Rio Dulce, Guatemala
Rio Dulce town (also known as Fronteras) is a place in Guatemala that I have wanted to travel to since my Peace Corps days in 1991-92. A port town on the river for which it is named, and at the mouth of Lago Isabel, the largest lake in Guatemala, Rio Dulce is a literal haven for yachts traveling the Caribbean. On this trip to Guatemala, though on limited time, I finally made the visit. It was well worth the trip.
The Rio Dulce area should not be judged by the town which bears its name. Rio Dulce town is a small, narrow cluttered truck stop and market area serving both the Peten region and the port of Puerto Barrios. It is the surroundings of Rio Dulce town that appeal to the traveler.
After a seven-hour bus ride from Guatemala City I arrived at the town in the dark of early evening. The bus, a Litegua Lines “Pullman”, was surprisingly comfortable for the long journey. About two and a half hours into the trip a much appreciated rest stop was made at a well-furnished and well-run restaurant complex. The stop made the trip more bearable. Prior to leaving Antigua, Guatemala, my chosen headquarters while in the country, I was given some conflicting information about where to stay in Rio Dulce.
One friend mentioned Brunos’s and another said that, as Bruno’s was very close to the high and busy bridge that spans the river, the truck traffic made it quite noisy. He suggested looking around for different accommodations. I found that “looking around” in Rio Dulce after dark was not a good thing to do – at least for me. Not because of any fear of crime but because of being unfamiliar with the busy surroundings,. I could not make heads nor tails of directions.
In the end I chose to stay at Bruno’s. I was not disappointed. Yes, it could be noisy due to the truck traffic on the nearby bridge but I liked the laid-back atmosphere. Checking in was unique. The woman tending bar at the outdoor restaurant was also the desk clerk. I found the accommodations rustic but clean and functional. A shared outdoor veranda overlooks both the swimming pool and an area at which yachts are docked. I use “yachts” in the English or Australian manner here – anything one might cruise on. A nice touch is that veranda has hammocks for the use of guests. Tropical vegetation complete with chattering birds, made the view from the veranda quite relaxing.
Glimpses of nearby marinas found yachts that would be very comfortable on the French Riviera. A visit to the restaurant and bar summoned up thoughts of scenes in a Graham Greene or Somerset Maugham novel. It seems that ex-pats the world over share certain traits. Meeting and talking with them is always one of the interesting parts of my international trips. One phrase I often hear is, “I just came and never left!” Many are excited about their adopted home and get involved in local outreach and charities – for others outreach ends at the local bar. All of them have a story to tell and, if you have time, some are very interesting. Here at Brunos the crowd, in addition to declared international ex-pats, consisted of bearded “yachties”, in short-sleeves, shorts and flip-flops. They were having a beer or three and talking about boats and voyages taken. They also gossiped about fellow mariners who lived on their boats in one of the many marinas in the area. Parties of locals and boaters were seated at the wooden tables on the restaurant deck. The food was good. I had breakfast, lunch and dinner there.
All told it was a very nice sojourn.
There is far more to see around Rio Dulce than yachts and “yachties”. Here are some popular excursions to consider:
Castilo de San Felipe
At the entrance to Lago Izabal, 3 km west of the town of Rio Dulce, this castle is said to have been built by the Spanish in 1652 to block the entrance to the lake by British pirates. This small castle offers beautiful views of the lake along with the interior and armaments one expects of a medieval castle.
Located about 25 minutes by car or 20 minutes by boat from Rio Dulce is Finca el Paraiso (Paradise Farm), The farm has both rich tropical vegetation and a beautiful waterfall that spills into warm pools where the visitor can sink into the refreshing water and enjoy an hour or two of relaxation. There is a small admission charge and, if a snack is in order, a basic restaurant is located on the property.
This is a striking limestone canyon approximately seven kilometers from the waterfall at Finca de Paraiso. Boqueron Canyon is located on what once was a private ranch but which is now a natural reserve. Local boaters offer 15 to 20 minute wooden canoe trips up the canyon where the traveler can observe the sheer faces of the limestone cliffs. This geologic spectacle is surrounded by dense sub-tropical vegetation and visitors can continue to explore the canyon for five kilometers beyond the boat ride.
Launches leave the dock at Bruno’s at 9:30AM daily (as of this writing) for a trip to Livngston on the Caribbean coast. The traveler may also find for-hire launches at other marinas in the area. The two and a half hour trip takes the visitor through the dramatic Rio Dulce Gorge. The launch sails among the sheer 250 -foot high escarpments on the walls of which hang verdant tropical foliage. The trip also passes through an area where the endangered manatees live. Being very shy creatures it is unlikely that one will be seen. But you never know! Tropical birds are also in profusion along the river.
Most visitors spend at least one night in the Caribbean beach town of Livingston before returning to Rio Dulce or perhaps even going on to Belize. With a rich mixture of Guatemalan and Caribbean culture Livingston offers an intriguing menu of food and entertainment.
A charter sail on the river and lake is a wonderful way to enjoy the beauty of the Rio Dulce area. Charters for both sailing and diving in the Caribbean are also available. Check the links below for further information.
Due to my schedule I spent just two nights in Rio Dulce. I will plan for a longer visit on my next trip.
Rio Dulce links: