Caribbean Lowlands

The Caribbean Lowlands are unlike the rest of Guatemala. The regional landscape is composed of jungle coastland, a river valley, and Guatemala’s largest lake. The Caribbean town of Lívingston is an enclave for the Garífuna people and is culturally distinct from the rest of Guatemala. What’s more, some of the finest Mayan stelae can be seen at the site of Quiriguá.

The Best of Caribbean Lowlands

Rio Dulce, Fronteras Guatemala
Rio Dulce, Fronteras

The Río Dulce flows from Lake Izabal to the Caribbean Sea, emptying its waters near the town of Lívingston. Dense jungle, some of which falls within the protection of the Río Dulce National Park, border this picturesque river. Several eco-lodges line the shores of tributaries that flow away from the Río Dulce. The town of Fronteras is set along the headwaters of the Río Dulce.

San Felipe's Castle Guatemala
San Felipe's Castle

El Castillo de San Felipe de Lara is a fortress along the northern shores of Lake Izabal in Guatemala. More commonly known as “El Castillo de San Felipe,” the castle was originally built by the Spanish in 1652 to ward off pirates.

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The Caribbean Lowlands offer travelers the opportunity to experience large swaths of rainforests, a unique coastal culture, and even some nice beaches. In a country not especially known for its coastline, the white-sand beaches of the Caribbean Lowlands are an anomaly. The region stretches from Lake Izabal all the way to the Caribbean Sea and the border with Honduras.

The Río Dulce waterway connects Lake Izabal with the Caribbean Sea. This 19-mile (30-km) river and much of the surrounding forest falls under the protection of the Río Dulce National Park. The river is bordered by dense tropical forests and at one point runs through a dramatic canyon known as La Cueva de la Vaca. Although the Río Dulce area is still sparsely developed, jungle lodges are beginning to pop up along side streams. This area is beginning to position itself as an ecotourism destination.

The Río Dulce empties into the Bahía de Amatique near the town of Lívingston. Lívingston has an exotic setting and an interesting mix of Garífuna, Hindu and Q’eqchi’ cultures. Garífuna and Hindu influences, which are not found anywhere else in Guatemala, give this town a truly unique flavor. Lívingston makes a great home base while exploring the area’s outdoor offerings, which include waterfalls, beaches, and the Río Dulce valley.

With a surface area of 227 square miles (590 sq km) and a maximum depth of 59 feet (18 m), Lake Izabal is the largest lake in Guatemala. Today much of it is still undeveloped, but that may change over the coming years. At the lake’s westernmost boundary is the Polochic Wildlife Preserve, a vast expansive of wetlands, savannas, and flooded forests. This is a great place for bird watching and experiencing some truly wild natural areas. Other lakeside attractions are found along the north shore—these include hot springs and the limestone canyon of El Boquerón.

If you’re a historical buff, you might want to visit the Castillo de San Felipe. The Spanish built this castle, which stands along the northern shores of Lake Izabal, in 1652. It’s still in fairly good shape and a visit here offers panoramic views of the lake. A more substantial historical dig is at Quiriguá—these Mayan ruins date back to the seventh century and include some of Guatemala’s best-preserved stelae. The ruins here are smaller than those of Copán but architecturally very similar.

The Caribbean Lowlands stand in nice contrast to the rest of Guatemala, much of which is set at a higher elevation and culturally more homogenous. Travelers interested in experiencing the full range of life in Guatemala will surely enjoy a visit to this incredible region.