Belize to Guatemala

Traveling always requires constant decisions on where to go next, which way is better, what fits in the budget, where is more safe, more interesting, faster or whatever else is important to you. There is usualy not only one good way and there are always some “ifs” left without an answer. That was the case for us in terms of choosing a way to enter Guatemala from Belize.

If it wasn’t for the people we’ve met on the way we would probably take a bus from Punta Gorda through the capital Belmopan to reach Flores in Guatemala, by crossing the western border. Although, after hearing all the tips about the small Guatemalan carribean coast, we’ve decided to take this route and get to Flores after staying few nights in Rio Dulce, where you can find a huge lagoon which is actualy a river with a lake at the end, surrounded by thick jungle. The place is one of the hidden gems of Guatemala, and is very often missed on the tourist itinerary.

To get there we had to cross the border on water with a boat from Punta Gorda to Puerto Barillos. Most of the tourist are choosing to stop sooner in Livingston to take another boat up the lagoon river up to Rio Dulce. This way is apparently much more picturesque and way faster but much more pricey. As we’ve had some issues to withdraw our money in the last days we had no other option then to choose the cheapest way possible. That meant getting to Puerto Barrillos and from there taking a van heading towards Morales to change it for another one directly to Rio Dulce. Simply said, long and exhausting ride from Punta Gorda to a new country through a very unpleasent industrial city (Puerto Barillos) where we had to get money, local sim card and some snacks for the road ahead.
Change of the buses was an intense experience as well, as we were dropped of on the intersection, having just seconds to pick all our stuff and jump of then get to something that was supposed to be a bus stop to Rio Dulce. There were some gentlemen who seemed to be in charge of stopping the buses and directing passengers and a tiny snack shop. We made sure that we are in the right spot and we should just wait in stand by, ready to run and jump to the right bus. The first one passed us without even slowing down because it was so full. The next one stopped even though it was even more full and people would be hanging on the sides of the van like monkeys but some desperate people from the bus stop were trying to get in anyway. We passed, but in the matter of seconds there was another bigger bus stopping few meters further and one of those gentlemen in charge started waving on us so we would run to get it. So we did. They have dropped our backpack in the luggage compartment almost without stopping fully. In the matter of seconds we were on our way again, still making sure that we’re on the right bus.
We got to Rio Dulce already after dark, but as this was predictable we already have booked accomodation ahead, especially that most of the hotels are at the lake or in the jungle and you can get there only by boat. The town itself looked not any better then the first industrial dusty harbour, so we were so pleased when we arrived in our Casa Perico, settled at the water in the jungle where you could only hear the nature and not houndreds of trucks and motorbikes. We tried to soothen a bit our headaches with some beers and warm dinner and then went directly to bed. Next day we still felt that we need some time for ourselves, so we were just hanging out at the hotel while admiring some colibers, turtles or butterflies on the way to the bathroom or elsewere – which was quite amazing!
The main point in Rio Dulce for us was a thermal waterfall where you can swim in the cold river while the hot water (40 degrees Celsius) was falling on you from the waterfall. Insane experience and absolutely relaxing. The route to the spot is quite long (ca. 40min) but you just need to take a van heading further and say to be dropped of at the Finca Paraiso. You don’t have to look far. The conductors for those vans will find you and scream this name in your face, so you just need to say “si” and follow him. The ride costs 15Q/2$. At the spot you need to pay additional 15Q to enter because it’s a private property. This was a small adventure for us as we had no small bills on us. We ended up walking around the whole nearby village with a volunteer old local farmer as a guide and a tail of curious children, who where hoping to get some “dineros” from us. It seemed like a 100Q bill (13$) is such a big amount of money that the whole village can’t collect enough to change it for us. After visiting a church and reaching 4th or 5th shop we have finally begged our way to get some smaller bills. It took us an hour to get two pieces of paper which allowed us to finally enter the thermal area.
It’s a fully natural place, no showers or changing rooms. You will only see locals trying to sell you peanuts or coconuts and the rest is the water and forest. We enjoyed the water and hot water neck massage for some hours (with some rain in between) and then headed back to our hotel (with a stop for a dinner which was a bit fancy for our standards).
We loved our time at Rio Dulce and regret a bit that we haven’t had enough good weather to use free canoes from the hotel and explore the river and jungle a bit more, but it was definately a place worth the hassle to get to. After all, the richest people of Guatemala have their residences and fancy yachts there, so there must be a reason for that.
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