No one has visited Rio Dulce, Guatemala & stayed longer than needed. We’ll tell you about the Livingstone boat tour & how to make this transit town bearable.
Rio Dulce Town is horribly planned. It was one of our least favourite 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.
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.
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For more details check out our World Nomads review here.
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.
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…
#1 Castillo de 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 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.
We recommend Lonely Planet’s Guatemala Travel Guide to help you plan your trip.
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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 guideRead more
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.
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.
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 p laces 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.
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 Transport
Fuente Del Norte runs buses to and from Santa Elena for Q65 / $8.95.
Walk along the road connecting CA-9 with CA-14 for the connecting microbus.
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.
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***The Final Word – Make the best of Rio Dulce by minimizing your time there***
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Visited in July 2016
Updated in February 2019