We left rainy Honduras and continued north, crossing the border back into Guatemala. We wanted to see the Rio Dulce (Sweet River). This wide, winding, green river runs 26 miles from Lake Izabel to the port town of Livingston, where it empties into the Caribbean Sea. We heard about this river several years ago, when we traveled to Belize to sail with my Dad and his wife Kay. They sailed on the Rio Dulce, and I knew by their description that I wanted to see it.
We decided to find a place to stay once we got there, since I knew that many of the accommodations along the river were only accessible by boat. We wanted to stay on the water, but have access to our truck and motorcycle.
The town of Rio Dulce is situated on the banks of Lake Izabel, and serves as a busy thoroughfare. The narrow CA13 highway cuts straight through this gritty little town. Tightly packed markets, street vendors, restaurants and pharmacies line the edges of the road. Old, rusty semi trucks barrel through town, spitting out a thick exhaust that covers the buildings with a dark soot. It's best to assume the trucks have the right of way. Pedestrians and bicycles dart back and forth across the road, and motorcycles carrying a family of four weave and swerve through the chaos. It’s a place mostly visited by weathered sailors and curious backpackers. I loved it.
Photos of the town of Rio Dulce below.
We arrived in Rio Dulce right before nightfall, and drove around looking for a place to lay our heads for the night. We found a nice little hotel that didn't mind PJ being in the room.
I got online to look for places to stay that we could check out the following day. I found a place on www.airbnb.com that was described as a large “private room” with two queen beds and a bunk bed. The listing said the property was located on the river, and had a community kitchen, boat dock, pool, parking, and Rosita’s restaurant. I wasn’t sure what this place was (hotel?), as it had no name. It was also a little hard to find. If you can get a signal, you can follow your GPS to Rosita's restaurant, or you can ask anyone in town and they can tell you where it is.
We went to see the place the following day. It was a property built partially over a jungle swamp. There was a wooden plank pathway also built on stilts over the swamp that leads to the restaurant, lounge areas, pool and boat dock.
Photos of the property below, including our room.
The best thing about the place was that we could leave our kayak and paddleboard tied to the dock for 24 hour easy access!
The first thing I wanted to do was to take a boat ride up the length of the river to Livingston, to get an overview of it in it's entirerty. We caught a public lancha (small motor boat) from the public dock in Rio Dulce. There are two scheduled departures - 9:30 am, and one at 2:00 pm. We paid about $16 US dollars each, for a round trip ride.
They take you past Castillo de San Felipe, a Spanish castle/fort situated on the edge of the river (built to keep British pirates at bay), and a tiny island jam packed with a jillion squawking birds. We stopped at a beautiful lily pad lagoon, where a couple young girls in wooden canoes approached our boat to show us their handmade treasures for sale. Lastly we stopped and got off at a hot springs / restaurant. We had about fifteen minutes to put our feet in the hot water and get a quick drink.
The highlight of the ride was shortly before Livingston, where we suddenly found ourselves between steep canyon walls. I wanted the boat to slow down, so I could have a moment in this place that God created. I didn't take photos because I really wanted to see it. I would have loved to have jumped overboard and spent the entire day floating down the rest of the river to Livingston.
The boat pulled into Livingston and dropped the passengers off for a few hours to explore before heading back to Rio Dulce. You can only access Livingston by boat.
A few photos of Livingston below.
After seeing the river, we spent a lot of time paddling on it.
We also paddled to a few places to have lunch on the river. One of the coolest places was Hotel Kangaroo, which is only accessible by boat. We met the easygoing Australian owner who built the place over the jungle shallows about 10 years ago. He didn't have power, so he built the place almost exclusively with hand tools. Now he prefers to build that way.
He said seeing Guatemala change from a very dangerous place ten years ago, to the warm and inviting place it is today was one of the greatest joys of his life.
Below are photos at Hotel Kangaroo, including our night paddle there for dinner.
Between Rio Dulce and another town called El Estor, there is a place called Finca el Paraíso. It's a working ranch that includes a forty foot HOT waterfall with a deep pool underneath. You can sit in the pool and let the hot water pour on you for the best shower of your life. There is a cave at the base of the waterfall. To enter the cave you go underwater, pass through a curtain of water, and pop up inside a cave under the waterfall.
Photos of HOT WATERFALL and surrounding area at Finca el Paraíso below.
Caught in the middle....
One day we unknowingly drove into a highway protest between local land owners and the police. On a country highway between Rio Dulce and El Estor, we approached a line of cars, trucks and motorcycles at a stand still. We heard there was a protest up ahead, and they had blocked the road.
We sat in the truck and waited a couple hours. We considered turning around and taking a very long alternate route back to Rio Dulce. Then we heard gunshots. Immediately several cars turned around to go in the opposite direction. Shortly after that we heard that the road in the opposite direction was also blocked. Now we were held hostage on the highway with no way out. The sun went down and it became pitch black dark. We kept waiting. More gun shots rang out ahead of us. Jorge walked up the road and said men were cutting down trees and burning them on the road.
I wasn't scared. I was just worried about not getting back to PJ, who was left at the hotel. I knew there wasn't a reason to worry about him, but I just couldn't help myself.
Finally, after a few hours, we saw men jumping back in their trucks and we began to move forward! I was so curious to see what was up ahead. Finally we got to the front and I could see a crowd of men with scarves covering their faces, swinging their machetes. Trees and branches were pulled into the road, and were on fire. The light of the fire illuminated the scene. The men were letting one vehicle through at a time, stopping each one. Jorge told me he wasn't going to stop, so he slowly began to pass through without having eye contact with anyone. When he didn't stop, men began to yell and pound on the truck. I didn't say a word, but inside my mind I was telling Jorge to please stop. He did.
A man with small black eyes asked Jorge to donate to their cause. He said something like, "Give whatever God puts in your heart to give." Jorge handed over some coins equivalent to a couple of dollars. I thought the man was going to be really offended. Instead, he took the money and stepped to the side. Jorge reached for his hand and said, "Good luck, brother." We proceeded through the zigzag of burning trees and made it out of there, and back to PJ.
El Boquerón Canyon
At El Boquerón Canyon we paid a man a couple dollars to take us up river, drop us off, and then return to get us. Instead of taking the boat back, I decided that PJ and I would float back down river together. This turned out to be one of my favorite memories.
I thought it would be so much fun to take inner tubes down one of the many rivers. We heard through the grapevine that Canon Seacacar was the place to go.
At the sign shown above, you turn off of Highway 7e, and head into the mountains. Way in. The road was narrow and rough. We only passed two trucks on the entire road. To my surprise we arrived at a tiny Q'eqchi Mayan village which lies on the waters of Rio Sauce. This remote village was called Seacacar. I was surprised there was a lovely lodge there, that included a kitchen, simple rooms for rent, and even a tent set up with three beds that you could rent.
We asked the people at the lodge if we could inner tube down the river. They said yes, and a few minutes later two teenage boys arrived with inner tubes in hand to guide us. We began to hike up river, along a mountainside, over a mountain and through a valley. It seemed to go on and on. It was one of the most intense hikes of the trip.
As we are hiking I am seeing the rapids of the river. Finally we stop and get in. Off course there was no safety speech (kidding), let alone any communication. One kid stays close to Jorge, and the other with me. The next thing you know we are slamming into rocks, swiping through trees and trying to hang on. Thankfully there were a couple slow moving passages where we could catch our breath and regain our composure. It was fun, but had the potential to be extremely dangerous.
Jorge's tubing video...