The northern banks of the Golfete, an expansive body of water between Lago Izabal and Río Dulce, are covered by the 17,790-acre Biotopo Chocón Machacas. Among the stretches of virgin rain forest and the extensive mangrove swamp here are gentle manatees—shy marine mammals also known as sea cows because of their enormous size. Manatees are as elusive as quetzals, so as you boat through the reserve you're more likely to see other animals such as sea otters. Some of the creeks go through thick forests where giant mahogany, ceiba, and mangrove trees hang over the water to form tunnels so thick they block out the sun. A tiny island surrounded by the park's dozens of creeks and lagoons has a well-maintained 1-km (.5-mi) nature trail that is easily walked by visitors with stiff boating legs. The trail has such interesting examples of old-growth trees as the San Juan, a tall, straight tree with yellow blossoms, and such exotic plants as orchids and bromeliads.
The only way to get to the reserve is on a 45-minute boat trip from Río Dulce or Livingston. Most launches up and down the river will stop at the park entrance if requested, but they rarely enter the park. Most major hotels on the Río Dulce rent boats with guides for individual or group tours.