Rio Dulce Guatemala: Is The ‘Sweet River’ Worth It?

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Rio Dulce is a beautiful area in Guatemala that not many tourists visit
Rio Dulce is a beautiful area in Guatemala that not many tourists visit

As you plan your travels round Guatemala, you’ll come across references to the ‘Rio Dulce’. Some websites and blogs make it sound idyllic: a tranquil and scenic waterway, fringed with lush jungle and teeming with flora and fauna, where you can get off the beaten track and experience a very different side to Guatemala.

Sounds awesome, right? But is Rio Dulce Guatemala as gorgeous as the reports make it sound? Is the ‘Sweet River’ overhyped, or is it worth it?

Calm backwaters in Rio Dulce
Rio Dulce also has mysterious backwaters that are great for exploring in a kayak

I asked myself this exact question as I began my Guatemala adventure. I hadn’t planned on visiting the Dulce River, but then I met a few people who were either planning on going there, or had just been, and they made it sound calm and beautiful. So since I had a few spare days and suffer very badly from FOMO, I rerouted my Guatemala itinerary and made the somewhat arduous journey there, just to see what all the fuss was about.

Did I enjoy it? Are there many cool things to do in Rio Dulce? Did I think it was worth the effort? Read on to find out!

Save this Rio Dulce pin for later
Save this Rio Dulce pin for later

Where is Rio Dulce?

Rio Dulce (which means ‘Sweet River’ in Spanish’) lies in the east of Guatemala, some way off the main tourist triangle that takes in Antigua, Lake Atitlán, and Flores. The name ‘Rio Dulce’ is given to both the area’s main town, and the river itself, which begins its journey at Lake Izabal (Lago Izabal) and flows eastwards for 27 miles (43 km) all the way to Livingston on Guatemala’s Caribbean Coast.

Along the way, it meanders past some interesting sights: a Spanish colonial fort, one of Central America’s longest bridges, marinas full of gleaming white yachts that would look at home in the French Riviera, a couple of swanky resorts and swathes of dense jungle.

Fancy yachts reveal that Rio Dulce is also a playground for Guatemala's rich
Fancy yachts reveal that Rio Dulce is also a playground for Guatemala’s rich

Finally, for the last six or so miles, the river enters an impressive gorge, with vertical limestone cliffs rising up to 91 metres (300 ft) high, covered with tangled vegetation and guarded by great white egrets that pose like sentinels on branches every few hundred metres.

It’s certainly a very different part of Guatemala, a steamy and sleepy jungle retreat, far away from the vibrant coloured streets of Antigua, the craggy volcanic landscapes around Xela, or the enigmatic Maya temples around Flores.

Rio Dulce gorge is noted for its dramatic limestone cliffs
Rio Dulce gorge is noted for its dramatic limestone cliffs

What I did during my visit to Rio Dulce

If you make the effort, you can find plenty of things to do in Rio Dulce (about which, more below), but many people find that the tranquility, heat and humidity of the area soon drains you of any desire to do anything more than simply chill out. Which is fine, because Rio Dulce is home to several quiet, off-grid eco lodges which are only accessible by boat, and where the toughest decision you have to make each day is what to have for breakfast.

This was certainly the effect it had on me: when I was there Guatemala was in a mini heatwave and temperatures were in the mid-30s; add the intense humidity to that and all I really wanted to do was read my book in a hammock and take the occasional cooling dip in the river.

So that’s pretty much what I did, apart from one day when I took a boat downriver to visit the port town of Livingston, and another afternoon when I rented a kayak and went off by myself to explore some of the peaceful waterways.

You can easily while away several days like this, but if you want to do more, here are a few other things you can do during your stay in Rio Dulce.

Relaxing in my hammock at Hotelito Perdido Guatemala
Relaxing in my hammock at Hotelito Perdido Guatemala

11 Great Things to do in Rio Dulce Guatemala

1/ Stay in an Eco Lodge

As I’ve already mentioned, one of the main reasons many people come to Rio Dulce is to relax. As you travel down the river by boat from Rio Dulce Town to Livingston, there are several retreats and eco-lodges to choose from. Mostly they offer a similar format: jungle cabins with thatched roofs and mosquito nets accessed by paths through the lush forest, and a central communal living and dining area.

Most can also arrange tours and excursions and offer activities like kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding and yoga. Some are more luxurious than others, but in the main they are pretty remote and off-grid, with limited wifi and electricity. The one I stayed in was Hotelito Perdido, about which more below.

The arrival dock at Hotelito Perdido eco lodge in Rio Dulce Guatemala
The arrival dock at Hotelito Perdido eco lodge in Rio Dulce Guatemala

2/ Go kayaking on the river

One of my favourite things that I did during my stay in Rio Dulce was take a kayak out on the river. It is indeed a relaxed and tranquil place where you can explore by yourself, disturbed only by the chugging of the occasional passing motorboat.

But you’ll also see masses of birdlife including great white egrets, kingfishers, toucans and orioles. From Hotelito Perdido it was also possible to kayak down the Rio Lampara, a tributary of the Rio Dulce, to visit the Lampara Waterfall.

Read more: 30 Beautiful Pictures Of Guatemala And The Stories Behind Them

Kayaking in Rio Dulce
Kayaking in Rio Dulce

3/ Visit Rio Dulce Town

Its official name is Fronteras, but the area’s main town and traffic hub is almost universally known as Rio Dulce Town. The town sits at the end of Izabal Lake where the river begins its journey to the Caribbean Sea, very close to the Rio Dulce bridge (Puente de Rio Dulce) which spans the river and links the southeast part of Guatemala with the north via highway CA13.

Rio Dulce town itself doesn’t get rave reviews (the Rough Guide describes it as a ‘squalid settlement’), and so I didn’t spend much time here. I had about an hour to explore the main street and found it much as everyone else describes: busy, quite hectic, and noisy with traffic and market stalls. Which is less surprising when you realise that this main road, which runs through the town centre, is also part of highway CA13.

The main road in Rio Dulce town
The main road in Rio Dulce town is busy and noisy

However, most people visiting the Dulce River will probably pass through the town at some point, so you’ll probably find yourself with an hour or two to kill while waiting for your bus or boat. For me, it was enough time to wander up and down the high street, pop into the very small shopping mall to pick up some essentials, and have a surprisingly nice lunch in the Colifato Café, part of the Rio Dulce Travel agency where I organised my boat upriver.

Another good place to grab a bite to eat is the Sundog Café, a popular hangout spot and common pick up point for boats taking you to hostels downriver.

The highway runs right through the middle of Rio Dulce Town (Fronteras) in Guatemala
The highway runs right through the middle of Rio Dulce Town (Fronteras) in Guatemala

4/ Visit Livingston

The other thing I did during my stay was take a boat from Rio Dulce to Livingston. The port town of Livingston sits on Guatemala’s Caribbean coast and is known for being a small yet vibrant town with a colourful atmosphere and a diverse population. Among them are Guatemala’s only Black community, the Garifuna people, an ethnic group said to descend from the Caribbean slave trade.

Thanks to their influence, Livingston has a much more Afro-Caribbean vibe than anywhere else in the country; restaurants often serve rich Caribbean-style dishes and many of the bars play reggae and rasta style music.

Read more: Livingston Guatemala: A Photo Guide To This Quirky Caribbean Town

A band plays drums on an outdoor stage in Livingston Guatemala
Livingstone has a vibrant Caribbean culture

There are public boats that travel up and down between Rio Dulce town and Livingston, or you can get your hotel to call ahead and ask for a boat to come and pick you up. The fast boat from Rio Dulce to Livingston takes about 1.5 hours. There are also slower river cruises you can do, taking more time to explore the river and take in the sights as you head to Livingston.

I got a private boat from my eco hotel Hotelito Perdido to Livingston, which took about 45 minutes to get there and cost me Q100 (about US$12.75). I was alone so I paid more; if you’re in a group it’s Q50 per person.

In Livingston there isn’t a huge amount to do, but I spent an enjoyable few hours wandering around, chatting to locals, watching the fishermen on the docks sorting their catch, and taking photos, before getting a pre-arranged boat pickup to take me back to the hotel.

Read more: Guatemala People: 30 Portraits Of Guatemalans That Show Their Rich Culture

Fishermen prepare their catch in Livingston Guatemala
Fishermen prepare their catch in Livingston Guatemala

5/ Hike to Livingston

If you prefer a bit more adventure, another way to get to Livingston is to hike there. The 3-hour hike starts from the Ak’Tenamit community development project, which supports 25 local villages with education, healthcare and development. There’s also a restaurant, school and souvenir shop.

From here, the hike takes you through the dense and steamy jungle, over the top of the gorge cliffs to a viewpoint over the river, and eventually to Livingston, where you get to spend some time before being brought back by boat through the Rio Dulce Canyon. Sensible shoes, plenty of water, and insect repellent are a must if you do this hike!

Arriving in Livingston in Guatemala
Arriving in Livingston in Guatemala

6/ Visit the Castillo de San Felipe de Lara

The San Felipe Castle is probably Rio Dulce’s most famous landmark after the enormous road bridge; a Spanish colonial fort dating back to 1644. It stands at the narrowest point on the river where it leaves Lake Izabal, and was built to protect the nearby port of San Antonio de las Bodegas, on the shore of Lake Izabal, from marauding pirates who might come up the river from the Caribbean Sea. It wasn’t a huge success: the castle was looted and sacked several times by pirates during the course of its use by the Spanish.

Tours of the castle can easily be arranged from Rio Dulce town, or get a public boat from the main dock of Rio Dulce for around Q15 (£1.50). The castle is often also included in Rio Dulce river cruises. It’s open 8 am to 5 pm every day, and entrance costs Q75 (about £7.50) for foreign adults.

Castillo de San Felipe de Lara
Castillo de San Felipe de Lara. Photo by Daniel Mennerich

7/ Explore Quiriguá ruins

Most visitors to Guatemala make it to the fabulous Maya ruins at Tikal, near Flores, and some keen beans (like me) also visit nearby Yaxhá. But very few make it to the third in Guatemala’s stellar Maya lineup, Quiriguá – unless, that is, they happen to be passing by Rio Dulce.

Quiriguá (pronounced Kir-ree-GWAH) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site close to Lake Izabal and only about 1.5 hours’ drive from Rio Dulce Town. Between about 500 and 900 AD it was one of the most important Maya city states in the region, and became even more important after it won a decisive victory over nearby Copán (which is just across the border with Honduras, and definitely worth a visit if you’re heading that way).

Today it’s a fascinating archaeological site, with ruined monuments and some spectacular stelae and carvings (but no huge temples like at Tikal). The easiest way to get there is to take a taxi; you can also get there by taking a colectivo minibus from the Fuente del Norte bus station in Rio Dulce and then changing buses in Morales, but it’s quite complicated.

You can also do tours to Quiriguá from Guatemala City that also include a stop in Copán, but they take two days.

And if you’re interested in learning more about the Maya and you’re based in the UK, you can watch the documentary I made, Lost Tombs Of The Maya, on All4.

Read more: Yaxha Guatemala: The Magical Mayan Ruins You Need To Visit

A fabulous carved monument at Quiriguá
A fabulous carved monument at Quiriguá. Photo by Daniel Mennerich

8/ Take a boat tour of Lake Izabel or Rio Dulce National Park

From Rio Dulce town, or from your hotel, it’s possible to book a scenic boat tour either upriver and into Lake Izabal, or downriver all the way to Livingston.

Unlike the shuttle boats that ferry people up and down the river, scenic boat tours travel at a much slower pace and stop for you to take a closer look at points of interest. Depending on which company you go with, these may include:

  • Castillo de San Felipe
  • Los Siete Altares waterfalls
  • Stopping to spot wildlife like spider and howler monkeys, herons and egrets
  • Thermal hot springs on the river
  • Pelican and cormorant colonies near Livingston
  • Playa Blanca beach near Livingston
  • Stopping at a restaurant to try local Garifuna dishes and experience Garifuna culture
Rio Dulce boat ride
Taking a boat ride along the Sweet River in Guatemala

9/ Visit Finca Paraiso

I didn’t make it to Finca Paraiso but I met several people who raved about this private jungle retreat with access to a hot spring waterfall. The waterfall is 8 metres tall and has caves behind it, so it’s great for both exploring, relaxing in the hot water and swimming in the river. There’s also a resort here with a hotel and restaurant. It’s open daily from 7 am to 5 pm and entry costs Q20 (US$3). The easiest way to get there is to take a colectivo minibus from the main street in Rio Dulce, which takes about an hour and also costs Q20 (US$3).

Read more: How To See The Resplendent Quetzal Bird In Guatemala

Great white egret, Rio Dulce
The jungle around Rio Dulce is full of wildlife

10/ Visit El Boqueron Canyon

If you’re not yet tired of floating down the river, looking out for bird life and admiring the scenery, then another place you can easily visit during your stay in Rio Dulce is El Boquron Canyon. This scenic limestone canyon is located on another small river called the River Sauce, about four miles east of the town of El Estor on the north side of the lake.

Activities in the canyon include swimming, hiking along the nature trails, a boat trip through the canyon, or tubing down the river.

To get there, take a bus from Rio Dulce towards El Estor and ask the driver to drop you at El Boquerón. The journey will take about 15 minutes and cost about around Q20 (US$3). There’s also a Q10 entry fee, and for another Q20 (US$3) per person, local boats will cruise you up the river and wait while you swim or explore, before bringing you back again.

You can also stay overnight at the nearby Canyon Seacacar Nature Reserve.

Great white egrets are a common sight in Rio Dulce
Great white egrets are a common sight in Rio Dulce

11/ Manatee-spotting trip in the Biotopo Chocon Machacas Reserve

This was another thing I didn’t do – but wished I’d been able to (I couldn’t as I was travelling on my own and the tour needed more than just one person to run). So I’ve still never seen a manatee!

In case you didn’t know, these are large marine mammals about the size of a sea lion, but they are ‘sea cows’, that live in both fresh and salt water. They are quite rare and elusive, but apparently there are some living in Rio Dulce and you can see them if you take a kayak tour to the Biotopo Chocon Machacas Manatee Reserve, which was established to protect their habitat.

This tour can be arranged through Hotelito Perdido if you’re staying there, otherwise ask Rio Dulce Travel or at your hotel and I’m sure they can arrange a private tour for you.  

Note that the water in Rio Dulce is rather murkier than the photo below, and you won’t be able to get in and swim with the manatees.

Manatee swimming
It’s quite hard to spot manatees in Rio Dulce, but you might get lucky!

Rio Dulce Travel Agency

I’ve already mentioned them a few times, but it’s worth noting the helpful travel and tour agency Rio Dulce Travel. They have an office near to the boat dock and can also arrange your shuttle transport to and from Rio Dulce town.

I used them to organise my buses to and from the town, as well as boats up and down the river, and they were very friendly. The best way to get in touch is via WhatsApp (the number is on their website) and they reply in English and they also left me some helpful voice notes too.

Rio Dulce travel office
Rio Dulce travel has a tour desk and restaurant

How to get to Rio Dulce in Guatemala

Rio Dulce isn’t the easiest place to get to, but it is very doable with a bit of patience. Here are the routes you might take.

How to get to Rio Dulce from Flores

The route from Flores to Rio Dulce is pretty well-travelled, so if this is your plan, you’re in luck! There are public buses that leave from the Santa Elena bus station, they take about 4 hrs 30 and cost roughly $32, or you can book a tourist shuttle through your hostel or one of the travel agencies in town.

How to get to Rio Dulce from Guatemala City or Antigua Guatemala

This journey is also pretty easy: Bus companies Litegua, Maya de Oro and Fuente Del Norte all offer a service from Guatemala City to Rio Dulce, costing roughly $40. If you want to travel from Antigua, you’ll either need to book a tourist shuttle (which will pick you up from your hostel in Antigua), or make the short hop back to the city and then pick up the public coach from there.

I did this journey in the other direction, from Rio Dulce to Antigua, by tourist shuttle. I booked it through Rio Dulce Travel and it took about 8 hours.

Read more: 28 Tried And Tested Things To Do In Antigua Guatemala

Bus from Rio Dulce to Antigua Guatemala
This bus took me from Rio Dulce to Antigua Guatemala

How to get to Rio Dulce from Semuc Champey, Lanquin or Cobán

This is the route that I took. I did much googling to find out if it was even possible to get from Semuc Champey to Rio Dulce, as it’s not a common route (most people travel from Guatemala City or Flores) and many websites warned me not to even bother trying because the road is unpaved and the journey is very slow and bumpy.

However, I can confirm that you can get from Lanquin to Rio Dulce – I know because I did it! It’s a 6-hour journey through the mountains of Alta Verapaz, and the views were beautiful but it was just as bumpy and uncomfortable as people warned.

I organised the transfer through Lanquin Services via WhatsApp – they were pretty helpful and responsive.

This is the vehicle I rode from Lanquin to Rio Dulce
This is the vehicle I rode from Lanquin to Rio Dulce

As I was travelling in low-season and not that many people go that way, I had to wait for at least 3 other people to book before Lanquin Services would confirm the transfer was running. The trip cost Q300 (about £30).

We rode in a 4WD vehicle with open seating at the back. By chance I ended up in the cab, which turned out to be lucky as the people in the open-sided back ended up completely covered in dust by the end of the journey.  

The road to Rio Dulce from Coban goes across country and is very bumpy
The road to Rio Dulce from Coban goes across country and is very bumpy

The route was about 4-5 hours on the bumpy road, followed by another couple of hours on a paved highway. There are no rest stops, so if you need to pee you have to do it by the side of the road. We arrived in Rio Dulce just after lunchtime, which gave us enough time to grab a quick bite and then get the 2.30 pm public boat along the river, dropping people at their various hotels along the way.

In the end, it wasn’t all that bad, and I’m glad I made the effort. The alternative would have been to go back via Guatemala City, which would have taken twice as long.

Read more: Santa Catarina Palopo: The Colourful Painted Town In Guatemala

How to get to Rio Dulce from Honduras

Rio Dulce is only about two hours from the border with Honduras. The easiest way to cross the border is by tourist shuttle from La Ceiba (the port to Roatan and Utila). Although you will pass by San Pedro Sula on this route, when I checked there didn’t seem to be any buses going from San Pedro Sula, as it’s a notoriously dangerous place and not many tourists go there.

How to get to Rio Dulce from Belize

If you’re travelling in Belize, you’ll be pleased to learn that Rio Dulce is also very close to the Belize border. There’s no way to make the crossing by road, so you need to catch a boat from Punta Gorda in Belize to either Puerto Barrios or Livingston. From Puerto Barrios you can then get to Rio Dulce by road, or from Livingston you’ll need to take the public boat upriver to Rio Dulce town (or your hotel, if you’re planning to stay at one of the lodges on the river).

Boat travelling on Rio Dulce Guatemala
Another way to arrive in Rio Dulce is by boat from Belize

How to get from Rio Dulce Town to your hotel

One you’ve made it by road to Rio Dulce Town, you’ll probably want to travel downriver to your hotel. Many of the hotels located closer to town offer a pickup service – just let them know when you’ll be arriving, and they’ll send someone to get you. If you’re staying further downriver, you may need to get a private transfer or use the public boat (which goes twice a day and will drop you at any riverside hotel you ask for).

Hotelito Perdido, where I stayed, is quite far towards Livingston and didn’t offer a transfer, so I had to make sure I got to Rio Dulce Town in time to meet the afternoon public boat, which left at 2.30 pm and cost Q50 (£5 or US$6.40) per person. If I’d missed it, I would have had to either stay in town one night, or pay for a private boat transfer.

The public boat from Rio Dulce town dropped people off at hotels along the river
The public boat from Rio Dulce town dropped people off at hotels along the river

How long should you stay in Rio Dulce Guatemala?

I reached my hotel by about 4 pm on my first day and stayed three nights, giving me two full days in the area. On my first full day I went to Livingston, and on the second day I relaxed at the hotel and went kayaking. This was enough for me, though of course if you want to do more of the things on this list, you’ll need to stay another night or two.

Views of the Dulce River as you get closer to Livingston
Views of the Dulce River as you get closer to Livingston

Can you swim in Rio Dulce?

We swam in the river near my eco-hotel and it was lovely – though the water was very warm. If you stick to the smaller side channels and make sure you never swim alone, you should be OK.

However, you do need to be careful and pick your swimming spot sensibly. Boats speed up and down the river without much care, so it’s important to be aware and don’t swim out into the main channel or you might get hit by a passing boat. In addition, the river can have strong currents and unpredictable depths, especially near its confluence with Lago Izabal.

Also note that pollution is an issue in Guatemala and Rio Dulce has historically faced pollution issues. Swimming in potentially contaminated water can lead to health problems like skin infections, stomach upset, and respiratory issues. Up to you if you want to take the risk. And please note that I am not a doctor, and if you swim in Rio Dulce and get sick, I am not responsible!

Two tourists relax in tyre inner tubes in the river at Rio Dulce
Two tourists swimming in tyre inner tubes in the river at Izabal Rio Dulce

Is Rio Dulce safe?

Rio Dulce has a reputation for being iffy – it’s not really a popular tourist town so most visitors are only passing through. I heard a few of my fellow travellers say they felt a bit uncomfortable there so it’s important to take the usual safety precautions such as not going out alone after dark, not carrying obvious valuables, and being alert to scams.

If you want to read more about safety in Guatemala, head to Is Guatemala Safe? 60+ Practical Tips For Safe Travel In Guatemala.

If you’re staying at one of the eco lodges or jungle hotels along the river, then aside from the risks of bugs and wildlife, yes you should be safe. These are secluded, tourist-friendly hotels and for the most part people are kind and trustworthy.

However, remember that the nearest hospital will be a boat and then a long car ride away, so don’t take any risks with your healthy or personal safety, and if you already have medical issues, it might be best to avoid going somewhere we’re it’s hard to read medical help if you need it.

A boat speeds along the Rio Dulce Izabal Guatemala
A boat speeds along the Rio Dulce Izabal Guatemala

Is Rio Dulce worth visiting?

So after all that, what’s the verdict? Is Rio Dulce overhyped?

If you have time, I do recommend adding Rio Dulce to your Guatemala itinerary. Apart from the town itself, it is a beautiful place, and very different from the rest of Guatemala. So it’s worth spending a few days there just to see a different side of the country.

That said, I do think that the people who gush about it are overhyping it somewhat. While I did enjoy my time there, if you don’t have time and have to miss out, I don’t think it’s the end of the world. There are more important places to see in Guatemala, such as Antigua, Flores, and Lake Atitlán, so if your time is limited and you have to miss Rio Dulce, I wouldn’t worry too much.  

A shipwreck lies on the banks of the Rio Dulce in Guatemala
A shipwreck lies on the banks of the Rio Dulce in Guatemala

Things I did not like about Rio Dulce

While I enjoyed the boat ride along the river, the cute eco-lodge (with delicious breakfasts), and visiting Livingston, there were some things about Rio Dulce that I didn’t love so much:

  • The heat: When I went, in May at the start of Guatemala’s rainy season, it was very hot and humid, and I did find that very oppressive and uncomfortable. With high humidity and not a breath of wind, I sweated constantly and at times I felt a bit like I was suffocating, and it was impossible to sleep at night because all the electricity in the hotel was solar-powered and ran out during the night, so the fans didn’t work. It might not be quite as hot as that when you visit, but if you struggle with jungle humidity and heat, you may not enjoy Rio Dulce.
  • Being cut off: As a solo traveller, getting around by myself was a little tricky. There aren’t all that many public boats, so if I wanted to go somewhere I either had to be lucky with timings, find someone to share with, or pay extra for a private boat by myself. This unfortunately is sometimes one of the downsides of solo travel, but it’s just something you learn to deal with.
  • The bugs: You can’t complain about insects in the jungle, of course, but it’s worth remembering that there will be bugs. A lot of them! Not just mosquitos, but all sorts of weird and wonderful flying insects attracted to the lights at night, plus very large spiders and other creepy crawlies. If you’re a bit of an entomophobe (afraid of bugs), then you might find staying the night on the Dulce River a bit challenging.
Large spider in Rio Dulce Guatemala
If you’re scared of spiders, look away now!

Important tips for visiting Rio Dulce

If you do plan to visit Rio Dulce in Izabal Guatemala, here are a few pointers:

  • Don’t forget to bring bug spray. As mentioned just above, there are a lot of mosquitoes and other insects, so insect repellant is a must. Even with bug spray, I still got attacked.
  • Bring a rain jacket. Especially during rainy season, this part of Guatemala can be quite wet, and not all of the boats are covered.
  • If you are staying in a river lodge, you will be completely cut off. This means you will need to eat all your meals in the lodge (and pay their prices). So if you are on a budget, you might want to bring some snacks with you.
  • Wifi and phone signal is limited. If you need to be constantly connected to the outside world, Rio Dulce is probably not for you.
Arriving at Hotelito Perdido Guatemala
Arriving at Hotelito Perdido Guatemala

Where to stay in Rio Dulce

  • Budget: Hotel Kangaroo Rio Dulce. Just a short boat hop from where the bus gets in, Hotel Kangaroo has cheap dorms and private rooms set in lush tropical jungle, a hot tub, and a boat pickup from Rio Dulce.
  • Mid-range: El Hotelito Perdido. This is where I stayed for three nights. Hotelito Perdido is a charming eco-retreat that garners rave reviews, with shady jungle gardens, a dock for swimming in the river, paddleboards and kayaks to rent, and rustic jungle cabins (there’s a dorm too). The American owner and his Guatemalan wife are helpful, and the breakfasts were the best I had during my whole time in Guatemala. Note that everything is solar powered so the wifi is rubbish and the fans are weak – when I was there it was almost unbearably hot and humid. But the place itself is delightful, if a little rustic and basic.
  • Luxury: Boatique Hotel and Marina. Boasting charming eco-cabins in the jungle just 10-minutes by boat from Rio Dulce town, Boatique Hotel has everything the other places have but with the addition of a swimming pool, air-conditioning, and bug screens! If I ever go back to Rio Dulce, I might give this one a go instead of going back to Hotelito Perdido, purely to have the pool and air-con!
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Bella is a multi-award-winning travel writer, wildlife photographer and science and history documentary director from London. Among many awards and nominations she won Blogger of the Year at the British Guild of Travel Writers’ Awards 2023 and Best Photography at the Travel Media Awards 2020. Her work has been published by National Geographic, Wanderlust, and BBC Travel among others. Her films have been shown around the world including on the BBC, Discovery and PBS.