Oh, Rio Dulce, my only regret is that I didn’t visit you sooner! I actually never visited the Rio Dulce while I was living in Guatemala. I just never found the time. But when I went back recently it was at the top of my Guatemala to-do list. In this Rio Dulce guide, I’ve covered everything you need to know about visiting the sweet river in Guatemala.
I loved the laid-back Caribbean vibe that you don’t find anywhere else in Guatemala. It’s a place you come to chill and be in nature. I’d advise stopping here either on your way back to Antigua from visiting Tikal or Semuc Champey or on your way out of Guatemala through Belize.
I would always advise spending a minimum of 2 nights in Rio Dulce. It can be a long drive to get there, especially if there is traffic on the roads. So you need to make it worth it! If you have it, 1 week in Rio Dulce is the perfect amount of time to sightsee and still have plenty of chill-out time.
If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that us travelers should be prepared for anything.
Travel insurance has always been high on my list of things to organize before I travel but now more than ever it’s at the top of my list.
I’m pretty sure we have all had travel plans messed up because of COVID and not all insurers covered this. So you need to find an insurer that covers travel disruption due to COVID-19, World Nomads, Safety Wing, or Travel Insurance Master are the ones to go for.
World Nomads is great for incidents that happen prior to your trip, so if you get sick or are unable to travel due to travel restrictions some of their policies will cover that as cancellation cover.
Safety Wing goes the extra mile and covers quarantine outside your home for up to 10 days, they also have a really handy map on their website showing requirements and restrictions for each country.
I also use Travel Insurance Master for some short vacation-type trips as they are cheaper than World Nomads a lot of the time.
If you are doing shorter trips or a longer backpacking trips then WorldNomads or Travel Insurance Master are the best options. If you are a digital nomad or planning travel of at least 6 months then go for SafetyWing.
You will feel like you are in an Indiana Jones movie while you paddle through the mangroves with the lush vegetation around you.
Since the main attractions of Rio Dulce are the lake and the thick vegetation, the hotel owners have built the facilities to enjoy the most out of these. Many have mini yoga shalas, free kayaks, massages, and hammocks to relax in whilst reading a good book.
This is a beautiful spot that is about one hour and a half away from Rio Dulce. If you ask anyone about what to do in Rio Dulce, it is almost certain that Finca Paraiso will be one of the answers you will get. You can ask your hotel to hire private transportation to this place since it has become a very well-known place for tourists or, you can use public transportation (ask for the buses heading to El Estor, and take about 15 or 20 Q per person for each way.)
Now, what is the fuss about this cascade? Glad you ask. The sight is simply beautiful. When you dive in the water is chilly but as you move closer to the cascade the water will be hot which is very relaxing. The entrance fee is about Q20 so take some cash with you. Top Tip, make sure you ask the guy to get you some mud for a full-body mud mask!
This building has a very interesting story. The Castillo de San Felipe is a small fortress built by the Spanish while they ruled Guatemala in colonial times to defend this land from pirates. It’s definitely worth visiting if you want to learn the story behind it. You can hire a guide for this when you get there. The entrance fee is about Q25.
Livingston is a small town at the shore of the Caribbean Sea famous for the picturesque streets that are a result of the different cultures that settled in there, Garifuna, Maya Q’eqchi’, and Hindu descendants. As a result of this, you get to see the Afro-descendant Garifuna dance, great food, and friendly-Rastafari vibe people. You can combine visiting this town with a scenic boat ride from Rio Dulce to Livingston where you make a few stops along the way.
The food in Rio Dulce and Livingston are VERY different from everything else you will try in Guatemala. This is because of the proximity to the Caribbean and the heritage from the afro-descendants in Livingston, the Garifuna.
Prepare for a lot of deliciousness with a pinch of coconut flavor.
In Guatemala, there are several archeological sites. It is not called The Heart of the Mayan world for nothing. Near Rio Dulce, you have Quirigua which was one of the first Mayan Cities. It’s worth taking a day trip to see it if you can. Your accommodation will be able to advise you on the best way to get there.
Playa Blanca is a small beach perfect for a quick escape. If you visit other beaches in Guatemala, you will see that the beaches are black-sanded. The reason for this is that Guatemala has 37 volcanoes, three of them being active. So most of the beaches are black-sanded because it is actually volcanic sand. This is why the beaches proximate to the Caribbean, as Playa Blanca, are a treasure for the Guatemalans. If you have more time, I would recommend taking a few days off to stay at Punta de Palma which is in Puerto Barrios.
This is a very beautiful natural reserve with easy access from Rio Dulce. You go there to marvel at the flora and fawner and just escape into nature. Another great option is El Boqueron, which is a little further away, but so beautiful! If you decide to take a day trip to El Boqueron, you could hire private transportation or hop on public transportation.
If you choose the second option, make sure to bring about Q60 per person in cash to pay for the two buses you need to take and go back to Rio Dulce.
Also, the entrance fee for both natural spots is about Q25 per person, so make sure to have this in cash.
Since Rio Dulce is in the middle of the jungle, depending on the location of your hotel, they offer different activities like short hikes, visits to natural reserves, Rio Dulce tours, boat rides, or a day at the spa. Your accommodation is going to be your best source of information about things to do in Rio Dulce.
It is safe to say that if you are visiting Rio Dulce, the primary transportation method is by boat or a kayak, so to get to most of these restaurants you have to enter by boat.
This is located between Livingston and Rio Dulce with an enchanting sight of the lake and HUGE seafood portions.
This is a beautiful spot you can reach by land and by boat. So, it is perfect to enjoy the lake if you are only making a stop on the way to another destination.
Every hotel I know offers food service, so If you are feeling lazy one day, you can stay at your hotel and enjoy a nice day in.
If you are looking to move and enjoy the canyon of this lake, you can kill two birds with one stone, and take a boat ride to Livingston where you can find more restaurant options.
A picturesque place attached to a hotel with great seafood options and authentic Guatemalan food from the region.
The place you need if you are looking for delicious Caribbean healthy food with vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options.
Rio Dulce is a destination for people who want to disconnect from the outside world and enjoy an escapade in nature. This is why it is known as a honeymoon destination for some people but, be aware of “the gringo price”. I have added the price for some of the activities I recommend, if you are visiting other places, you can find the entrance fees online.
Also, this is more of a general tip if you are traveling around Guatemala. Avoid as much as possible exchanging money at the Airport since the exchange rate they give you is insanely BAD. At Rio Dulce, you can find a Banco Industrial and ATM very close to the Litegua bus station. All the buses will drop you off on this street.
As I have mentioned before, Rio Dulce is in the middle of the jungle with a temperature of 31C° (87.8F°) to a minimum of 20C° (68F°). This means A LOT of mosquitos, so my first advice is mosquito repellent, also, if you are going out to explore take some sneakers or boots. As for clothing, shorts, tank tops, light pants or any cute dress for a nice dinner in the hotel will work. You can read my full Guatemala packing guide here.
Also, sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, and a rainjacket are musts! Last but not least, a day pack will come in very handy to explore.
There are many ways you can arrive in Rio Dulce. This is why I have written a complete How to Get to Rio Dulce Guide to help you with this.
As for getting around, there are public buses, boats, kayaks, taxis, and private drivers.
No good news if you are looking to do some heavy work while you stay in Rio Dulce. Almost everywhere you go will offer a Wi-Fi connection, but since you will be in the middle of the jungle, the Wi-Fi connection is not good.
So, you can do some easy stuff like answering emails, but if you are looking to do a video call, don’t get your hopes up.
Especially if it is raining!
There is a lot of wildlife around Rio Dulce so always make sure to follow the rules. Some places will have warnings of areas you cannot trespass unless you want to have an encounter with a caiman.
When you are going out to explore, make sure to take some cash with you in case the internet signal is not good for the POS to use a credit card, but don’t exaggerate. I wouldn’t recommend walking around with big amounts of money in your pockets.
If you are in the Rio Dulce town, I would not recommend walking around flashing expensive things and avoid walking in the town after dark.
Something I can’t leave out is BE AWARE OF SCORPIONS! I had a terrible experience with a scorpion sting in Lake Atitlan, and you can also find scorpions in Rio Dulce so, every time you are tucking into bed, put on a pair of shoes, or taking clothes out of your suitcase, take a few seconds to shake everything and make sure there are no scorpions having a nap.
Remember to make sure you have travel insurance in place before your trip to Guatemala, or anywhere else for that matter. If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that insurance is a must when traveling. SafetyWing is my preferred insurance for digital nomads. They cover COVID and even quarantine now! In second place is World Nomads who cover shore or long-term backpacking trips. You can read my full insurance review here.
I wish I could tell you that you can have a nice vacation here all year round, but it is tricky. Why? Because in Guatemala, there are only two seasons, rainy and dry. If you visit Rio Dulce during the dry season from April to October, it will be VERY hot but you will get the best experience since you will be able to go out and explore. If you visit during the rainy season, of course, you have to be precautious and check the weather before to make sure there is not a rainstorm that will not allow you to get out of your hotel.
I couldn’t not include this Lonely Planet Guide to Guatemala in the reading list.
I’m not always a fan of these kind of travel guides as they are oftern out of date. I learned this more than once the hard way! But they do serve a purpose and it’s always nice to have one actual book that you can use to plan before your trip as well as having something to read when the battery dies on your kindle!
Although you can also get most of these Lonely Planet Guidebooks free as part of a kindle unlimited subscription.
Rigoberta Menchú is quite possibly the most internationally well known Guatemalan. She is a indigenous feminist and human rights activist who won a Nobel Peace Prize.
Her book I, Rigoberta Menchú is now a global bestseller and she has dedicated her life to fighting for the rights of the Indigenous people in Guatemala both during and after the civil war.
This book is a reflection on her personal experiences during the civil war in Guatemala when her mother, father, and brother were murdered by the Guatemalan military.
If you have an interest in the history of Guatemala then read this book. It’s both heartbreaking and inspiring in equal measures.
Memoirs from the Living Heart of a Mayan Village
I was given this book to read while I was dog sitting in Lake Atitlan and I can’t even tell you how much I loved it. I knew the Lake well by then so reading this book really brought those places to life for me.
The book is based on the life of the author Martin Prechtel who somehow found himself on an incredible journey from New Mexico in the USA to a small Mayan Village in Guatemala where he became a shaman.
Read this book. You won’t regret it!
Ok so maybe A Short History of Guatemala isn’t the most riveting read. But it really is interesting, especially for all of you history buffs out there.
It’s easy to read and gives you a good overview on the good, the bad, and the ugly of Guatemalas history.
The book mostly focuses on the ninetieth and twentieth centuries. It is a little dates now, but it still does the job!