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My Favorite Activities to Do in Lake Izabal, Guatemala After Several Visits

By visiting Guatemala you get to see stunning places like Lake Atitlan, Semuc Champey, and Antigua. Still, after living for more than 25+ years I learned that there are a bunch of other places that are out of this world and don’t get enough attention, like Lake Izabal or Lago de Izabal, one of the country’s hidden gems. 

I visited Izabal several times, it’s a must-stop for my family and me every time we visit Rio Dulce and the Caribbean side of the country. This area is so rich and so unexplored by tourists, definitely worth checking out.

While visiting the lake I learned and TRIED several activities (which I’m going to list below) and a lot of useful information, like Lake Izabal is known as the largest lake in Guatemala. It covers an area from the Caribbean Sea and through several beautiful river gorges.

Izabal lake Guatemala
On my first visit to Lake Izabal, I discovered so much… amazing activities to do, hotels on the banks of a river, and an almost unspoiled destination

Things to Do In Lake Izabal

The lake is about 24 km wide and 48 km long, with a huge area so, there’s a lot to explore and do. It’s also situated in the Caribbean region of Guatemala right in the middle of a stunningly beautiful, and forested area, but only recently has the lake area started to be frequented by tourists.

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.

1. Take a Boat Tour Around the Lake

There are several boat tours in Lake Izabal and the nearby rivers, like Rio Dulce, and in my opinion, this is the first thing you need to do.

The good thing about this is, that you can easily pair it with a tour of the river, or you can choose between exploring mangroves, going to the nearby Livingston town, and seeing the San Felipe fortress.

You can find several people who are willing to take you on a tour, but I highly recommend that you talk with an agency or book it only beforehand.

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2. Rent a Kayak and Explore Lake Izabal

By far, my kid’s favorite activity in Lake Izabal was kayaking, they could stay for hours paddling on the lake.

Finca Tatin is one of the places where you can rent a kayak and ask for tours, I recommend the 4-day kayak tour that starts at Finca Paraiso on the shores of Lago Izabal and takes you to the Caribbean Coast over 4 days.

Or you can just rent a kayak and just go at your own pace and experience the tranquility of the lake.

a kid and a man on a kayak in front of some boats in rio dulce guatemal
My kids loved kayaking in Lake Izabal, it was an incredible experience and we even spotted different animals

3. Discover the Historic San Felipe Fortress

Often referred to as Castillo de San Felipe, it’s a historic structure from the Spanish colonial period, and an actual 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 best part is the fort can be reached from the lake and also from the town making it easily accessible to all visitors.

This colonial-period fort sits 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.

inside san felipe castle in izabal rio dulce guatemala
I remember the first time I visited this place, I was surprised that an actual fort was built right there on the river’s banks in the middle of a tropical forest.

4. 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 you will find a lush forest with tons of gorgeous, crystal-clear rivers.

It is also a popular destination for hikers and nature enthusiasts, several trails lead to the summit of Cerro San Gil, so you can find one suitable for you, 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.

5. Explore the Quirigua Mayan Ruins

There’s no adventure completed in Guatemala without checking out Mayan ruins, and luckily enough you can visit the Quirigua Mayan Ruins.

While this small Mayan archaeological site is not as popular as Tikal or El MIrador, it 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 the Mayan culture, it is also where the highest Mayan stelae was found.

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 to the Archaeological Park and Ruins of Quirigua comes from the beautiful waterways themselves through flooding, but make sure to visit and join a tour!

Stelae found in Quirigua Mayan Ruins, near lake izabal
Checking out the remains of an ancient civilization is always fascinating and being able to do it during a tour of Lake Izabal is priceless

6. Spot the Rare Caribbean Manatee in the Wild

The rare and endangered manatee lives in the waters of Lake Izabal 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.

kid playing with the sand in Punta de Manabique Guatemala
Punta Manabique is the most far away and isolated area of the country, but you can easily visit it on a boat tour from Lake Izabal

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
My kids and I agree that the hot spring in Finca Paraiso is hands down the best place to visit in Lake Izabal

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 Located?

Lake Izabal is located in the Izabal Department, one of the 22 departments you can find in the country. On 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 and as part of the adventure, 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 shuttle 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. There you will find many boat-taxi services that will take you through the 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).

kayaking on rio dulce
Kayaking in Lake Izabal is one of the best things to do in Guatemala and should be added to any bucket list.

Where to Stay?

When it comes to finding a place to stay, Lake Izabal offers a lot of different options, from luxurious stays to cozy hostels, there’s a perfect spot for everyone.

I prefer to stay in Rio Dulce or Livingston and I highly recommend you do, there are several places to stay that are situated ON the actual river and it’s just stunning.

Here are some of my and my family’s favorite stays:

Finca Tatin: Best Immersive Experience in Nature

I had the pleasure of experiencing the exceptional eco-lodge, Finca Tatin, and Hotel Eco Cabañas del Lago. Both lodges offered comfortable yet rustic accommodations, and offer various activities like kayaking and bird-watching.

Both are located deep in the woods, an almost desolate area, and are suitable for a retreat. Learning about conservation efforts and immersing myself in nature was a great opportunity.

Hotel Casa Rosada: Top Pick for Luxury Stays

Among the top picks for luxury stays are the renowned Hotel Casa Rosada and the exclusive Villa Caribe.

Both hotels boast stunning views, gourmet dining options, and an array of leisure activities that ensure a memorable stay.

Hotel Casa Perico: Best Value Hotels in the Area

Notable mid-range hotels include Hotel Casa Perico and Hotel Catamaran, both in Rio Dulce. Both provide guests with comfortable rooms, excellent service, and amenities like swimming pools and on-site restaurants.

Hostel La Casa de la Iguana is a popular choice for their friendly atmosphere, clean facilities, and opportunities to meet fellow travelers.

Looking for More Inspiration?

I have been traveling and living in Guatemala for over 25 years
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Tips

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Places

For more travel ideas to add to your bucket list, check out a complete guide to all the best places to visit in Guatemala.

Food

Guatemala has a huge variety of food, check out the guide to the top 15 Guatemalan Food and Dishes.

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Last Updated on June 15, 2024

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