Guatemala’s Rio Dulce, or the Sweet River, has become a popular sailing destination in Central America. The river is part of Lago de Izabel, the largest lake in Guatemala, and there is a small Spanish colonial fort at the entrance of the river from Lake Izabel. However, the best way to experience the magnificent beauty of the Rio Dulce is to enter it from the Caribbean Sea and travel up the river.
Entering the Rio Dulce is done from the small town of Livingston in Guatemala. Livingston is only accessible via water, and many boats making their way up the river are coming in from destinations like Belize or Honduras. Luxury sailing companies like Belize Sailing Vacations offer private charters or a seasonal group flotilla that departs from Belize City. You’ll spend a few days sailing along some of Belize’s southern caves and then spend one to two days making your way up the Rio Dulce.
Livingston is where you’ll clear customs, and it’s a great spot to grab cheap eats and Guatemalan beer. The town was once Guatemala’s main port on the Caribbean Sea, prior to the construction of Puerto Barrios. Livingston has no road access to the rest of Guatemala, so you’ll see boats arriving and departing for Puerto Barrios and Punta Gorda in Belize. This is also a great place to stop and use the ATM to get Guatemalan Quetzal as you may stop in small marinas that only take cash and have no cell phone signal, let alone ATM machines.
Once you leave Livingston and enter the mouth of the river, you’re in for some of the most stunning natural beauty in the region. The heavily forested area is teeming with abundant wildlife, tropical vegetation, and striking gorges and canyons. Marvel at the contrasts as Mayas in small traditional canoes leisurely paddle by beautiful riverfront mansions with million-dollar speedboats docked nearby.
Most people refer to the town of Fronteras as the Rio Dulce Town. Here you’ll find a small Spanish colonial fort, Castillo de San Felipe de Lara. Marinas dot the area, and you’ll find a few fun lakefront bars and restaurants where many of the boaters hang out. Venture over the long bridge, said to be the longest in Central America, and head into the actual town of Fronteras to check out the local culture and purchase great delicious street food and necessary supplies.
If you do a one-way charter to the Rio Dulce, there are plenty of ways to continue your travels in Guatemala. You can hire a private taxi for quite a hefty fee, or purchase tickets on one of the many buses that travel through the Rio Dulce area. There are daily buses headed to popular destinations like Flores, Guatemala City, and even some to San Pedro Sula.
While off the beaten path, is this a place you’d like to visit?
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Erin is a travel and food writer who currently splits her time between the Netherlands and Belize. She's traveled to 60+ countries on 5 continents with a passion for culinary travel, luxury hotels, and all things Disney. Her writing has appeared in numerous online outlets including Gadling, BootsnAll, CNN, Art of Backpacking, TravBuddy, CBS, and more. She was the major author of Belize's official visitor magazine, Destination Belize 2013; wrote the official AFAR Guide to Belize; and is also AFAR Magazine's local Belize expert.. In addition to writing for other publications, Erin maintains several blogs, Our Tasty Travels, No Checked Bags, Pooh's Travels, and the brand new Caye To Belize. Follow Erin on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google Plus.
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