Rio Dulce Town Boat Dock & Bridge

Why It’s Not Worth Visiting Rio Dulce, Guatemala

In City Guides, Guatemala by Erik @ DIY Travel HQ14 Comments

No one has visited Rio Dulce, Guatemala & stayed longer than needed. We’ll tell you about the Livingston boat tour & how to make this transit town bearable.

Rio Dulce Travel Guide

Find more inspiration in one of the Guatemala guide books below! 

Rio Dulce Town is horribly planned. It was one of our least favorite places to visit in Guatemala.

Rio Dulce is the base for yachts that are trying to avoid hurricanes, boat tours to Livingston, and has a handful of tourist attractions nearby.

Rio Dulce Town Yachts
Yachties, but they come for the protection the lake offers.

However, all the traffic crosses over the one bridge over the lake to be funneled through one road Rio Dulce.

To make matters worse, both independent bus companies have their headquarters at the base of the bridge, and stop there to load and unload passengers. At least the microbus terminal next door is located off the street.

All the restaurants and market vendors set up along this stretch too, hoping to entice the passing traffic to stop.

It is not fun to walk around town with businesses taking over the streets, no sidewalks, and 18-wheelers passing each other on the narrow road.

You have to be on your guard at all times.

Rio Dulce Town Main Street
To say Rio Dulce Town is a nightmare for pedestrians is an understatement.

Rio Dulce Boat Tour

The residents of Rio Dulce have combined their transportation to or from Livingston into an expensive boat tour for tourists. It’s now the main reason why most tourists visit the region.

Colectivo boats depart both Rio Dulce Town and Livingston at 9:30 am and 2:30 pm. One way is Q125 / $17.20 and same day return is Q200 / $27.50.

The trip takes 90 minutes for the complete tour, and only 45 minutes if there are no new passengers. Hopefully you will not have to do the tour twice.

Boats can be caught underneath the main bridge, and by the main park in Livingston but the tour isn’t worth it unless you have a lot of time to kill in Guatemala.

Rio Dulce Town Boat Tour to Livingston
Hop on board. Next stop, Livingston!

Rio Dulce Boat Tour Attractions

The trip takes in five attractions on the water before arriving in Livingston, which is on the border with Belize:

  • Swinging by Castillo de San Felipe
  • Witnessing nesting cormorants and pelicans
  • Floating past a garden of water lilies
  • Stopping at a hot spring on the banks of El Golfete
  • Zipping through a gorge on the way to Livingston

Let’s take a look at each attraction in a little more detail…

Rio Dulce, Guatemala El Golfete
There isn’t much to see on the tour except the five attractions.
1. Castillo San Felipe

The San Felipe fort was originally constructed in 1652 to defend the Izabal Lake against pirates. It was then converted into a prison when buccaneers ceased to exist.

It’s now the main tourist attraction in the area.

You can get there by microbus, but we feel it is best viewed from the water such as on the Rio Dulce boat tour. If you are doing a day trip on the Rio Dulce, Guatemala boat tour, consider getting dropped off there and walking back.

Admission is Q20 / $2.75 but they have a free park that you can enjoy as well.

Rio Dulce Castillo de San Felipe
The best views of Castillo de San Felipe are from the boat tour.
2. Nesting Cormorants and Pelicans

After passing underneath the Rio Dulce bridge the next ‘stop’ consists of slowing the boat down and observing nesting cormorants and pelicans.

You can see new hatchlings all the way up to full-grown birds weighing down the mangrove branches.

Rio Dulce Guatemala Cormorants & Pelicans
Don’t you hate it when you find the perfect spot for your home, and everyone seems to move in too?
3. Water Lily Garden

One of the nicer sections of El Golfete is Water Lily Garden. It is a small enclave of water lilies with a lake house on the shore.

Your first clue that you have arrived will be a handful of young local girls paddling canoes towards you. They hope to sell turtle shell products.

Rio Dulce Guatemala Lily Garden
You can’t have a tour without scheduled sales stops. That’s why we normally prefer DIY Travel!
4. El Golfete Hot Springs

A short distance away is El Golfete Hot Springs.

We originally didn’t know what the attraction was since a sign advertised a tour to a cave. We assumed we were there to see that since we had only had 15 minutes.

Sadly, the real attraction was a hot spring on the banks of El Golfete. There is an extended pier to the left of the dock that runs parallel to the hot water. If you look close enough, you can see the steam rising.

These hot springs had nothing compared to the hot spring waterfall at Finca El Paraiso, which can be visited on a separate day trip.

Rio Dulce Guatemala Hot Spring
Bring your bathing suit on the boat tour. You have 15 minutes to enjoy the hot springs.
5. Rio Dulce Gorge

The first half of the tour is through El Golfete, and the sides of the lake are kilometers away. It isn’t until you reach Rio Dulce Gorge that the walls close in, and get steeper.

Aside from the attractions, this is the nicest stretch of the Rio Dulce boat tour as you zip along to Livingston…

Things to do in Livingston

Livingston is either your first or last destination – clear immigration, and start soaking up the local Garifuna culture. Find out all the basics in our budget travel guide

Read more
Rio Dulce Guatemala Livingston
Enjoy the ride once the walls start closing in on the Rio Dulce boat tour.

Things to Do in Rio Dulce

1. Castillo de San Felipe

There are few attractions in Rio Dulce but one of them in the nearby Castillo de San Felipe. The Livingston boat tour passes by the castle but you can also take a microbus there.

The fort is small, and the entrance fee of Q25 / $3.45 doesn’t seem justified if you’re on a tight budget.

2. Finca El Paraiso

Finca El Paraiso (Q10 / $1.35) is a treat for backpackers that want a hot shower, but don’t want to splurge for a hotel with one.

A natural hot spring creates a stream that flows over a cliff to form a waterfall. At the base of the waterfall is a cold stream so you get the best of both worlds.

There is also spa quality mud near the hot spring, for a DIY skin treatment.

It was one of our top places in Guatemala – read more about it here.

Finca el Paraiso Hotspring Waterfall
Soak those ails away as the hot water beats down upon your shoulders.

Rio Dulce Accommodation

The best value hotel we found in Rio Dulce was Hotel Sol Naciente but it’s not on any of the booking websites.

A double room with ensuite cost Q100 / $13.75. Bring your own lock for added security.

Rio Dulce Town Hotel Sol Naciente
Hotel Sol Naciente is basic, hot, and overpriced. The only advantage is that everything is a short walk away.

Near both Rio Dulce Town and Livingston, it is possible to stay on remote properties on the water. Hotel Backpackers seemed to be the cheapest option but there’s a catch…

The dorms may be cheaper initially, but you are then limited to the restaurant on-site, or paying for a boat ride each visit to town.

Most places appear to have a deck to lounge on, or jump off. The colectivo boat can pick or drop you off at any of them along the way with advance notice.

Check hostel prices now

Rio Dulce Town Hotel Backpackers
Hotel Backpackers may cost more all included, but it is a nicer environment.

Food & Drink in Rio Dulce

We hope you are a fan of fried chicken since half the highway is filled with these shops. There are better restaurants around, but few cater for budget travelers.

Your best bet for breakfast, snacks, and drinks is the supermarket Dispensa Familiar.

Try one of the fried chicken establishments for lunch, and a street comedor for dinner.

Expect to pay Q20 / $2.75 for a small steak with rice, salad, pasta, and tortillas. Alternatively, they also sell oversized beef filled quesadillas for Q25 / $3.45.

Plan on grabbing a drink at Hotel Yair for Wi-Fi. A glass of tamarind juice costs Q3 / $0.40.

Rio Dulce Town Fried Chicken
Fried chicken is definitely on offer in Rio Dulce Town.

Rio Dulce Transport

Fuente Del Norte runs buses to and from Santa Elena for Q65 / $8.95.

You can also catch buses to Guatemala City, and get off at the Quirigua ruins intersection (Q25 / $3.45), or El Rancho (Q50 / $6.85) for Coban (Q30 / $4.10).

Walk along the road connecting CA-9 with CA-14 for the connecting microbus.

El Rancho to Coban Microbus
It only takes one connection to reach Coban from Rio Dulce Town, unless you stop at Quirigua on the way.

Microbuses for Castillo de San Felipe (Q10 / $1.35) and Finca El Paraiso (Q15 / $2.05) depart from the road with Hotel Yair on it.

Boats tours from Rio Dulce to Livingston (Q125 / $17.20 or Q200 / $27.50 return) depart from under the bridge.

Rio Dulce Town Microbuses to Finca El Paraiso
Microbuses to Finca el Paraiso and Castillo de San Felipe depart on opposite sides of the street.

Is Rio Dulce Safe to Visit?

Safety is the first thing most people consider before traveling to Guatemala.

As of early 2020, the US Government is issuing a Level 2 travel advisory for Guatemala and for travelers to exercise increased caution. The Australian Government advises travelers to exercise a high degree of caution across the country.

You can check the current travel advisories of both governments here and here. Of course, you should consult your own government advice as well. Circumstances can change fast, especially during elections.

Like the rest of Central America, Guatemala has a reputation for crime & violence but we didn’t have any problems in our 3 months in the country. Rio Dulce is a popular haven for sailors and expats so it felt like one of the safer parts of Guatemala.

Nevertheless, always be aware of pickpockets. We recommend wearing a money belt with RFID blocking and traveling with an anti-theft daypack.

We recommend purchasing travel insurance before any trip to Guatemala. We’ve been using World Nomads in our travels through 80+ countries over the past 12 years. It’s the best-value provider we’ve found in terms of price and coverage and we haven’t had any issues when we’ve had to make (fortunately) minor claims.

For more details check out our World Nomads review here.

Get a quote for travel insurance now

Go off-the-beaten-path in Rio Dulce, Guatemala! From a boat tour to a unique hot waterfall, find out the top things to do and much more to plan your trip #riodulce #guatemala #centralamerica
Go off-the-beaten-path in Rio Dulce, Guatemala! From a boat tour to a unique hot waterfall, find out the top things to do and much more to plan your trip #riodulce #guatemala #centralamerica

The Final Word – Make the best of Rio Dulce by minimizing your time there

Do you think Rio Dulce is worth visiting?

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links which means that we receive a small commission if you click on a link & purchase something that we’ve recommended – at no extra cost to you.

Visited in July 2016

Updated in February 2020


  1. Your blog about Rio Dulce is one great example of how writing about an area you take so little time to really know and explore can be so inacurrate. Clearly you came to the area with “baggage” of expectations and unfair comparisons, as well as a distinct inability to look beyond your own privilege. Please either stop writing or get a grip on what travel supposed to be. It is not all about you and your narrow view.

    1. This blog is about us and our views, that’s the concept of a blog! You don’t have to agree with them but how a person responds can say a lot about their (judgemental) character and (defensive) nature. We didn’t pretend to spend a lot of time in Rio Dulce, nor would we want to – there are so many better places to visit in Guatemala. We don’t recommend visiting Rio Dulce but we’ve offered some thoughts to consider and options for people to make their own decision – as well as information on attractions, accommodation, food & transport with prices that were accurate at the time. Please be more open-minded to other views than your own, without resorting to personal attacks.

    2. I have lived on the Rio Dulce during hurricane season since 1992. I love the place and have never had a bad experience there.

      1. What is your favorite thing to do in Rio Dulce? Unless you want to relax remotely on the river I don’t see the draw, but would appreciate an alternate viewpoint.

  2. I think you’d greatly benefit from locals showing you around. Río Dulce is a great spot when you use it as a “base of operations”. You see, there’s lagoons, smaller rivers, nature reserves and passages that criss-cross the immediate area around the town. You have to work harder to get to them, but Izabal (the county Río Dulce is located on) is known for its rare (for the area) and tranquil white sand beaches and overall great hiking experience. I’d agree it’s a bit too expensive for a backpacker traveling on a low budget, though it’s definitely worth the effort to dig a bit deeper. In the end, Guatemala as a whole has gems that are, sadly, buried under a lot of nonsense and profiteering. If you can see my email, I’d gladly help out in any way possible with info and the such or even show you around some of the places I’m more familiar with c:

    1. Thanks for the advice – travel is always more insightful with a local. We don’t plan to go back to Rio Dulce but this is helpful for other travelers. Finca el Paraiso is definitely a gem near Rio Dulce and one of favourite spots in Guatemala.

  3. My wife and I are traveling to Guatemala, we will stay two days in Rio Dulce.
    We apreciate your feedback and many others.
    Is always good to know the pulse of Tourism in those areas.


    1. Thanks guys. It wasn’t our favourite place but lots of people enjoy it so please come back and let us know your thoughts after your trip. Happy & safe travels! 🙂


    BIG MEALS Q45 park setting afternoon cool and windy

    1. Hi Mark, thanks for your feedback. I’m not sure what misinformation is in this post though as we gave info and prices on the boat tour, accommodation, food and transport which we used ourselves. I guess you don’t agree with our dislike of Rio Dulce. It sounds like the best experiences are on the water but for us at backpackers, it wasn’t easy to do this apart from 1 overpriced boat tour that cost Q200 for foreigners but a fraction of that for locals. It also seems like the marinas and sailors are there out of necessity more than any other reason, especially as Rio Dulce is a natural shelter during the hurricane season.

  5. I completely disagree, but that’s the beauty of travel, we see the world through our own eyes and we each see differently. Rio Dulce is full of rich history, many neat and interesting boutique hotels and restaurants, and lagoons, jungles and Wildlife that would blow anyone’s mind. We are sailors, so we settled in the Rio Dulce off the Caribbean last year, and the sailing culture here is very rich. There is also a culture of music, eclectic food, foreigners and locals that offer a rich, beautiful travel experience. To be unsatisfied in the Rio Dulce, or unable to see beyond the hustle and bustle of the busy commerce of the central market is crazy. The beauty, history and experiences run quite a bit deeper. I highly recommend anybody stay in the Rio Dulce, & like most travel, we recommend you come with eyes to see the beauty, adventure to take risks and time to explore the beauty of this place! (Monkey Tours, Cliff diving, swimming under the canyons, mud masks and mineral baths from the natural Falls, amazing traditional cuisine as well as the small German restaurant or some of the countries best gourmet food tucked in the jungles. Experience some of the best crêpes in the local restaurant run by a French family who immigrated many years ago. Zip lining, kayaks, sailboat adventures, countless humanitarian local projects offering experiences to tourists & paddle boarding!!!)
    We LOVE Rio Dulce!!!

  6. The entrance fee for the castillo in San Felipe is Q20 for Guatemalan residents only, but 100Q for foreigners.
    I love Río Dulce and find the main street one of the most interesting places to meet locals here.

    1. Author

      Thanks for the update. I am leaving the price in the article unchanged until a second person is able to confirm the drastic price increase. I also see Q75 on TripAdvisor.

      The main street depends on the traveler’s mindset while visiting. One person’s interesting is another person’s hectic.

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