When people think of indigenous culture in Guatemala, thoughts most often turn to the various Mayan groups that populate the country and still manage to conserve much of their traditional languages and culture. Less known is the history of the Garífuna in Guatemala, located mainly on the eastern coast of the country in a place called Livingston.
The Garífuna are descendants of West and Central African, Carib, and Arawak peoples, living today mainly in Central American countries after leaving their ancestral homes many years ago. Large numbers were expelled from their countries of origin for resisting forced labor or escaped to avoid slavery. Their language, dance, and music were proclaimed by UNESCO in 2001 as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in several Central American countries. Today, they maintain many of their traditional ways of life, and form a unique cultural group within Guatemala’s larger Spanish and Mayan groups in the town of Livingston.
A trip to Livingston is best organized by a private tour in Guatemala, as getting in and out is accessible only by boat, as there are no roads in or out of the town, and only a few paved roads within it. Boats can arrive from the sea, or from the Rio Dulce, and all converge at the same place. It’s this relative isolation that has allowed the Garífuna culture to remain undiluted and full of its traditional charm. Livingston is located in eastern Guatemala, on the Caribbean Sea, set high on a hill overlooking the coast. Just slightly larger than a village, almost everything is within walking distance.
The lifestyle in Livingston is very different from the rest of Guatemala, with a laid back vibe and distinct food, music, and dance. Colourful houses, excellent seafood, and a small town atmosphere are some of the highlights. The Caribbean feel is continued with nightly show highlighting the drum-based dances typical of the Garífuna, including a traditional warrior dance.
In May, celebrations are held on the day of the patron saint of agriculture, San Isidro del Labrador. Celebrations are a mixture of Afro-Caribbean traditions and traditional Mayan celebrations, including processions, religious rituals, traditional food, and dancing. The entire town comes together for this joyous celebration, and tourists are treated to a taste of history coming to life. Witness participants wearing traditional clothing as well as costumes fashioned specifically to honour San Isidro, and enjoy the unique mixing of cultures that exists only in Livingston, Guatemala.
If you are looking for a side of Guatemala that’s off the beaten path, include a stop to the seaside town of Livingston as part of your Guatemala vacation and find yourself in a unique town with a way of life not found anywhere else in the country. Enjoy the warm waters of the Caribbean, try some fishing, or simply relax and unwind in the laid-back atmosphere that Livingston enjoys all year round.