Do you ever notice that traveling throughout Guatemala feels as if you are visiting a variety of different countries? The terrain, the language, the climate and the culture can change so rapidly that it’s incredible to believe that all of these micro-communities and regions make up the one beautiful country we know as Guatemala.
Let me introduce you to another “country” within the borders of our beloved Guatemala, the Caribbean-infused Livingston, home of the Garifuna people. Delight in the ocean breeze while swinging in a hammock at one of the quaint hotels, and be sure to sample the local delicacies after a day of exploring a number of fascinating attractions in the area.
Located on the far eastern edge of Guatemala, Livingston is just a boat ride away from Belize and Honduras. From Guatemala City, it is easily reached via the Litegua buses, which leave throughout the day and can drop you off in Puerto Barrios. At Q85 one way and a six-hour ride in a comfortable, air- conditioned bus, a trip to Livingston and the Río Dulce area can make for a nice four- to five-day getaway. Once in Puerto Barrios, hop a lancha (small boat) to Livingston and get ready to melt into the relaxed Caribbean vibe.
Livingston’s population consists mostly of the Garifuna, descendants of Africans who were brought to the New World as slaves. Their roots trace back to the island of Roatan, Honduras, and they currently live along the Caribbean coast from Belize to Nicaragua.
A trip to Livingston and the Río Dulce area can make for a nice four- to five-day getaway.
They have developed a distinct culture and language—and if you really want to experience the culture, visit on Garífuna National Day, Nov. 26, when you can enjoy live drumming and tasty coconut-infused cuisine and join in the dancing and festivities.
Lívingston has a number of great places to stay, one of my favorites being Casa Rosada, which has its own dock on Río Dulce and specializes in serving a delicious tapado stew, the renowned coconut milk- based seafood stew made famous in Lívingston. Casa de Iguana is a highlight on the backpacker circuit with its nightly parties and “shot swing,” while Hotel Villa Caribe is a fine, high-end choice with a beautiful pool for relaxing and a popular restaurant featuring live music and local dance presentations.
It is worthwhile to get out and explore the area, the highlight being 7 Altares, a natural formation of crystalline, cascading pools nestled back in the jungle. It is a decent walk from town to the swing bridge, which starts the walk along the Caribbean Sea leading out to the 7 Altares. The path is well marked with plenty of places to stop along the way to take a dip in the shallow sea or a break for a cuba libre. Once at the 7 Altares you’ll enjoy a kilometer walk through the jungle, spotting butterflies and hearing the song of the tropical birds along the way, topping it all off with a rewarding splash in the deep, cool jungle swimming hole.
Back in Lívingston, satisfy your hunger with a tasty baleada— a wonderful typical treat—consisting of a huge homemade flour tortilla, grilled steak, onions and salsa. You’ll smell these wonderful concoctions cooking up on the charcoal grills outside the restaurants lining the main street, where you can eat to the sounds of live drummers and small-town nightlife.
Be sure to get some rest, as there is a wealth of exploring to do in the area. As you’re planning your day’s activities the next morning, be sure to ask for some fresh-baked coconut bread to accompany your steaming cup of Guatemalan coffee.