Unlike Antigua, Semuc Champey or Lake Atitlan, Rio Dulce and its surrounding areas are often overlooked by travelers following their guide books word for word. And since the guidebooks barely write a paragraph about Rio Dulce you would think it had nothing to offer. But we disagree! Yes, I will admit that the Rio Dulce town is like a mini NYC on ecstasy, with millions of trucks running through it day and night but once you leave the chaos of Rio Dulce town and head into its surrounding areas you will be surprised by what you will find.
We have seen some beautiful sights like the Reach Falls in Jamaica, the Volcan Pacaya in Guatemala, or the Mayan ruins in Mexico, but some of the most majestic and breathtaking things we have seen are just a few minutes ride from the underrated town, Rio Dulce.
So, what is there to see in Rio Dulce?
El Boqueron Canyon
From the main road, you would never expect the trees to be hiding something as majestic as El Boqueron Canyon. The silent boat ride through the gigantic rock walls covered in lush green vegetation was like nothing we have ever seen before. We felt like ants in a giant’s world.
We are actually pretty surprised (and glad) that this attraction is not well known because it is unbelievably beautiful.
Admission: Q5 p/p, and if you choose to do the boat ride it is an additional Q15 p/p which in our opinion is worth the extra quetzals as it gives you the full effect of the place.
How to get there:
A. From Rio Dulce: Take a colectivo towards El Estor at the intersection before the bridge for 45 minutes.(Q20 p/p)
B. From Finca Paraiso: Head to the main road and wait for a minibus heading towards El Estor (away from Rio Dulce). Tell the helper you want to got to El Boqueron. (5Q p/p)
Insider Tip: You do need to know how to swim (or ask for a life vest) to fully enjoy El Boqueron as after the 15-20 min boat ride, the captain will drop you off at a giant rock where you can swim, explore caves and enjoy the rest of the 5km of El Boqueron. Depending on how long you want to stay the captain will either wait or pick you up at an agreed time.
Tour: This attraction is definitely a do-it-yourself-attraction. No need to hire a tour guide. Plus you will want to enjoy this natural wonder all by yourself, not with 15+ other people.
Lago Izabal is not only home to El Boqueron Canyon but also Finca Paraiso’s hot waterfall. I know what you are thinking, why would you go to a hot waterfall when it is 80+ F outside. Well, because it’s not just hot water, as the hot waterfall cascades into the cool river that runs beneath it. Not to mention, there is a naturally forming jacuzzi above the waterfall surrounded by gorgeous vegetation and when it gets too hot to stand, you can take a 5 min walk into the jungle and take a mudbath. The mud is said to be good for your skin. The hot waterfall is easily an all day trip and deserves more than just a few minutes or an hour of your time. Great hangout spot for both locals and tourists.
How to get there: Take a 15Q minivan from the intersection before the bridge in Rio Dulce. Ask the driver to let you off at Finca Paraiso, which is 30-40mins from town.
Hours: The falls close around 4pm. Our advice would be to get there early so you can get there before the crowds.
Castillo De San Felipe
The old Spanish colonial fortress overlooking Rio Dulce came as a surprise to us. For some reason we were expecting to see a small not too interesting fort in a closed off area in town. Man were we wrong! Castillo De San Felipe de Lara, located in the Rio Dulce National Park is a pretty cool fort that will have you wanting to be there in 1644 while the inhabitants were protecting the city from pirates.
After visiting the castle, we spent the entire day relaxing in the park, swimming in the water and enjoying the peacefulness of the area as it is a nice escape from the chaos of Rio Dulce town.
Admission: 20Q, entrance to just the park is free
How to get there:
A. By car: from the town you can catch a minivan to Castillo for 3Q. It’s about a 10min ride.
B. By Boat: you can take a Lancha from the dock, under the bridge for 15Q
Insider Tip: Spend at least a half a day in the park and relax. Enjoy the sun, take a dip in the water and when you get hungry buy some food from the many vendors in the park.
We weren’t expecting much from Rio Dulce and it’s surrounding area, we had only planned on staying for a day and head to our real destination, Livingston but in the end we ended up staying 4 days in Rio Dulce and less than 24 hours in Livingston. What a surprise!
When making your list of place to visit in Guatemala, don’t forget to add Rio Dulce and it’s surrounding attractions. Trust us, you won’t regret it.