A break in Guatemala’s most Caribbean city
Spending a day or two in Livingston means exploring an unexpected side to Guatemala, at the crossroads of African and Caribbean cultures. Perched on the Caribbean coast, at the mouth of the Rio Dulce, Livingston is a little corner of the world that is as unexpected as it is captivating. This unique, unusual and timeless destination can only be accessed by boat, as though to better preserve its identity. Let’s hit the water for a one-of-a-kind adventure in Garifuna country!
9 am: Navigating the Rio Dulce
Take advantage of the cool morning to escape inland for an unmissable cruise along the Rio Dulce. Climb aboard a lancha (a small traditional motorboat) to visit the town of Rio Dulce, some 40 kilometres upstream – this is the only way to get there! From the very first bend of the river, the view is breathtaking. A lush rainforest quickly replaces the high limestone cliffs as the river widens. Here you are sailing among the mangroves, a veritable paradise for many bird species. Small houses stand on stilts on the riverbanks, and fishermen cross your path to cast their hooks and nets. This scenery has timeless beauty! When you arrive in the city of Rio Dulce, you will be just a short distance from Lake Izabal, the largest lake in Guatemala and one of the region’s natural wonders. At the entrance to the lake stands the Castle of San Felipe de Lara, a 17th-century former Spanish fortress that fended off pirates. Now a silent guardian, the building remains a striking example of colonial military architecture.
1 pm: Strolling through Livingston
After lunch at one of the restaurants in Rio Dulce, it will be time to head back to Livingston and taste the sweet lifestyle of this small, isolated city. Welcome to “Jamaica in Guatemala”! Livingston owes this nickname to its authentic Afro-Caribbean atmosphere and its Garifuna community, a people of mixed heritage descended from 17th-century runaway African slaves and indigenous Caribbean people. On some walls, street art reflects this precious culture that the inhabitants of Livingston proudly preserve through the language, dance and music of the Garifuna, all featured on the UNESCO List of Intangible Heritage. You will see very few cars in Livingston, so you can stroll through the city with complete peace of mind. As you explore the streets, you’ll pass rows of houses that are often modest but always very colourful. And as you walk, breathing in the scents of fresh fruit and street food, you will probably hear Punta, the quintessential Garifuna music, escape from the door of a bar or restaurant.
3 pm: Bathing in natural pools
Livingston is just 5 kilometres from Siete Altares, the “Seven Altars”: a series of small freshwater waterfalls, and as many natural pools, in the heart of the jungle. A boat will take you there, but if you like walking, you can also get there on foot from Livingston. After a pleasant stroll along the beach, you will enter the forest and follow a small path to Siete Altares. Enjoy the opportunity to fully appreciate the beautiful scenery before indulging in a gentle and peaceful swim in clear 25°C water, surrounded by lush nature.
5 pm: Lounging under the coconut trees on Playa Blanca
From Siete Altares, you can get to Playa Blanca for a well-deserved relaxing break on the most beautiful beach near Livingston. Here, the black volcanic sand of the Pacific coast meets an expanse of white sand, bathed in the turquoise, crystal-clear waters of the Caribbean Sea. A perfect moment of relaxation awaits: a hammock on the beach for you to lie in and some local fried fish if that’s your thing.
7 pm: Swaying to the beat of Garifuna
Return to Livingston for an evening of Garifuna culture. As the sun sets, the city comes to life: the many comedors – small restaurants – start to play famous Garifuna songs, carried by the rhythms of drums and maracas. You can’t help but dance, improvising a few steps. For the full Garifuna experience, this lively show should be enjoyed with a delicious tapado, a kind of Caribbean soup made from fish, crab, crayfish and various crustaceans, prepared with plantains and coconut milk and seasoned with coriander.
And if you have some time left the following day:
- Visit Punta de Manabique: this wildlife reserve opposite Livingston, at the end of the peninsula that encloses Amatique Bay, is a natural paradise for tropical birds.
- Head to Sapodilla Cayes: an uninhabited atoll in the Gulf of Honduras, one of 450 islands in the Belize Barrier Reef.
- Explore the archaeological site of Quiriguá (via Santo Tomás de Castilla or Puerto Barrios): this site in the Motagua Valley is home to charming, sculpted sandstone stelae and mysterious and impressive zoomorphic altars.
- Depart for Antigua to discover one of the most fascinating historic cities in Central America.
Crédits photos : © Istock
PONANT takes you there
Move to the rhythm of Caribbean cultures