We’d left Guatemala City some eight hours prior on a “first class” bus, which entails the extra feature of receiving a bottle of water midway through the ride and action movies dubbed in Spanish. It had been a long trip, with a late taxi, a missed (regular-class) bus, and a half-hour boat trip from the harbor town of Puerto Barrios to Livingston. When Carlos, the working owner of Finca Tatin, glided up to the dock to pick us up, I was already on my second beer, force-feeding my need for relaxation.
Rio Dulce (“Sweet River”), in the southeast corner of Guatemala, culminates at the town of Livingston, one of the few settlements of Garifuna (descendants of slaves who migrate to the Central American mainland from the islands). Its bio-diversity is said to rival that of the Amazon. Finca Tatin, a hotel that is is a special locale in its own right, is situated between the towns of Fronteras at the source of Rio Dulce and Livingston at its mouth, effectively in the middle of nowhere, only reachable by boat, and far beyond the stretch of power lines. A perfect place to literally “get away from it all”.
Carlos, curly hair billowing from beneath his cap, cranked the engine on his lancha (water taxi) equally ready to get to our destination. As we cleared the city, the mountainous walls squeezing the river grew taller, thicker with trees where hundreds of massive pelicans had perched for the evening. It took us another half-an-hour to reach the eco-lodge, but unlike the previous journey that day, each minute of this one found me more at ease, more enthused about the days that lay ahead.
In Your Bucket Because…
- Rio Dulce is one of the most bio-diverse places on the planet, home of cool fauna and full of crazy flora.
- Finca Tatin is a rustic eco-lodge that works to preserve the environment around it, help the indigenous people within that environment, and give us city-dwellers a chance to experience some nature.
- You really do sleep in the middle of a jungle, something kind of primal and eye-opening that few get to experience.
Exploring El Rio
While Finca Tatin may be remote in location, it is not lacking in things to do. The sprawl of cabins stretches from the bank of the river into the recesses of the jungle. On the river side of things, there is swimming, including a rope to swing in on, a floating deck to lie on or jump from, and the safety of knowing “there are no predators” in the water. In the jungle, there are several hiking paths and the option of visiting Ak’tenamit, a nearby Mayan settlement. And, of course, the Finca isn’t lacking in hammocks, games, and camaraderie.
For me, kayaking reigned supreme. Finca Tatin has a fleet of kayaks on the ready for guests (less than $5 for three hours), and the river offers some great low-key adventuring. While I took more than one trip, my favorite was the two-to-three hour jaunt to Livingston. Paddling through the canyon is no less than inspiring, with thatch-roofed huts lingering along the edges, rock cliffs towering above you, and an endless array of migrating birds and resident water fowl. Best of all, you don’t have to paddle back upstream: The hotel sends a boat to bring you home.
Other kayaking and touring possibilities are available. There are nighttime boat tours, full moon hikes, and guided trips around the river. For the independent adventurers, it is possible to kayak to hot springs, a nearby (about four hours) nature reserve, or you could just go get lost like I did. One morning, there was even a group who went snorkeling around southern Belizean cayes and made it back in time for dinner.
Life on the Finca
Beyond the plethora of activities, Finca Tatin is also a great place for doing nothing. During my stay, a spell of bad weather had washed over the coast, but the hotel common area proved to be a fantastic spot for lounging with a book. Not to mention the restaurant offers freshly made meals, and there is an honor system bar for beer, soda, juice, or pints of booze. (Specialty cocktails are also available for mojito-enthusiasts.)
Like many hostels in Guatemala, the Finca hosts a family-style dinner at night, where all guest come to eat together and share extras from the center of the table. As always, and I don’t know why it hasn’t caught on elsewhere, it’s a fantastic way to meet other travelers and make friends. The meals are delicious and customarily kick off with soup-from-scratch accompanied by handmade tortillas with chimichurri, a pesto-like sauce made from parsley, garlic, and oil.
As anxious as it made me at first, one of my favorite things of Finca Tatin was its lack of electricity. The rule is as follows: A generator is turned on from six to ten each night, allowing WiFi access, the possibility of a movie room, and guests to charge the trappings of the outside world. So spellbound was I by this concept that I managed to not check my email, Facebook status, or blog activity for four days. That’s when you know you’re on vacation.
- In the jungle, bug spray is essential.
- There are no ATMs or credit card machines nearby, so carry some cash. It doesn’t take a huge bank roll.
- Before you get in bed, put on clothes, or use a towel to dry off, always check for scorpions. This is a general rule for Guatemala. They aren’t deadly here, but being stung hurts.
- Contact Finca Tatin before you go. It’s a small staff running the place, and they need to time to organize your arrival. Remember: It’s by boat only.
- I suggest leaving the laptop at home because mine never left my bag.