A Sweet Spot along Rio Dulce

Rio Dulce Guatemala - Tortugal Marina Hotel on Rio Dulce
Pulling up to the Tortugal Marina Hotel in Rio Dulce Guatemala (photo via tortugal.com)

From Antigua, we snagged a shuttle into Guatemala City where we jumped on a bus heading for Rio Dulce.

Fortunately, we made the seven-hour trek up to the Caribbean Coast in a comfortable cross-country liner, rather than the typical chicken buses I’d been accustomed to while traveling within Guatemala.

As soon as we stepped off the bus in Fronteras/Rio Dulce, we could see and feel the regional difference. Traditional Mayan garb is substituted for t-shirts and jean shorts, as the weather is hot and humid all year round.

Although the climate is warm and people are tan, there was no sign of the tropical waterfront we were looking for by walking along Main Street.

It wasn’t until we made our way down to the public dock to catch a boat taxi when the sweetness of Rio Dulce exposed herself.

Rio Dulce begins at Lake Izabel and flows 43km (26.7 Miles) out into the Caribbean Sea at the village of Livingston. It is a popular docking station for those sailing around the Caribbean, as it provides protection against hurricanes.

As we loaded up into a small lancha (motorboat) and pushed off up the river, the first thing that hit me was that amazing breeze that comes off a body of water just before sunset. It gives me the chills and warms me at the same time – this is one of my favorite feelings in this world.

A fading sun provides the perfect lighting as we swerve around green islands and big sailboats to make our way to the Tortugal Marina Hotel.

Arriving anywhere by boat makes things sexier, but pulling up to the Tortugal, with it’s thatched roof and full marina took it to the next level. I even caught myself talking like James Bond Quotes as we unloaded our bags onto the dock.

The place is an incredible blend of waterfront marina and jungle lodge that the Swiss Family Robinson would be proud of. All the buildings, walkways and furniture are made of wood, bamboo and leaves, and the private bungalows are stocked with mosquito nets and hot showers. It’s awesome.

Despite the urge to stay on premises for three days, we pulled ourselves away just long enough to explore the beauty of Rio Dulce on a boat ride up to Livingston.

Lush green foliage and massive rock cliffs lined the wide-bodied river as we cruised upstream in another small lancha. We passed the Castillo de San Felipe (San Felipe Castle), a beautiful lily pad lagoon, and even stopped for a hot springs bath along the way.

Once we arrived in the Caribbean village of Livingston, we didn’t have the time to do an excursion to Playa Blanca or Siete Alteras, so we just enjoyed exploring downtown Livingston. We chatted up a local Garifuna man, ate some local cuisine and utilized some of my favorite tricks to sneak into a luxury hotel pool until our boat headed back to Rio Dulce.

All in all, the trip was as sweet as the river and here’s some more photos (and a brief video) to prove it…

Rio Dulce Guatemala - Tortugal Marina Hotel on Rio Dulce
Pulling up to the Tortugal Marina Hotel on Rio Dulce, Guatemala
Rio Dulce Guatemala - Tortugal Marina Hotel Bungalows
Rio Dulce Guatemala - Tortugal Marina Hotel Bungalows
The Private Bungalows at the Tortugal Marina Hotel in Rio Dulce, Guatemala
Inside the private bungalows at the Tortugal Marina Hotel in Rio Dulce, Guatemala
Boarding a Lancha (motorboat) to cruise up Rio Dulce to Livingston
Boarding a Lancha (motorboat) to cruise up Rio Dulce to Livingston
Rio Dulce Boat Tour - Rio Dulce Livingston Guatemala
Our smooth boat captain navigating us through Rio Dulce to Livingston
Cruising down Rio Dulce Guatemala
Cruising down Rio Dulce Guatemala
El Castilo de San Felipe en Rio Dulce - San Felipe Castle in Rio Dulce Guatemala
El Castilo de San Felipe en Rio Dulce (San Felipe Castle) in Rio Dulce Guatemala
Rio Dulce Boat Tour - Rio Dulce Livingston Guatemala
A lone fisherman working along Rio Dulce
Lily pad lagoon on Rio Dulce Guatemala
A beautiful lily pad lagoon in Rio Dulce
Enjoying the Thermal Bathes along Rio Dulce
Enjoying the hot springs along Rio Dulce
A typical home along Rio Dulce, Guatemala
A typical home along Rio Dulce, Guatemala
A boat house and palm trees coming into Livingston, Guatemala
A boat house and palm trees coming into Livingston, Guatemala
The best way to enjoy Rio Dulce -  Floating dock outside the Tortugal Marina Hotel
The best way to enjoy Rio Dulce - Floating dock outside the Tortugal Marina Hotel
Rio Dulce Guatemala - Tortugal Marina Hotel
Jumping off the dock at the Tortugal Marina Hotel in Rio Dulce

Here’s a quick video tour of our hotel in Rio Dulce…

My name is Gareth Leonard, a Marketing Director turned World Traveler with a passion for slow, meaningful travel. I have been traveling the world full-time for the past 9+ years and document it all on Instagram and YouTube. Come join me!

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