It was a day well spent in the Guatemalan jungle visiting turquoise blue natural pools of Semuc Champey including other adventures. Full of adrenaline activities – caving, cliff jumping, tubing, jumping off the swing & bridge, hiking and swimming in pools in the middle of the jungle!
When the day starts at 7 am and the only thing you pack for the day is swimming suit, you know it’s going to be a good day. This was an awesome day.
If you ask any backpacker about best places to visit in Guatemala, I’m sure one of the most frequented answers will be Semuc Champey.
I have a great story to tell you with tips how to enjoy the day at Semuc Champey.
Trip to the Guatemalan jungle
Guatemala was our 2nd stop on a trip around the world. We arrived from Mexico through a jungle border crossing and straight to Flores to visit Tikal. Did you know Guatemala has the most authentic Mayan ruins named Tikal? They are in the jungle; many ruins are still uncovered, monkeys howling around and pumas frequenting the area at night.
Then we continued our trip to Lanquin (shortened name of San Agustin Lanquin). It’s a small town set in the jungle between high mountains where descendants of Mayan people live. Arriving at this town alone requires quite a bumpy and 8-hour long ride from Flores.
Local women wear colourful traditional dresses, kids play on narrow streets, street dogs sniff around for food, many shops and houses are made from wooden boards and people get around the hilly town by walking, using tuk-tuk as a form of a taxi or casually jumping on the back of the pickup trucks. A typical Guatemalan small-town vibe.
We stayed at El Retiro Lodge and spent our days swinging in the hammocks, hanging out with fellow travelers and cooling the heat off in the river. One day, in particular, was adventurous. The main reason people come to Lanquin is visiting the turquoise pools of Semuc Champey.
This is how our day went:
Adventure #1 – Drive to Semuc Champey
Our ride picked us up 8 am sharp. It wasn’t just a regular ride. Remember I told you about pickup trucks? Exactly! We got on the back of the truck and that’s when the whole adventure started.
All of us nervously standing, holding rails while the truck bumped on the dirt road and we all hopped on every single rock the truck drove on. After a while, we were able to enjoy the views of the surrounding mountains and not focusing on the drive.
Adventure #2 – Walk/swim/jump in the darks of K’an Ba Cave
We changed into swimsuits and our guide Hector drew with charcoal on our faces. We looked like real warriors! I started to ask myself why he is making us feel so tough.
Then we were handed a candle. We were going in a cave! This isn’t a fancy cave where boardwalk for tourists was made.
Our lit up candles were the only light in the cave, we were holding a rope secured to the rock and slowly walked through the cave. Sometimes the water was ankle high, and sometimes it was so deep we couldn’t touch the bottom.
Just imagine holding a candle in one hand and trying to swim with the other through a pool in a dark cave. Needless to say, we were all laughing enjoying the day and feeling like Indiana Jones exploring an unknown and squeezing between stalactites
At one point, a waterfall appeared in front of us. We were given two options, either climbing the ladder next to it or holding onto a rope and walking up the waterfall. Of course, we went with the latter. Michal climbed up and when I grabbed the rope, our guide warned me that it’s dangerous and requires a lot of strength. Ok then, I passed. But I was going to make it up for myself.
After about 400 meters in the cave, we reached the final point for a safe exploration. At the end of the cave, Hector invited, in his own words: “only the brave ones”, to jump off of a cliff.
Strangely, only I and Michal seemed to think it was a great idea. We climbed onto the rock wall but hardly saw pool where we were supposed to jump into. The only instruction we got was not to jump too close to the opposite rock wall because of a big rock in the pool. I thanked Hector for the comforting words.
We jumped, survived and received applause. Suddenly, we understood why our guide painted our faces so we look like warriors – because we were! Everybody has their own limits and there were few people with us, who went way beyond their comfort zone by going into the cave. The applause should be for all of us.
Adventure #3 – River swing, tubing and jumping off the bridge
Next up was finding out how much activities we can do on the River Cahabon just downstream from the Semuc Champey pools.
First, a swing. A really high wooden swing hanging on 10-meter long ropes. I was so pumped with adrenaline, I couldn’t wait to try it. My first swing, I partly landed on my face, my second swing looked very professional and my third was the most painful one. I partially landed on my ass and it must have looked funny because the whole group was laughing. I was just watching half of my ass turning purple.
Second, tubing. We were handed tubes, sit on them and let the stream take us away. Out of nowhere a bunch of kids ran to us with coolers full of beer, trying to catch up us on the river sitting in their own tube.
One kid kept asking us a hundred times if we wanted a beer. Supposedly his name was Ronaldo and sells the best beer. They were so used to tourists that when we asked why he is not in school, he responded promptly: “It’s holiday!”
It wasn’t holiday. And we didn’t buy a beer from any of those kids. We just don’t feel comfortable supporting children selling beers instead of going to school. We would gladly buy a beer from an adult if there was any.
And last but not least, jumping off a bridge. It was about 7 meters high. I was shocked from Michal’s enthusiasm of jumping in the river with me. As we stood there ready to jump, Michal caved. I didn’t blame him, he’s afraid of heights and this would be the highest bridge he ever jumped from.
I felt the adrenaline rush through my body as I counted seconds until my feet touched the river. That’s my usual method of counting how high the jump is. I think this was 2 seconds. Oh, how I love cliff jumping.
Adventure #4 – Semuc Champey pools and lookout
After a delicious buffet lunch for only 50 quetzals (7USD), we drove to the trailhead for El Mirador. Still full from lunch in the mid-day heat, the hike to the lookout wasn’t easy. 300m elevation on high stairs and mud. Half an hour later, we saw the famous view of the Semuc Champey pools.
Semuc Champey is a 300 m long limestone bridge with caves formed by series of natural pools. The Cahabon River passes under them via a tunnel. Despite the river being brown and muddy from the rain, the pools are fed by underground streams and constantly have shades of turquoise colour.
We couldn’t believe such a magical place exists. A real paradise is hidden in the jungle.
Because it’s so hard to get to, the pools are a quiet place, and not loud and crowded tourist attraction.
It was a perfect place to relax after all the adventures we’ve done that day. We were jumping from one pool to another, swimming and enjoyed every moment.
Tired with big smiles on our faces and hearts full of happiness, the ride back to Lanquin on the back of the pickup truck suddenly didn’t feel that dangerous. Enjoying the evening by the river with our new friends, drinking beer and reminiscing about the day was the perfect ending.
I think all of us went beyond their comfort zone and that’s why the day at Semuc Champey is unforgettable.
It was one of the best days we had in Central America.
Tips for Lanquin and Semuc Champey
How to get to Semuc Champey
The only place from which you can visit Semuc Champey is Lanquin. The best and easiest option to get to Lanquin is to take a tourist shuttle offered by agencies. Otherwise, you will need to take a million chicken buses to Lanquin and worry about your belongings. (Chicken buses in Guatemala have the highest theft rate, be cautious especially if you’re traveling with all your bags.)
We took a shuttle bus from Flores to Lanquin; it cost 125 quetzals (17USD) for 8-hour ride. Travelling in Guatemala usually takes a very long time.
Lanquin is 10km and about 45-minutes drive from Semuc Champey and has plenty of hostels to cater its visitors. There are also hostels much closer to the pools.
Where to stay in Lanquin
We stayed at El Retiro Lodge in Lanquin, a quiet place with several huts spread on the hill by the river. There is not much not do here besides hanging out with fellow travelers, visiting Semuc Champey or going to Mayan family and learn how to make chocolate (which we highly recommend). There is a very weak wifi signal in town, giving the stay in Lanquin an off-the-grid feel. Despite the start of rainy season, we haven’t had any issues with mosquitoes.
Hostels usually have a restaurant offering meals and drinks all day. There are few comedors in town where you can go eat but honestly, the food in our hostel was much better. We had a different theme each evening, tasting Italian, Mexican and Guatemalan meals with vegetarian options.
Visiting Semuc Champey
The Semuc Champey day trip cost 185 quetzals (25USD) per person including everything you’ve read about (the lunch is extra). You will need either sneakers or sandals for the cave and I wouldn’t recommend taking a headlamp. One girl from our group lost it forever.
We’ve visited Semuc Champey in September when our lodge had a promotion going – when you stayed 1 night, the 2nd was free and we stayed 4 nights. We paid 240 quetzals (33USD) for 4 nights for 2 people (2 were for free) and 370 quetzals (50USD) for Semuc Champey trip for both of us. All hostels offer the tour, only the activities might be in different order what really is not important.
If you’re interested in going on your own, you can easily hitch a ride to Semuc Champey You can ask to be dropped off at K’an Ba Cave, go caving on an individual tour for 60 quetzals (8USD) or tubing for 50 quetzals (7USD). The entrance fee to Semuc Champey is 50 quetzals (7USD).
Altogether without transport is 160 quetzals and we paid only 185 quetzals, so you won’t save going on your own if you want to do everything.
Don’t miss out and visit Semuc Champey when visiting Guatemala!
Spread the word! PIN this to your Pinterest board.