Trips up the Río Dulce
Trips up the Río Dulce information
Lonely Planet review
Tour agencies in town offer day trips up the Río Dulce to Río Dulce town, as do most local boatmen at the Lívingston dock. Many travelers use these tours as one-way transportation to Río Dulce, although you can do a return trip. It's a beautiful ride through tropical jungle scenery, with several places to stop on the way.
Shortly after you leave Lívingston, you pass the tributary Río Tatin on the right, then will probably stop at an indigenous arts museum set up by Asociación Ak' Tenamit, an NGO working to improve conditions for the Q'eqchi' Maya population of the area. The river enters a gorge called La Cueva de la Vaca, its walls hung with great tangles of jungle foliage and the humid air noisy with the cries of tropical birds. Just beyond that is La Pintada, a rock escarpment covered with graffiti. Local legend says people have been tagging this spot since the 1700s, though the oldest in evidence is from the 1950s. If you're lucky, you might spot a freshwater dolphin in these parts. Further on, a thermal spring forces sulfurous water out of the base of the cliff, providing a chance for a warm swim. The river widens into El Golfete, a lake-like body of water that presages the even vaster expanse of Lago de Izabal further upstream.
On the northern shore of El Golfete is the Biotopo Chocón Machacas, a 72-sq-km reserve established within the Parque Nacional Río Dulce to protect the beautiful river landscape, the valuable forests and mangrove swamps and their wildlife, which includes such rare creatures as the tapir and above all the manatee. The huge, walrus-like manatees are aquatic mammals weighing up to a ton, yet they glide effortlessly beneath the calm surface of the river. They are very elusive, however, and the chances of seeing one are very slim. A network of 'water trails' (boat routes around several jungle lagoons) provides ways to see other bird, animal and plant life of the reserve. A nature trail begins at the visitors center (around US$3) and winds its way through forests of mahogany, palms and rich tropical foliage.
Boats will probably visit the Islas de Pájaros, a pair of islands where thousands of waterbirds live, in the middle of El Golfete. From El Golfete you continue upriver, passing increasing numbers of expensive villas and boathouses, to the town of Río Dulce, where the soaring Hwy CA-13 road bridge crosses the river, and on to El Castillo de San Felipe on Lago de Izabal. You can also do this trip starting from Río Dulce with colectivo lanchas (passenger motorboats).