Guatemala’s Caribbean coast has more than enough to keep visitors occupied for a couple weeks. It is a region filled with beautiful wildlife, plenty of outdoors activities, and an interesting mixture of histories and heritages.
Lívingston is a small town oriented around the mouth of the Río Dulce. The local population is proud of their slave lineage, and they pay homage to their ancestors through traditional dances, attire, and masks that mock slave owners. If you are hoping for a lively visit, consider planning your trip around one of the town’s dynamic festivals.
The grandest of these is the Wanaragua Festival, which starts around Christmas time and lasts all the way into January! Shoppers, diners, and recent arrivals should head to Calle Principal, Lívingston’s main drag. From here it is easy to navigate the entire town on foot. Nature lovers, do not miss the main natural attraction, Las Siete Altares, or “the seven altars” – a succession of waterfalls that line the river as it runs through the forest.
Nightlife is minimalistic, but it has some potential and can be fun. However, tourists should avoid wandering the streets at night alone. This is particularly true for women.
Quiriguá is the name of both a town and a nearby Mayan archeological site. Situated along the main highway from Guatemala City to Río Dulce, archeological evidence indicates a human presence in Quiriguá as early as 200 A.D.! Like many ancient Mayan cities, the ruins revolve around three main plazas: the ceremonial plaza, the central plaza and the plaza of the temple.
The monolithic stone monuments and the hand-carved calendar are amongst the most impressive of the remains. However, Stele E doubtlessly out shines the rest. It dates back to 771 A.D. and is the largest known quarried stone of the entire Mayan Empire. (8 a.m. to 6 p.m. / $10)
Do not skip out on the Río Dulce tour. Easy to book and a lot of fun, you can catch the boat at the dock and then wind down the jungle-lined river. Passengers will have the opportunity to take a dip in thermal pools, visit the indigenous art museum in the town of Ak-Tenamit, and watch out for native species of wildlife between stops. Manatees, tapir, heron, and turtles are commonly seen.
There is even the occasional freshwater dolphin! Not all tours were created equally, so be sure to ask how many stops they make and if lunch is included before purchasing your ticket.
Lake Izabal is Guatemala’s largest lake. There are a number of small towns on its shores that offer economical accommodations or safe, supervised camping opportunities. The highlight for many is the area’s wildlife. Get an early start and head into Parque Natural Bocas del Polochic to spot manatees, exotic birds, spider monkeys, howler monkeys, and maybe even a jaguar if you are really lucky.
Before heading out, be sure to visit the most significant archeological site, the 1500s Castle of San Felipe. It was constructed to defend the area against pirate attacks. It has been restored and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Have you ever visited the Caribbean coast of Guatemala? Leave us a question or comment below!