An Enchanting River Ride: A Quick Guide To Río Dulce in Guatemala

Río Dulce is one of the most beautiful destinations in Guatemala, often overlooked. This area overflows with beautiful nature, colonial history, unique culture, and fantastic food. This quick guide to Rio Dulce covers the best things to do, where to stay, and what to eat.

As the boat cuts through the steady waves surrounded by exuberant mountains covered in a verdant green mantle of trees, you know you have arrived at a little hidden paradise. Located on the Atlantic Coast, the state of Izabal in Guatemala hosts the beautiful Izabal Lake. It connects with the Caribbean via the extensive and navigable Río Dulce, literally meaning “Sweet River.”
Rio Dulce Guatemala

Río Dulce: An Enchanting River Ride

There are many places to visit along the shores of Río Dulce. This Magic place at Izabal encourages the adventurous traveler to spend time in its waterfalls and thermal waters or to relax and enjoy the natural beauties it offers. The journey through the river combines the old and the new. Tiny fishermen’s houses lay on the shores next to impressive mansions and untouched bits, where the main dwellers are trees and birds.

Getting to Rio Dulce will involve taking a shuttle from almost any starting point. When you reach your hotel, probably by boat, you must check the services and activities they offer. Almost everything is done by boat here since the river is the only path connecting the different places. When in Río Dulce, two beautiful and accessible hotels, El Tortugal River Lodge and El Hotelito Perdido, offer a sweet spot among the jungles and on the river. A few other options are also sure to fit any budget.

Castillo de San Felipe de Lara in Rio Dulce Isabel Guatemala
By Gusjer ( [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Historical Castillo de San Felipe

First on the itinerary is the imposing Castle of San Felipe de Lara. This colonial fort is at the entrance of Lake Izabal, marking where the river connects with the biggest lake in Guatemala. This heritage site was built by the Spanish, who strategically mounted it at the narrowest point of the river to protect a neighboring port from pirate attacks. It was used for centuries and looted on several occasions. Either appreciating it from the water or disembarking on its shore, the fort is a reminder of the wild Caribbean in colonial times, when pirates roamed the seas.

Rio Dulce Guatemala

When returning to your hotel or heading north to the ocean, you can settle in the nearest hotel. Or you can head to Finca Paraiso for a splash under the waterfall and its thermal waters. If you’re staying closer to the canyon connecting to the sea, one of the best ways to enjoy this area is by kayak.

As a little girl visiting the canyon, I always felt like an explorer! It was an adventure navigating the wilderness amongst giants covered in green and rock formations. This spot is one of my favorite places in Guatemala! And talking to people from all over who have visited Río Dulce tend to agree. Take your time to soak in the area’s natural beauty on a boat ride or a peaceful kayak trip. If you are kayaking, birds will stick around. You can admire the different kinds that settle on the branches of trees around you.

Harbour of Livingston Guatemala

A Touch of Caribbean at Rio Dulce Izabal

Heading towards the Caribbean, you will arrive at Livingston, at the mouth of Rio Dulce. The town is like no other in Guatemala and serves as a melting pot of cultures. Mayan, Ladino, Afro-Caribbean, and Garifunas have lived together for several generations. The town used to act as a big port, but the city turned to tourism since the maritime industry moved away. That makes sense since there is no other place like Livingstone in Guatemala.

Beautiful Garifuna Culture

If you stay in the town, you’ll have the opportunity to take in the bubbly and colorful Garifuna culture. Their story involves a shipwreck from Africa into the island of St. Vincent. Then a quick stay in Roatan before settling along the Caribbean coastland. Their culture is a mixture of African roots and Caribbean influences, reflected in their music, dance, and cuisine.

Walking through the streets, you’ll see that most restaurants offer traditional fish stew Tapado. It contains a varied assortment of seafood and fried plantains. As Caribbean as you can get! Since there are many places where you can have this hearty dish, the one served at Happy Fish is one of the best in town. And don’t forget to try their staple pan de coco or coconut bread. Theirs is the best I’ve ever tried.

Tapado stew from Guatemala

You can make Guatemalan Tapado at home! We offer you the Tapado recipe for this delicious Garifuna dish. Buen provecho! And if you want to learn more about Guatemalan cuisine, here is my delicious guide to traditional Guatemalan food, where you will find all my favorite recipes.

More to see at Río Dulce Guatemala

Once you are done exploring the picturesque streets framed by charming old houses and full of friendly people, head down to the white beaches of Playa Blanca. It is one of the best white sand beaches in Guatemala! Although the country’s main beaches are down south on the Pacific Coast, boasting black sand coastlines, this Caribbean hotspot offers an excellent place to relax and enjoy the sun among coconut palm trees and clear waters. 

Nearby, you can also visit impressive natural reserves such as Siete Altares, literally translating into Seven Altars. It is a beautiful series of blue pools and waterfalls. If you head down there, you’ll be able to have a great time jumping off the rocks or just relaxing in one of the pools and having some fish nibble at your feet. Not a bad way to spend your afternoon, beneath the jungle trees, right? What’s more, you can also stop by Río Cololí, a mangrove-clad river with crystalline waters.

Suset over Rio Dulce in Guatemala

Whether you have some more time or are just passing by, Rio Dulce is an exciting mixture of natural beauties and cultural encounters. Among the river’s gems and friendly people, Rio Dulce offers something for everyone. It offers lovely hotels and restaurants that accommodate every need. So if you’re traveling to Guatemala, take some time to explore its Caribbean side and head down to Rio Dulce.


Things to Consider When Visiting Río Dulce, Guatemala

Since Río Dulce is on the tropical side of Guatemala, mosquitos are always around. So, pack your most potent mosquito repellent and ask for a mosquito net. Besides that, sit back and enjoy the river ride!

A Quick Guide To Visiting Rio Dulce In Guatemala

More Amazing Things to Do In Guatemala:

If you’re planning a trip to Guatemala, or want to come back for more, you’ve come to the right place! From the best destinations to kid-friendly activities, I’ll share my love for my home country. Here are amazing things to do in Guatemala to make your trip a memorable one:

Best Things To Do In Guatemala:

Whether you’re looking for adventure, relaxing on an exotic beach, or planning a family vacation, there’s something to do for everyone in Guatemala. It offers everything from lush rainforests and active volcanos to colonial architecture and ancient Mayan cities. So if you wonder what to do in Guatemala, here is the best guide to making the most out of your visit to this beautiful country.

Best Guide To Visiting Tikal: The Most Spectacular Mayan Ruins In Guatemala:

Here is a guide to visiting Tikal that includes everything you need to know before seeing the most spectacular Mayan ruins in the world. It is a great starting point for enjoying the many adventures the Petén region offers.

Tikal Sunset view from sunset tour

Why Lake Atitlán Needs To Be On Your Travel Bucket List:

Lake Atitlán is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. Located in the western highlands of Guatemala, the lake encircles spectacular dormant volcanoes and picturesque Mayan villages. It has a relaxed atmosphere, colorful and rich Mayan culture, and an almost perfect climate.

Lake Atitlan sunset with flowers

Getting Close To Nature At Auto Safari Chapín:

Located in Escuintla, Auto Safari Chapin is a great day trip for families and animal lovers. So, whether you are visiting or living there, this animal-lover adventure is one of the best things to do in Guatemala with kids.

The Best Guide To Visiting The Quirigua Mayan Ruins:

Discover the rich history of the Maya civilization in the stunning Quirigua ruins that offer a unique glimpse into the grandeur of Maya architecture and artwork. In this guide, I’ll show you what to see and expect and how to make the most of your trip to Quirigua. So pack your bags, and let’s set off on a journey of discovery!

Quirigua stela in Guatemala

Dramatic Volcanic Black Sand Beaches In Guatemala:

If you haven’t walked along beautiful black sand beaches, you are missing out on a magical experience! Some of the best beaches in Guatemala are on its Pacific coasts, places of deep chill, and stunning wilderness. Guatemala’s beaches are full of palm trees to relax with an icy beverage on hand.

Guatemala's black sand beaches in the Pacific coast
Guatemala’s black sand beaches on the Pacific coast

The Ultimate Guide To The Iximche Mayan Ruins In Guatemala:

The Iximche Mayan ruins in Guatemala are a must-see destination and one of the most underrated things to do in Guatemala. These ancient ruins offer a glimpse into the rich history and culture of the Mayan civilization. You can visit these stunning ruins surrounded by stunning natural beauty!

Iximche Mayan ruins in Guatemala

Gaby Martinez

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