Guatemala’s coastal borders with the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea could not be more different. La Costa, refers to the fertile lands between chains of volcanoes and the Pacific Ocean. It is coarse, black volcanic sand continuously pounded by the raging Pacific. By contrast, Guatemala’s narrow coastline on the Caribbean side is a tropical jungle opening where the Rio Dulce, or ‘sweet river’ follows its path to the sea.
Take a daytime walk over the bridge for the best views from high above the ‘sweet river’.
Rio Dulce is a sweet water haven surrounded by massive jungles that connects the enormous fresh water Lake Izabal with the open sea on the Caribbean coast. In contrast to the crowded, gateway town of Fronteras, the waters edge is spotted by small and isolated Mayan towns, a few eco-lodges and the weekend homes of Guatemala’s wealthy elite. Beautiful mansions complete with thatch roof ranchos covering enormous luxury boats shine a spotlight on the massively uneven distributions of wealth in this country.
By far the most popular thing to do in Rio Dulce is take a lancha down the whole length of the river to Livingston. Private lanchas can be easily organized at the main dock in Fronteras or by your hotel. You get to choose your stops and decided how long to stay at each place. They start at Q300 per person. Otherwise, you can take the collective lancha leave twice daily for the 2 and half hour trip down Rio Dulce. (125Q one way 200Q roundtrip). They will even pick you up from your hotel.
Take the morning boat. Waters get a lot choppier in the afternoon making the beautiful journey a little hard to enjoy.
Even if you are not in the position to buy, check out the fish market behind the colectivo terminal. Local fishermen haul in the days catch from their dugout cayucos to be cleaned, weighed and sold at rock bottom prices.
On the water: There are many small hotels, eco-lodges and fincas now offering stays on both the Lake and river side. Bookings generally have to be pre-arranged and the hotel will send a boat to pick you up at the docks (for a fee). Also remember that all your meals will have to be purchased from the hotels on site restaurant.
- Finca Tatin offers a wide range of prices and accommodations as well as activities like kayaking, trekking through the jungle, a Mayan cave and a Mayan village project you can volunteer at. Dorms start at 50Q. River front bungalows at Q250 for 1 person.
- Hotelito Perdido, literally ‘the little lost hotel’ also has shared lofts from Q50 and numerous bungalows at Q200 for 1 person. Kayaks also available to rent.
- Hotel Kangaroo, tucked in a beautiful little estuary of the lake. Dorms start at Q70 and the boat is included. Watch out for crocs!
For volunteers and budget traveler, ask to be dropped off just before the bridge. From there, it’s a 5 minute walk to Hotel Backpackers. Getting there and away: To/From Guatemala City Buses directly to Rio Dulce leave from the Litegua bus station (15 calle 10-40 zone 1). 80Quetzales (about US$10) for 6-7 hours ride. The buses arrive and depart at the Litegua station just over Central Americas longest bridge.