Río Dulce, Part 1

Next, we said goodbye to the Guatemalan highlands — and hello to the eastern lowlands of Guatemala! From Panajachel, we took a long road trip east through Guatemala City to Río Dulce and the Caribbean coast.

Again, there were probably many ways we could have made this trip, but we found the local Panajachel travel agents to be less creative and helpful with their advice than we would have liked. We ended up booking our trip through Servicios Turisticos Atitlán (STA), where we got our best information.

We left on an early morning microbus shuttle that wound its way up the scenic pass out of the volcanoes that surround Lago de Atitlán. We then headed east through Antigua, and finally to a bus station in Guatemala City where we would catch a first class bus to Río Dulce. Although staying in Panajachel provided a good central point for our day trips, Antigua would have been an easier place to catch a bus to Río Dulce (without having to leave at 4:30 AM) but it all worked out just fine.

Guatemala City

We transferred at the Litegua Bus Station in Guatemala City. See in Google Maps See in Google Earth 14.6327, -90.5100  These buses had airport-style security, with searches of carry-on bags — but once we left, our driver still stopped along the road to pick up various other people (without any of these security checks).

Guatemala City - Litegua Bus Station - Our Lunch - LauraGuatemala City - Litegua Bus Station - Security Check Boarding Bus

In Guatemala City the local buses aren't colorfully decorated; they're just plain red.

Guatemala CityGuatemala City - Lots on the roofGuatemala City - Claro Cellphone Ads

Our bus made a pit stop at Valle Dorado, a water park with a modern cafeteria. Pets, outside food & beverages, and guns were not allowed. See in Google Maps See in Google Earth 15.0830, -89.4824 

Valle Dorado - Rest Stop - Water BottleValle Dorado - Rest StopValle Dorado - Rest Stop - Area Especial Para Pilotos (a special area for bus drivers)Valle Dorado - Rest Stop - Ice Cream - LauraValle Dorado - Rest Stop - Chocolate Covered Banana - Ice Cream - Geoff & LauraValle Dorado - Rest StopValle Dorado - Rest Stop - No Mascotas - No Alimentos Ni Bebidas - No Armas

Eastern Guatemala

The climate and plants changed many times as we approached sea level — from the busy streets of Guatemala, through rolling fields of corn, which turned into deserts with cactus. Finally, we emerged in the lush lowlands — with vines, rivers, and palm trees. Near the end of our trip we entered the town of Morales, where the bus felt more like a taxi — dropping people off and picking new ones up various places. See in Google Maps See in Google Earth 15.47303, -88.83421  Once the bus became "full" again, it left for the short last leg of our trip to Río Dulce.

Guatemala - Lowlands Near Río DulceGuatemala - Lowlands Near Río DulceGuatemala - Lowlands Near Río Dulce

The town of Río Dulce is nothing exciting, but it's a transfer point to the waterway (of the same name) that travels 20 miles to Livingston and the Caribbean Sea. See in Google Maps See in Google Earth 15.6516, -88.9926 

Río Dulce Town - BridgeRío Dulce Town - Restaurant Río BravoRío Dulce Town - Bridge - Backpackers Hostel

When we arrived in Río Dulce, we were met at the bus stop by a man who approached us with information on various nearby hotels. We couldn't really tell if he was trying to scam us, but in the end we decided to just trust him and have him arrange a ride to spend the night at Casa Perico (which we had read of in our guidebook). It did seem like he was a legitimate agent paid by the local hotels nearby on the river to share information about availability with tourists. Anyway, he definitely made our lives easier.

Casa Perico is a rustic backpacker hotel tucked in the wetlands not far from Río Dulce Town. With all of these hotels only accessible by water, you're a bit at the mercy of what they end up serving you — but we found the food and rooms to be reasonably priced at Casa Perico. Here we met some great folks, including our new friend, Charly, a fellow backpacker who joined us for the next couple days of our adventure.

Río Dulce - Casa Perico - BedroomRío Dulce - Casa Perico - LauraRío Dulce - Casa PericoRío Dulce - Casa PericoRío Dulce - Casa PericoRío Dulce - Casa Perico

From Casa Perico, we took a boat down the Río Dulce east to Livingston (on the shore of the Caribbean Sea). We also made a quick detour to El Castillo de San Felipe, a fortress built by the Spanish to protect the area from pirates. See in Google Maps See in Google Earth 15.63781, -88.99317 

Río Dulce - Laura & GeoffRío Dulce - Castillo de San Felipe

The wide, calm waters of El Golfete (Río Dulce).

Río Dulce - El GolfeteRío Dulce - El Golfete - LilypadsRío Dulce - El Golfete - Lilypads

We were visited by a couple of little girls in a traditional hollowed-out wooden canoe. No, they weren't pirates! They showed us cute turtles and tried to sell us some trinkets but, again, weren't very aggressive or pushy about it.

Río Dulce - Girl in CanoeRío Dulce - El Golfete - Girl with TurtleRío Dulce - El Golfete - Girl with Turtle

Along the north shore of the Río Dulce, is a hot spring where river water along the shore is heated to bathtub temperature (with regions of concentrated boiling hot water). Unfortunately, nippy little fish live in this water, too. Snacks and touristy items are sold here. See in Google Maps See in Google Earth 15.7745, -88.8117 

Río Dulce - Hot SpringRío Dulce - Hot Spring

Near the mouth of the Río Dulce, the river banks become dramatic steep white cliffs.

Río DulceRío Dulce

As we moved closer to the coast and the ecosystem changed from jungle to coastal, we saw new birds — including pelicans and frigate birds (some of our favorite birds!).