Kayaking up Rio Dulce in Livingston, Guatemala

I had heard that Livingston was known for its Garifuna culture, but I had no idea what that entailed until I got there. The vibe of the town is akin to a laid-back Caribbean island, and the history of the Garifuna people dates back to a shipwrecked African slave ship in 1675. The survivors of the shipwreck ended up on the island of St. Vincent, where they intermarried, eventually causing St. Vincent to become a primarily mixed-race community. The Garifuna people, who are descendants of this community, were exiled (by the British) to the Honduran island of Roatan in the 1800s. Soon after, they dispersed to various locations along the coast of Central America, including Livingston, where the Garifuna influence can now be observed in the language, food, music, and dance.

Livingston, Guatemala

The main thing I wanted to do in Livingston was kayak on the Rio Dulce. I found out that a hotel called Casa Nostra rented out kayaks, so at noon I walked over and was given a banana-like yellow boat. Earlier that day, a fellow traveler had told me the story of how his kayak was run over by a boat while he was crossing the channel—he had jumped off just in time. So, as I began paddling toward the river, I made sure to heed his warning by staying close to the shoreline to avoid the boat traffic. Livingston is a fishing town, so there were many weathered old boats moored throughout the bay, where the Gulf of Honduras meets the Dulce River. The vessels were in a tired condition, but possessed an odd charm—their worn-out wood and peeling paint emitted an aged, yet tough character. 

Approaching the Mouth of Rio Dulce

Entering the river was an enveloping experience. The river is bordered by steep, almost vertical cliffsides that are somehow covered with dense foliage despite their sharp angle. I hugged the shore closely as I paddled, occasionally drifting underneath low hanging branches. It was quiet all around, with the exception of an occasional motorboat jetting down the center of the river. Small waves made therapeutic slapping noises against the hull of my kayak as it moved steadily against the current. I passed a number of local fishermen in tiny, handmade wooden boats—the men were hand fishing, weaving slowly in and out of small inlets to toss their lines into the shallows. They moved slowly and deliberately, with a steadiness that comes from routine. 

Paddling Upriver

After about three hours of paddling upriver, I reached a spot where it seemed appropriate to turn around and head back. Up ahead, the river straightened out, providing an impressive view down the channel. The sun was on the decline, creating long streaks of glimmering white reflections across the river’s surface. As I drifted back down toward the Gulf I frequently spun around to capture photo opportunities, allowing the current to pull me backwards as I lined up my camera’s viewfinder. When I reached the mouth of the river, the winds had picked up, causing a stronger current to come against me in a diagonal direction. It was somewhat frustrating to be continuously pushed off course, and I began making deep, sweeping movements with the paddle to maintain my path. When I reached the moored boats, some of them looked too compelling to forgo snapping a photo, so again I spun around and aligned my viewfinder quickly, racing against being blown into some dock piers. Eventually I made it back to Casa Nostra, where I returned the kayak and walked down the street to my hostel, Casa de la Iguana, for a fresh seafood dinner—a perfect end to the day. 

Heading Back Downriver

Travel Tips for Livingston / Kayaking on Rio Dulce

Accommodation in Livingston: Casa de la Iguana. The staff is very friendly and the whole place has a communal vibe, with group dinners offered every night.

Kayak Rentals: Casa Nostra rents kayaks for 50Q (about $6.50). It is located along the water, right down the street from Casa de la Iguana (look for the bright yellow walls).

Kayak Safety: When kayaking here, try to avoid the middle of the channels and bays. There is a lot of boat traffic that could be potentially hazardous (as demonstrated by the story from this post).

Other Activities in Livingston: At Casa de la Iguana, you can sign up for a fishing trip. After the trip, you can bring your catch back to the hostel, where they will cook the fish for dinner and make fresh ceviche with it!