My first time there I spent about four days helping school children paint murals. My second visit where I spent over a week leading photography workshops. Altogether I spent about two weeks in Livingston. It was not a long time but seeing other guests shuffle in and out of the hostels after one or two nights made me feel like a resident in this humble abode. My extended stay may offer some insights unbeknownst to passer-bys.
Livingston is a quaint fishing town rooted in Garifuna culture and uniquely situated on a port. Even though it is not an island, it is surrounded by thick forests, and the town is only accessible by boat. Upon arriving at the port you will find plenty of locals hustling to find you a hotel. It is best to tell them you have reservations just to get them off your back. Getting a room should not be difficult.
Hostels and Hotels
I stayed at Dona Alida and Casa Nostra. Dona Alida is on a quiet beachfront hillside. There are hammocks outside of every room. Each room is a little different, some have two beds, TV, flatscreens. My colleague’s room had cockroaches, mine just had ants. There is a private bath but only cold shower. Location is a little more isolated but only a short walk to the Calle Principal (or the main street) with all the shops and restaurants.
Casa Nostra has a restaurant downstairs serving huge drinks and great food at a reasonable price. I stayed here for over a week and ate there almost everyday. There are more restaurants on the same street but a bit further from Calle Principal. I stayed in one of the three rooms with a shared bath and balcony. There are two deluxe rooms with AC and private bath. Fans are available in the rooms without AC. Power outlets are available everywhere including the balcony which made for a great space to work and relax. Bathroom has great water pressure with the typical electric water heater shower head. Housekeeping is not daily but they will occasionally change the sheets. The location can get noisy with the people, boats, and especially the birds in the morning. Beware of the cat and dog on the premises begging for food.
For those with bigger budget, Hotel Ville Caribe offers classy bungalows. I did not stay there but I briefly visited someone staying in the Punta Gorda (PG) Bungalow, who ironically is from PG. The restaurant is worth a visit, if not for the food then just a chill place to have a drink and take in the view. They served Gallo with a platter of lime and salted the rim, a nice way to class up the local beer.
Food and Drinks
The local cocktail is Coco Loco, which as the name suggests, is coconut water mixed with rum. I did not drink much as I was there to work but turned to the virgin alternative Coco Frio for relief from the hot climate. I typically do not like coconut but found picking at the pulpy flesh of the coconut with a straw fulfilling to my OCD in my socially awkward state.
As for local cuisine, Tapado is the Garifuna dish this place is known for. This is a coconut based seafood stew typically consists of a whole fried fish, a whole crab, shrimp, conch, or whatever else the sea has to offer.
The town is so small you can easily walk through it in a day. At least the Calle Principal where all the tourist shops are and some of the side streets offering general goods. Prices usually drop a little the further you are from the port. This is a place where you will find freshly squeezed orange juice in the morning and the scent of oily fried food stands at night. There is not much in the way of entertainment. Unlike PG where I shoot pool at bars, here they have foosball at grocery stores.
The beauty of the area is beyond the streets. Walk down to the playa, then along the coast to Siete Altares. The walk is supposedly dirty and dangerous but I have learned this is the case for pretty much all of Central America. I did not step on any hypodermic needles or get robbed along the way. My reward at the end of the hour long walk is a series of seven waterfalls. In late May, it was dried up in all except for the top pool. Blame global warming. No matter, the shortage of water just made the jumping rock at the top all the more risky. I made the jump unscathed but my taller colleague said she scrapped the rock in the shallow pool. Jump at your own risk.
A more serene experience is to cruise down Rio Dulce. There are patches of lily pads and islands where birds come to nurse their youngs. Most people probably make a reservation at the secluded Finca Tatin and they will take you there through Rio Dulce.
Not I, I somehow found myself on a boat to Bosque San Juan. I ended up on a photowalk with a group of students through a foresty, bat-infested, abandoned, “Dharma Initiative” science station. Seriously, this place is beyond off the beaten path, this is uncharted territory. I can only supply you with the GPS coordinates (15°47’12.6″N, 88°50’33.4″W) because it is not labeled on the map.
If there is one thing I learned, it is that a photo workshop on a boat may not be such a hot idea because everyone in one place will result in pictures of the same things from the same perspective. Live and learn.
A bat shit crazy experience.