An Extraordinary Guide to Caribbean Coast of Guatemala: Rio Dulce and Lago de Izabal (Part II)

View from the bridge over the Rio Dulce, Guatemala -- Karina Noriega

Guatemala’s coastal borders with the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea could not be more different.  La Costa, refers to the fertile lands between chains of volcanoes and the Pacific Ocean. It is coarse, black volcanic sand continuously pounded by the raging Pacific. By contrast, Guatemala’s narrow coastline on the Caribbean side is a tropical jungle opening where the Rio Dulce, or ‘sweet river’ follows its path to the sea.

Check out Part I for the seaside, Garifuna town of Livingston and the nearby attractions. 


View from the bridge over the Rio Dulce, Guatemala -- Karina Noriega

View from the bridge over the Rio Dulce, Guatemala — Karina Noriega

Travel Tip:

Take a daytime walk over the bridge for the best views from high above the ‘sweet river’.


Rio Dulce is a sweet water haven surrounded by massive jungles that connects the enormous fresh water Lake Izabal with the open sea on the Caribbean coast. In contrast to the crowded, gateway town of Fronteras, the waters edge is spotted by small and isolated Mayan towns, a few eco-lodges and the weekend homes of Guatemala’s wealthy elite. Beautiful mansions complete with thatch roof ranchos covering enormous luxury boats shine a spotlight on the massively uneven distributions of wealth in this country. Continue reading

An Extraordinary Guide to Caribbean Coast of Guatemala: Livingston (Part I)

Waterfront pier over at Casa Rosada. Livingston, Guatemala -- Karina Noriega
Chilling in a tiny pool of the most refreshing water while hiking up to the waterfalls of Siete Altares, Guatemala -- Karina Noriega

Chilling in a tiny pool of the most refreshing water while hiking up to the waterfalls of Siete Altares, Guatemala — Karina Noriega

Guatemala’s coastal borders with the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea could not be more different.  La Costa, refers to the fertile lands between chains of volcanoes and the Pacific Ocean. It is coarse, black volcanic sand continuously pounded by the raging Pacific. By contrast, Guatemala’s narrow coastline on the Caribbean side is a tropical jungle opening where the Rio Dulce, or ‘sweet river’ follows its path to the sea. (Part II click here)

Where the river meets the salty ocean stands the Garifuna town of Livingston. This is a corner of Guatemala so unlike the rest of the country, it is hard believe you are not some island far, far away. The remote location and lack of connecting roads have helped to preserve this completely separate culture. Descendants from the Black Caribs of St. Vincent (Nigerian slaves mixed with Carib locals and consider themselves a separate race) the Garifuna people brought their own language, music, delicious seafood based gastronomy and some still practice an Afro-Carib religion know as dugu.

Livingston is still a small community, though a few roads have been paved and virtually any car you see will operate as a taxi (20Q to anywhere). The main strip from the public dock is packed with Western style restaurants and a few hostels. Shops there are clearly targeting tourism with all kinds seaside souvenirs such as giant conch shells, carved coconuts and sea stars as well as traditional Garifuna ailment cures and natural oils. The waterfront on the river side is lined with small hotels, perfectly positioned to invite in the fresh breeze on balmy, humid days. (See accommodations below)

The beaches around town are generally not nice. Most people will take the popular full day tour to Playa Blanca or White Beach. Living up to its name, this white sand, sparkly blue sea water is a bit of an anomaly for Guatemala. There is a 20Q charge to use the beach, money goes to cleaning up large amounts of sea trash that washes unto the entire coastline. Better yet, make your way to Siete Altares (Seven Altars). A cool, freshwater river waterfalls into pools beneath the soaring jungle. Hike up the pools through a series of makeshift paths to bathe, relax and jump off the rocks. 20Q entrance fee.

The Tour

A lancha departs at 9am taking the group to Siete Altares first for a brief swim before dropping everyone off at Playa Blanca for the day. A sandwich is provided for lunch and the lancha returns at 3:30pm. Entrance fees not included.

Travel Tip:

Unless you’ve never seen a white sand beach before, skip the tour (and the crowds) and make your way to Siete Altares by land. It’s a long but straight forward walk from Livingston that affords you looks into how people really live and work. Distinct architecture, alternating concrete palaces and thatched huts, abandoned homes reclaimed by the jungle, makeshift shops, a colouful cemetery and plenty of characters along the way. Follow the paved road past the Mayan village where it’s hard not to marvel at how different and separate these two groups of people are.

When the road ends, cross the hanging bridge and keep walking along the black sand coastline another half an hour until you see the pier.

Depart early so you can avoid the midday heat and drink lots of water 🙂

Return trip: Walk back to the bridge where there is often someone willing to drive you back into town for a fee. We paid 20Q for 3 people.

Safety

Everyone we spoke with assured us that this is a very small and tranquil community. We never felt unsafe walking about.

On our coastal stroll outside of ‪Livingston‬, Guatemala‬ we came upon a massive and beautiful ‪SeaTurtle‬ only to discover that someone, or something had completely severed it's head right off. Even though it's likely it was not a human, it's still completely heartbreaking frown emoticon I was told by a ‪Garifuna‬ man that people here still eat them as well as putting great value on the shells for instruments and decorations. April posed with the turtle just for the purpose of gaining scale. The turtle was gone on our return trip through. -- Karina Noriega

On our coastal stroll outside of ‪Livingston‬, Guatemala‬ we came upon a massive and beautiful ‪SeaTurtle‬ only to discover that someone, or something had completely severed it’s head right off. Even though it’s likely it was not a human, it’s still completely heartbreaking frown emoticon I was told by a ‪Garifuna‬ man that people here still eat them as well as putting great value on the shells for instruments and decorations. April posed with the turtle just for the purpose of gaining scale. The turtle was gone on our return trip through. — Karina Noriega


Accommodations 

  • There is only one luxury option in Livingston.

    Poolside at Villa Caribe. Livingston, Guatemala -- Karina Noriega

    Poolside at Villa Caribe. Livingston, Guatemala — Karina Noriega

Villa Caribe is tucked perfectly into the edge of the peninsula. It can easily pass as an all-inclusive with its waterfront location, on-site restaurant, elevated suites for the best views and the golden ticket, a huge palm tree rimmed swimming pool.

Prices start at US$115per night based on double occupancy and includes 2 breakfasts and 2 dinners. villacaribe@villasdeguatemala.com +(502)2223-5005  ext.116

  • Backpacker Budget

Most backpackers head straight to Casa de la Iguana. Unfortunately it is not by the water so it can get scorching hot but they have a large range of options. Share a private room for 3 at 120Q, a dorm bed for 50Q or spend the night under the stars for 20Q They pride themselves on being a party hostel, in fact, some of the on duty staff were simply “too f*cked up to help”. Happy hour is 6-8pm… or all the time. +(502)7947-0976

  • My choice

Casa Rosada. Simple and rustic bungalows with a fan, mosquito nets and separate bathroom and shower areas. Clean and well maintained with an excellent little restaurant that serves 3 course meals and attracts guests from all over Livingston. Very quiet and relaxed. Selling point: long pier over the water complete with a rancho and hammocks to laze the day away.

160Q per bungalow (we paid 180Q for 3 of us to share) +(502)7947-0303 www.hotelcasarosada.com

Enjoying our stay at Casa Rosada. Bungalow, pier, rancho and hammocks delight. Casa Rosada. Livingston, Guatemala -- Karina Noriega

Enjoying our stay at Casa Rosada. Bungalow, pier, rancho and hammocks delight. Casa Rosada. Livingston, Guatemala — Karina Noriega

Travel Tip:

High Season in Livingston is June, July and August. Prepare for fully booked accommodations and rising prices.

We went in April and it was absolutely perfect. Hot sunny days with a cool ocean breeze, few tourists and NO mosquitos!

Personal Recommendations for Food

April and I made multiple visits to Vilma's empanada emporium :) Livingston, Guatemala -- Karina Noriega

April and I made multiple visits to Vilma’s empanada emporium 🙂 Livingston, Guatemala — Karina Noriega

– Across from Hotel Delfin, on calle (street) Marcos Sanchez Diaz is a little tienda (store) without a name. The matriarch of a friendly local family cooks up delicious and filling chicken or fish empanadas for just 2Q each (less than 25centUS). It can literally fill up two grown ups for less than $1. 

Just ask for empanadas de Vilma and send our regards 🙂

Restaurante Margoth

The most authentic TAPADO in town as vouched for by locals. Tapado is a Garifuna dish made with coconut milk, plantain and includes fish, crab, shrimp, octopus and lobster; all still whole and in their shells/skins/tails 90Q One of the most delicious meals I’ve ever tried. Totally worth the splurge.

Tapado is the most authentic Garifuna dish and an important part of the culture. And it's absolutely delicious!! Livingston, Guatemala -- Karina Noriega

Tapado is the most authentic Garifuna dish and an important part of the culture. And it’s absolutely delicious!! Livingston, Guatemala — Karina Noriega

– Breakfast at Casa Rosada

30-35Q Pick from traditional eggs and beans or fresh fruit and big pancakes. Real coffee for 10Q (not the unfortunate instant crap they serve at most places throughout Guatemala).


Getting here:

There are only two options.

  1. Puerto Barrios

Whether you are coming from within Guatemala by road, or boating into the country from Honduras or Belize, all trails meet in Puerto Barrios. Head straight to the dock (where 12th street meets the water). Lanchas leave every half hour to an hour. 35Q for the 45 minute ride into Livingston. (Larger and much slower ferries also depart here twice a day).

2.   Rio Dulce

Entering the Rio Dulce jungle canyon. Rio Dulce, Guatemala

Entering the Rio Dulce jungle canyon. Rio Dulce, Guatemala

Lanchas from Rio Dulce leave twice daily, 9:30am and 2pm. 125Q one way for a 2 and half hour journey through the extraordinary jungle canyon (A lot more on this trip in Part II, coming next week.)

Travel Tip:

Take the morning boat. Waters get a lot choppier in the afternoon making the beautiful journey a little hard to enjoy.

From Guatemala City:

Litegua offers Central Americas most modern and efficient transit system. The buses are large, clean and safe. First class busses include free water, AC, and your own personal TV/gaming system. Fares range from 80-125Q depending on class and route to/from Guatemala City (6-7 hours)

The Puerto Barrios station is just a short walk/taxi ride from the dock.

www.litegua.com +(502)2326-9595


Our Trip

April and I invited April’s dad along on his very first backpacking trip!

We spent 4 days in Rio Dulce and Livingston plus another 4 exploring the ruins of Iximche and the colonial city of Antigua. Watch our adventure coming up on our next post.

Part II of the extraordinary guide to the Caribbean: Rio Dulce and Lago de Izabal

~ An Extraordinary Story by Karina Noriega ~

Check out the Cost Breakdown for Travel Through Guatemala

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Cost breakdown for travel through Guatemala

Volcano Panorama viewed from atop Volcan Pacaya -- Guatemala -- Karina Noriega
The main 'anda' carries Jesus Cristo de Nazarene through the street of Antigua, Guatemala. -- Karina Noriega

The main ‘anda’ carries Jesus Cristo de Nazarene through the street of Antigua, Guatemala. — Karina Noriega

Guatemala offers so many possibilities for every type of traveler. As a worldly backpacker and efficient shoestring traveler ($10/day in hostels, chicken buses,eating street food is a breeze), but in a country like Guatemala, $100/day means you travel like royalty. Most of you will land somewhere in the middle.

Tucan of Peten, thousands fly wild in the Northern jungles -- Guatemala -- Karina Noriega

Tucan of Peten, thousands fly wild in the Northern jungles — Guatemala — Karina Noriega

I created a very general breakdown here to give you an idea. (Actual cost will depend on the number of people traveling and what level of comfort and adventure desired.)

Flight

Costs will vary depending on your departure locations and tend to increase in price as departure date approaches.

I have flown several times from Toronto, Ontario for $500-700 roundtrip. My friend Jesse once scored a roundtrip flight from New York City for $350. I can send you tips on how to get the best price.

                   * A quick search today, January 13, 2015, brought up more than 30 options for less than $600 round trip from Toronto’s YYZ *

The infamous, colorful, Chicken Buses of Guatemala -- Karina Noriega

The infamous, colorful, Chicken Buses of Guatemala — Karina Noriega

Transport

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An Extraordinary Journey to Guatemala & You Are Invited

Volcano Panorama viewed from atop Volcan Pacaya -- Guatemala -- Karina Noriega

This is your official invitation to join me on an extraordinary journey through landmark destinations in Guatemala. 

Temples of Tikal Tower above the jungle canopy -- Guatemala -- Karina Noriega

Temples of Tikal Tower above the jungle canopy — Guatemala — Karina Noriega

Join us on this Extraordinary Journey around Guatemala! For more information, please contact:

Karina @ karinasextraordinarylife@gmail.com

April  @ aprilberesford@hotmail.com

Path to Agua -- Guatemala -- Karina Noriega

Path to Agua — Guatemala — Karina Noriega

I want to take fear, uncertainty and hard work out of going to a foreign land (specially if it’s your first trip). I have the research, connections and the know-how. Unlike big, established tours, traveling with me means traveling with a friend who is eager to explore, share, and help you travel safely. Our small group will result in more freedom, flexibility and a personalized experience.


Before you come

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Summary of Our Journey Across The USA – (World Nomads Scholarship Entry)

Monument Valley, Arizona/Utah, USA - Karina Noriega

The contest deadline has come and gone. Our submission is now being reviewed by the travel journalism experts at World Nomads. We are going up against hundreds (if not thousands) aspiring filmmakers from around the whole globe.

The pressure has now shifted to the judges and mentors who can select only a single submission for one of the best prizes out there: A chance to attend, film and share Mexico’s cultural mega-festival, Dia de los Muertos. More than a chance to travel, this is the learning opportunity of a lifetime. April and I are beyond eager to receive mentoring and feedback by seasoned travel journalists. Plus, I have not so secretly always wanted to experience this event.

So let’s make the decision a little easier for the World Nomads panel. Please show us your support by clicking like, leaving your comments and sharing the video (preferably through the blog -> https://karinasextraordinarylife.com/2014/09/22/world-nomads-film-scholarship-entry <- Use This Link)

Don’t forget to read up on why we believe we should win and what it means to us. (On the YouTube comments sections)

~ An Extraordinary Story by Karina Noriega ~

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Blanchard Springs Caverns … Where Mother Nature Met Father Time

Blanchard Springs Cavern, Arkansas - Karina Noriega

 

Cathedral Room, Blanchard Springs Cavern, Arkansas - Karina Noriega

Cathedral Room, Blanchard Springs Cavern, Arkansas – Karina Noriega

In the heart of the Ozarks in northern Arkansas, the secrets of the underground reveal themselves. The massive cavern system at Blanchard Springs is a living cave, constantly changing, carving and shaping itself. The delicate and enormous formations, some taking thousands or even millions of years, are created by the minerals deposited by the tiny raindrops and ancient rivers within the cave. Continue reading

God Of The Oaks – South Carolina’s Angel Oak

Angel Oak, St. John's, Charleston, South Carolina, USA - Karina Noriega
Angel Oak, St. John's, Charleston, South Carolina, USA - Karina Noriega

The intrepid road trippers at Angel Oak, St. John’s, Charleston, South Carolina, USA – Karina Noriega

It’s not often that a single tree warrants the creation of an entire park, but the Angel Oak is no regular vegetable. This venerable giant sprouted before Columbus arrived to this New World. The City of Charleston in South Carolina acquired the property in 1991 and has since been protecting it through it’s public park. Continue reading

The Blue Ridge Parkway – America’s Favourite Drive

Blue Ridge Parkway Overlook, Virginia, USA - Karina Noriega
Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia, USA - Karina Noriega

Entering the Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia, USA – Karina Noriega

The Blue Ridge Parkway, voted ‘America’s Favourite Drive’, is a 469 mile track through the Appalachian Highlands connecting Shenandoah National Park (also known as the Skyline Drive) in Virginia to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina.

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia, USA - Karina Noriega

At my absolute favourite outlook point, somewhere on the Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia, USA – Karina Noriega

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New York City for Free – Weekends and Anytime Edition

Part II of New York City for Free – The Weekend and Anytime Edition

Before I delve into more free things to see and do, let us take a moment to acknowledge that not everything in New York can be free. That being said, if you are looking for a good place to spend your hard earned dollars, the list is endless so choose wisely.

My suggestions:

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New York City for Free – The Weekday Edition

The extravaganza and glamour of New York City for free? They said it couldn’t be done, but we showed them! This handy guide is my gift to you to experience a full week (or more) of completely free tours, landmarks and attractions in New York City, USA.

FYI: Nearly every activity (but not 100%) on this list has been truthfully tested and joyously experienced by myself and April. We receive no rewards or special treatment for advertising any of these as they are already being given away, literally. It is simply my goal to share and inspire you to do and see more without financial limitations.

Part I of New York City for Free The Weekday Edition

Monday

Start your New York journey at the same place where this great city was born, now known as Lower Manhattan.

Take the free ferry to Staten Island and back for free! Breathtaking views of the Manhattan skyline, the Brooklyn bridge, the Hudson and East Rivers, Staten Island, New Jersey and of course, the closest you can get to Lady Liberty without shelling out a pretty penny. (http://www.siferry.com)

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