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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:
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.
EL ESTOR TO MY RIO DULCE HOTEL:
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.
ABOUT RIO DULCE:
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.
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.
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.
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.
WHERE TO STAY:
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.
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.
TRIPADVISOR VACATION RENTALS (Weekly Rates):
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.
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.
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.
EAT & DRINK:
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.
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.
YOUR HEALTH & SAFETY:
There is no reason to feel unsafe here. Absolutely none.
WHERE TO GO / WHAT TO SEE / WHAT TO DO:
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.
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.
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.
MONEY / PRICES / SHOPPING:
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).
WHEN TO GO:
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.
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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