Lívingston and around

Lívingston, or La Buga, is populated mostly by Garífuna, who bring a colourful flavour to this corner of Guatemala. With its tropical sounds and smells, it is a good place to hang out for a few days, sitting on the dock of the bay, or larging it up with the locals,
punta
-style.
Coco pan
and
cocado
(a coconut, sugar and ginger
dulce
) and locally made jewellery are sold in the streets. The town is the centre of fishing and shrimping in the Bay of Amatique and only accessible by boat. It is nearly 23 km by sea from Puerto Barrios and there are regular daily boat runs that take 35 minutes in a fast
lancha
. The bulk of the town is up a small steep slope leading straight from the dock, which is at the mouth of the Río Dulce estuary. The other part
of town is a linear spread along the river estuary, just north of the dock and then first left. The town is small and everything is within walking distance. The Caribbean beach is pretty dirty nearer the river estuary end, but a little further up the coast, it is cleaner, with palm trees and accommodation. Closer to the town are a couple of bars and weekend beach discos. The town's
Centro Cultural
Garífuna-Q'eqchi'
is perched on a hillock, and has the best views in the whole of Lívingston. The town's fiestas are 24-31 December, in honour of the Virgen del Rosario, with dancing including the
punta
, and Garífuna Day, 26 November. For local information see www.livingston.com.gt.

Around Lívingston

Northwest along the coastline towards the Río Sarstún, on the border with Belize (where manatee can be seen), is the
Río Blanco beach
(45 minutes by
lancha
from Lívingston), followed by
Playa Quehueche
(also spelt Keueche). Beyond Quehueche, about 6 km (1½ hours) from Lívingston, are
Los Siete Altares
, a set of small waterfalls and pools hidden in the greenery. They are at their best during the rainy season when the water cascades down to the sea. In the drier seasons much of the water is channelled down small, eroded grooves on large slabs of grey rock, where you can stretch out and enjoy the sun. Early
Tarzan
movies were filmed here. Don't stroll on the beach after dark and be careful of your belongings at the Siete Altares end. Police occasionally accompany tourists to the falls; check on arrival what the security situation is. Boats can be hired in Livingston to visit beaches along the coast towards San Juan and the Río Sarstún.

The Biotopo Chocón Machacas is one place where the elusive manatee (sea cow) hangs out, but you are unlikely to see him munching his way across the lake bottom, as he is very shy and retreats at the sound of a boat motor. (The manatee is an aquatic herbivore, which can be up to 4 m long when adult, and weigh more than 450 kg. It eats for six to eight hours daily and can consume more than 10% of its body weight in a 24-hour period.) Administered by CECON, the reserve is a mangrove zone, half way between Río Dulce town and Lívingston, on the northern shore of

Proyecto Ak' Tenamit, www.aktenamit.org, meaning 'new village' in Q'eqchi', is 15 minutes upriver from Lívingston. It was set up to help 7000 Q'eqchi' Maya displaced by the civil war. Volunteers are needed for a minimum of a month's work (board and transport, and weekends off). A working knowledge of Spanish is required. Near here is the Río Tatin tributary the wonderfully sited Finca Tatín and Hotelito Perdido. Reserva Ecológica Cerro San Gil, with its natural pools, karstic caves and biostation, can be visited from here, or from Río Dulce. Contact FUNDAECO, www.fundaeco.org.gt.

Punta de Manabique

Punta de Manabique is a fine, finger-shaped peninsula northeast of Puerto Barrios and just visible across the bay from Lívingston, coated in a beach of white sand on its eastern side, and by mangrove on the other. Travelling north to the point of the peninsula, you pass the Bahía de Graciosa, where dolphins frolic and manatees silently graze under the surface. In its virgin tropical forest live howler monkeys, parrots, snakes, pizote, tapirs and peccary and, on its beaches, turtles. There is a visitor centre, scientific station and a hotel. For more information contact the Fundacíon Mario Dary, www.guate.net/fundarymanabique/ fundacion.htm, which operates conservation, health, education and ecotourism projects.

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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