Guatamala from Cruising Information Community

George.Curtis2 (Past OCC Member)
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Flying Fish Articles

Clearing in was a pleasurable experience, albeit at a moderate cost. The Port Captain and Immigration Officer came out to the boat and courteously asked for our passports and took some details of the boat. They provided a map detailing the layout of the town showing the location of Immigration, Customs, Port Captain and, importantly, ATM machines. We were cleared to lower the quarantine flag and go ashore at this stage. As we arrived late on Sunday, we collected our papers the next day from the friendly officials who charged as follows: Immigration Q120, Customs Q250 and Port Captain Q125 (Q7.5/$). For this we received 3-month visas and cruising permit. The clearing out order was Customs for your Zarpe, Immigration and then the Port Captain – charges were Q50, Q80 per head and Q60 respectively.

Rio Dulce – 15°45.00'N, 88°45.00'W

GUATEMALA - 5 Anchorages and Harbours

Contributed by Alan & Jan Pulfrey, Yacht - Coral Moon

June 2005

The purpose of these notes is to supplement the out of date information provided by Calder’s Cruising Guide to the NW Caribbean or the sparse details contained in Rhodes’ Honduras and Its Bay Islands - a Mariner’s Guide. The former guide, although written in the early 90’s is still very useful. Unfortunately, it is out of print now but it’s worthwhile obtaining a copy if possible. Rauscher’s Cruising Guide to Belize and Mexico’s Caribbean Coast including the Rio Dulce is also a useful document. The list of anchorages we visited is by no means all inclusive – many more exist but there was only a certain amount of time available; moreover, we found several wonderful anchorages where time just disappeared.

The NW Caribbean Net at 0800 CST (UTC-6) on 8188 KHz is an informal net that normally includes a useful amateur forecast. Chris Parker on 8104 at 0630 CST mentions the western Caribbean briefly. Navtex transmissions from Miami cover the NW Caribbean. We also downloaded weatherfax from New Orleans - 24, 48 and 72hr Wind and Wave charts are transmitted on 4316.1, 8502.1 or 12788.1 every 6 hours starting 0035 UTC.

Rio Dulce

- Livingston Bar. The bar is over half a mile long, has a controlling depth of 5ft 6in with a relatively small tidal range. The state of the tide can be found on . We followed the directions in Calder and an hour before a 1.6ft high tide, the lowest depth we saw was about 6ft 6in. The following waypoints seem to work – 15°49.97’N 88°43.95’W to 15°49.26’N 88°44.78’W. The former position approximately coincides with the location of the entry buoy. When abeam the Texaco station, turn gently starboard and anchor off the town. If the wind is really blowing, you can move up river a short distance to find better shelter (after the officials have been aboard). Also there is a small marina – the staff are helpful and will run you into town. If you arrive at the entrance too early or late for the tide, good protection can be found to the west of Cabo Tres Puntas.

- Clearance. Clearing in was a pleasurable experience, albeit at a moderate cost. The Port Captain and Immigration Officer came out to the boat and courteously asked for our passports and took some details of the boat. They provided a map detailing the layout of the town showing the location of Immigration, Customs, Port Captain and, importantly, ATM machines. We were cleared to lower the quarantine flag and go ashore at this stage. As we arrived late on Sunday, we collected our papers the next day from the friendly officials who charged as follows: Immigration Q120, Customs Q250 and Port Captain Q125 (Q7.5/$). For this we received 3-month visas and cruising permit. The clearing out order was Customs for your Zarpe, Immigration and then the Port Captain – charges were Q50, Q80 per head and Q60 respectively.

- Up the Rio. The trip up the river takes about 3 to 4 hours and is relatively straightforward though, on one hairpin bend, the river shallows and the guidance in Calder or Rauscher should be followed. The scenery is spectacular, as is the birdlife.

- Communications. A net operates on Ch 69 daily at 0730. The calling channel is Ch 68.

- The Marinas. There are numerous, mainly small marinas offering a variety of services. Out of the hurricane season, you can pick and choose but, in the season, the good marinas fill up quickly and not all will take reservations.

-- Catamaran. We stayed here for a month. It has room for about 24 boats and has a small resident long stay population. Facilities include finger pontoons, electricity (US$0.35 per KW/h), water (no charge) and internet ($1 per day). Yachties enjoy happy hour prices all day (not the cheapest in town), 10% off meals in the restaurant, and use of the pool and other hotel facilities. We enjoyed our stay here – it was friendly, peaceful and the wildlife provided entertainment at the boat’s side. It can be very hot so, if staying for an extended period, we would consider bringing our own AC unit – none was available locally. VHF Ch 11.

-- Tortugal. Just up river from the town and the bridge, this would be our second choice. Relatively quiet and well appointed but no finger piers – bow or stern-to with a mooring buoy. Good breeze. Pleasant restaurant and you can swim off your boat as the marina is up-river from the town.

-- Marios. Definitely the favourite of the US live-aboard community, this is the largest marina on the Rio. It is slightly scruffy - they do allow kids and dogs. Facilities include WiFi, restaurant, minimart (good supply of frozen meat) restaurant and bar, and pool.

-- Tijax. A small, back-packer type resort also has a small marina. Reasonable restaurant. Located close to Fronteras. Looks pleasant enough.

-- Others. There are several more including: Brunos – very close to Fronteras but noisy; Susannah’s – well protected but probably very hot; and more.

- Provisioning and Ashore. The most convenient dinghy dock is at Bruno’s on the north side of the river near the foot of the bridge – from here it is a short walk to Fronteras, a dusty bustling town often clogged with traffic. Located here are numerous veggie stalls, generally well stocked. The supermarket in town is disappointing – better to take the dinghy to Reeds Store (also known as Cheaky’s) on the south side of the bridge with its own dinghy dock. Here you’ll find most staples and some frozen meat and a selection of hardware items – cheapest place for wine, though limited choice. Fronteras offers 3 ATMs, several hardware stores, and numerous small shops of varying types. As mentioned before, frozen meat is sometimes available at the Mario’s minimart. A small minimart at Bruno’s stocks some little treats like camembert, tinned pate, fresh bread, boiled ham and some frozen meat – this store is perhaps a little more expensive than others but we patronised it frequently.

- Restaurants. There a re numerous places to eat – all are inexpensive and generally provide good food.

-- La Lancha. Our favourite situated on the Fronteras waterfront and enterprisingly run by Inga and Jessica. The menu changes frequently but the end product is always of a high standard – they serve good fish dishes. Open all day until 2200 apart from Sundays when they close after brunch.

-- Rio Brava. Next door to La Lancha – respectable pizzas and pasta dishes.

-- Tortugal. A small but varied menu – good for a lunch or dinner overlooking the river.

-- Casa Perico. A unique dining experience up a small creek into the jungle. Run by a Swiss chap, his casa is popular with backpackers. He provides tasty buffets and ample portions – listen out on the net, Ch 69. The post-dinner dinghy home is exciting.

- Runs Ashore. Reasonably priced ‘luxury!?’ (AC sometimes works) buses, as well as many ‘chicken buses’ pass through Fronteras connecting with Flores for a visit to Tikal (Mayan ruins) and Guatemala City for Antigua. We visited both locations and would thoroughly recommend them. Guatemala is a beautiful country just opening up to the tourist business – ask around for the best deals.

- Lago de Izabel. We took the boat to Denny’s Beach, a small resort in Lago de Izabel at 15°28.63’N 89°01.46’W. Denny hails originally from Canada but has been in the NW Caribbean for years, formerly as a charter skipper in Belize and latterly as the owner of his resort. He has a wealth of knowledge though, on the occasion of our visit, he retired early due to the effects of imbibing his profits. There are 4 free mooring buoys and the restaurant provides reasonably varied and adequately cooked food. You can take a walk to the very ethnic local village or trek inland.

A note of caution, it is best to visit here in settled weather as Denny’s is effectively on a lee shore. We had light winds but a strange, sharp chop built up during the afternoon and evening, setting the boats rocking. In strong winds, the anchorage would be uncomfortable.

1) Information Submitted by

John and Jean Armitage OSTRICA OF ORWELL

2) Date September and October 1997

3) Harbour or Area Covered Include Lat & Long

The only navigable river on the short length of the Caribbean Sea coast of Guatemala. We navigated some 40 miles inland from the shallow bar.

(Approx. location 15?45 N, 88?45 W). This includes a narrow ravine and two lakes, one being 25 miles by 10 miles wide.

4) Suitability and Attraction for Yachts

There have never been hurricane winds recorded on the river although it is in the recognised hurricane area. Many cruising yachts come into the river each year for the rainy hurricane season.

"Ranked as one of the all time ultimates in Caribbean cruising. Gtiatemala 's Rio Dulce presents many sensational treats to those who discover her enchanted freshwaters.....a wondrous tropical fairyland"

introduction by Freyer Rauscher

Guatemala has endured civil unrest, virtually civil war for the past 36 years. A treaty was signed in December 1996 and some order is returning. The country has made little progress in these years reflected in the 50 per cent illiteracy rate and a lack of most social, medical and educational facilities outside the major towns.

The country is extraordiarily beautiful, their Mayan history fascinating, and the people we met most generous and smiling in all their poverty. The prosperous few (3%) enjoy 57% of the wealth, have vast estates, private airplanes and live on the manual feudal labour of the many. A country undergoing change with the inevitable pain.of growth and maturity.

There is a prospering tourist industry and the Rio Dulce is firmly on their map. There have been yacht facilities on the river for many years and these expand before our eyes. Many choose to leave their boats here for a. couple of months to fly home for their annual visit. Care facilities are good and we will leave Ostrica here for a month or more.

Most cruisers spend several weeks travelling inland, and many take week long "imersion" courses in Spanish living with a family. Maintenance comes way down the list, but most work and yacht supplies and services are available.

5) Marinas, Berthing or Anchorage

(Once inside the river bar anchoring in good holding is almost universal).

Livingston: La Marina: small dock, good restaurant. VHF 68.

At Fronteras:

Mango Marina: about 12 stern-to slips,~laundry (DIY/service). VHF 78/68.

Mario 's Marina: about 50 slips or fore and aft moorings. $110 to $160 per boat per month 1997, water and ll0/220V.Mail and fax service, propane fills once per week, well stocked store ( no veg.), restaurant, showers and small swiming pool.

Suzanna 's Marina: 75 slips/ fingers, water and llO/220V,laundry, hot showers and baths, bungalows, restaurant. $110 per boat per month.

Tijax Marina: About 12 stern-to slips, water and electric, restaurant, part of farm/coffee plantation, nature walks and horseback riding,

6) Entry Ports

Livingston, immediately inside the bar.

Puerto Barrios, E of Rio, deep water commercial port and anchorage with yacht facilities at Lidamar marina, dock now under construction. Useful if entry to the Rio Dulce is a problem due to draught or weather.

7) Formal Requirements for Yachts Entering/Departing:

a) from/to same country

b) from/to abroad


Anchor SW of Texaco dock, hoist Q flag. Five officials are ferried out to yacht by boatman: Port Captain, Medical Officer, Immigration, Police, Customs. They have sufficient English between them. Have two Crew lists ready, in Spanish,(see Cruising guides). They take ships papers and passports ashore, instruct removal of Q flag, and issue decal fixed to a port and valid for 90 days for the boat. Collect papers from various offices allowing about an hour but meanwhile visit bank to change/obtain Quetzales to pay fees:

Vessel inspection: Q125 (25 for each official)

Boarding Party 's launch: Q1O

Decal: $25 US dollars or equivalent in Q.

Check-out charges: Each passport QlO for immigration.

Vessel - Q20 (10 each for port captain and customs)

Boat Paper Renewals: only available for minimum of nine months and can only do in Guatemala City so most pay the overdue charge.: up to 15 days Q25, 30 days

qlOO, 60 days Q150, 90 days Q 200.

Personal Papers: 90 day permit, no visas required for most Europeans and N and S Americans.

Renewals best done by agent taking papers to Guatemala City, takes two days. Fine of QlO per day overdue.

c) visa requirements

Personal Papers: 90 day permit, no visas required for most Europeans and N and S Americans.Renewals best done by agent taking papers to Guatemala City, takes two days. Fine of QlO per day overdue.

9) Control of Foreign Yachts

No special controls. Navy launches patrol the Rio but have not heard of any restrictions or checks.

10) Attitude of Officials to Visiting Yachtsmen

Friendly. We arrived with five other boats and several boat permits were incorrectly typed out, names and nationalities all mixed up, therefore check them on receipt.

11) Repair/Hauling Facilities

Livingston: Outboard agent and links with facilities in Fronteras. Puerto Barrios: Engineering, machining and electrical repairs.

Fronteras: Astillero Nagdalena , Marine railway, two, 3 tons to 63 tons to 85 ft length. Engineering,Welding and carpentry. One boat had rudder rebuilt in steel and GRP. VHF 73. Contact Abel Ramirez. Good reports from DAMARA- OCC. $200 in and out, $15 per day while out

The Shop: Yacht orientated repair and chandlery, sail loft, canvas, rigging, engineering, structural and cosmetic re~airs. Once a week courier service from Miami is source of most chandlery and parts, also will bring package mail if addressed to courier in Miami.

Ram Marine: New fully stocked marine chandlery set up by ex-executive of West Marine from U.S. and brings their products (not exclusive) for both stock and to order at West 's list prices, (not discount prices) includes shipping and customs etc. Takes about three to four weeks if not in stock. Has outboard and diesel mechanic, workshop, stock of new outboards and there is talk of a marine hoist.

12) Sailing Directions or Charts

Least water on the passage over the bar is given as 5 ft 6 in. MLW. At springs there is a rise of 1 ft 9in (max 2ft lin). The bottom is mud over hard sand. There is a sea buoy to mark the outer end of the transit with the deepest water. Should you stick, local fishing skiffs with big outboards will take a halyard and heel you over to get you in/out, standard charge $50 US, it works. The river has no official survey as far as we can discover.

CHARTS: DMA 28164 Approaches to Livingston and Puerto Barrios.


13) Cruising Guide and where

Obtainable. Include Phone and/or E-Mail

Cruising Guide to the N.W. Caribbean, Nigel Calder, Includes good charts with soundings and general advice on inland expeditions.

SERVICES GUIDE TO THE Rio Dulce: Ask around beforehand and obtain this valuable booklet, published annually and available free. Ask on SSB net Try French Harbour Y.C. in Bay Islands, Honduras. This includes all the tide tables and entry, marina, chandlery, restaurants, travel, and communications information you will need. Widely available once in the river but most useful to get you in over the bar, deepest water located by GPS co-ordinates. Believe this is now available from Bluewater Charts, Fort Lauderdale.

14) Port Radio Services

VHF 16 monitored by Port control at Puerto Barrios. Most of river businesses, and therefore yachts, monitor VHF 68 so could contact them from outside river for advice or help. La Marina, Livingston will give tidal information on request.

15) Weather Forecasts

Local time is UTC minus 6 hours (whatever your almanac may say).

SSB Radio: N.W. Caribbean Net 0800 local, 4054 khz for all information and a resume of weather information, very informal and welcoming.

Weather forecasts from WOM in U.S. at 0800 and 1800 local on 4363; 8722; 13092 khz are at civilised times, and are repeats of MMN coastguard broadcasts at uncivilised times, see A.L.O.R.S.

16) Yacht Club(S)


Marinas operate much like yacht clubs. Most boats anchor off and are welcomed to use their facilities for a nominal fee, including garbage disposal.

17) Other Facilities:

drinking water

Usually from wells and not treated. Rainy season provides deluges of tropical rain. Alongside at marinas but not separate from berthing without prior agreement.

fuel - Diesel about llQ per US gallon. Fuel dock at Livingston, by dinghy only. Large new fuel dock beyond bridge at Fronteras, 4M depth. Shell station at El Estor not functioning 1997, carry it from in town somewhere.

gas (propane)/gaz - Arrange through marinas or boatyards-Depot is near Morales, 45 mins drive. Most types of bottles seem to get filled.

chandlers - See Repairs and Hauling Facilities.

bank - 6 Quetzales = $1 U.S. (1997) LIvingston: two banks, Visa accepted, not Mastercard in 1997. Fronteras: two banks. Travellers cheques and dollar exchange. No Visas yet. Morales: 45 mins regular bus from Fronteras ( 5 Q ) to several banks where Visa, not Mastercard, are accepted. Combine with stocking up trip.


Livingston: We found most food and basic hardware by touring the many stores. Did not find meat but there must be some.

Fronteras: Tour stores to find basic food. Marios marina store has excellent meat products. Fresh vegetables at roadside stalls vary from day to day. Large selection of fruits which always seem to be in season are not to be missed.

Morales: Daily market, food stores, hardware, electrical, photo-developing, bird cages, and almost anything needed but many American food products are not imported.

River/lakeside towns of Mariscos and El Estor have fresh food and limited supplies.


Tourist organisation is called INGUAT who list countrywide facilities. INGUAT, 7th Avenida, 1-17, Zone 4, Guatemala City. Tel 331 1333.Fax 331 8893. There is a complete range of accommodation on the river varying from four star to hammocks for backpackers.

There are many bars serving food as well as those attached to hotels and the marinas. The Service Directory is the bible for waterbased access.

post office/telephones including mobile facilities

Nearest is Morales.

Surface mail is not recommended direct to the Rio Dulce area.

Telephone / fax GUATEL office and fax facility is in Morales. One page fax to U.K. 35 Q. Communications are improving rapidly along the river. There are very few land lines. Cellphones are common but connections by owners (all businesses) to international operators are restricted to those with American A.T.& T. credit cards (Get one before you cross the Atlantic, SPRINT also acceptable throughout Caribbean. Telephone companies everywhere recognise these cards.) However, it is anticipated that in a few weeks from now the cellphone and GUATEL phone companies will have entered into contracts and the problem for Europeans will be solved.

internet cafes

Becoming essential to cruisers to keep communications costs to minimum. About a third of cost of fax from here using one of the following:

Fronteras: two companies operate send and receive service:

Rio-Tel (at the Shop) Hollymar HollymarG@aol .com

best mailing address

Mario 's Marina have mail service: APDO 18F, Guatemala City, Guatemala, Central America. Flat mail only, couriered to river once every two weeks. It works. Mail out for us has been courtesy of cruisers flying to Europe or the U.S.

showers - At marinas or in torrential rains every few days in season.

laundry - Livingston has several, none researched.

DIY or service wash at Mango marina,~cold wash only, driers available. Susanna 's Marina, not researched.

transport/air services

Bus transport is very extensive and very cheap throughout the country. There are different standards for short and long distance buses offered by competing companies.

Access to Livingston is only by river, negotiate with boatmen waiting at town pier.( same at all towns and villages on the river and lake). Fronteras to Guatemala City: Litigua company buses, book seats at local office, Q30 for comfortable seat on 6hr.ride.

International airport at Guatemala City connects throughout N and S America and Europe( KLM via Amsterdam particularly recommended).

medical facilities/hospital

Hospital Clinic at Morales .

Hospitals in Guatemala City have excellent facilities and skills to cater to the wealthy land and business owning community.

18) Recommendations or Warnings


Surprisingly for the area we heard of no crime around Livingston and Fronteras. There was theft from boats at the end of the navigable area 25 miles beyond Fronteras. We lock and hide it, or assume it will be borrowed by someone more in need.

19) Other Information – please include here general impressions, opinions, comments or any other matter which might be of use to those visiting.

Exploring the river and lakes can absorb several weeks. Some of the attractions: ravine with 300 ft cliffs; tranquil anchorages where parrots and toucans can be seen; hot sulphurous springs; dinghy exploration up miles of side rivers with overhanging trees and vines contrasting with open pasture farmed by the friendly indigenous population; manatee reserve; volunteer to help with medical, educational or orphanage organisations: explore the reconstructed Spanish castle dating from 1595; visits to Mayan ruins at Quirigua and take three days to the significant ruins at Copan; lively sailing on Lake Izobel; follow trails up river valleys into ravines with waterfalls, hot pools, swim into caves, all deep in the forest with its abundant flora and fauna; or just sit in remote anchorages with stunning scenery and listen to the howler monkeys at dawn and dusk.

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