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Travel Guide to Rio Dulce & Caribbean Coast, Guatemala

Map of the Area

  • 43 km long, 30-50 m deep and 200 m wide
  • average of 26.3 °C (79.34°F)
  • UTC (GMT) -6 hrs
  • Guatemalan Quetzal at Q7.16 Quetzal = $1 USD.
  • Spanish
  • Izabal Department (2002) 314,306
  • 15°44′51″N 88°52′20″O

Rainforests, rivers canyons, waterfalls, Caribbean rhythm

The Department of Izabal is home to the beautiful Lake Izabal, the famous Rio Dulce river and the Caribbean coast of Guatemala, where pirates and Galleons fought for the supremacy in colonial times. Today the region is home to over 350 bird species and countless other species of flora and fauna such as Howler monkeys, Dolphins and Manatee, and to the Garifuna people of West African descent that inhabited the region 200 years ago.

Rio Dulce & Caribbean Coast - Travel Guide - Tropical Discovery

Main attractions in Rio Dulce, Lake Izabal and Caribbean Coast of Guatemala

Magnificent among the Caribbean nations, the department of Izabal is bathed in sun, color, the exotic magic of the Caribbean Sea and the sensual rhythm of Afro Caribbean music. In this tropical paradise, reggae music calls to frantic dancing, the sea breeze gently rocks the palm trees and rain forests, the smell of salt and beach kiss the sun-tanned skin, and the combination of rivers, waterfalls, lakes, caves, canyons, lagoons and the Caribbean Sea, simply make for a experience unlike any other. For more on Rio Dulce and it's main attractions, please click below.

Rio Dulce & Caribbean Coast - Travel Guide - Tropical Discovery

Natural History

Submerged in an ecosystem which recalls the richness of the Amazon forests, from which it proceeds, the Izabal rain forest is uniquely imposing. Possessing the highest biological diversity in the country, with an exuberance of vegetation on the river banks, it rightfully became known as the “Jade Coast.”

There is an extraordinary abundance of fresh water and salt water fish in the area. Some like the jack mackerel, are the delight of fishermen and locals’ dinner table. But many other game fish such as the shad and bass, make these rivers and lakes a growing paradise for sports fishermen.

The Birds are a wonderful part of the Caribbean coast. Noisy or shy, snow white or colorful to the extreme, large and small, they are abundant, varied, and give an aristocratic touch to the area. This peculiar diversity enhances its imposing beauty, and has attached the best known ornithologists to this world of Eden for bird watchers.

There is also a great quantity of hidden species, part of a group of endangered animals which have found safe habitats here: otters and manatees swimming with silent grace, jaguars, moving on padded feet through the jungles or swamps, tapirs opening formidable pathways through the underbrush.

The famous Rio Dulce River

Such splendid nature is organized in ecosystems: savannahs under palm trees, floodable jungles, grasslands, swamps, lakes, rivers, mangrove swamps, reefs and marine coastlines. There is no other place in Guatemala where such an ecological variety is so easily at hand for those who enjoy boating, trekking and exploring.

In quantifiable terms, it is estimated that in the Izabal region there are some 400 species of birds, nearly 200 species of fish and at least 150 different land mammals. But figures express very little… The biological richness must be lived and discovered.

Playa Blanca in the Caribbean Coast of Guatemala

Unique Geography

This area on the Caribbean coast appears to be untouched. In keeping with its peculiar geologic history, dating back at least 400 million years, Izabal is a complex mixture of karstic caverns and hills, colossal depressions, rivers, lakes and swamps covered in somber seas and large plains. It is geographically a mosaic of contrasts, where almost at the water’s edge, accessible mountain summits & lands can be explored.

There is so much water in Izabal that it could well be called the aquatic territory. Here we find the country's largest lake, the fastest flowing current, the longest river, the most varied swamps, the most copious rains, and the eternal waters of the Caribbean sea lapping at the white sand of its beaches.

Such is the abundance of water that it creates a formidable communication system. Whether in a luxury yacht or a plain dugout canoe, the most remote corners become accessible destinations. Even widely separated mountains come together in brotherhood, joined together by navigable white water from Alta Verapaz to Izabal over the untamable Cahabon river.

Main Attractions in Rio Dulce Caribbean Coast - Tropical Discovery

Day Tours in the Rio Dulce Region, Guatemala

Rainforest, Caribbean Villages, Archaeology & Watersports

With magical rivers, lakes, canyons, mountains and the turquoise Caribbean sea and its desolate islands, all in the same area, it is no surprise that from Rio Dulce there are unforgettable adventure, sporting, nature and cultural oriented activities to be had. Snorkel or dive the pristine waters of the second largest barrier reef in the word, visit Guatemala’s densest rainforest, explore mesmerizing caves, enjoy hundreds of types of birds and vegetation, partake in every imaginable water sports, etc….

This area on the Caribbean coast appears to be untouched. In keeping with its peculiar geologic history, dating back at least 400 million years, Izabal is a complex mixture of karstic caverns and hills, colossal depressions, rivers, lakes and swamps covered in somber seas and large plains. It is geographically a mosaic of contrasts, where almost at the water’s edge, accessible mountain summits & lands can be explored. Hidden in the rainforest you can find Mayan pyramids and with so much vegetation and water, the area is a paradise for nature lovers and water sport fans alike. Tropical Discovery is offering you a variety of tours for all interests (leaving from Rio Dulce) to discover the entire splendor of the Rio Dulce region.

Nature and Archeology

  • Your private "lanchero" (boat driver) will take you to visit incredible Lake Izabal (largest lake in Guatemala), the famous Castillo de San Felipe (built by the Spanish in 1652 to ward off the mainly British pirates) and the magical volcanic hot springs, caves & waterfall at Finca Paraiso. A tractor will take you through a private farm for about 15 minutes, till you arrive at a river crossing. There you will walk about 5 minutes through tropical flora until you arrive at a natural volcanic waterfall that falls onto a beautiful river causing a steam bath effect.
  • After a hearty breakfast, your private "lanchero" (boat driver) will pick you up at 9h00 (TBC) to take you on a cruise through the Rio Dulce canals and lagoons for a closer view or this region's amazing water flora and fauna. Closer to the Caribbean coast, you will go through the amazing Rio Dulce canyons, a truly awe inspiring experience. Later arrive at the Caribbean coast of Guatemala and its celebrated town of Livingston, a lively Afro-Caribbean town populated by mostly Garifuna blacks whose origin and culture stems from escaped West African slaves. This town feels more like Jamaica than any town in Guatemala, where brightly colored houses are common and reggae melodies mixed with Latin sounds are heard throughout. Tour this charming town, have lunch at the one of the many side walk cafes & restaurants. Weather permitting, for an extra $100 to cover added fuel expenses (approx. 1 hr boat ride each way) ask our boat driver to take you to Playa Blanca for some white sand Caribbean styled beaches and a lovely beach front bar and restaurant called Salvador Gaviota; a truly unique Caribbean experience! And should you have the energy on the way back, stop for a swim at the hot springs. Return in the late afternoon.
  • Cerros San Gil is a large tropical rainforest reserve that starts at the river and meets with the Caribbean Sea, ideal for hiking and bird watching. Over 300 species of birds exist in this region, making it one of the richest in terms of biodiversity on the continent. Its abundant natural ecology will dazzle you. Mountain biking trips may also be organized upon request.
  • Be picked up at your hotel at your hotel in the morning (TBC) in private air conditioned mini van for transportation to the awesome Peten Region (3 hr drive). Arrive in Flores around 10 am and be transported to Tikal where you can hire a private guide to tour the mystical ruins of Tikal, one of the largest and most magnificent Mayan cities in existence. Your expert guide will share many insights on this Mayan city and provide a feel for the mysteries of this ancient culture. Return to Rio Dulce in the late afternoon.
  • Just a short distance from Rio Dulce, the Quirigua Ruins are located in the lower valley of the Río Motagua. Founded around 250-550 AD by people who came from the Tikal area, it is today the most impressive archaeological reminder of the Maya Early Classic Period. UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site in 1979. It possesses the highest stele in the Maya World and has a central plaza, a ball court, an acropolis, and many zoomorphic figures. A true marvel and definitely worth a visit.

*Please inquire for details and pricing

* Information on this page is believed to be correct but not guaranteed

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Hacienda Tijax

Hacienda Tijax Rio Dulce, Lake Izabal & Caribbean Coast Guatemala

A place where you can get in touch with nature and enjoy the peacefulness of the Rio Dulce and the tropical jungle while staying at our cozy and environment responsible ecolodge.

avg/night$73.00 SELECT
Hotel Villa Caribe

Hotel Villa Caribe Rio Dulce, Lake Izabal & Caribbean Coast Guatemala

Hotel Villa Caribe is located in Livingston, a colorful and relaxed fishermen village, where Rio Dulce and the Caribbean Sea merge.

avg/night$90.00 SELECT
Nana Juana Hotel

Hotel & Marina Nana Juana Rio Dulce, Lake Izabal & Caribbean Coast Guatemala

The hotel is surrounded by tropical forests, the emerald green waters of the Rio Dulce river and the exotic sound of the local fauna.

avg/night$110.00 SELECT
g boutique hotel

G. Boutique Hotel Rio Dulce, Lake Izabal & Caribbean Coast Guatemala

A new and exquisite hotel concept in which highlights the elegance, luxury and distinction.

avg/night$149.00 SELECT

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