Visiting Playa Blanca & Siete Altares in Guatemala (2024)

One of our best memories of living in Belize was taking the boat across Amatique Bay from Punta Gorda to Livingston, Guatemala.

Livingston evokes destinations and a way of travel that are becoming harder to find on our ever-changing, ever-modernizing planet. There are no roads leading to Livingston (you have to make your way there by boat or hiking through the jungle), and there are a number of worthwhile attractions in the area to keep a traveler happy for a few days.

Two of those attractions are Playa Blanca and Siete Altares, which we were lucky enough to be able to visit multiple times over the span of a few years time. In this guide, Lori and I will share why you may want to consider a day trip to these unique places, plus all the essential info you’ll need for your visit.

Overview

Siete Altares and Playa Blanca Guatemala map

The above map shows Punta Gorda, Livingston and Puerto Barrios in the context of Amatique Bay and the Gulf of Honduras.

Be sure to check out our visitor guide to Livingston if you’re planning a visit.

Playa Blanca (a whitish sands palm-fringed beach) and Siete Altares (jungle hike to a series of pools and waterfalls) are relatively close to each other (about four miles apart, along the same stretch of coast). For that reason, we recommend doing the two together as an informal day tour. You can also do Siete Altares independent of a tour, which we’ll talk more about later in this guide.

Siete Altares (Seven Altars)

waterfall and pool in jungle

Pools and waterfalls hidden in the jungle are nothing special in places like Hawaii and Costa Rica. But in Belize and Guatemala, they tend to be few and far between.

Siete Altares (meaning seven altars or pools) offers a wonderful chance to cool off on a hot day among lush tropical forest and even get a nice workout in.

The current entry fee is 20 Quetzals (about US$2.50) and there is a small structure to change in or use the toilet before you head up to the pools.

The pools and waterfalls are at their peek during rainy season (roughly from June to November), and are not nearly as thrilling to visit during the dry months. The trade off is that you may encounter a passing storm or two, muddy conditions, and more bugs (mosquitoes). We enjoyed visiting in late November just as the rains had tapered off.

The trail from the boat dock up to the pools is relatively flat and easy, with only a gradual elevation gain. However, the trail itself is rocky and uneven in parts presenting a bit of a challenge (particularly if you hike in flip-flops like we did).

Because of Livingston’s relative isolation and being a bit off-the-path, you likely won’t encounter many other visitors during your time at Siete Altares.

Playa Blanca (White Beach) Guatemala

white sands beach with palms

Four miles west of Siete Altares along the coast is a local tourist initiative aptly named Playa Blanca (White Beach).

This particular stretch of coastline wouldn’t make headlines in many well known tropical destinations. But in Amatique Bay, where numerous rivers flow to and dense mangroves are the norm, Playa Blanca is something of a novelty—powder white sand, palm trees, and calm waters you can swim in.

man on point near sea

In the rainy season, the water does get a bit murky from the river runoff. But if you happen to visit at the height of the dry season, the water can be fairly clear and idyllic. The pictures we’ve included here are from multiple visits spanning both seasons.

man relaxing on hammock near the ocean

So, what is there to do on Playa Blanca? A whole lot of nothing, which is a big part of the allure.

hammock by the tropical sea

Actually, that’s not true. Hammocks have been set up for lounging, and you can buy fresh coconuts and Coco Locos for sipping on.

two people drinking a coconut
woman with coconut on hammock

There’s even a coconut shower.

And in the more popular times of the year, you might even find dining huts serving fresh seafood on the beach. However, these can be hit or miss, so we recommend bringing a snack just in case.

massage tents on beach

Lori and I also enjoy walking along the various coves and exploring into the jungle a bit where there are a few winding footpaths.

Playa Blanca seems to get more visitors than Siete Altares. But we’ve never seen more than a handful of others enjoying the beach, even on the weekends. With that said, mornings tend to be the busiest time to visit (between 9am and 1pm), as boats tend to return to Livingston by mid-afternoon.

How to Get There

mangrove near water

Private Boat Day Trip

Most visitors to Playa Blanca and Siete Altares come from Livingston or Rio Dulce by boat. If you wish to visit both, it’s best to hire a private boat from any number of guesthouses in the area.

We liked to hire ours through La Casa Rosada in Livingston (where we usually stayed). The boat usually departed around 9:30am and got us back around 3pm.

Public Boats

Alternatively, if you’ve got time and flexibility on your side and know a bit of Spanish, you can head down to the Livingston Muelle (public pier) and ask around for boats headed to Siete Altares or Playa Blanca. The biggest downside with this option is that it can be tricky and challenging to get a boat between the two places, and back to Livingston, particularly in mid afternoon.

Hiking to Siete Altares from Livingston

If you’re up for an adventure, Siete Altares can also be reached by land, through a combination of footpaths and walking along various stretches of beach. The AllTrails app is a good resource for figuring this one out. But don’t expect a walk in the park. It’s about three miles each way and can get very hot and humid by mid-morning. Plan accordingly!

Boat from Punta Gorda, Belize to Playa Blanca

Having lived in Punta Gorda for a year, we wished there was a direct boat we could hire to take us straight to Playa Blanca, given that it’s only about 15 miles as the crow flies between the two.

However, this really isn’t possible mainly because of one pesky little detail—you have to check in at immigration in Livingston before heading on your way. I’m sure you could find an unscrupulous boat captain for the right price, but it just isn’t worth it given the penalties for getting caught.

Wrapping it Up

beach view between palms

Playa Blanca and Siete Altares make a worthwhile day trip from Livingston or Rio Dulce, particularly in late fall when there’s still plenty of water gushing through the falls, the sea water visibility is a bit better, and you’re more likely to have great weather for your visit. Hiring a private boat ensures that you have reliable transportation between the two attractions, and a return ride in the afternoon.

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