Rio Dulce – Guatemala – A Lakefront Hideaway

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I made my way from Punta Gorda (Belize) to Livingston & El Estor (Guatemala) by water taxi (lancha).

In Livingston I stayed in a BELOW GRANDPAcking Standard hotel: the Hotel y Restaurante Casa Escondida. I paid US$33 / night for a Twin Room with Fan and Cold Water Ensuite overlooking the rivermouth. The Twin room that I had was tiny. The best thing about the hotel was the view:

There is nothing to do in Livingston, 2 nights is enough … this gives you 1 whole day to walk to the stepped waterfalls and spend an evening in town. The beach is nothing to write home about:

I moved on to El Estor on Lake Izabal.

In El Estor, I stayed in a GRANDPAcking Standard hotel: the Chalet Castillo. I paid US$13 / night for a Double Room with Fan and Cold Water Ensuite on the lakefront. This was 1/3rd of the price that they advertise on the internet.

El Estor offers very little except a peaceful lakefront escape.

Neither Livingston nor El Estor ‘cut the mustard’.

It was time to find out if Rio Dulce had anything better to offer.


I did the reverse journey from El Estor back to Rio Dulce Town by Colectivo. The trip costs GTQ20 and takes about 1 to 1.5 hours.

I arrived in Rio Dulce at 12 noon. From where the Colectivo stops in Rio Dulce, it is a 5 minute walk down the main street to the Boat Terminal.

The next boat into El Golfete left at 2:30pm, so I had time to kill. I sat down, read a book, and took in the surroundings.

When we finally left Rio Dulce Town, we headed west to take in a view of the Fort before heading back east into El Golfete. It is a small but picturesque Fort that was built in the 1500s by the Spanish to defend Lake Izabal from raiding pirates.


Río Dulce (“Sweet River”) is one of the best known rivers in Guatemala and lies within the Izabal Department that is also home to Puerto Barrios, Santo Tomas de Castilla and Livingston.

As a large lake and river system it has become popular as a destination for the international boating community and as an economical retirement location for expats. The Rio Dulce area is really an almost self-contained aquatic community.

To get around to other areas you need to take a boat (lancha) – these are readily available. Almost all homes and businesses on the Rio Dulce have a boat dock.

Rio Dulce is an excellent location for a retirement home. A couple hundred catamarans, houseboats and yachts are anchored permanently in the various marinas that line the shores of Rio Dulce and El Golfete.

Some cruisers come to explore, get hooked on the low cost of living and vibrant (USA dominated) international community and never seem able to leave.

Expatriates who are not mariners have built or rent homes in this picturesque Guatemalan region, go into business as Lodge owners, or provide marina related services.

According to the Guatemalan Tourism Institute (Inguat), around 500 yachts, sailboats and motor boats dock at the calm waters of Lake Izabal and the Amatique Bay during the Atlantic hurricane season.

The exceptional climatic conditions, strategic geographical location, and the countless natural attractions, make sailors from various countries gravitate to the area to shelter their vessels.

The authorities estimate that each boat spends around US$300 per month, and some boats remain in the Izabal area for at least nine months each year.

There are opportunities for expats to make good, lifestyle living here.


I purchased a Tigo SIMcard and 1 month ‘Mes Social’ pre-paid plan in Livingston. The total price was GTQ166.

It provided me with a good signal in Livingston, El Estor, and Rio Dulce Town.

In the lake system it was not good. You come here to get ‘off grid’ … don’t expect good internet.

Where I stayed at the Hotelito Perdido (see below), there was no Tigo signal … but they did get a ‘variable’ Claro signal.


There aren’t any; this is a lake. But the water is clean and you can swim.


You can stay in Rio Dulce Town or in one of the many Lodges scattered around the El Golfete.

The choice between them is quite simple: stay in Rio Dulce Town if you want some ‘action’ or stay in a lakeside Lodge if you want to escape into the jungle.

I decided to do the latter and I would recommend this to others.

Having seen Livingston and El Estor, I would suggest that you want to stay somewhere between Rio Dulce and 2-3 kms short of the Livingston rivermouth.

A general accommodation search for the middle of December 2016 reveals the following:

HOTELS & HOSTELS (Nightly Rates):


Accommodation for under US$52 / night is shown on this map:



Hotel and Hostel search sites display prices EXCLUSIVE of TAXES. You, usually, have to add 12-22% to the displayed price to get the final price.

Also, the cheaper Lodges only offer Twin and Double rooms with Shared Bathrooms … which means that they DO NOT MEET GRANDPAcking Standard.


If you plan to stay a week or more, another good option is to use TRIPADVISOR.COM or AirBnB to book a Holiday Rental / Vacation Rental. Holiday Rentals are usually rented by the week.


Tripadvisor had no properties within GRANDPAcker price range.


Vacation Rentals are, usually, displayed INCLUSIVE of TAXES but EXCLUSIVE of any Security Deposit (if required).


I booked 2 days in advance. I arrived on the 11th December 2016.

After my disappointment with Livingston and El Estor, I wanted to stay somewhere that had ‘something different to offer’. Alas, in El Golfete, this meant that I had to get somewhere with a Shared Bathroom (to stay within GRANDPAcking Budget).

I used BOOKING.COM to book 4 nights in El Hotelito Perdido. I booked a Double Cabin  for US$20 / night.

The Perdido is a lakeside Lodge near the Hot Springs. It has its own lakeside dock.

You walk through lush Nature Reserve grounds to get to the accommodation and communal living area.

There are separate bungalows with their own decks.

But I went for the cheaper cabin.

My cabin was a Duplex with a thin wall … you could hear everything going on next door … that did not worry me … but, the poor girls next door had to put up with my snoring.

It was 2 story. Downstairs was a living area with couch. Upstairs was the bedroom. The stairs were just a simple wooden ladder.

The bed was just a mattress on the floor but comfortable. The well kept mosquito net made sure that you got a trouble free sleep. This is a traditional build that is open to the air. There was no fan … but you didn’t need one.


Have a look yourself:


There are scheduled boats between Rio Dulce and Livingston that leave each way twice each day at mid morning and mid afternoon. The will stop at your Lodge if you let them know in advance.

Your lakefront Lodge usually has its own transport and/or can organise local boats to get you around. Prices vary depending on where the Lodge is located and how reasonable they are with their pricing.


In a Lodge you are a ‘captive’ to the Lodge’s pricing. People on a budget are well advised to bring some of their own provisions (as long as it is sealed so that it won’t attract bugs and animals). I took a bottle of rum and some biscuits for lunch.

The Perdido was vegetarian. I don’t mind vegetarian. They provided breakfast for GTQ25-35. For GTQ35 you got 2 eggs (as you like them) with refried beans, a fried tomato, and homemade toasted bread. The coffee was excellent … freshly percolated … and was GTQ10 per cup.

They provided simple lunches for an average price of GTQ30.

Dinner was like a family meal back home with all of the guests sitting around a table together to enjoy the ‘meal of the day’. There were no options. Dinner was GTQ70 each.

They served refreshments and a beer was GTQ15 … which I thought was reasonable considering that they had to ship it in and keep it cold.


There is no reason to feel unsafe here. Absolutely none.


Relax. Swing in a hammock. Read a book. Swim in the lake. Play with Rasta (the dog). Talk to nice people.

I cannot speak for other Lodges, but I can speak for the Perdido. The atmosphere was delightful. The hostess was lovely. The staff were lovely. The guests were lovely. The communal area and the ‘family’ dinner each night created something ‘special’.

Ashcar (not doubt I have spelt it wrong … I hope that she forgives me), the hostess (Polish born) had the sort of personality that created this environment. The staff are a mix of volunteer travellers and locals. The volunteers change all of the time but they are there to work 5 hours a day for 6 days a week for free accommodation and lodging. They are there to ‘experience’ living in this idyllic environment. The locals are there to benefit from what Ashcar has built in their Nature Reserve … Ashcar believes in making sure that they too benefit from her enterprise.

If you want to be on internet all day on Faceache … don’t bother coming. Yes, there is internet … but is MINIMAL and restricted. You come here to ‘get off grid’ … not to bring your western ways with you.


The Perdido rents out kayaks at reasonable rates: GTQ25 per person for a half day … and there are about 4-5 kayak trips that you can take.

My first trip was with Rasta (the dog) up to the nearby waterfalls. It is about 1.5 hours each way on a tranquil river. For GTQ10, you can pay a local guide to take you from where the river ends up to the waterfalls and swim in the pools. If you get a chance, take Rasta with you. He loves it. He is not trouble at all. He just sits at the front of the kayak and watches the world go by … a bit like you really (but without any paddling).

I wanted to kayak the 12 kms down river to Livingston. One of the volunteers (Vanessa from Portugal) wanted to come with me. We left Rasta at home.

It took us 3 hours to paddle slowly through the gorge.

Stopping to see birds up close … and the odd Iguana. Those suckers can really climb trees!

Vanessa stopped for a swim in the lake on the way.

The 1st 11 kms was easy. But, if you do this trip yourself, expect the last 1 km to be harder work as you make your way through the waves and winds hitting the river from the sea.

We reached our destination in Livingston at about 2pm. The Perdido had already arranged for a local lancha to pick us up to bring us home. I asked for a pick up of 4pm so that we had some time to walk around Livingston and grab a Fresh Coconut at one of the cafes on the waterfront.

The lancha arrived on time, we threw in the kayak, and headed home. The 30 minute ride home costs GTQ120. It was a very pleasant way to spend a day … and Vanessa was excellent company.


Bring cash to these Lodges … many do not take credit card. Many cannot be booked with a credit card either … you pay in cash at the Lodge.

The Perdido had an ‘honesty system’ where you clocked up what you had on your own written record … and settled up when you left.

There are at least 2 ATMs in Livingston and, probably, more in Rio Dulce. The transaction limit in these ATMs is usually GTQ2,000 per withdrawal (but, depending on your home bank limit, this may be less).


August through November is hurricane season in this part of the world, and the weather becomes more changeable and less predictable during these months.

The rainy season is June through November.

I arrived mid December and, although I had the odd rainy day, the weather was not a problem. If and when it did rained … it rained mostly at night.

The high season is December through June as these are the months with the most temperate and driest weather.

High Season prices generally ‘kick in’ on 1st December; some earlier. The place starts filling up from Thanksgiving. Christmas, New Year, March and April are particularly busy (and expensive).


The Perdido arranged for a local lancha to take me and another guest (Katherine from Australia) to Livingston at 8:30am. The cost was GTQ50 each.

Ashcar took a photo of my passport page and Whatsapped it to the booking office in Livingston.

Once in Livingston, I cleared Immigration (GTQ80 Departure Tax) and picket up my lancha ticket to Punta Gorda in Belize (GTQ250). Thanks to Ashcar, the process was very easy.

The lancha to Punta Gorda left at 11am. It was 30 minutes late arriving from Puerto Barrios, but we still got to Punta Gorda by 12:30 in the afternoon.

The seas were rough that day and the lancha danced the waves with bone shuddering speed. Most people hid under sheets of plastic to keep dry.


If you want to sit around all day in restaurants and bars, by all means stay in Livingston.

If you want to sit around and do nothing all day, find a resort on Lake Izabal.

If you want to experience nature, kayak, trek, and do more … find a spot in between the two in the El Golfete area.

The Perdido wasn’t ‘perfect’ by any means. It only had solar power and the jungle setting was a bit damp … after 3 days all of my things felt damp and needed a good ‘airing’. I would advise GRANDPAckers to come between January and May when you will have drier weather and will not have this dampness issue.

Otherwise, it is an excellent ‘Living Idea’ … and a perfect escape for 1 week.


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