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Sail sweetly on Guatemala's Rio Dulce

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A boat trip up the Rio Dulce (literally sweet river) is a highlight of any trip to Guatemala. This wide, wide river flows from Lake Izabal to the Caribbean Sea on the east coast of the country. Starting from the town of Rio Dulce, collective launches take passengers past an old stone fort, natural gardens of water lilies, stands of mangroves, and tiny islands of trees whose branches are filled with cormorants, great white egrets, and brown pelicans. The river banks are a lush jungle of tropical foliage, studded here and there with the wooden and thatch homes of locals. Some small girl will row up in a tiny boat selling trinkets and sea stars. Some man will pass with a boat piled high with river reeds. You may also see expensive yachts as the Rio Dulce is considered the safe place for boaters to be during hurricane season.

The boat also stops briefly at a small hot springs where you can take a dip.

The river empties into the sea beside the town of Livingston which unlike the rest of Guatemala has a very Caribbean feel complete with Rastafarians and dreadlocks. On a day trip from Rio Dulce, you'll have a couple of hours in Livingston, time for a big bowl of the local specialty: a seafood soup with vegetables in a creamy broth, filled with shrimp, clams, squid, conch, a crab leg, snails and one whole fish.

A round-trip excursion costs only around $15. You can book a ticket through your hotel and meet the launch at the public pier or, if you're staying at a hotel on the river, the boat will pick you up there.

From Seattle, flights go to Guatemala City. From there, catch a Litegua line bus to Rio Dulce (about 5 hours through low mountains and then tropical landscape) in a comfortable air-conditioned bus, with a stop for food along the way.

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