Lago de Izabal

The vast Lago de Izabal narrows to form a neck at the town of Fronteras. Better known as Río Dulce, it is famed for its riverside setting and there are some beautiful places around the lake and river in which to stay. Just south of Río Dulce on the lake is the Castillo de San Felipe. On the northern shore of the lake is the town of El Estor, and on its southern shore the smaller town of Mariscos . Further east, beyond Río Dulce, the river broadens out to El Golfete, where there is the Biotopo Chacón Machacas. It then narrows into one of the finest gorges in the world, and opens out at its estuary, with Lívingston at its head. This area can be wet in the rainy season, but it experiences a lull in July, known as the

Fronteras/Río Dulce and around

Río Dulce is a good place to stop and kick back for a couple of days. Allow yourself to be tempted to laze on a boat for the afternoon, walk in the nearby jungle, or eat and drink at one of several dockside restaurants. Río Dulce,, is 23 km upstream from Lívingston at the entrance to Lago de Izabal, is easily accessible from Puerto Barrios by road, and is the last major stop before the Petén. It's also a good place to collect information about the area stretching from El Estor to Lívingston.

On the shore of Lago de Izabal is Casa Guatemala,, or the Hotel Backpacker's, an orphanage where you can work in exchange for basic accommodation and food. At the entrance to Lago de Izabal, 2 km upstream, is the old Spanish fort of Castillo de San Felipe. The fortification was first built in 1643 to defend the coast against attacks from pirates. Between Río Dulce and El Estor is Finca El Paraíso, a hot waterfall with waters that plunge into a cool-water pool below.

El Estor and around

El Estor enjoys one of the most beautiful vistas in Guatemala. It is strung along the northwest shore of Lago de Izabal, backed by the Santa Cruz mountain range and facing the Sierra de las Minas. The lake is the largest in Guatemala at 717 sq km. It's a great place to relax, swim (down a nearby canyon), go fishing and spot manatee. Some businesses are expecting the new road to bring a surge of tourists visitors. For the next few years, you'll still have the place mostly to yourself. The town dates back to the days when the Europeans living in the Atlantic area got their provisions from a store situated at this spot, now the
Hotel Vista al Lago
. Briton Skinner and Dutchman Klee used to supply the region from
el store
from 1815 to 1850. Nickel-mining began just outside town in 1978, but was suspended at the
Exmibal plant
after the oil crisis of 1982, because the process depended on cheap sources of energy.

You can hire a boat from Río Dulce to El Estor, passing near the hot waterfall, inland at Finca El Paraíso, which can be reached by a good trail in about 40 minutes. The Río Sauce cuts through the impressive Cañón El Boquerón, where you can swim with the current all the way down the canyon, which is brilliant fun. It's a deep canyon with lots of old man's beard hanging down, strange rock formations and otters and troops of howler monkeys whooping about. One of the locals will paddle you upstream for about 800 m. Exploring the Río Zarco, closer to town, also makes for a good trip, with cold swimming. The Refugio de Vida Silvestre Bocas del Polochic (Bocas del Polochic Wildlife Reserve) is a 23,000-ha protected area on the western shores of the lake. Howler monkeys are commonly seen. In addition to over 350 bird species, there are iguanas, turtles and the chance of sighting crocodiles and manatees. The NGO Defensores de la Naturaleza,, has a research station at Selempim with bunk beds, food, showers and kitchen.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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