Updated June 2018
One needs only spend a short while wandering through the streets of Livingston to appreciate the myriad of cultures that exist in this relatively small town - the melting-pot of Latinos, Mayas, Garifuna and gringos a reflection of Guatemala's colourful history.
Livingston is home to the majority of Guatemala's Garifuna population and those interested in learning more about their cuisine and music will be able to afford it here, rather than in pricier neighbouring Belize. Additionally, anyone travelling exclusively in Guatemala will likely appreciate experiencing a different aspect of this country's population, not seen elsewhere.
Despite not actually being an island, Livingston remains completely cut off from the rest of Guatemala - the only way in and out being by boat. Indeed, the Livingston – Rio Dulce boat ride is often feted as a big highlight, but we would not recommend travelling to the area if that's your only aim; although pleasant it's over-hyped. Instead enjoy your time on the river, not only as an excursion, but also as a means of transport to or from Rio Dulce town.
Things to do in Livingston guatemala
Unsurprisingly, for a city with a relatively small population, there isn't a whole lot of must-dos in Livingston and even the most dedicated traveller probably isn't going to need more than a couple of days to garner a good sense of it.
Take a Garifuna Cooking Class
As we've mentioned above, one thing that really separates Livingston from the rest of Guatemala is the Garifuna culture, and in particular the food. Whilst much of the meals in offer throughout the country are a little bland, Livingston is a coconut infused wonderland!
We strongly recommend taking a cooking class at Rasta Mesa while in town - it'll sate your appetite for knowledge, culture as well as local cuisine.
Find out more in this article.
Or sample topado in a local restaurant...
If you're low on time, but still crave local flavours, you'll be pleased to know that topado (the traditional coconut fish dish) is available in many local restaurants around town.
Most guide books will recommend that Rolls Royce of topados served at Casa Nostra - and after trying it, we can completely agree!
Hike to Siete Altares
A few hours spent at Playa Blanca is often included in day tours to Siete Altares, but we recommend skipping this entirely and making your own way to the waterfalls.
These are best reached by a 2 hour walk along the coast where you'll chance upon local fishing families and hidden away villages. Walk down the hill to the beach-side of town where you'll see it signposted. Keep along this route and when your reach a rope bridge, you're around 45 minutes away. (If you'd rather avoid the walk, taxis will transport you there for approximately 25 GTQ for two people)
Be sure to take your swimming costume and be warned that the incoming afternoon tide may make your walk back to Livingston a little more challenging.
Entrance is 20 GTQ per person (correct as of April 2018) and the rocks can be slippery, so watch your step. A pair of shoes like this wouldn't go a miss!
But give the local beaches a miss
Although there are a number of beaches mentioned in the guidebooks, they are a far-cry from the perfect white sand found elsewhere in Central America, with the majority of the coastline here being littered with plastic trash washed up from the ocean. As many of you will be coming from Belize, well, you'll definitely be disappointed. Throw in the fact that whether you can actually swim in the water due to local contamination, and a day at the beach in Livingston is definitely something you want to avoid.
Get your drumming on
A large part of Garifuna culture is drumming, so what better place to give it a go yourself (or watch others do a much better job) than here. The small bars and restaurants along the main street will often have evening drumming events, but be sure to hang around til late when the party really kicks off!
Try Pan de Coco
Wander the streets of Livingston and you will discover stall after stall of local Garifuna women selling delicious coco bread - a local speciality. For just a few quetzales, we recommend indulging in it at least a few times during your stay.
Where to Stay in Livingston
Tourism to Livingston is picking up, and it is becoming more popular on the backpacker trail, as such there's a number of great options for accommodation.
Dos Arboles | Newly opened, this is one of the fanciest hostels in town: comfortable rooms, lovely gardens and, wait for it, a pool! At £30 a night, doubles are a bit pricey but dorms can be had for £10. To find out more or check availability click here.
Casa Nostra | Recently refurbished waterfront accommodation with great views (all rooms are river facing with a balcony) a wonderful deck and access to things like kayaks for free. A great option for couples. To find out more or check availability click here.
Casa de la Iguana | This is actually where we stayed, and despite some misgivings we had, it seems to have pulled its socks up and remains the number one party hostel in town. Set in the jungle with a treehouse vibe, it's family dinners really are great. To find out more or check availability click here
How to Get to/from Livingston
Located at the mouth of the Rio Dulce (Sweet River), once entirely cut off from the rest of the country, it is still only accessible by boat, either from Belize or down-river Rio Dulce town.
Boats depart to Livingstone from Punta Gorda, Belize at 1 p.m. daily and additionally at 10.30 a.m Tuesdays and Fridays. They head the other way (Livingston to PG) at 3 p.m daily and 7 a.m. Tuesdays and Fridays. Boats cost $30 USD per person.
If travelling to Rio Dulce from Livingston, turn up at the main pier before 9 a.m or 2 p.m. to book your spot on the boat. This passes quite quickly through the Sweet River with some scenic views of imposing jungle-covered hills on either side before entering Lake Izabal. Cost is around $125 GTQ per person and takes 1-2.5 hours.
Note about immigration: When arriving from Belize from Livingstone, make sure to check in with immigration (500 feet uphill from the dock) to get your entry stamp. You will be allowed to enter the town without a stamp but make sure you get it before moving on.
Budget-breaker or maker?
Maker. Those entering from Belize will instantly notice their purse strings loosen as they can enjoy plentiful amounts of breakfast, brunch, booze, burgers and a bed and still comfortably make budget.