Livingston, Guatemala lies on the country’s Caribbean coast and although it is not an island, it is only reachable by boat. No roads connect it with the mainland, giving it an island flair. We took a lancha a few hours down the beautiful Rio Dulce to get there.
One thing that makes Livingston unique is its rich Garifuna culture. Many of Livingston’s inhabitants are Garifuna, which are decedents of wrecked slave ships centuries ago. While the African descendents mixed with the indigenous Carib people, they very much kept their African traditions over the centuries. Upon getting off our boat one of the touts proclaimed
Welcome to Af-ri-ca!
And this place truly did have an African feel to it. Garifunas have their own cuisine too and tapado, a seafood stew, is said to be their standout dish. We had to try it our first night in town. It was delicious and chock full of all sorts of seafood.
Roaming Around Livingston Guatemala
During our first full day in Livingston we had no agenda so decided to take a hike towards some swimming holes and waterfalls known as the Los Siete Altares (The Seven Alters). We had heard you simply follow the beach to get there but we instead made our own route, wanting to explore the somewhat rough Garifuna villages throughout the area. As we roamed around town, we found the Garifuna were very friendly. Dogs trotted along freely in the streets. Children, some dressed in school uniforms, would greet us with an “hola.” Other children were doing their own thing such as taunting the livestock.
Women would tempt us with fresh delicious home-baked pan de coco (coconut bread), which we indulged in frequently, and packed more for our travels beyond. Men would sometimes cordially greet us. As we walked by, a man named Mega, invited us to his home for dinner and offered to teach us how to make tapado, the delicious dish we had tried the night before. Turns out Mega runs a place called Rasta Mesa which has a mission in sustainability and preserving the Garifuna culture in Livingston. We would definitely return for dinner in the evening. But, for now, we would need to continue on our way to Los Siete Altares.
The Long Way to Los Siete Altares
Our route took us through a large and pictureseque cemetery.
Then we made our way through the long and hot walk down the seemingly only road that runs the expanse of the town. After about an hour stroll, the road ended and we were again reunited with the beach and its much welcomed sea breezes, emerging from the heat of the inland. From here we crossed a river via the swing bridge and set off on the beachside path.
The beaches themselves weren’t very pretty and often there was no beach, as the ocean came right up the grass or path. But it was still a scenic walk. We tried to ignore the sad areas that were littered with garbage and instead focused on the palm trees and ocean vistas.
After perhaps about another hour of a slow walk, out of nowhere we were greeted by a golden retreiver who led us to a restaurant along the beachside path. We’d packed a makeshift lunch of granola bars, nuts, and pan de coco; so this was a welcomed oasis we stumbled across along the way. After refueling on ceviche, salads, and frozen lemonade, we then continued on our trek.
Los Siete Altares
The trail eventually began to curve a bit inland and we met the unusually friendly and knowledgable gatekeeper who collected our small fee and pointed us to the way of the pools. Now under the the shade of the lush trees that surrounded, we made our way along the stream bank and to the first of the Siete Altares. Water slowly streamed over the rocks as the afternoon light attempted to pierce through the forest canopy above.
Another 10 minutes hike up the creek lay a swimming hole in where we cooled off with a dip.
Los Siete Altares wasn’t a completely amazing “must-do” attraction yet we found it to be a very pleasant site and a worthy day trip in Livingston, Guatemala. The hike to Los Siete Altares, itself, was probably half the fun. We felt safe during the hike and passed very few people. It was neat to walk right alongside the rugged, natural coastline where the ocean sometimes intruded right on to the land.
In fact, the tide was rising on our walk back, washing out the trail at times.
Garifuna Drumming, Dancing & Dining
With our hike to Los Siete Altares complete, it was now time to get cleaned up, get back over to Mega’s place, and learn how to make tapado. But we first met his extended family, nieces, and nephews as they all welcomed us into their home. Drumming is a huge part of the Garifuna culture and even the wee little ones start practicing early.
Mega’s sister patiently taught us how to make the tapado every step of the way, from grinding the coconut to pan frying the snapper. They provided us with the recipe, so if you’re looking for something unique and interesting to cook with fresh seafood, we’ve posted the tapado recipe here.
After eating the dish we had just whipped up, Mega’s family treated us to some Garifuna drumming, singing, and dancing. It was a great time experiencing their culture and I laugh every time I watch Heather’s awesome Garifuna dance moves!
Livingston, Guatemala brought smiles to our faces. It may not be a top destination or have the most beautiful beach in Central America. But Livingston undeniably has charm and a lot of soul!