Southern Belize, the Stann Creek District and the Toledo District, are little-known jumping off points for adventurous travelers wishing to explore Eastern Guatemala – namely Puerto Barrios and nearby Livingston and the fabulous Rio Dulce – all which fall in the Department of Izabal.
The Department of Izabal, Guatemala is located in region III or Northeastern region. Its departmental capital is Puerto Barrios.
It is bordered on the north by the department of Petén, the country of Belize and the Caribbean Sea; to the South with the departments of Zacapa; to the East with the Republic of Honduras; and to the West with the department of Verapáz. Izabal is located at latitude 15° 44′ 06″ and longitude 88° 36′ 17″.
Izabal has a land area of 9,038 square kilometres. It’s topography is varied ranging 0.67 metres above sea level at Puerto Barrios, 1.65 metres in El Estor, 4.0 metres in Moralez, and 77 metres at Los Amates. The climate is generally warm, with heavy rains during the rainy season.
The capital of Izabal, Puerto Barrios, is 308 kilometres from the capital Guatemala City – about a five hour bus ride.
The territory of Izabal is divided into 5 municipalities:
1. Puerto Barrios (departmental capital). 2. Livingston 3. Estor 4. Moralez 5. Amates.
The official spoken language is Spanish, but since 1800 the Garifuna language is widely spoken. The Garinagu are the result of inter-marriage among three ethnic groups: the indigenous Indians of the area, the Arawak people from South America, and Africans.
Quiche is widely spoken in Estor and parts of Livingston since the Quiche Indians inhabit the western part of Izabal.
Getting to Puerto Barrios from Belize
Catch a mini-bus to Santa Elena, Flores (about one hour). From there you can catch buses headed to San Marcos, disembark at the crossing located at La Ruidosa, and catch a mini-bus or regular bus to Puerto Barrios. This is about a five hour trip from Belize. Less if you charter a mini-bus or drive yourself. Going by road allows you to stop at Rio Dulce in Livingston – a top tourist destination for mariners and those looking for sports fishing, excellent seafood and tranquility. Going by boat is shorter – about an hour from Punta Gorda Toledo (see water taxi schedule below). But you will miss all the scenery and villages and countryside that the road traveler enjoys.
The return bus trip from Puerto Barrios to Belize is just the reverse. Catch the daily bus from Puerto Barrios with destination to Santa Elena in Flores Peten – about four hours. From Santa Elena, change bus and catch the bus to Melchor de Mencos on the border with Belize – about one hour. From Melchor you can walk across the bridge into Belize and catch a taxi to San Ignacio, Belize about – 15 minutes.
By sea, you can catch the daily water taxi to and from Puerto Barrios and Punta Gorda, Toledo Belize. The boat trip is about 35 to 45 minutes depending on the weather.
From Belize, this is the quickest way to land practically in downtown Puerto Barrios. From Puerto Barrios it is the same. A quick trip lands you practically in down town Punta Gorda. This little town is very small and slow compared to the bustling city of Puerto Barrios. If you are headed to the Toledo District this is very convenient. But if your destination is western Belize, factor in a half-day journey by highway from Punta Gorda to the City of Belmopan, and from there to San Ignacio. You can of course cut this down to an hour by catching the daily puddle jumper commuter flights from Toledo other parts of the country.
Attractions In Puerto Barrios
Las Escobas is one of the main tourism attractions and is located in proximity to a village of the same name on the way to Santo Tomas de Castilla Port, the other port in Izabal. Because of its proximity and ease of access to the cruise terminal, Las Esobas is popular with cruise ship passengers who dock at Puerto Barrios.
This nature preserve includes pools and waterfalls, flowers, plants and orchids, and native animal species including Jaguars. It covers an area of 41,432 hectares. Las Escobas has more than 450 native bird species and is a birdwatchers paradise.
Rio Dulce in Livingston Guatemala has a sizeable community of expat mariners who park their boats and yachts in this safe harbor for months on end as a base for exploring the wonders of Central America. The lure of fishing and economical wine, song and living make it hard to leave the area.
Puerto Barrios was founded in the 1880s by President Rufino Barrios. The boom days are back as cruise ships now make Puerto Barrios a regular port of call. Another port town, Santo Tomas de Castilla is a few miles away. Puerto Barrios is now a bustling and growing city of about 80 thousand inhabitants and offers much for the visitor to see.
Near the entrance to the city you can find an excellent shopping at the new Pradera Mall complete with a McDonalds, dozens of shops, 24 hour gas stations, boutiques restaurants and a movie theater.
The downtown area bustles with activity and is located around the Central Market which is three streets away from the Caribbean Sea with surrounding banks, pharmacies, stores, restaurants, Internet cafes, a bus stop and several motels and hotels.
The north side of Puerto Barrios features a modern water park complete with Olympic size swimming pool and several surrounding seafood restaurants on the Caribbean sea. It is located almost opposite to the Puerto Barrios Naval Base. At night you can see the shimmering lights of neighboring Belize. The south side of Puerto Barrios by the seaside has the main port infrastructure, dozens of sailors bars and a couple of full service restaurants.
Being a port town, Puerto Barrios has excellent nightclubs catering to most any taste. Our choice for the best include La Colombina and Casa Madrid for hot Latin and Caribbean music among others. The best and biggest restaurant for local and international cuisine (including Rice and Beans) is El Safari located in the El Rastro Zone at Calle 12. This area in southern Puerto Barrios is where you will land at El Muelle (the pier). El Safari is a big thatched palapa style restaurant right on the water.
Puerto Barrios Trip Report – Travel From Belize
A girlfriend had kept suggesting I accompany her to her hometown, Puerto Barrios, and we decided to go during the summer. This brief report may give the visitor some insight on how to get to Puerto Barrios by road from Belize. Picture Above: West of Puerto Barrios the visitor will find mountains, hot springs and spectacular waterfalls for swimming and relaxation.
I parked my vehicle at the Cahal Pech Hotel in San Ignacio Belize for security and took a taxi to Melchor de Mencos – a small town on the Guatemala border with Belize. We landed in Melchor at 7 in the morning and took a mini bus to San Elena, Flores. At the Flores bus terminal we purchased out tickets to La Ruidosa as we had missed the early direct bus. La Ruidosa is at a cross road that forks – one takes you to Puerto Barrios on the coast, the other to San Marcos on the interior of Guatemala.
The trip to La Ruidosa which is nothing much more than a few snack shops was about 3 hours. We passed the big bridge at Rio Dulce, also known as Fronteras. At La Ruidosa my companion and I hopped off the bus and in less than 10 minutes caught a passing mini bus running to Puerto Barrios. The ride to Barrios was fast, almost too fast as we passed and encountered several container trucks and tankers – after all Barrios and Santo Tomas de Castilla next door are big ports for this area. Total travel time from the Belize border to Barrios was six hours.
We reckon we spent about US$50. for the two of us on the buses and snacks, very reasonable. At Barrios we could have stayed with my friend’s relatives but decided to check in at the Xelaju behind the central market. Big mistake. Xelaju is very economical, about US$20. a night but we got a street view room and it was very noisy. For the budget traveler lodging around the market area is excellent if you get a quiet room. The market is right across the street for low cost meals and most anything else a traveler may need, banks, pharmacy, library, taxi stand, supermarket, internet café – everything is within easy and safe walking distance.
The next day we did some exploring and found a nice motel, The Caribbean, about a 5 minute walk from the market and Xelaju. The Caribbean is located two streets from the seaside and there are several other motels and hotels in the area just for our taste – reasonable prices. Air conditioned rooms, private hot and cold baths, enclosed parking, 24 hour security and restaurant on the premises. The restaurant is typical Guatemala and international cuisine and offers economical rates and hearty meals. The restaurant opens at 7 in the morning for breakfast. The client base includes traveling business persons, families from Guatemala and Central America, and tourists. Like other lodging establishments in the area, the hotel is family run. Our room cost US $30. a night off season which we think is a bargain.
We had checked out other areas of Puerto Barrios including the more upper scale touristy establishments on the seaside but for our needs, two streets from the seaside is perfect. This area of Izabal does not really have great beaches and we figured our money would be best spent on the nightlife and exploring the hot springs, rainforest, waterfalls and beaches in the north. – By M.A. Romero Belize.com Contributing Editor
Puerto Barrios Guatemala Water Taxi Schedule
Requena’s Water Taxi. Departs Punta Gorda 9:30 am Arrives Puerto Barrios 10:30 am. Departs Puerto Barrios 14:00 Arrives Punta Gorda 15:00
Pichilingo Water Taxi. Departs Punta Gorda 14:00 Arrives Puerto Barrios 15:00. Departs Puerto Barrios 10:00 Arrives Punta Gorda 11:00
Marisol Water Taxis Departs Punta Gorda 16:00 Arrives Puerto Barrios 17:00. Departs Puerto Barrios 13:00 Arrives Punta Gorda 15:00
Memo’s Water Taxi Departs Punta Gorda 13:00 Arrives Puerto Barrios 14:00. Departs Puerto Barrios 15:00 Arrives Punta Gorda 16:00
Note: Boats To Livingston Guatemala Depart Punta Gorda Tuesdays and Fridays at 11:00.