Today was a great day! Not just because I did some awesome things; but also because I was pleasantly surprised today which doesn’t happen too often. I admittedly didn’t do much research or know much about what I was going to do today and that turned out to be a great thing. After an early morning wake up and long drive to Punta Gorda in Southern Belize, my friend Pete and I caught a private little boat to Livingston and the Rio Dulce in Guatemala.
It’s about an hour via motor boat from Punta Gorda to Livingston where you must go through customs formalities in Guatemala. The customs officer when we arrived today wouldn’t open the door because he was eating lunch at 11am in a wife beater, sweating profusely. That aside, he finally opened up and stamped us into Guatemala. We had a look around Livingston and a decent lunch before hopping on the boat to head up the Rio Dulce.
The Rio Dulce is a massive river that more or less divides Eastern Guatemala into north and south and has its source at the lake it turns into. That doesn’t sounds terribly exciting but what is special about this river and the ride up it to the castle is the scenery along the way.
I have to hand it to Pete, he nailed this one. You feel like you’re traveling through the jungle literally and are surrounded by massive rocks cliffs and mountains on each side. Around every corner there is more awesome scenery to behold and to make your jaw drop.
It almost reminded me in a way of being in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam or the Rock Islands of Palau because as you cruise along the water, you can’t help but be mesmerized by the natural beauty around you.
As you approach the end of the river where it becomes the lake you pass under a massive bridge connecting the north and south of the country. A mile or so past the bridge is the castle.
El Castillo de San Felipe is a very well maintained 17th century castle that burned down and was rebuilt in the 20th century. It is very well situated on the water for maximum effect. The little walkways within the castle walls are very intricate and if you’re not careful you’ll knock your head pretty hard. Little details on the castle make it very worthwhile. The cannons are all very well preserved and very cool to look at and imagine firing. It’s a fun side trip from Livingston at the end of the Rio Dulce before the hour long ride back.
The ride back is spent just relaxing and admiring from the other side what you so admired the way down. We were lucky and had a great day and saw a ton of birds both on the water and on the trees on the side. Pelicans were diving into the water left and right. In fact, we almost clipped a few with the boat as we zoomed through the water.
Back in Livingston we checked into the Gil Hotel. It’s a nice little place overlooking the water and run by a very nice lady. The rooms are better than the other hotels we looked at and private rooms are very well priced at about $40.
In town, there are a ton of restaurants to choose from; none of which are very good. Lunch and dinner were both adequate at best but you don’t go to Livingston for food, you go for the laid back Bohemian atmosphere and the beautiful views.
The first time I traveled Central America from top to bottom was back in 2003. My buddy Jake and I wanted to come to Livingston because we heard it was a cool laid back little fishing town that was worth seeing. We didn’t end up going because it is a pain in the butt to get here. Whether you’re coming from Belize, Honduras or Guatemala itself; there are no airports, few roads and long bumpy boat rides are the main way of getting here.
After deciding to not come way back when, I am glad we made the effort today, as Livingston is pretty much awesome. It’s a place where you could spend a night or a month and be pretty happy either way. It’s cheap and filled with backpackers, Rasta men and old hippies. An ice cream cone is 50 cents; gotta love it!
Livingston may not be easy to get to but once you get there you won’t be disappointed. Mix it in with a trip up the Rio Dulce and you’ve got a hell of a trip! Oh yeah…don’t forget to have some Gallo beers!
We are heading back to Belize tomorrow.