The highlight of our visit to the Río Dulce region was a trip out to an agua caliente (i.e., hot spring) on the north side of Lago de Izabal: Finca el Paraíso. I enjoyed the shuttle ride there as we passed by an hour’s worth of plantations, and the ride back was even more amusing as I rode on the top of the shuttle with a couple kids.
The boat ride down the river was also memorable, though the overcast sky left much to be desired. In fact, the weather was unfavorable throughout our visit to Río Dulce. It rained heavily.
Livingston, from which we began our visit, was unimpressive to me. I found it sketchy and ramshackle. We didn’t stick around there long. Stayed just a night — a rainy night — at Casa de la Iguana, something of a party hostel loaded full with backpackers, similar to La Iguana Perdida at Santa Cruz, Lago de Atitlán.
Instead, we found Nutria Marina, a classy eco-lodge tucked away between the bridge and the castle, and we chilled out there for a couple days before heading back to Antigua a day ahead of schedule. Really liked Nutria Marina.
View the Río Dulce gallery.
Placencia seemed like a nice enough place — overly developed for my taste, but lively and accommodating as a result. We had a bad experience here, however, with some monster-sized cockroaches in our cabina. It was also expensive for us relative to what we’d been paying in Guatemala. So we left after a day.
On our way out of town, we happened to run into a friend of ours from our Spanish school in Antigua. It was a totally random incident, and it was a lot of fun because he joined us as we traveled down the southern highway by bus on our way to Punta Gorda, from which we ferried across the border to Livingston, Guatemala.
View the Placencia gallery.
After visiting El Remate and Tikal, we left Petén and traveled east to Belize. The road was bumpy, but the trip got interesting once we crossed the border and witnessed the dramatic change in culture, climate, and geography.
We changed transportation from shuttle to bus in the capital, Belmopan, and traveled to Dangriga, a scruffy Caribbean seaside town. We got on a boat there and rode out to sea — about a half-hour from shore — to the tiny five-acre island of Tobacco Caye.
We got a nice cabina overhanging the sea, went snorkeling, and more or less chilled out for a couple days, enjoying the sunset, the moon, and the sunrise from our hammock.
Not much else to do on Tobacco Caye, but I suppose that’s the point.
View the Tobacco Caye gallery.
Tikal National Park is only a half-hour drive from El Remate, which made getting there in time for sunrise a little easier than it would have been from Flores, where most tourists stay. It’s not always easy to wake up at 5:00 a.m., especially when you’re on vacation, but in the case of Tikal, it’s well worth it. Sunrise is the best time to visit the park.
Sunrise is the best time because the air is cool, there aren’t many bugs (or tourists), and the tropical forest is full of life. For example, we didn’t make it more than a couple minutes into the park before we spotted spider monkeys in a tree tall above. Plus, we could hear monkeys howling in the distance all morning. Continue reading
Rather than stay in Flores as is most common, we chose to stay in El Remate while visiting Tikal and Lago de Petén Itzá. Little more than a dirt road with a series of lakeside accommodations, El Remate is well off the tourist trail. Even better, the lake is absolutely magnificent there, tranquil and seemingly untouched by man.
We arrived at night after a day-long journey from Lanquín. We’d left El Retiro at 8:00 a.m. in a shuttle, picked up a bunch of other tourists in Cobán (17 of us total), and finally arrived at Flores (or rather Santa Elena, the grimy city on the outskirts of Flores, where the main road is) around 6:00 p.m., just as the sun was getting ready to set. From there we found transportation to El Remate, which was another hour up the road. By the time we arrived — by tuk-tuk, no less! — it was well after dark.
The road to Tikal. From Lanquín to Flores.
All day in a shuttle, 17 of us. Not room for another person in that shuttle.
It was hot. It was long. It took us to Petén, where, sadly, much of the tropical forest had been deforested to make way for new settlements — farms and ranches mostly. I myself prefer tropical forest.
Based at the Edenic hostel El Retiro in the nearby village of Lanquín, we traveled by public transit — always an adventure unto itself — to Semuc Champey, a fantastic stretch of the Río Cahabón where limestone bridges extend across the river.