Livingston is perhaps the most unique place in Guatemala. It’s home to the Garifuna people, a caribbean culture of African descent that’s now settled along the east coast of various Central American countries. That means different language, food and traditions.
Livingston is a tropical fishing community. It’s a port of entry and subsequently a popular stop en-route to Belize & Honduras; it’s well isolated and (practically) only accessible by boat.
Top reasons backpackers visit Livingston:
- Make a quick stop en-route to Belize or Honduras
- Experience the wildly unique food and culture
- Visit gorgeous jungle lodges along the Río Dulce
- Explore the area’s hot springs, caves, waterfalls & more
Livingston homes nestled in trees and green space.
Livingston is hot. It’s at sea level in an area of the country that’s considered tropical. It’s very humid, and ranges from warm to hot depending (mostly) on whether it’s been raining or not. Rainy season here is the same as most of Guatemala: rains start in June and last until November.
During rainy season, mornings and evenings can be somewhat cooler than normal (70 - 75°F or 21 - 24°C), but you can generally expect it to be much, much hotter (85 - 90°F or 29 - 32°C).
You’ll spend Q50 - Q80 ($6.65 - $10.65) for a dorm bed and Q40 - Q200 ($5.35 - $26.65) for a private room. Rooms are sometimes cheaper than dorms - the trade-off here is ambiance. A basic room in a place with no social scene or other attractions may be cheaper than a dorm at a well put together hostel.
Like many destinations in Guatemala, options abound. There are lots of cheap hotels, but without many guests, a bar, a restaurant, etc., you’re unlikely to experience much of the social side of backpacking. It’s all about what works best for you.
African Place Hotel, economy option in Livingston.
African Place is one of the cheaper options at Q40 nightly for a private room. Casa Iguana is a bit costlier for a dorm bed at Q50, but boasts a lively atmosphere and full bar. It’s pretty much the nighttime scene in Livingston. Casa Rosada is a great middle-of-the-road option - very beautiful property, pretty quiet, fairly central.
Check out the full list of hostels in Livingston, Izabal.
Plenty of backpackers pass through Livingston en-route either to or from Belize or Honduras. Livingston is a popular port town with a direct route inland (the Río Dulce) from where connections can be made to head north into the jungle’s of Petén and the famous Tikal ruins, or south towards Guatemala City with connections to Lake Atitlán, Antigua, the Pacific Coast, the highlands, etc.
Puerto Barrios & Río Dulce schedule, Livingston colectivo.
Lanchas colectivas (water taxis) run from Livingston’s main dock to Puerto Barrios, where connections can be made (by land) to Honduras or (by sea) to Belize. The lanchas follow a regular schedule (pictured above) although it’s always best to inquire if you’re operating within a tight agenda or have pre-arranged connections to make.
A regular schedule is also available for those heading inland to Río Dulce (9:30 AM & 2:30 PM), but be warned that the trip isn’t direct. The lancha colectiva makes a few stops along the way both at riverside hostels and tourist attractions, for a total trip time of 1.5+ hours.
Many backpackers don’t see much of Livingston, instead just passing through on their way to points beyond. It’s actually well worth a visit, and with reasonable hostel & food prices one or two nights’ stay won’t significantly affect your budget.
Ethnic, cultural and culinary uniqueness are what make Livingston such a worthwhile stop on the traveler’s agenda. Whether you’re moving through on your way to your next destination or staying for a couple of days, you won't miss the difference.
Food, food, food
Livingston is famous for its Caribbean style fare that’s heavy on the seafood, coconut milk or oil, plantains and bananas. Rice and beans (a dish that hardly ever represents a main course elsewhere in Guatemala) takes on a new flare when the beans are prepared with coconut oil, coconut bits or coconut milk. And banana fritters, plantain stews and seafood soups are sure to excite the palate.
A taste of Livingston's food: rice & beans with coconut bits, coleslaw and deep fried plantain.
Seafood is wonderfully prevalent in Livingston. Don’t skip the fried fish plates, or the fresh spiny lobster or prawns. To get it all in one go, take on a bowl of tapado, a seafood stew that mixes coconut milk, green bananas and a wide, wide selection of delicious sea critters.
Tapado, a seafood stew, from Casa Nostra in Livingston.
Livingston’s calle principal is littered with restaurants offering local dishes. Las tres Garifunas is perhaps one of the more iconic restaurants in the area. For a taste of gourmet ranging from local fare through delicious pizzas & more, checkout Casa Nostra.
For a look at cheaper eats, check out this post: Cheapest food in Livingston.
Rasta Mesa is a restaurant, cooking school & cultural center that offers in-depth lessons on preparing local fare. Expect to spend a couple of hours (and about $15-$20 per person) learning the secrets of Livingston’s most delicious dishes. Lessons include a meal, of course.
Cultural education at Rasta Mesa: cooking classes, hair braiding, art & more.
Rasta Mesa doesn't just offer cooking classes. Ask about their hair braiding, massage, local art & more.
Head over to Casa Nostra to ask about walking tours. A few different guides are available. Tours start at Q70 ($9.35) for one person, but are cheaper in groups. You’ll explore the streets of Livingston, walk area beaches, kayak the Quehueche river and (optionally) visit the Siete Altares waterfalls and swimming lagoon.
Check out some photos from my walking tour of Livingston with Peachy.
The Livingston Cultural Center is home to a local theater group and serves as the venue for local events and performances. While there’s no online schedule of anticipated events, the center itself is just a quick walk away from most area hostels and hotels. You can check at the center for a schedule of upcoming events.
The cultural and performing arts center in Livingston, Guatemala.
Take a look at the cultural center on a Google map to get your bearings.
While Livingston itself is often the jumping off point to destinations beyond (Belize, Honduras, Río Dulce), one of the more relaxing ways to dig in to the area for a few days is to post up in a jungle lodge along the river. Most jungle lodges in the area are conveniently en-route to (or from) Río Dulce, and visits to them are probably best to schedule for that part of your trip.
Disambiguation! Río Dulce refers to both the town of Río Dulce that’s situated where the river opens into Lake Izabal, and the river itself which snakes several miles from Lake Izabal out into the Atlantic Ocean. The town Río Dulce is also referred to as Fronteras, but that’s a term that’s not super common among travelers.
Livingston proper offers a bit of a nightlife and a wide variety of restaurants, comedors and handcraft shops to explore; jungle lodges along the river, on the other hand, are all about kayaking, swimming and the art of the hammock. Plan on spending plenty of time relaxing, reading, or catching up on what the opposing shore of the river looks like. It’s a slow pace, so prepare to take it easy.
The view from The Round House in Livingston.
Check out Hotelito Perdido or my personal favorite, The Round Rouse. The Round House is just a half-hour kayak from nearby caves and hot springs, and their social vibe and daily communal dinners (delicious with legit vegetarian options) are really fantastic. Spacious dorm beds with bedside tables and good mattresses go for under $7 a night.
There are some really great jungle lodges closer to Río Dulce (Fronteras), too. They’re a little noisier (there’s tons of commercial trucking traffic in Fronteras) but also much, much closer to civilization, bus stations and the next step of your journey.
Livingston is home to a variety of hot springs and caves, although few of them are well developed as travel attractions. Transportation routes and guides vary. Speak to the owners of Casa Nostra and Casa de la Iguana in Livingston to learn more about possible trips to the large cave systems in the area.
Hot springs, caves & sauna community project
There is a community project along the Río Dulce (nearer to the Livingston side) that boasts easy access to hot springs, a natural sauna and a system of caves. The project is a regular stop on the colectivo lancha that runs passengers between Río Dulce and Livingston, but the stop during that trip isn’t long enough to see or do much.
Community hot springs and caves project on the Río Dulce.
Luckily, the Hot Springs Community Project can be reached via kayak from Livingston proper (1.5+ hours) or from one of the jungle lodges along the river. The community project is just a half-hour paddle from The Round House, which is a great place to stay a night or two in its own right. If you’re committed to making the long haul from the town of Livingston, check in at Casa Nostra for kayak rental by the day.
Waterfalls & swimming
Livingston has a somewhat surprising lack of swimming beaches considering it’s a port town. Many of the beaches aren’t groomed and don’t exactly scream swim in me! to passersby. The exception to the rule is the beach at the hotel Salvador Gaviota, a nice little stretch of yellow sand that’s about a fifteen minute cab ride from the heart of Livingston. Salvador Gaviota is locally owned and operated. They boast a full bar and restaurant, some great beachside lounging space, and a shaded pagoda with hammocks that juts out into the bay. Any cab will know the hotel by name. Visitors are welcome to the beach, but of course it makes sense to enjoy a meal or a few drinks while you're there.
Swimming beach at Salvador Gaviota, Livingston.
One of the more popular destinations in Livingston is Los Siete Altares (the seven altars), a freshwater system that drains through a rocky, bouldered riverbed, collects in various deep pools, and finally empties out into the ocean. The whole river and various waterfalls are well shaded beneath jungle canopy, making it a perfect place to take a break from the Livingston heat.
A natural swimming pool at los Siete Altares, Livingston.
Los Siete Altares is located along the beach headed north away from town. It’s a few hours’ walk from Livingston, or about thirty minutes if you walk from Salvador Gaviota. The entrance fee is Q20.
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