If You Go
Nestled between Honduras and Belize, Guatemala has only a smidgen of coastline on its Caribbean side. The town of Livingston sits on a hill, a sentinel at the Rio Dulce’s mouth. It is wise to approach the entrance with caution at high tide, as there is a shallow bar that extends out from Livingston for about a mile. Capt. John Brandes, a longtime resident and marina owner in Rio Dulce, recommends following these waypoints when entering Livingston: 15° 50.171’ N, 88° 43.833’ W (outside the bar) to 15° 49.283’ N, 88° 44.744’ W (inside the bar). Fortunately, the bottom is soft and boats with a draft of over 6 feet have been known to cross the bar with just a few bumps.
Livingston is the place to clear customs and immigration. It’s quick and easy if you enlist the help of Raul Morales Veliz at Servamar. Just hail him on VHF Channel 16. Raul’s office is just up the street from the main dock, and he’ll take care of all your paperwork in an hour for under $200. Raul does not recommend anchoring overnight in Livingston. It gets very lumpy when the afternoon winds pick up, and anything on the deck that’s not locked down is likely to disappear. He suggests heading straight to Cayo Quemado, aka Texan Bay, and provides directions to the entrance. It’s about 8 miles upriver.
As for leaving your boat in Rio Dulce, there is no shortage of well-maintained, inexpensive marinas. Slips cost from $175 to $400 per month, and most marinas have a restaurant, swimming pool and guest bungalows. They attract an international backpacker set, in addition to sailors. We chose Captain John’s Marina because it is small, very inexpensive and the crew there does excellent varnish work. It also has a swimming pool and two well-appointed cabanas with kitchens. In addition to being a licensed captain, Capt. John is a surveyor and possesses a wealth of knowledge about local culture and politics.
Most of the marinas require a dinghy ride to get to town, but Bruno’s Marina is right downtown and allows cruisers to tie up dinghies to its dock when running errands. If you’re looking for a quieter, more out-of-the-way place, Monkey Bay might be the marina for you. Tortugal, Tijax, and Mar Marine all have beautiful restaurants and hotels. If you need to haul out or want to store your boat on the hard, Abel’s or RAM Marina can do it. RAM even has a small chandlery. Boat parts or accessories that can’t be purchased in Guatemala can be delivered through Captain John’s Shipping Services.
There are three great sources of information for cruisers in Rio Dulce: 1. the Rio Dulce Chisme, an online news magazine (rio dulcechisme.com); 2. Rio Dulce Cruisers, a Facebook page; 3. the morning cruisers net on VHF Channel 69 at 7:30 a.m.