The Caribbean coast of the province of Izabal provided landscapes and cultural traits different from the rest of Guatemala. Now days the coastal population is a mixture of Native Americans, ladinos and garífunas (Caribbean African Americans). At the apogee of Maya culture many people lived in this area taking advantage of the fertile earth, later abandoning it. It was not until the United Fruit Company came with its banana plantations at the end of the 19 century , that this part of Guatemala began its modern development. To satisfy the needs of the banana company, then President of Guatemala, General Justo Rufino Barrios, founded Port Barrios at the end of the 19 century, which was soon followed by a railway. Since the beginning of the 20th century up to our days, Port Barrios is the most important port in Guatemala being considered more a transit point than a tourist attraction. In the province of Izabal are found the following attractions:
Snaking its way between mountains, the waters of the Motagua River flow towards the Caribbean. Near them is found the park and archeological site of Quiriguá, which lies surrounded by a tropical forest in turn surrounded by a sea of banana plants. Quiriguá is not very big but offers a great archeological treasure: the stelas, altars and zoomorphs found there are considered the best and most intricately sculpted during the classic period in all the Maya world. Only Copan, in Honduras, comes close.
The big sandstone stones were quarried and placed just so, where they were sculpted. The hardness of the stones used and a favorable climate permit us to observe these objects sculpted over 1,200 years ago. Other archeological sites have more stelas but the ones in Quiriguá are unsurpassable in their style and sculpturing technique. For example, among the 21 best sculpted monuments, stela E stands out (year 771 AC) which is the largest quarried stone so far discovered in the Maya world. It is 35 feet tall (8 meters), 5 feet wide and 4 feet thick weighting 65 tons.The sculptures that catch the eye the most in Quiriguá are the enormous zoomorphs; big sandstone rocks intricately carved to represent animals. The stones are covered with figures and glyphs in the characteristic Quiriguá mixture of high and low relief and represent some of the most intricate sculpting found in the Maya world. Nothing similar has been discovered any other place.
During the classic period (200-900 AC) Quiriguá, as Tikal and other Maya cities of the Guatemalan lowlands, greatly prospered. The Motagua River was an important commercial route and in the nearby mountains, outcrops of jade are found, the object most important to the Maya civilization. As a reminder from that era, from stela E engraved in sandstone with an enormous headdress that covers his head, his body intricately adorned and his fierce stare directed forward, a Maya king watches the years pass…oblivious that the temples of his city lie in ruin and rest on a carpet of green grass.
The Sweet Gulf as it was called many years ago due to its fresh water, is the biggest lake in Guatemala with an extension of 590 square kilometers. If offers great natural beauty in beautiful beaches, forests, caves, small waterfalls and springs of thermal water. On its sparsely populated shores a wide variety of animals can be seen: pelicans, iguanas, manatees, toucans, crocodiles, turtles and tapir as well as orchids and bromeliads. Due to its biodiversity parts of the lake are protected as reserve areas. It's a navigable lake and in the afternoon, due to the wind, waves of considerable size may form; it's best not to be on the lake if the wind is blowing. During colonial times pirates used the lake as access to Guatemala until the Castle of San Felipe was built.
Due to the constant harassment by intrepid English pirates of mule trains and towns of Lake Izabal, in the XVI century the Castle of San Felipe was built. The castle was not very big but it had cannons and a small guard force. So that pirates did not go pass, besides the guns, a heavy chain was placed in the water between the castle and the opposing shore.
From Lake Izabal this river travels 42 kilometers until it reaches Amatique Bay. All along its course animals and vegetation can be seen. Near Livingston the river passes between two rock walls that rise over 100 meters, covered in vegetation with vines hanging meters in the air. One part of the river balloons out and forms the Golfete.
It is a small lake of about 62 square kilometers and on its north shores is the Reserve of Chocón Machacas, protected are and home of the manatee.
It's a party town situated at the mouth of the Rio Dulce on the Caribbean Sea and is only accessible by boat. Its inhabitants are of garífuna origin, which incorporate Native American, African and ladino beliefs. From there one can travel to the most beautiful beaches of the Guatemalan Caribbean coast: Siete Altares. In Siete Altares one can find beautiful waterfalls and pools of water, in fact some of the first Tarzan movies were filmed there.

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