When I was deciding whether I should visit Livingston I read a lot of negative impressions of the town online. Many people felt that it wasn’t worth staying here for more than a few hours or a day in transit; that it was unsafe and dirty and; that it was full of hustlers and people trying to make money off you.
Information online was scarce and I worried that this would be another fishing village that would test my vegetarian diet once again.
I found the exact opposite. When I walked off the boat in Livingston I was asked by one young man if I already had a place to stay and when I told him yes, he left me alone. Walking out of the small port I was greeted with Garifuna music and I really felt like I’d found somewhere I could explore for a few days.
It’s a small town but there are several places to explore, including some great food options. The best part for me was just wandering around town, chatting to the local people and experiencing life in this very different part of Guatemala.
Livingston does have a problem with trash that has floated down river and collected here at the mouth of Rio Dulce but most of it is away from the main streets and there are still a couple nice beach areas that you can swim in to cool down.
Open from 6am to 4:30pm; Cost: 20Q
One of the best ways to spend half a day in Livingston is to visit the Siete Altares site. When you get there you don’t need a guide so you take your time to walk to the waterfall and then have a picnic or just bathe in the cool pool below. There is also a jump off the falls that you can attempt if you’re not afraid of climbing up there.
It’s about a 1.5 - 2 hour walk there and then another half an hour to the top pool and waterfall. To save some time you can take a taxi halfway and arrange for it to pick you up again. You can also get a boat directly to the site and arrange for a pick up.
The halfway point is Hotel Salvador Gaviota where you can stop for a drink or a meal either on the way there or the way back. There are beach chairs and hammocks for you to relax in along the shore.
If you have the time and if this is the only activity you do in Livingston, then I strongly suggest you walk the whole way there as you get to walk through the whole town and see life outside of the main tourist streets near the dock. You can always try to get a ride on a boat on the way back or get a taxi on you’re past the halfway point.
You will spot some trash on the beaches along the way which is kind of a downer but once you get to the site it is very well maintained.
The Garifuna People
The Garifuna people are the descendants of West African, Central African and the Carib and Arawak people often found throughout the Caribbean. They speak the Garifuna language which has influences from French, Spanish and English so you might recognise some words every now and then if you stop to have a listen.
One interesting fact about the Garifuna people is that their name is actually derived from the Caribs who were originally called "Karifuna" which means the "Cassava Clan". "Garifuna" literally means "cassava-eating people". Cassava or yuca is a popular root vegetable used through Central America and in the Caribbean. You can get a sense of the rich history of the Garifuna people by trying some cassava bread in town.
Getting there and away
The best part about Livingston is that it is a convenient stop when visiting nearby Rio Dulce which is a popular stopping point for travellers en route to or from Honduras. As there are no roads in and out of Livingston, the journey is an experience in itself as you need to get a boat that will take you through some interesting sites along the way and you also get to see what life is like for people who live along the river.
Have you been to Guatemala and skipped Livingston? Or even better, have you visited and have anything else to add? Let me know in the comments below!