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Lake Izabal (Lago de Izabal) in Guatemala: Top 9 Things to Do

Guatemala is an amazing country with many stunning places to visit. I’m an ex-pat living in this country for the past few years and can confidently say that Lake Izabal or Lago de Izabal is one of the country’s hidden gems. 

And Lake Izabal doesn’t get the tourist attention it deserves. That’s why I decided to make a full blog post about it, what to do in the lake and around, also I’ll tell you some interesting information about Lago Izabal.

So read on to learn all you need to know to make the most out of your trip to what I call one of the hidden gems of Guatemala in this post about the best things to do at Lake Izabal.

Izabal lake Guatemala
Hiring a kayak or doing a boat tour is one of the best ways to explore Lake Izabal at your own pace.

Lake Izabal, the largest lake in Guatemala

Lake Izabal is known as the country’s largest lake (about 24 km wide and 48 km long, with a huge area of 590 km²), and its maximum, depth of 18m or 59 feet. The lake covers an area from the Caribbean Sea and through several beautiful river gorges to the richest wetland habitat in Guatemala.

The lake is located in the Caribbean region of Guatemala right in the middle of an isolated, stunningly beautiful, forested section of the country. And only recently has the lake area been frequented by tourists. This is why I refer to this place as one of the hidden gems. 

And it’s really surprising as there are so many interesting and fun things to do here as well as beautiful natural scenery and historical sites as well, that we get into detail about further down in this post.

There are some hotels & restaurants around, but the area is not as developed in terms of tourism as Tikal National Park or Antigua Guatemala. The largest town in the area is called Fronteras, commonly known as Rio Dulce. It is located where the Dulce River flows out of Lake Izabal, making it a key access point for exploring the lake and the surrounding area. 

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Lake Izabal is abundant with aquatic life and the fresh waters of the lake are home to a range of fish species. This makes it perfect for those looking for some sport fishing because it is rich in perch, tarpon, and other fish making it a popular destination for angling enthusiasts. 

Also, the wetlands and mangroves surrounding the lake are important natural habitats for different birds that thrive thanks to the abundance of food in the wetland areas. So birdwatchers have the chance to spot herons, egrets, ospreys, and around 300 other species of birds – plenty of avian life to keep birdwatchers happy!

Apart from the fish and bird species there is even a chance you might encounter the endangered fresh-water manatee or sea cow in one of the few places that you can still see a manatee in the wild.

If you come to this area these are the things you can’t miss: swimming in a little pool formed by one of the waterfalls in Finca Paraiso, taking a boat tour to the Boqueron Canyon, visiting the Mariscos Town & Rio Dulce towns and enjoying a tour in the Chocon Machacas Biotope.

And below we get into more detail about all the best things to do at Lake Izabal.

Things to Do In Lake Izabal, Guatemala

1. Take a Boat Tour

There are several boat tours at Lake Izabal on the nearby rivers. You can choose between exploring mangroves, going to the nearby Livingston town, and seeing the San Felipe fortress (more information about it below). 

For a better service try going with a tour agency, locals also offer them but they tend to charge too much if they see you aren’t a local. With a tour agency, you can also get more personalized tours that suit your group’s specific interests and very knowledgeable guides that can explain well the highlights of different areas your boat tour visits.

2. Hiking at Cerro San Gil

Cerro San Gil is a protected area managed by the conservationist organization Fundaeco. The area is a large reserve where the humid tropical forest is protected. It is mainly dedicated to caring for its rivers and flora, so you will find a lush forest with tons of gorgeous, crystal-clear rivers.

It is also a popular destination for hikers and nature enthusiasts and several trails lead to the summit of Cerro San Gil, varying in difficulty and length, making it accessible to hikers of all levels.

And at the summit hikers are rewarded with breathtaking views of Lake Izabal and the surrounding countryside, making it a popular spot for photography and enjoying the natural beauty of Guatemala’s Caribbean region.

3. Rent a Kayak and Explore Lake Izabal at your Leisure

The beauty of these kinds of tours is that you get to rent a Kayak and explore as you like, there are no schedules or having to deal with other people. Finca Tatin is one of the places where you can rent them.

One such tour is a 4-day kayak tour of the River Dulce that starts at Finca Paraiso on the shores of Lago Izabal and takes you to the Caribbean Coast over 4 days.

Then again, just kayaking at your own pace and experiencing the tranquility of the lake is also a preferable option for most.

a kid and a man on a kayak in front of some boats in rio dulce guatemal

4. Discover the Historic San Felipe Fortress

Often referred to as Castillo de San Felipe, of the Castle of San Felipe this historic structure from the Spanish colonial period, is a fort that Spaniards used to fight off attacks from the English, French, and pirates who were looking to get control over the Central American region of which Guatemala was the capital back in the colonial days. 

The Spanish fort can be reached from the lake or also from the town making it easily accessible to all visitors.

The colonial period fort is set at the mouth of the Río Dulce and dates back to the 17th century. 

It is truly a great place to visit and also has spectacular views of Lake Izabal.

5. Explore the Quirigua Mayan Ruins

This small Mayan archaeological site was declared a UNESCO heritage site because, in it, archaeologists found extremely detailed and well-preserved stelae that allowed them to learn a lot more about their culture, it is also where the highest Mayan stelae ever found is.

Apart from the highest Mayan stelae other monuments that make up Quirigua include altars and animal-shaped sculptures that are carved in sandstone in honor of the Mayan rulers of Quirigua.

Unfortunately one of the biggest threats of the Archaeological Park and Ruins of Quirigua comes from the beautiful waterways themselves through flooding.

6. Spot the Rare Caribbean Manatee in the Wild

The rare and endangered manatee lives in the waters of Izabal Lake making the lake one of the last remaining places where you can see this marine mammal in its natural habitat out in the wild. 

There are a few boat tours in the area that leave early in the morning and take you to areas where manatees like to hang out and hopefully get to see one. 

Further downstream from the lake, you can also find the Biotopo Chocon Machacas Manatee Reserve which is a natural protection space for the Caribbean Manatee.

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7. Visit the Punta de Manabique Wildlife Refuge

The Punta de Manabique Wildlife Refuge is a must-see for all nature lovers. The natural habitats include mangroves and coastal lagoons which make an ideal habitat for many bird species.

The savannahs and swamp areas also are home to Jaguars, Tapir, and howler monkeys.

And making the ecosystem even more diverse are the protected coral reef outcrops which are unique in this part of the country. 

This makes it one of Guatemala’s most amazing but also least-visited wild places.

8. Experience Finca Paraiso

Just a short trip off the main road to Rio Dulce on the northern shores of Lake Izabal is an amazing hidden place where you can swim in a naturally heated hot spring pool and enjoy a small waterfall – this is Finca Paraiso.

Here you get the unique combination of the warm waterfall from above and the cool pool of water below but just be prepared to encounter the strong smell of sulfur from the volcanic activity that creates these warm waters.

Earlier in the morning and/or earlier in the week are better times to visit Finca Paraiso to avoid the crowds.

Finca paraiso hot waterfall guatemala

9. Try Some Sport Fishing

Lake Izabal is known for the variety of fish in its waters including tilapia, bass, snook, and tarpon, among others. Keen fishing enthusiasts from all over visit the lake just to take part in angling here.

Tour operators and local guides offer guided fishing trips on the lake, providing visitors with the opportunity to experience the best fishing spots and increase their chances of catching various species of fish. These tours often include transportation, fishing equipment, and sometimes meals, depending on the package you choose.

Where is Lake Izabal?

Lake Izabal is located in the Izabal Department, one of the 22 departments you can find in the country. In the Caribbean region of Guatemala. It is specifically located in the middle of an isolated, but beautiful, green section of the country.

The Izabal Department shares a border with Belize on the north and Honduras on the east. Also, with some other Guatemalan Departments like Peten to the northwest, Zacapa to the south, and Alta Verapaz to the west.

How to get to Lake Izabal?

It’s really fun to travel to Lake Izabal, you first need to get to the town of Frontera (also called just Rio Dulce), you can get to this place by renting a car, using the local bus or just a special transportation tour from Guatemala City or Antigua.

After you get to Fronteras, you need to head to the main boat dock that’s located at the base of the bridge in Fronteras, yes,  the best way to go to Lake Izabal is by boat, many boat-taxi services in Fronteras will take you through Rio Dulce river to Lake Izabal.  

There are collective boats too, they leave Rio Dulce to Livingston at 9, 11 am, and 1 pm every day, usually, the price is q115 one way or q180 for the round trip (like $15 and $25 respectively). Another great option is to just rent a boat that can carry up to 10 people for around q750 (like $100).

This is an area of Guatemala that does not get as much attention as the more popular Antigua and Tikal Mayan Ruins. And I don’t think it should be your main destination when traveling to Guatemala but if you have the time it is worth checking out.

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Last Updated on March 3, 2024

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