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Cyclops Marine 2020 - LEADERBOARD

Guatemala, Rio Dulce: The best kept secret

by Brian Simm, Noonsite 31 Jan 09:15 UTC
Heading up-river from Livingston © Brian Simm

Once a hideaway for Spanish Galleons, now one of the best, not so well kept, secrets of the Caribbean for yachts is the Rio Dulce and Fronteras town where upwards of 1000 yachts stay semi-permanently or for hurricane season from June to December.

Situated on the Caribbean coast of Guatemala just south of the second-largest reef in the world off Belize and in easy reach of the Honduran Bay Islands of Utila, Roatan, and Guanaja, the Rio is possibly the number one refuge in the western Caribbean.

The entrance at Livingstone is protected by a sand bar of around 5ft (1.7m) depth, but do not worry as yachts up to 7ft 6in (2.3m) may cross with the help of Hector, who takes a masthead halyard, tilts you over 30 degrees and drives at full speed over/through the 100 meters or so of shallow area. In extreme cases, a second boat is available to tow.

This is coordinated by your all-in-one agent Servamar, Channels 16 or 68 (link to their listing). From their office near the town dock, they will handle all your entry or exit papers within an hour. Their owner/manager Raoul will also handle all your paperwork for longer stays and extensions for both you and your yacht. He visits marinas up-river monthly.

Up-River

Above Livingston the fun begins, seven miles of deep river gorge with 300m high cliffs of cascading lianas, orchids, bromeliads, howler monkeys, hot springs and all.

There is a good anchorage to port on arrival at the top of the gorge into lake Izabal. A small yachting community in the lagoons here includes a bar-restaurant and a rigging workshop. It is then another 10 miles up the lake and 3 more up the wide river to Fronteras.

Above and below the high-level bridge (20m+ clearance) are three haulout yards and 10 or so major marinas with no end of smaller and private shore moorings. Most of the marinas cater to both short and long stays with restaurants, bars, pools, etc. Many are booked ahead for hurricane season and are filling up fast for next summer. Typical pricing for a 45ft boat alongside or Med moor is $250 - $350 a month (yes!). Also, plenty of space for free anchoring if that is your choice.

Boatyards

The three haulout yards, Nana Juana, RAM and Abel's can handle any boat on the river from small monohull to the largest catamarans. They also offer undercover moorings for large powerboats and drystack undercover store for smaller power craft. Three fuel docks are in the area.

Each yard has their own skilled workforce for major boat work. RAM, in particular, has recently doubled the size of their paint shop including taking yachts fully rigged with mast indoors, has a well-equipped rigging shop and in the spring will take delivery of a new self-propelled 50-ton hydraulic boat lift. With new storage acreage coming on line capacity is heading for 300 on the hard. Haulout and storage for a 56ft monohull was $350 a month with free lift and launch on a six-month booking.

Services

As a mature boating centre with a large and willing local workforce, all the independent services you might expect are on the river. From sailmaker to rigger, refrigeration, mechanics, carpenters, upholstery, varnishing... all competitively priced.

The town of Fronteras is a major local centre that has adapted its shopping towards the boating community. There are two full supermarkets, a local fish market, no end of fresh vegetables, several marine/hardware stores as well as a specialist hose shop, solar panel shops, tool shops, battery agents, glass fibre specialists, etc. More difficult spares are handled by shipping in through local specialist shippers, anything from a small parcel to a pallet easily arranged.

Cruising Community

The social side is not neglected with a daily cruiser's net, VHF Ch. 69 at 7.30am, regular boat jumbles, film nights and organised outings to hot springs, jungle treks, local Maya ruins etc.

Getting Around

More distant travel is easy by bus to the main Maya jungle cities or to the historic Spanish cities in the high mountain cordillera. International access is via Guatemala city or the closer San Pedro Sula in Honduras where a Rio taxi may be arranged to meet you.

Perhaps the biggest secret that attracts long term boaters is the low cost, pleasant climate and easy life, this together with the short access to the cruising zones of Belize and Honduras. No hurricane has ever made it over the coastal mountains and 25 miles inland.

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