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Dulce River ('Sweet River') is one of the best known rivers in Guatemala, within the Izabal Department in the southern part of the country that is also home to Puerto Barrios, Santo Tomas de Castilla and Livingston. As a large lake and river system, it has become popular as a destination for the international boating community and as an economical retirement location for expatriates. Its proximity to Belize and on the way to the Mayan ruin at Tikal makes it a natural choice for exploring the southern interior of Guatemala.
Dulce River: The Most Famous River In Guatemala
Spanning a distance of 26-miles, the Dulce River begins at Lake Izabal, the largest body of fresh water in Guatemala. On the lakes north shore is El Finca, a working ranch. Strolling through the verdant pastures and meadows you come to a 12-meter high Agua Caliante (hot water) waterfall where you can bathe in the cool water of the river while the warm water of the springs pour down on you from above. To the east of the lake, the Rio Dulce is guarded by El Castillo de San Filipe, which was built in 1652 to protect against pirates entering this part of Central America, an important staging point for ships at that time. In 1686 the fortress was captured and burned, by the turn of the next century the fort was used as a prison. Later restored and protected, the fortress now forms part of a park. This is the best way to start your Dulce River tour.
As the river flows out of Lake Izabal it narrows and the sister towns of El Rellenos, to the south, and the slightly larger town of Fronteras, to the north, can be found on either side. Next thing to do at Dulce River is to visit Fronteras. Fronteras is a vibrantly shabby town where street vendors sell their wares on the dusty road. Colorful vegetable markets arouse your senses and a plethora of small tiendas (stores), selling an assortment of odd items, will cover most of your needs. The town also boasts a reasonable hardware store and good supermarket..
You can see traditionally dressed Mayan women going about their daily business adorn the streets on your Dulce River tour. The towns are linked by one of the largest bridges in Central America designed by the US Army Corps of Engineers. These towns have the only access roads, thus many waterfront properties along the river have a dock and a boat attached. The preferred mode of transport is boat rather than bus. Mayan women and children wash clothes at the river's edge and surly men fish with hand-lines under the bridge. Fast launches (pirogues) jet about carrying people across the river. Watching the locals is one of the best things to do at Dulce River.
From here, small hotels and some of the most reasonably priced marinas in Central America dot the shoreline as the river runs northeast. Eventually, the river opens into El Golfete (The Little Gulf), a ten-mile long stretch of bay, past the luxurious villas of Guatemala's oligarchy and home to a dwindling manatee population with less then 100 now thought to be inhabiting the waters. These great aquatic creatures are protected by Chocón Machacas Biotope (protected nature reserve) on the northeast corner of the bay where the 186-square-kilometer park, run by CECON, have waterways through several jungle lagoons as well as a nature trail running through the park and its protected forests.
The river then twists and turns past sulphur springs and through spectacular scenery, which over millennia has carved its way through the mountains leaving behind the deep gorges. These magnificent lime-scale cliffs are bordered by thick walls of dense tropical jungle. Mayans paddle about below in wooden Cayucos to a cacophony of tropical bird song and the screech of howler monkeys in the lofty vines above. Names carved into the lime-scale cliffs from centuries ago still leave their mark today. It could be a really interesting thing to see during your Dulce River tour.
he Rio Dulce now flows into the Bahia De Amatique (Honduras Bay) and into the Caribbean Sea where you come across the town of Livingstone and the only Garifuna settlement in Guatemala. Local cafes and restaurants give the place a laidback feel—where not much goes on. This colorful town is the gateway between the river and the Caribbean and can only be accessed by boat. The sandbar at the entrance to the Rio, with depths of 6-7ft at MHWS, limits the number of boats that enter, making it even more appealing to visit. It's the best way to end your Dulce River tour.
How to Get Tickets?
There is no admission fee to Dulce River. However, you need to pay for the transport to get around the river. You can also book a Dulce River tour onilne for all the transport during your stay here. Bring enough cash during your stay for transport and food.
How To Get Around?
Getting around Dulce River really depends upon your mood. You can walk, take a chicken bus, sail, hire a Lancha, take one of the many shuttles or minibuses or even a Tuk-Tuk. Almost all homes and businesses on the Dulce River have a boat dock. Cruisers usually have a dinghy with a small outboard so getting around is not a problem. Travelers arriving by land will have to hire a lancha (speedboat) or fishing dory to get around. Lanchas and dories work as fishing boats and water taxis and an economical mode of transport.
What Should I Wear?
Take a bathing suit with you and a warm layer for the crisp early morning sunrise and evenings under the stars. Summer dress is also recommended, a rayon maxi dress would be great as it is breathable and dries super quickly. Don't forget your sunscreen, insect repellent, a long sleeve top, and lightweight pants to avoid nasty insect bites.
Best Time to Visit
Dulce River tour can be done at any time of the year. The busiest month for tourism in Dulce River, Guatemala is February, followed by January and April. Prices for hotels and flights will be most expensive during these months, though you can save if you purchase well in advance. Tourists are unlikely to visit Rio Dulce in October. Those willing to visit at these times will likely find it the least expensive month.
Will I Need a Guide?
How To Get There?
It is best done with a very good tour company, so that they can make all of the arrangements. It is easier and safer for your Dulce River tour. There are also, buses which arrive in Rio Dulce from Flores, Antigua, and Guatemala City, on a daily basis. Shuttles from Coban are possible as well. In addition, boats come up the river from Livingston every couple of hours.
Travel insurance is highly recommended when you are visiting Guatemala. Be aware that Fronteras is very much a frontier town, with armed guards not only at the banks but at the supermarkets and on the delivery trucks.