9 Things to Know Before Visiting Livingston, Guatemala

Garifuna © Elvert Barnes / Flickr
Garifuna © Elvert Barnes / Flickr
On the Caribbean coast of Guatemala lies the intriguing town of Livingston. Read on to find out what you should know before you go.
Livingston, Guatemala © scropy / Flickr

It was first populated by escaped slaves

The local population is largely Garifuna, the descendents of slaves who were left to die on a stricken ship before survivors washed up on these shores. During the Guatemalan civil war, indigenous Quiche Mayans moved to the area in large numbers to escape the violence.

Eat some tapado

The Garifuna culture means that Livingston has a cuisine distinct from the rest of the country. Perhaps the most emblematic dish is tapado, a seafood stew in a coconut broth.

Watch some Garifuna drumming and dancing

The local Garifuna are known for their music and dancing, and there are several groups in town that play in the bars at night. Check out a performance at Rasta Mesa one evening.

The harbour at Livingston, Guatemala © Padraic / wikimedia

You can only get there by boat

If you are worried about traveling on the water, Livingston isn’t for you. You can only get to the town by boat, as it sits on a densely-forested peninsula without a road connection to the rest of Guatemala.

Make sure you try some gifiti

The locals love rum, and use it to make a homebrew known as gifiti. Rum is poured over roots and herbs and left to soak for a few weeks in the sun, lending it medicinal properties. Try some on a night out but be warned: it’s incredibly strong stuff.

Plan a trip to Los Siete Altares

Around an hour’s walk along the beach from town are the waterfalls known as Los Siete Altares. Here you can swim in the rockpools and visit the cultural centre which tells the story of the Garifuna and their culture.

A Great Egret near Rio Dulce, Guatemala © Murray Foubister / flickr

Visit Punta de Manabique to see the birds

Across the water from Livingston lies one of the most important birding sites in Guatemala, Punta de Manabique. The beaches, mangroves and forests are home to myriad avian species, as well as monkeys and crocodiles.

You can get to Belize and Honduras from here

If you are planning onward travel, remember that you don’t have to go to Rio Dulce to reach your destination. There are boats from Livingston to Punta Gorda in Belize, and there is an immigration office in town. Alternatively you can get a boat to Puerto Barrios, which is near the border with Honduras.

Keep an eye out for hustlers

As with many tourist destinations, there are a minority of locals who earn a living hustling tourists. Whether that means taking you to accommodation or restaurants in return for a commission, or attempting to scam you out of money, be aware of them.