Updated September 2017
Everything from things to do in Rio Dulce, where to stay and how to get there - here's our guide to Guatemala's 'Sweet River'.
A strangely constructed town, nestled under a towering bridge and with a highway running through it like an artery. The contrast between the most common method of entry into Rio Dulce – an idyllic boat ride from Livingston – and the constant bellow of trucks passing at speed through the main streets, belching out bilious clouds of diesel fumes is marked.
Yet, step across the bridge and into the wilderness and you will discover something quite different - a canyon of towering cliffs, wild birds and narrow waterways and the sense that you are experiencing small village life, deep in the heart of the Guatemalan jungle.
Things to do in Rio Dulce
Castillo De San Felipe
Way back when, this area was a strategic spot for trade and so, to keep an eye out for Caribbean pirates keen to loot their wares, the Spanish built a fort. Unfortunately it only deterred them for awhile, and towards the end of the 17th century, the fort was destroyed by fire. What remains are some not unimpressive ruins restored in 1956. Located within the beautiful Rio Dulce National Park, this is by far the biggest tourist attraction in the region.
How to get there: You have the choice to hop on a bus (leave from market area on Fronteras side of the bridge every 30 minutes) or walk. It's around 3km from town, and so if you start of nice and early it's a pleasant enough stroll!
Opening hours: 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Entry fee: 20Q
Top tip: Some guidebooks recommend a weim in the river surrounding the fort, but given the high levels of bacteria, we'd advise against taking the plunge - no matter how sweaty you get during the hike!
Visit the Quiriguá Ruins
Although not the most impressive Mayan ruins in all of Central America, what does remain (mostly the ceremonial centre) is in relatively good condition and would certainly entertain someone with more than a passing interest in archaeology. It's also built in a very similar style to Copan, so if you're not planning a trip to Honduras then Quiriguá may well be worth stopping by.
How to get there: Any bus heading along the CA-9 will pass the entrance to the ruins - just asked to be dropped off at Las Ruinas de Quirigua. The bus should take around 45 minutes.
Opening hours: 7.30 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Entry fee: 80Q (tourists pay more than locals)
Take a hike to Finca Paraiso
For those that enjoy a good hot spring, Finca Paraiso is a must-do, especially as this one has got a twist. You see, the hot springs are located at the top of a waterfall, and you can either choose to bathe in that or stand beneath the 12m drop and feel the hot water hit you before quickly mix with the cold water below - quite the experience!
How to get there: Take a collectivo from the market on the Fronteras side of the bridge towards El Estor (costs Q15 and takes 45minutes) - ask to be dropped at Finca Paraiso “La cascada con agua caliente”.
Entry fee: 10Q
Take a Boat tour of Rio Dulce National Park
AKA, take the boat to Livingston. Feted as one of the best things to do in Guatemala, we must admit that although quite stunning, it fell a little short of the hype.
Our suggestion to avoid being too underwhelmed is to make sure this trip doubles up as a transit option from city to city, rather than a stand-alone day trip.
Cost per person: $125 GTQ.
Volunteer at Casa Guatemala
Whether you're looking for a long-term volunteer placement, or can only commit a couple of weeks, Casa Guatemala, an orphanage catering to 300 of the most impoverished children in the area is always looking for volunteers.
See their website for more information: www.casa-guatemala.org
where to sty on the rio dulce
Best budget option: Round House Hostal
At only £4 a night, you really wouldn't expect the most amazing facilities, but Round House certainly delivers: beautiful location on the river, with hammock platform (perfect for relaxing with a book), large dorm with mosquito nets and comfortable beds, really helpful staff that can arrange activities and transport to/from Livingston.
To check availability and make a reservation, check here.
Best mid-range: El Hotelito Perdido
Another wonderful location with fantastic facilities (including wifi - unusual in these parts), communal vegetarian dinners, large well-designed rooms and a great eco-vibe. They even put on yoga in the yoga hut!
Doubles from £20 a night, click here for further information.
We should not however, that the two accommodations mentioned above are actually on the way to Rio Dulce rather than in the city itself.
If you want to splurge: Tortugal
They say that you get what you pay for, and with Tortugal, thats certainly true! Much more of a hotel-vibe, this is the place to go when you want to splurge. Excellent riverside location, free kayaks, great food and wonderful rooms.
Doubles from £35 a night, click here for further information.
how to get to and from rio dulce
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.
Buses to Flores leave regularly, however those wanting a more luxury bus have limited daily options. Cost is $65 GTQ per person (4 hours).