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Rio Dulce, Guatemala: Things to Do, Places to Visit, and Hotels

Guatemala is an amazing place for nature lovers and outdoor adventurers, you can find many national parks and tons of volcanoes in the country. I have been an expat living in Guatemala for a long time now, and in this post, I wanted to give you a comprehensive guide to the Rio Dulce and how you can enjoy a family trip to this amazing river. 

The Rio Dulce is one of the most important natural attractions of Guatemala and is renowned as a stunning river cruise destination that many tourists travel to this eastern part of Guatemala specifically for. Rio Dulce is a popular destination for yachters sailing the Caribbean. The river provides a safe harbor, and many sailors choose to anchor here, taking advantage of the natural beauty and the services available in the area.

a kid and a man on a kayak in front of some boats in rio dulce guatemal
Guatemala is an amazing destination well-known for its natural beauty and Rio Dulce is a hidden gem packed with activities and more.

In this post, I have put together a lot of first-hand information and things to do in Rio Dulce as well as the best places to visit so you can be sure to make the most of your time in the area!

So, read the one below to get a full breakdown of the best things to do in Rio Dulce as well as some amazing facts about this amazing travel destination in Guatemala.

Rio Dulce, Guatemala

Rio Dulce is a beautiful Guatemalan town and river located in the department of Izabal that connects Guatemala’s largest lake, Lake Izabal with the Caribbean Sea. The Rio Dulce National Park has an area of ​​130 square kilometers and offers a variety of ecosystems that range from lowland rainforest to high mountain forest, a great place for spotting the amazing Guatemalan wildlife. The most famous attraction within the park is the Rio Dulce River, starting from Lake Izabal.

On the banks of the rivers, you can find many beautiful and colorful houses, hotels, and restaurants literally built on the water. The Rio Dulce is a beautiful place to take a family trip. The park has plenty of activities for all ages, and it is also very affordable making it an ideal destination for families and solo travelers alike.

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Rio Dulce Facts

  • Rio Dulce National Park is the only location in Guatemala where you can see all four of the country’s ecosystems, including rainforest, wetland, mangrove, and marine.
  • The park has over 200 species of birds, making it great for birding, and over 150 species of mammals making it a great place for general wildlife watching.
  • You can do a variety of activities like kayaking, hiking, mountain biking, or even visit an animal rescue center.
  • In 1935 many shots for the film The New Adventures of Tarzan were taken in Rio Dulce.
  • Rio Dulce National Park is Guatemala’s first nature reserve.
  • The beautiful jungle canyon at the mouth of the river is famous for all the marine birds that live there and for its hundred-meter rock face known as La Cueva de la Vaca
  • This is one of the last remaining habitats for the extremely endangered manatee.\
  • The town of Livingston, situated at the mouth of Rio Dulce, is unique in its cultural diversity. It is home to the Garifuna people, who are descendants of African, Arawak, and Carib indigenous groups. The town has a distinct Caribbean vibe and offers a blend of cultures.
  • The remote nature of Rio Dulce means that many areas along the river are only accessible by boat. This adds to the sense of adventure for those exploring the region and contributes to the preservation of its natural beauty.

Things to Do in Rio Dulce, Guatemala

Below are just some of the best attractions and things to do in Rio Dulce that I have learned about and experienced after living in Guatemala for many years.

Volunteer at Casa Guatemala

Casa Guatemala is a nonprofit organization, a great place that has been doing amazing work for the indigenous Guatemalan children since 1987.

It provides food, shelter, and education to those in need. Volunteers can help out at Casa Guatemala by teaching English or helping the children with their homework and tasks.

There are several options when it comes to volunteer activities you can take part in at Casa Guatemala including:

  • Teaching English
  • Helping the children with their homework
  • Donating clothes, toys, or other items to the shelter
  • Helping in tasks
teaching kids about wildlife spotting in guatemala and costa rica

Visit a town nearby

You can find many small towns and indigenous villages around the Rio Dulce river and below we recommend two towns you should explore when visiting Rio Dulce. Also, you’ll have a chance to stay in a rustic guesthouse on the banks of the river. 

We can safely say that two towns stand up among the rest, on the inland part of the river you can find Fronteras (people always refer to it as Rio Dulce) and on the Caribbean side, you’ll find Livingstone. They are the place to go if you are looking to do some activities on the river.

Go to Finca El Paraiso Hot Springs

If you visit Finca El Paraiso, you will be taken past huge lands of banana plantations and get to enjoy the amazing hot springs waterfall, one of the greatest hot springs in Guatemala.

You can easily spend a morning or evening looking around in the place, exploring the different wonders this location has to offer. For most of Guatemala, you’ll find a lot of nature and wildlife. It’s available for only a few bucks and makes for one of the perfect trips to do in your spare time.

Getting to the hot spring waterfalls provides a great adventure, and you’ll feel relaxed as soon as you set foot in this rural-urban location.

hot spring sign in rio dulce guatemala

Visit the Mayan Ruins of Quiriguá

The Mayan Ruins of Quiriguá are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most significant archaeological sites in Guatemala (and probably the one most overlooked by tourists). The city was first settled by the Maya people around 400 BC.

Tikal may be the most famous Mayan site with its tall pyramids, but Quiriguá has some incredible features too, like amazing figures carved into the stone. It’s right beside the Motagua River, so it was perfectly situated for controlling the trade of jade and cacao.

kid wildlife tikal temple guatemala
Visiting Tikal the UNESCO World Heritage Mayan ruins is one of several interesting things you can do in the area, both can be combined easily.

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Visit Castillo de San Felipe

As you pass through the narrowest point of Rio Dulce, at the entrance of Lake Izabal, you’ll come across Castillo de San Felipe. This fort once served as a protection point for the town against the pirates but has now been renovated for tourism.

As of today, the fort is on UNESCO’s “tentative” list of World Heritage Sites, but it’s still an amazing tourist attraction that you should take a look at.

Unfortunately, the fort itself has been destroyed on a few occasions throughout history, even when an earthquake hit it. One of the towers of the fort has been standing since 1604, but some other towers were added in the 17th century.

Take a Rio Dulce National Park Boat Tour

If you want to experience the best of what this area has to offer, taking a boat tour is an essential option. The Rio Dulce National Park boat tour will take you on tons of activities including swimming, visiting Castillo de San Felipe, and many more things.

You would have to try the Las Fronteras to Livingston Lancha boat ride for an impressive time. It will take you the entire way down the Rio Dulce.

The boat tour from Rio Dulce to Livingston is around 1.5 to 2 hours and there are plenty of interesting things to see along the way, including birds, water lilies, mangroves, and pelicans.

Boating or Kayaking on Lake Izabal

Lake Izabal is the largest in Guatemala and has a surface area of about 30 miles long by 15 miles wide. It’s at its deepest point of about 60 feet and only 3 feet deep. It’s also known as the Golfo Dulce or Sweet Bay. The coastlines are dotted with thatch-roofed villages on both sides of the lake.

There are several tours to choose from. You can take it easy and explore mangroves, or visit the iconic town of Livingston and see San Felipe Fort. Also, the lake offers a ton of water activities, like paddleboarding, kayaking, boating, swimming, fishing, and even jet skiing! You can get the chance to see tons of wildlife too, even a manatee and howler monkeys!

There are two options available to you: Tour agencies and locals. I recommend you to go with an agency since locals tend to charge more money, but only if they think you’re not from the area.

How to get to Rio Dulce

Getting to Rio Dulce is not complicated at all you can get to Rio Dulce, from almost ANY place in Guatemala. Since the most visited places in the country are Guatemala City and Antigua, you’ll probably go to Rio Dulce from one of those two places, but the best place to start your adventure in Rio Dulce is Guatemala City.

It will take about five hours to go all the way to Rio Dulce from Guatemala City, the best option will be to pay for private transportation, it’s comfortable, fast, and enjoyable. Another good option would be shared transportation, if you go with this option you’ll be taken to the bus station where you’ll take a bus to Rio Dulce from Guatemala City. Many companies are offering private and shared transportation, it’s easy to find!

If you decide to go on your own using a rented car, you need to take the Carretera al Atlantico (CA-9) outside of Guatemala City to La Ruidosa crossroad at 245 km. Once you reach La Ruidosa, you’ll need to drive another 34km north on Highway CA-13 to Rio Dulce. This same highway connects Rio Dulce to Tikal, Flores, and Peten.

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Rio Dulce Hotels: Where to Stay?

There are many hotels in Rio Dulce, Guatemala and many of them are located on the actual banks of the river. The hotels have different amenities and prices, but most of them are affordable and family-friendly.

Some of the most popular hotels in Rio Dulce include:

El Hotelito Perdido (Most Affordable)

Located in the middle of Rio Dulce National Park, on a popular route among tourists between Livingstone and the town of Rio Dulce, making it accessible by boat. The hotel has all the amenities you need to spend a joyful time for an affordable price. 

Every room is packed with a double bedroom upstairs and a beautiful, sitting area downstairs on the banks of the rivers or with an amazing view to the garden. Private or shared bathrooms and you can enjoy free WiFi, restaurants, and a communal house with a bar. Also, El Hotelito Perdido is pet friendly!

Tortugal Boutique River Lodge (Mid Range)

This hotel is packed with all the amenities a family and traveler needs, from many types of bedrooms with garden/jungle or river views to fiber-optic wifi, and a free parking lot. You can enjoy a diving platform that leads you to a floating sun deck, also, you can use kayaks or enjoy reading in the library. The restaurant will delight you with homemade cooking and delicious drinks.

Banana Palms Hotel (Most Luxury)

The most luxurious experience you can get in Rio Dulce is Banana Palms Hotel, the hotel is packed with a restaurant, and an outdoor swimming pool suitable for the hot Guatemalan days, and you can also find a bar and a gym. 

Many places to spend time, like a shared lounge, a terrace, and a garden. Also, you can find many other amenities like airport transportation from La Aurora Airport in Guatemala City, free wifi, and room service.

The hotel has a playground for those families traveling with kids or single parents traveling with children.

Is it worth going to Rio Dulce?

In my opinion, it is worth going to Rio Dulce to experience a side of Guatemala that is unique from the rest of the country.

From the laid-back vibe that many attribute to the Caribbean influence, to the unique culture of the Garifuna people, and the amazing river cruise alongside lush jungle and rainforests, Rio Dulce is worth a visit to experience this unique town and river area.

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Last Updated on March 2, 2024

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