Travels With the Booby: Livingston, Guatemala

Apologies, fellas, the Booby’s a little late getting his post up this Wednesday morning. But here we go, better late than never.

Alright, fellas, time to talk travel again. It’s the only way to learn about the world (the real world) in an age when “education” has been usurped by brown-shirted ideologues.

Here’s some food for thought about your self-education:  Some places, like Antigua, Guatemala are tourist magnets, as I recently showed you (see here). Others are less so. The Booby won’t preach about which type of destination is better, but will only say that each has its attractions and disadvantages.

Today, the Booby will stay within the country of Guatemala, but will take you someplace that diverges from Antigua’s aforementioned tourist bustle. He’s talking about the Eastern Guatemalan coastal town of Livingston, a wonderful locale for you to visit as part of your life experience.

The obvious thing you will notice about Livingston is its relative seclusion. While technically not an island in a geographic sense, it functions as though it were an island. There are no roads and no land access to this little community. Even the small airstrip is closed and overgrown. On the East it is flanked by the Caribbean Sea, and on the West by rocky terrain covered by impenetrably dense jungle. There is really no other way to get to Livingston except by boat.

The other striking feature of Livingston is its location on the delta where the Rio Dulce flows into the Caribbean Sea. This is what also makes Livingston an important stopover for people wishing to travel along this lush river way. From town it’s easy to find public or private boats that travel upstream, and eventually on to Lago Izabal.

The Booby strongly advises you to take this journey.

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The bank of the Rio Dulce.

Travelling this river (and its tributaries, if you get the chance) provides both beautiful scenery and a brief respite from the modern world. The more adventurous can also choose to stay in a jungle hut; the more reserved can stay in one of the few (very few) riverside hotels between the two small towns at either end of the river.

There are a number of ways you can do this brief but rewarding journey: a handful of small local tour operators  will take you for a day trip up-river; alternatively, you may wish to actually spend one or more nights deeper in the jungle, along one of the river’s dark tributaries (see here and here); or, you can even hike from Livingston through the jungle and on to some of the more scenic destinations. Whichever option you choose to explore the Rio Dulce beyond the bounds of Livingston is up to you.

The town is an important local transport hub. In addition to providing access to the Rio Dulce Livingston is also a minor port which also serves the Guatemalan city of Puerto Barrios, as well as the Belizean city of Punta Gorda.

As for the town of Livingston itself, there are at least two approaches visitors typically take. Some see Livingston as a brief destination in itself, while others see it merely as a stopover to get up river. Some fellow travellers, met in passing, would gasp when the Booby told them he was staying in Livingston for four days:

“Four days!?” They would exclaim. “But there’s nothing to do in Livingston. What will you do for four days?!”

Their concerns are only partly justified. There are in fact things to do. But for some, the slowness of pace and aforementioned lack of goings-on is part of the appeal. It’s as a good a place as any to unwind, or for those who just want to be left the hell alone.

As for “things to do”, Livingston’s certainly not Disneyland, or even Antigua for that matter. However, as the Booby said there are appeals to this, too. Take the long hike to Los Siete Altares (The Seven Altars), a series of seven small cascading waterfalls… well, waterfalls if you visit after a recent rain. When it hasn’t been raining the waterfalls dry up into into a series of seven pools. Either way, it’s a damn nice sight to behold and the hike to get there is part of the attraction. If possible, hike right from town, rather than taking a tuk tuk to the trail head (bu don’t be ashamed to take a tuk-tuk back to Livingston afterwards).

Walking the “trail” to Siete Alteres is especially interesting since around here “trail” does not necessarily mean a path marked by human hands so much as an unspoken expectation that following the shoreline will eventually get you to where you are going. Along the way you will pass only the occasional hotel, the odd rag-tag home, and, unfortunately, a great deal of litter. Nevertheless, it’s still a little piece of paradise and often can be traversed without seeing too many other bodies.

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Returning from Los Siete Altares along the “trail”.

As for the town of Livingston, it is best known for its dual settlers, the Garifuna, descendants of escaped slaves, and the indigenous, largely Maya, population, whose descendants settled in Livingston later, while seeking refuge from civil war. It is an interesting cultural mix, and the locals seem eager to discuss their history.

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Main Street, Livingston, Guatemala

The locals’ eagerness to discuss their history is another example of why travel can contribute to your self-education. For example, many of the black Garifuna residents who spoke to the Booby compared the social situation in Livingstone as “apartheid”. There is very little mingling between the Africans and the Mayans here, and the two ethnic groups live largely in separate districts.

This may come as a shock to many a Westerner, especially those of the “virtuist” variety. After all, Westerners have been taught for over half a century that racial prejudice is an exclusively white phenomenon, and non-whites, being morally pure, do not engage in such naughty activities as apartheid. Well, a quick visit to Livingstone will put a quick end to that myth. Consider yourselves just a little more self-educated after this stop on the Caribbean coast.

A word of warning for Westerners with more delicate dispositions: Livingston is a poor town, even by Guatemalan standards. If this bothers you, perhaps you should consider why you’re travelling in Central America at all. Otherwise, a self-educated fella can still find everything he needs here, from simple groceries, to adequate dining options, to a pharmacy. There are sufficient choices for simple hotels and hostels as well.

Do not miss this place if you happen to be in Guatemala. It’s not easy to get to, but the world up river along the Rio Dulce is very special. And, if you’re not pressed for time, why not stay a while in Livingston, too. You just might learn something.

 

 

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