Entering the Rio Dulce in Guatemala

It was time to sail to Guatemala. We decided to go to Utila first to make the trip to Guatemala shorter, knowing that the weather will not be very favorable. We had 2 days of light winds before the cold front would bring stronger winds and choppy waves from the north. We filled up on diesel in Utila and cleared out of Honduras. Luckily the only immigration officer on the island decided to show up at the office later in the day even though government officials were given the day off due to the inauguration of the new president. After waiting in front of the office all morning, we were relieved that we did not have to wait another day to clear out and possibly missed our weather window doing so.

We did not have much time to make it to Guatemala before strong winds create waves that would make it impossible for us to pass the shallow sand bar at the entrance to the Rio Dulce. The shallow passage is only 1.6 meters deep, as deep as our boat, which means we had to plan our arrival on a rising tide and calm weather. Many boats run aground and have to be tipped over (or careened) by local boats to reduce their draft to even make it into the river.

As we approached the shallow area the depth sounder dropped lower and lower and we reduced our speed to the minimum to be still manoeuvrable. We barely had a hand’s breadth underneath our keel but we never touched ground and easily passed the sandbar and dropped anchor in front of the lively town of Livingston. The clearance procedures were one of the most efficient and well-organized we have seen so far and within an hour or so we were free to stroll through the town’s roads that were filled with food stalls, tuk tuks and people of mixed ethnicities (black Garifunas, Mayas, and Latinos) walking around. The vibe was relaxed and the colorful buildings and public places invited us to sit down and have a drink to enjoy the arrival in a new country.

We then decided to take the boat upriver. The anchorage in Livingston is not particularly protected or safe for overnight stays and we did not want to take any risks. With plenty of daylight left, we motored through the breathtaking gorge of the Rio Dulce with the jungle coming down to the riverbed. High cliffs enclose the meandered waterway, large trees and green vegetation growing on the left and right of our boat, which seems so tiny at that moment compared to the immense nature surrounding us. Water taxis raced up and down the river and locals paddled their canoes loaded with supplies on the outer sides of the river to avoid the current.

Before nightfall we entered the El Golfete lake and found a small protected bight in which we dropped anchor. Within the freshwater lake, there were no waves, little wind and all we could hear was the birds in the jungle. This was the first of many calm nights in the Rio. The next day we continued our journey upriver until we reached the town of Fronteras. Due to the growing popularity of the Rio Dulce amongst mariners, many marinas, marine related businesses and hardware stores are located along the river bank. In additional to the growing infrastructure and expertise, the labor rates are very low comparable to other places in the Caribbean making this a good location to work on boat projects. We had a few projects lined up like our broken windlass, spinnaker pole, and canvas work, especially having a cover made for our dinghy.

Having Porky sit at anchor first, we spent some time visiting some of the many marinas in the area and immediately knew we want to spent our time in the Rio at Monkey Bay Marina when we saw it. The small marina is only accessible by boat with no roads leading to the property in the swampy jungle. A wooden walkway takes us to the bathroom facilities and open workshop area, which can be used by all. Given that we do most of the work on the boat ourselves this was a huge benefit for us. The fully equipped communal outdoor kitchen and beautifully furnished and decorated palapa where marina guests could hang out convinced us that this is a perfect place to leave the boat while working on the projects and traveling inland to see more of the country.

Up next we take the bus to the ancient Maya city of Tikal in the region of Peten.

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