Livingston where the river becomes narrow, there are some great mangroves and lagoons that you can kayak in.

Another traveler who was staying at my hotel kayaked all the way under the Rio Dulce bridge to the Castle of San Felipe de Lara. A long, long way but doable from my hotel!

Most lodges on the river have kayaks for rent.

Alternatively, you could also do stand-up-paddleboarding. My hotel rented them out.

Other great places to go kayaking in Guatemala are Lake Atitlan and Flores.

4. Take a boat tour of the Rio Dulce

COST: Q300/5 people | TIME: 9:00 am – 4:00 pm | LOCATION: From Rio Dulce to Livingston and Playa Blanca

trees covered in fog along the shore of the Rio Dulce
The shore of the Rio Dulce

Taking a boat tour of Rio Dulce and the Caribbean coast is an absolute must. It’s the best way to visit a lot of attractions in one day. Plus it’s a great way to see the birds that make the Rio Dulce their home. 

I took a boat tour from my riverside hotel to the mouth of the Rio Dulce and along the Caribbean coast.

Rio Dulce
El Golfetti of the Rio Dulce

We visited 5 places:

  • Los Siete Altares waterfalls
  • Playa Blanca,
  • Livingston
  • a restaurant that served Garifuna cuisine
  • thermal hot springs along the river.

There were 5 of us on the boat and we paid Q300 in total. I recommend the tour but ONLY if the weather is good. On the day I went the weather was nasty—rainy, cold, wet, cloudy, grey, windy, and scary!

5. Swim at Los Siete Altares


A group of people bathing in Los Siete Altares
Los Siete Altares

One of the first stops on my boat tour was at Los Siete Altares. Seven Altars reminds me of a very mini Semuc Champey. It’s basically a series of cascades that flows down to the ocean. You walk up the different levels until you get to a spot where the final cascade falls into a pool of crystal-clear water, where you can swim.

How to get to Los Siete Altares

You can take a boat from Livingston or hike from the town. It’s a 3-mile (5-kilometer) walk from Livingston. Or take a boat tour from where you’re staying.

6. Relax on the beach at Playa Blanca

ENTRANCE FEE: Q30 (US$4) | LOCATION: Google Maps

a white sandy beach lined with palm trees
Playa Blanca

The best beach along the Guatemalan Caribbean Coast is Playa Blanca. You’ll find white sand, palm trees, but perhaps not the clear blue water you normally associate with the Caribbean. A least, when I was there it was a rainy day and the water was a bit murky.

When I got to the beach, I paid an entrance fee of Q30, which came with a free beer. The beach has a bar, restaurant, public bathrooms, and lots of lounge chairs.

To get there, you need to take a boat or hike along a path through the jungle for 7.5 miles (12 kilometers).

7. Experience Garifuna culture in Livingston

outdoor laundry basins under a palabra
A traditional public laundry in Guatemala
an empty street with shops on the right side and a stone fence on the left side
A typical street in Livingston

If you’re already in the area, it’s worth checking out Livingston to experience the Garifuna culture, especially its food and music.

Lonely Planet describes this place as having a “friendly, fun and relaxed vibe”. Hmm. I didn’t experience this at all. I experienced a drab, quiet, and boring town with overpriced food and people who liked to overcharge tourists. But in all fairness, it was grey, cloudy, and rainy, and I was wet and cold. And the Guatemalans I was with told me that the last time they visited Livingston, they experienced a vibrant and colorful place.

The main reason to visit is to listen to Garifuna drumming music. You can experience the latter by visiting in the evening the bars and restaurants on the main street in Livingston.

The other reason is to try the local cuisine, which I’ll tell you about next.

8. Sample Garifuna Cuisine

OPEN: 7:00 am – 6:00 pm | LOCATION: Restaurante El Viajero

a bowl of coconut and seafood soup, a whole fried fish and a smaller bowl of rice
A bowl of tapado, fried fish, and rice

One of the BEST dishes to try during your time in Rio Dulce is the Garifuna coconut and seafood soup called Tapado.

On my boat tour, we stopped at a restaurant along the river called Restaurante El Viajero. Our guide said that this was the best place to eat this dish and it was much cheaper here than in Livingston. I did visit some restaurants in Livingston to check out the prices of the dish on their menus and he was right in that I paid less than what I would have paid in the town.

The other thing to try around the Caribbean Coast is coconut bread called coco de pan. It’s so delicious.

9.  Soak in Agua Caliente along the Rio Dulce

Along the Rio Dulce are some thermal hot springs. I visited this small spot beside a restaurant at the end of the boat tour. It was cold, cloudy, and rainy, so it felt good to soak in the warm water for a while.

You won’t find it on any map. Ask at your hotel or ask your boat driver for its location.

10. Visit El Castillo de San Felipe de Lara

COST: Q75 US$10)  |TIME: 8:00 am – 5:00 pm | LOCATION: Google Maps

the front entrance of Castillo de San Felipe de Lara in Rio Dulce
Castillo de San Felipe de Lara, Rio Dulce, Guatemala

El Castillo de San Felipe de Lara (the Castle of San Felipe of Lara) is definitely worth a visit for history lovers. This beautiful castle is located in the village of San Felipe de Lara—one side of the town is on the shore of the Rio Dulce and the other is on the edge of Lago Izabel.

The castle was originally built in 1652 to protect the villages in the area against pirates. Then when the pirates disappeared in the 1700s, the castle became a prison.

Besides touring the inside of the castle and taking in the beautiful views of the lake and river from the ramparts, the shore of the lake makes for a nice place to relax and have a picnic.

How to get to the Castle of San Felipe de Lara:

You can easily walk the 2 miles (3 kilometers) from the town of Rio Dulce to the castle.

Alternatively, from the intersection of Highway CW-13 and 7A in Rio Dulce, you can take a bus or colectivo (public minivan) heading to El Estero.

Another option is to take a water taxi from your hotel or from Rio Dulce town.

11. Bathe in the Hot Springs Waterfall of El Paraiso

COST: Q20 (US$3) | BOOK A TOUR: Rio Dulce Travels | LOCATION: Google Maps

El Paraiso Waterfall
El Paraiso Waterfall

If you have the time, definitely try to make it out to El Paraiso. It’s not that difficult to get to.

El Paraiso is a hot spring waterfall located north of Lake Izabal.

You can swim in the cool water of the pool at the foot of the falls. But the absolute best part is standing underneath the falls as the warm water from the above hot springs falls comes rushing down on you! It’s so relaxing!

There is also a hidden cave in the back of the falls.

How to get to El Paraiso:

At the intersection of CA-13 and 7E (Google Maps) in Rio Dulce, take a bus or colectivo (minivan) going to El Estor, a town on the shore of Lago Izabal. Tell the driver you’re going to El Paraiso, and after about an hour, he’ll drop you off on the side of the road. You’ll need to walk about 2 kilometers to the waterfall. Expect to pay Q20 (US$3) for the colectivo.

12. Go tubing at El Boqueron Canyon

COST: Check current prices here | WEBSITE: Canyon Seacacar Nature Reserve   |BOOK A TOUR: Rio Dulce Tours | LOCATION: Google Maps

a man walking along the river bed in a canyon
Canyon Seacacar

North of Lake Izabal is a beautiful river that flows through a narrow limestone gorge in the Santa Cruz Mountains and then eventually empties into the lake. This is El Boqueron.

There are several fun things you can do at El Boqueron.

  • Swimming in the river – just off the road running between Rio Dulce and El Estero are 2 bathing spots called Balneario
  • Boat trip down or up the river
  • Go to Canyon Seacacar Nature Reserve and go tubing down the river
  • Hike along the trails of the Nature Reserve

You can camp or stay in a dorm room or hotel right next to the river at Canyon Seacacar Nature Reserve. The Reserve is community-owned and run. Check out their website here.

How to get to El Boqueron

It’s easy to get to the El Boqueron bathing spots. In Rio Dulce, just take the colectivo heading to El Estero. Tell the bus driver where you want to go and he’ll drop you off on the side of the road. You still need to walk some to get to the river. It should cost around Q20 (US$3).

13. Experience the Wildlife of Bocas del Polochic

BOOK TOURS: Rio Dulce Travel | LOCATION: Google Maps

manatee sticking its head above water
A manatee peaking its head out from under the water

The best place to spot manatees is at the wildlife refuge of Bocas del Polochic. This refuge is a wetland formed by the Polochic River flowing into Lago Izabal.

It is home to the largest number of manatees in Guatemala. The West Indies manatees are an endangered species.

There are loads of other wildlife in the park as well: 250 bird species, 48 mammals, 135 reptile species, and 53 fish species.

How to visit Bocas del Polochi:

Take a bus or colectivo to El Estor from Rio Dulce. Then take a boat from El Estor to the National Park.

Rio Dulce Travels has tours of Bocas del Polochic.

14. Explore the mangroves of Biotopo Chocon Machacas

BOOK TOURS: Rio Dulce Travel | LOCATION: Google Maps

Another place to spot manatees is at Biotopo Chocon Machachas. This 72-square-kilometer nature reserve inside Parque Nacional Rio Dulce is a network of hiking trails, mangroves, and jungle lagoons. Besides manatees, it’s full of birds, fish, reptiles, tapirs, and howler monkeys.

The best way to visit this reserve is by kayaking through the waterways. Get off your boat and hike along the jungle trails.

You can stay at a community-owned and run hotel inside the reserve called Hotel Q’ana Itz’am.

15. Take a sunset sailboat cruise on the Rio Dulce

If you’re staying at Boatique Hotel and Marina, you can do sunset sailboat tours around Lago Izabal or down the Rio Dulce to the Caribbean Sea. They have their own sailboat.

When I was staying there, it was cloudy and the place wasn’t very busy, so there were no sailboat tours.

They also offer sailing lessons.

Rio Dulce and Livingston Itinerary

a lagoon
A lagoon off of Rio Dulce
  • Day 1 – Boat Tour of Rio Dulce with a visit to Livingston
  • Day 2 – Go kayaking along the Rio Dulce and the mangroves and lagoons of the nature reserves
  • Day 3 – Visit El Paraiso in the morning and then on the way back to Rio Dulce, stop by El Castillo de San Felipe de Lara
  • Day 4 – Visit Quirigua – if you leave early in the morning, you can return by 2:00 pm.
  • Day 5 – Visit either El Boqueron or Bocas del Polochic


Is Rio Dulce and Livingston safe?

It’s safe to walk around during the day by yourself, but I wouldn’t walk around alone at night.

It’s safe to take public transportation around the area. 

Are there ATMs in Rio Dulce?

There is a row of ATMs in front of the Supermercado La Torre Rio Dulce.

How can I book tours in Rio Dulce?

There weren’t many tour operators in Rio Dulce. I used Rio Dulce Travels to book my shuttle to Honduras. They offer tours to different places around Rio Dulce. Your other option is to book something through your hotel. 

Where to go after Rio Dulce?

Where to next after Rio Dulce?

There are so many places to visit in Guatemala as well as Central America.

I headed to Roatan, Honduras after Rio Dulce. There are tourist shuttles that run from Rio Dulce to the port in La Ceiba.

Another option is to travel to Copan in Honduras. I felt safe traveling alone in Honduras.

Flores and Tikal are only 4 hours away from Rio Dulce. Another popular option is Semuc Champey, but it’s kind of hard to get to from Rio Dulce. But it is possible.

Check out my guide to the best places to visit in Central America.

PRO TIP: No one likes to think about insurance, but accidents do happen. I highly recommend getting travel insurance. During my travels over the past 2 years, I’ve been using SafetyWing for my insurance. They’re very affordable for all ages, and digital nomads can use their insurance long-term.

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Rio Dulce and Livingston PIn
Rio Dulce and Livingston Pin


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About the Bamboo Traveler

The Bamboo Traveler

Welcome to The Bamboo Traveler, a travel blog dedicated to helping those travelers who want to dig deeply into the history, heritage, and culture of a place. Whether it’s through the pages of your passport or the pages of a book, I’ll help you travel the world and uncover the history, culture, food, architecture, and natural beauty of some of the world’s most fascinating places.

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