Jungle Tree Houses and Hot Waterfalls in Rio Dulce, Guatemala

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Rio Dulce Town was my final destination on my visit to the east coast of Guatemala. After spending a night in colorful Livingston, I took a bumpy speedboat ride up the Rio Dulce River to the town with the same name. At first glance, the town of Rio Dulce is nothing special. There are two sides connected by a long bridge over the river. One side contains the town’s main hostel and not much else. The other is basically one long stretch of shops and restaurants. However, adventure and beauty are just around the corner in this underrated little town on Guatemala’s east coast!

The boat drops you off directly Rio Dulce’s biggest hostel. I paid about $3.50 for a dorm bed in Hotel Backpackers. Proceeds apparently go toward a local orphanage which was pretty cool. However, the noisy bars nearby ended up being too much for me. I had come to Rio Dulce for some nature and relaxation. With the next night being New Years Eve I quickly began looking for a new place to lay my head.

 
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I read in my guidebook about Hotel Kangaroo, which was only accessible by boat. It sounded like a perfect escape from the noise and excitement. I joined forces with an American couple in the hostel who were also looking for a quiet holiday. We called the owner to arrange a boat to the hostel and within an hour or so we found ourselves in a completely different setting.

The owner Gary and his dog met us at the dock in his little speedboat. On the way to his property he gave us a mini tour of the area, explaining all the activities we could do during our stay. We paid about $6 for a night in a thatched-roof treehouse. Our stay included a rope swing into the river, kayaks to rent, and delicious Mexican food. Best of all, the hostel is far enough from the town that the nights are perfectly silent.

Hotel Kangaroo was exactly what we were looking for.

 

On the first day, I rented a kayak and made my way to Castillo San Felipe, a Spanish Colonial Fort nearby. Gary had told me about a shortcut but I must have been distracted by the beautiful view because I paddled right by it both on the way there and back. I didn’t mind too much though — the peaceful ride through the mangroves made made up for the extra exercise.

When I got to the Castillo, I paid a couple quetzales for a map, which serves as a ticket, and then entered. I opted to wander on my own rather than pay for a guide.

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The architecture was impressive and it was a gorgeous day so it was well worth the couple dollars spent. One of the guides stopped me on my way out and warned me about crossing back over the river. It was New Years Eve and locals were partying on their boats. He told me that several people died recently from drunk boaters over the holiday weekend. I definitely appreciated the heads up and stuck to the side of the river on my way back.

Back at Hotel Kangaroo, everyone was getting ready for New Years dinner. Several groups had arrived while I was gone and everyone was drinking and mingling. I ended up spending the night playing cards with the American couple I rode over with and a sailor from Australia.

At midnight we all went outside and watched the fireworks in the distance. Some people stripped down and jumped in the river but I was perfectly watching from afar.

The next morning I made my way to one of Rio Dulce’s coolest attractions — Finca Paraiso. According to Gary, this is the waterfall of its kind in the world. Water from a nearby hot spring flows down into the cool river below it, creating a warm pool to swim in.

 
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I took a minibus from the center of town to the waterfall. The ride was shared with plenty of locals in traditional dress and even a couple chickens. I was excited to find out that this little gem remains pretty much a secret. A few locals were splashing around but there were very few foreign tourists in sight.

I spent my time standing next to the cascade and letting the hot water flow over my shoulders. It was exactly what the doctor ordered before the long bus ride back to Guatemala City.

I was sad to leave this beautiful part of the country but excited to start my next adventure — taking Spanish classes in Antigua!

More From Guatemala:

Living Like a Local in Livingston

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Exploring East Guatemala -- Living Like a Local in Livingston

 
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This January I spent a few weeks in Guatemala to brush up on my Español. I knew I would be spending the majority of my trip in the quaint city of Antigua so I really wanted to get some nature in before my program started. I managed to narrow down my options to two destinations — Semuc Champey and the coastline of Eastern Guatemala. The entire day prior had been spent in transit and so I opted for the coast which was the closer of the two.

I had read great things about the boat ride up the Rio Dulce river and so I decided to start my weekend in Livingston and take the cruise to Rio Dulce town the next day. Livingston is a little fishing village on Guatemala’s Caribbean coastline that is only accessible by boat.

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The ride to Puerto Barrios was long and winding but offered some great views of Eastern Guatemala’s countryside. The dusty little port town doesn’t offer much in terms of views but the people were extremely helpful.

I didn’t want to shell out the quetzales for a cab ride so I took off wandering in search of the dock. The sun was hot and I was exhausted so I stopped in a little tienda to ask for directions. After I muttered a couple sentences of seriously broken Spanish the young man at the counter directed me in perfect English. I walked out of the store and he actually began walking with me, offering to help carry my bags. We got to the dock and he helped me buy my ticket and then we parted ways.

A quick 40 minute boat ride later and I was in Livingston — Guatemala’s main tourist hub on its Caribbean coast. A short walk up the hill from the boat dock and you’ll find several cheap hotels and inns. I stayed at the first one I could find — a tiny inn right at the top of the hill. I paid about $4 for a night in a private room with a fan. The room was dirty and the music from the bar next door was blaring through my window all night. Luckily I was exhausted from two days full of travel and so I managed to get some shut-eye.

Livingston doesn’t have many tourist attractions. I was told there is a waterfall right outside of town but I was catching the afternoon cruise to Rio Dulce town so I opted out. I spent my short time wandering around snapping pictures of the lush coastline and unique Garífuna culture. The town was just waking up and the locals were starting to set up their shops on the main road.

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In the afternoon I grabbed lunch at Casa Nostra and sat by the water catching up on some work. I ordered the best pizza I’ve had in Central America and watched a group of birds take over a nearby fishing boat.

If I could do it over I definitely would have stayed at Casa Nostra. The property was beautiful and the owner, an American expat named Stuart, made me feel like a welcome guest. We chatted about our hometowns and he even gave me some tips on traveling around the Rio Dulce area.

In the afternoon I took the cruise up the Rio Dulce River for 125Q ($17).There is also a slower boat ride available that makes a few stops along the way but that one leaves early in the morning. As charming as it was, I wasn’t too eager to spend another night in Livingston so I settled for the fast boat. The scenery was lush and green but the boat ride was very choppy. I thought it was a lot of fun and sat there with a grin while we bounced around in the little speedboat.

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Livingston was a unique stop on my Eastern Guatemala adventure. Despite being the main tourist hub on the Caribbean coast of Guatemala, it doesn’t make it on too many traveler’s itineraries. But the unique culture and easy access to Rio Dulce make it a worthwhile destination.

Next up: Jungle Treehouses and Hot Waterfalls in Rio Dulce

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