Guatemala has a lot to offer. Want to spend the night on an active volcano? No problem. Cave in waist-deep water with only a candle for light? Sure. Hop between lakeside towns partying? That one’s hard to avoid. And of course, watch the sunrise over the ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal? No one is passing that up, and these are all reasons to visit Livingston, but there are still more.
Spots like Antigua, Xela, and Semuc Champey draw in the backpackers but Livingston remains overlooked. Located on the Caribbean coast, Livingston is often used merely as a stop-over for those on their way to Honduras or coming from Belize. But give this unusual town a chance and get an insight into a very unique part of Guatemala.
After spending almost 2 months there, here are the top 7 reasons to visit Livingston, Guatemala.
1. You have to arrive there by boat
Whilst not actually an island, Livingston is inaccessible by road, this makes your arrival part of the adventure. There are three ways to get there with the best being via the Rio Dulce. A canyon walled river that runs through the jungle from Lake Izabal to the Caribbean sea, Rio Dule sets up your time in Livingston perfectly. A normal journey involves a quick stop at the Spanish Fortress of Castillo de San Felipe de Lara and a dip in the hot springs before my personal favorite bit, the jungle-lined cliffs. Once you enter the canyon the jungle comes alive with birds and monkey calls as the boat slowly meanders towards the mouth of the river and into Livingston.
2. The people
A mix of Garífuna, Afro-Caribbean, Maya and Ladino culture make Livingston a very different town to the rest of Guatemala. The Garífuna people have passed down a love of music, drumming, dancing and cooking within a family-driven community. There is always a celebration and everybody is always welcome. You will find the people in Livingston fascinating, full of stories, and warm hearted. Take some time with the locals and get lost in a conversation.
3. Rasta Mesa Cooking class
Ras Mega or Mega G is a cornerstone if not the epicenter of the Garifuna culture in Livingston. His education driven cultural center offers local knowledge and skills passed down through generations of the Garifuna people. Here you can gain a real insight into the history of Livingston and its residents whilst enjoying food, music, dance, and art from his community. A cooking class here involves touring the eco garden to pick ingredients before learning the techniques of how to prepare the local dish Topado, a seafood and coconut stew. This intimate experience held in their family kitchen comes to an energetic close as a small crowd builds to dance, sing, and drum. Hard not to walk out with a huge smile and some reflective thoughts.
4. Hike to Siete Altares
If you are going to pick one activity to do in Livingston then walking to Siete Altares has to be it. These cascading pools are about an hour and a half walk from Livingston which gives you a chance to see the town, see the beaches and cool off at the end of it. The walk is pretty simple just follow the main road out of town and eventually you reach a bridge, go over the bridge and follow the coastline for 40 minutes, the entrance will have a sign. Don’t get excited about a Caribbean beach walk, the coast around Livingston is full of washed up plastic and litter making the already underwhelming beaches quite depressing. It does make you more conscious about how bad plastic is though, so pick some up!
Once you reach Siete Altares follow the stream up through the jungle until you reach the biggest pool where you can jump in off the small ledge and relax by the water. If you don’t fancy the walk there are boat tours that stop at the pools and also go to the only clean beach in the area, Playa Blanca.
5. The Food
Hopefully, the Rasta Mesa class peaked your pallet to the taste of Livingston but it does not stop there. For such a small town there are some really great places to eat and some creative dishes available. Casa Nostra does a top Topado and an excellent breakfast with waterfront views. Order the plantain hash browns, ceviche, or if you are missing home get the pizza, you won’t find a better one in the area. Just up the hill on the main street is Mc Tropic a chilled, quirky decorated place with a rooftop. Great for coffee, seafood, and vegan food.
My top recommendation goes to Lelo’s Place, a guesthouse with a restaurant at the back. Situated on the water it only has a few tables but they serve some incredible food. Deep fried ice cream (somehow that actually works), fried plantain cups filled with refried beans, shredded steak, and avocado and seafood mains served with delicious cocktails.
6. The Nightlife
The town really likes to celebrate whether that is a birthday, an anniversary or just the weekend. The nightlife does not disappoint and feels unaffected by any backpackers and tourists. Playa 8 and Long Beach Disco which may as well be the same venue maintain a truly local feel and regulars will barely acknowledge you are there (in a good way). These clubs are more like temporary structures aligning the beach and offer very basic facilities. The single toilet is pretty grim and the light rarely works, the dancefloor resembles a sweaty living room and the rest of the buildings feel pieced together. Grab a drink, get involved, and be prepared to have your dance moves shown up.
7. Party Hostel
Saturday night at the club goes off but that doesn’t mean the rest of the week is tame. Away from the main road lies an infamous party hostel that has helped make Livingston a place to not just pass through. A small pathway opens out to reveal a series of wooden buildings that make up Casa de la Iguana. The reception doubles up as the bar which is open till the last person gives up and hostel life centers around the pool and decking.
In a clever move to encourage integration, a family-style dinner is served each evening to get everybody together and talking. Once the meal is finished and the conversation is flowing things start to descend. Depending on the game of choice, tables are rearranged or put to the side, spirits and shot glasses come out, the wheel of dares is spun. Good luck if you have to drink more than one Guiffiti shot, they are not pleasant.
So, what do you say? Is there a trip to Livingston in your future?
It’d be wise to make your answer yes, or you’ll be missing out on quite an experience! It’s time you experience a less well-known but just as beautiful and exciting part of Guatemala.
Which of these reasons to visit Livingston compel you the most? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
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George got his first taste for travel in South East Asia back in 2010, since then he has travelled to over 40 countries, writing and blogging along the way. Currently in London using it as the perfect base to explore Europe from. See more of his work at ahotminute.com