Guatemala: Caribbean Coast and Jungle


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Published: August 4th 2016
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Dear All

Greetings from the middle of the Guatemalan jungle! I am writing this one from the most amazing of eco-lodges, deep within the Guatemalan jungle, on the banks of the Rio Tatin, a small tributary which feeds into the larger Rio Dulce. It’s the Finca Tatin, and it’s just wonderful. I am currently lying on my bed, writing this, with a solar fan on as there’s only mains electricity here for a few hours every evening. I’m in a jungle hut, with insect-netted windows on all walls, surrounded by sounds of numerous types of cicadas and whirring insects – this morning I awoke to a cacophony of different bird noises – and this evening I just saw my very first fire-fly – wow, it’s a magical place!

I believe I last wrote on a bus journey from Guatemala City to Rio Dulce, having just made it in time for the air-conditioned bus. The journey was great, I enjoyed it as it was such a relief to have got the bus! Arrived around 7.30pm in the river port town of Rio Dulce, and was collected by boat by a guy from the jungle-lodge I was staying at there for
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Rio Dulce
two nights, the Hacienda Tijax.

Indeed, these last few days have been spent in this jungle-area around the Rio Dulce, an important riverway in the north-east of the country, linking the country’s largest lake, Lago de Izabal, with the Caribbean Sea. It’s a magical place, comparatively undiscovered so far by tourism, but with so much to see and experience, it has definitely warranted the four nights I’ve planned to stay in the region. The US coastguard names the Rio Dulce as the safest place in the Western Caribbean for boats to shelter during a hurricane, and as such it is an important base for international yachties from around the world. The town of Rio Dulce itself is surrounded by various marinas and docks housing such impressive luxury yachts. It is also the location of the lovely little Castillo de San Felipe – a wonderfully-preserved colonial fort built in 1652 to protect the local area from pirates. I didn’t have chance to visit the place, but I did see it from a boat ride I took down the Rio Dulce, it seemed straight out of a Pirates of the Caribbean film.

So, first up, two nights at the Hacienda
Perfection!Perfection!Perfection!

Livingston
Tijax, a wonderful jungle lodge built along boardwalks above a mangrove swamp on the shore of the river. The first night spent there was tranquil, calm, and full of jungly sights and sounds. The second night was unfortunately marred by the arrival of two large tour groups, with about 20 people in each, the types of which seemed completely oblivious to other people around them. One from Guatemala, in a holiday-type of mood and playing lots of things on their tinny-sounding mobile phones at full blast. The other from England/Australia mainly, the type of twenty-something overland tour groups who generally like to drink lots wherever they go. I can’t say I enjoyed this second night to be honest: although people went to bed fairly early, it really spoilt the peaceful, tranquil setting, and I shall keep a close eye on TripAdvisor reviews in future, to avoid places catering to such large groups.

Anyway, my first morning at the Tijax I spent doing a wonderful three-hour hike around the Hacienda (I believe this translates as “ranch” or a large farm in English). The walk took me first through a primary forest, which was just stunning, and then a rubber plantation – it was the first time I got to see actual rubber trees being tapped, by creating a knife-cut slit diagonally around the trunk, and allowing the sap to trickle down into small buckets tied at the base of the tree. I remember studying these for GCSE or ‘A’ Level Geography, it was wonderful to see it in action. The walk also took me across two 15-metre high jungle canopy walks, which were just incredible, if a little scary – I had to continually block scenes from the end of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom coming into mind…! There was also a wonderfully refreshing dip in a pool and waterfall area, and finally a climb up the “Shaman Tower” for stunning views over the forests, and back down towards the Tijax and the Rio Dulce area. A thoroughly enjoyable walk indeed, with lots of photos added here. The rest of the day I spent around the lodge and its swimming pool, in peace, until said tour groups arrived…!

And yesterday morning I took a boat down the Rio Dulce towards the Caribbean Sea, stopping off for a soak in some natural hot springs along the way (and making a loud entrance into the pool as one of the steps leading into the water was missing, unbeknownst to me, who upon missing it, made a loud crash and splash into the waters, much I’m sure to the amusement of the local bathers…!), to be dropped off at the marvellous Finca Tatin. A bit like the Hacienda Tijax, but much more natural, much more relaxed and chilled, and much deeper in the jungle – also, although there were around 30 or so guests here last night, they were not of the loud tour group variety, and everyone seems to blend in very naturally with the environment around here – chilled, relaxed, natural.

After being shown to my room, and then being given a free upgrade to an even nicer room, further away from the restaurant area and deeper into the jungle as the first room didn’t have a solar fan, I joined up with a lovely small family from Switzerland who took the same boat as me from Rio Dulce, on another wonderful, even more natural, hike through the local jungle. Christopher and Simona, and their cute little four-year-old boy called Pino, who travels in a kiddie-backpack on Christopher’s back. It was a real pleasure to walk through the jungle with them, they were so quiet, and so appreciative of the sounds, smells, sights around them. We stopped every few metres just to take in the surroundings – the various noises, the small animals we could see along the way: lizards, crickets, crabs, birds. We even stumbled unknowingly upon a ground-nesting bird’s nest. As the bird shrieked off into the trees startled by our arrival, we were able to glimpse its three eggs it was incubating – surprising considering the existence of snakes around here too. The trek took us to a nearby school in the local Q’eqchi’ Maya village of Ak’Tenamit, which educates around 400 students in total from the local area and beyond (it has student dormitories for those who live too far away to travel to school each day) – they were very friendly, some of them keen to practise their English with us, and we also showed up just in time for a music lesson which took place on two large, wooden xylophone-types of instruments. They also loved little Pino, travelling in his father’s backpack, who was given a small packet of crisps as
Yachts MooredYachts MooredYachts Moored

Hacienda Tijax
a present by a local guy – he then offered one of the crisps to me – very sweet! We finished off the walk by taking a cool, refreshing dip in the local waterfall and pool area, with small fish which liked to nibble you as you entered the water – a little disconcerting, though I do believe piranhas are not native to this area…!

We returned to the Finca Tatin just in time for a Mayan sauna which I’d booked for 5pm, and I happily spent the following hour combining time sweating out the toxins in the igloo-shaped, stone-built hot room with refreshing dips to cool off in the local Tatin river. A wonderful way to finish off the hike: walking through the humid jungle you become instantly covered in sweat within minutes – it was great to feel squeaky clean again!

Last night I slept beautifully, and I must admit that I was a bit sceptical at first about not having air-conditioning in such a tropical, humid area, but I have found that it’s actually quite nice sleeping in it – as long as there is a fan to keep you cool at least.

And
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Hacienda Tijax
finally, today. This morning I took a boat with the Finca Tatin along the rest of the Rio Dulce, through a stunning, steep-sided, jungle-clad gorge part of the river, up to where it empties out into the Caribbean Sea – just at the estuary of the river is found a quirky town called Livingston. Quirky, as it is unique in Guatemala, in being home to the Garifuna people of the region. These people’s history is fascinating. The Garifuna are of mixed African and indigenous American background, and trace their history back to a ship carrying slaves from West Africa to the Americas being shipwrecked on the Caribbean island of St Vincent in the 17th century. There, the African people mixed with the local indigenous Carib people, until the island was captured and overtaken by the British in 1796. The Garifuna people, as they had come to be known, were deported to an island off the coast of Honduras, called Roatan. From there, they spread along the coast of Central America, and exist now in the areas of Southern Belize, north-eastern Guatemala, and the Caribbean coasts of Honduras and Nicaragua. Their main town in Guatemala is thus Livingston, and upon arrival,
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Hacienda Tijax
you instantly notice the difference from the rest of Guatemala: much more Caribbean in feel and vibe, and more people of African origin. I’d read that the town had an edgy feel to it, and to be careful of the hustlers that hang out there – perhaps they were more active in the evening, but I didn’t really feel uncomfortable there – people were as friendly as anywhere else in Guatemala. Indeed, I have a feeling that I may encounter the more Caribbean-vibe again once I arrive in Belize, planned for this weekend. It gave me a wonderful taster into travel in the Caribbean, and hopefully plan to do a bit of Caribbean island-hopping during another trip in the not-too-distant future – many countries to count up there!

I spent a happy two hours in Livingston, the owner from the Finca Tatin giving me a time and place to meet him again for the journey back, as he was in town to buy supplies for the Finca’s restaurant. I enjoyed a wonderfully refreshing coke at the Hotel Villa Caribe, with its commanding views over the Rio Dulce estuary and the Caribbean Sea beyond, listening to the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack on my MP3 Player to really get into the mood! Wandered around the streets for an hour, taking in the vibe and buying a cute little pair of maracas, before winding up at the Hotel El Delfin for a delicious toasted English muffin with fried egg for brunch! At 12.30pm I met the Finca boat, and we returned up the stunning jungle-clad gorge back to the lodge. Here I plan to spend the rest of the day, just chilling, writing up my blog, and uploading during the few hours there is WiFi connection here in the evening.

Tomorrow I plan to return to Rio Dulce town, and take a bus further north, and even further into the Guatemalan jungle, but actually back again onto the tourist trail, to a town called Flores, which is situated on an island on the Lago de Peten Itza in the northern El Peten region of Guatemala. I plan to spend a night there in Flores getting my bearings, before making my base the next day on the east side of the lake at a smaller, more intimate town called El Remate, to explore the Mayan ruins of Tikal further north.

So, until the next time, thanks very much for reading. I wish everyone all the best, y muchos saludos de nuevo desde Guatemala!

Alex

PS Wow, people are talking around here about a tropical storm called Earl, which may develop into a hurricane, and is on track to hit the Belizean/Guatemalan border with 70mph winds – blimey, that’s just where I am right now. I guess that would be a truly Caribbean experience…!

PPS I’m now uploading this from Flores, in Northern Guatemala, as there was no Internet connection in the Finca Tatin jungle lodge last night. Very glad to have arrived here safely this afternoon, in air-conditioned boutique hotel bliss 😊 Tropical Storm Earl has now been upgraded to a hurricane, and is expected to be passing directly overhead sometime tonight or tomorrow. The local people here said we should be ok, just very heavy wind and rain – it’s the Belizean coast which will unfortunately be bearing the brunt of it. Well, at least I’ll be able to tick “experiencing a hurricane” off the list now… :/


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Hacienda Tijax
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7th August 2016
An Agouti

Agouti!
I'm so jealous that you got to see one properly... we only saw the back of one that we startled - they are cute, but very odd looking things :)
7th August 2016
An Agouti

Toucan :)
Aw, sorry you didn't get to see an agouti - but from what I remember, you did get to see a toucan I believe...? Well done you - and just as good I think :)
7th August 2016

A magical place
Guatemala is on our short list and you've really made us want to go sooner than later. We love stopping in hot springs.
7th August 2016

Ah...
Ah, I was wrong then, seems like you've not been - in that case, I definitely recommend a visit - it's such a varied country, quite easy for the traveller to travel in, excellent value for money, and the people are just so friendly and welcoming - it has a great vibe :)

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