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El Castillo De San Felipe

Jutting out at the upper reaches of the Río Dulce is the historical and strangely diminutive El Castillo de San Felipe. The first defensive tower was built here in 1595 at the entrance to Lake Izabal to protect this strategic location and the only route into the interior of the country on this Caribbean coast. The Spanish King Philip II ordered its construction to protect the provisions stored in villages around the lake. Brazen pirates, many of whom were British like Anthony Shirley and William Parker, would sail up the Río Dulce, through El Golfete and into lake to raid the bodegas.

The fortifications here have been destroyed and rebuilt at least four times over the past five centuries and the castle has been used as a prison (the harsh climate making imprisonment even more tortuous), for defense and now as a tourist attraction. In 1955, the site was excavated and the castle reconstructed one final time, all the while preserving the different sections built across the eras. It is possible to make out the original tower ‘Torre de Bustamante’ built in 1604 and the newer sentry towers added nearly a century and a half later in 1736. It is a pleasant place to spend a few hours wandering round the castle, imagining the cannons firing across the mouth of the lake attacking great pirate ships, and relaxing with a picnic in the shade of palm trees. There is also a bathing area marked out in the lake. The site is open every day 8a.m. – 5p.m. and the Q20 ($2.5) entry includes a guided tour and info sheet. There are souvenir shops, restrooms and a café inside the complex as well as two comedores at the entrance gate.


The road from Río Dulce around the north side of the lake turns off left to the castle, where the road ends, and goes right to El Estor. To get to the castle take a mini bus, taxi or tuk tuk from Río Dulce. The journey takes about 20 minutes. Buses leave the castle to go back every 30 minutes or when the bus is full. You can also take a boat from the lancha port in Río Dulce and sail up to the castle for a different view from the river.


Other places nearby El Castillo De San Felipe: Estanzuela, Quiriguá, Jutiapa, El Estor, Río Hondo, Jalapa, Rio Dulce, Lake Izabal, Puerto Barrios and Fronteras/El Relleno (Rio Dulce).

By Joanne Sykes

Born and raised in Yorkshire, England, Jo is currently working as a freelance travel writer in Latin America. With degrees in...

25 Aug 2010

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