Our last stop in Guatemala took us to unique spectacle of Semuc Champney.
We’d never even heard of Semuc Champney before arriving in Central America but once in Guatemala there was no avoiding it. Everyone we talked to went on and on about it so we figured there must be a reason.
Semuc is arguably the least essential of the ‘big 4’ of Guatemala that just about everyone visits (the other 3 being Antigua, Lake Atitlan and Tikal).
What is it? Simply put it is an extraordinarily beautiful, yet rather hard to reach, limestone bridge which creates many turquoise pools in which you can bathe, swim and jump.
Getting there is a long, slow trip. Smack bang in the middle of Guatemala, it isn’t particularly close to anything, except the city of Colan. Amd the last 20km or so to Lanquin, the town closest to Semuc, is a slow uncomfortable bumpy ride on unpaved roads, albeit with fantastic views.
Lanquin is where most people stay, however the pools are another 11km away and of course we were staying right near there – so we had another 30 minutes of bumpy road except this time it was standing in the back of a pickup, trying desperately not to fall out of the truck.
I can’t lie though, it was really fun (for the first 10 minutes at least) and one of those moments when you’re so happy to be travelling.
What most people tend to do at Semuc is organise a one day tour with their hostel and cover the main 3 sights – the pools, the caves and the tubing. As we were staying so close, we could do all this at our own pace. Unusually it isn’t much cheaper this way but it’s more relaxing.
On the first day we wandered 10 minutes down the road to Semuc Champney. After around 10 minutes hiking we could see the turquoise water alongside us, but we kept walking until we reached the top.
Actually getting in was more treacherous than you’d imagine – you imagine diving straight in but the reality is clambering over roots and mud and trying to not fall over. However once in, it really did look as good as the photos.
The water was turquoise, cool and refreshing. We explored all the pools pools and found some jumping in spots which didn’t involve climbing a tree and backflipping in, unlike some local kids.
Shortly after relaxing and holding still I noticed something was in the water with me. Tiny fish swimming around tempting fate by trying to nibble us.
All in all we spent 2-3 hours at the pools, and could have easily spent longer. We also probably should have hiked up to the mirador so we could have viewed all the pools from above but we ran out of time.
The Caves and Tubing
In addition to Semuc Champey there are nearby caves that can be explored.
You can only enter the caves with a guide, so our second day in we strolled up and had a private candle tour of the caves, ending with a bit of tubing on the river.
The best thing about these caves is that you fully navigate with only a lit candle in your hand, climbing ladders, scaling rocks and swimming (yes swimming with candle in hand) through the incredibly deep pools of water in the pitch black.
It was awesome, but unfortunately my GoPro died and we didn’t get any shots or videos.
As we navigated in the dark on the way back the last part really was terrifying, we have to trust the guide completely, there’s a small hole which you have to place your hands and feet in certain place all while the river rushes past forcing you to swing uncontrollably like a monkey out through the hole into a deep pool. Utterly terrifying but completely thrilling!
At the end we started back up to the entrance and joined our friend Sally to tube down the river. On the way down Greg swung into the river from a huge rope swing!
The tubing was shorter than we imagined, around 2km, which goes by fast. Greg bought a beer to enjoy in the tube but the end came about so suddenly his can ended up filled with river water as he scrambled to get out and not head further downstream!
Our bus from Flores took 10 hours and we stayed on the same one the whole way, unusual for Guatemala. It cost us 135Q for 2 of us.
We stayed at Greengo’s, a newish eco resort around 10 minutes walk from the pools. A triple room set us back 300Q (£26) per night which between 3 of us was good value.
It offered rustic but clean and quirky bungalows, and a great restaurant serving Israeli food. Technically it offers WiFi but it never worked, because the area is remote, seriously remote. We liked it, but for some it could be a bit too much.
The most popular option around Lanquin seems to be Zephyr Lodge but it sounded like too much of a party place to us, and the reports of rampant overcharging there didn’t exactly help.
Outside food options in the area are limited – we ate at El Portal, a hostel even closer to the pools, and the food mad us gag, it was disgusting. However right outside the entrance to Semuc, ladies serve huge plates of grilled chicken, rice and salad for 25Q which is delicious.
There are a few very small kiosks for snacks and drinks, and local children selling discs of freshly made chocolate wrapped in tinfoil – this was delicious although it is a bit worrying the kids are out selling chocolate and not in school. There are also scores of kids and adults selling beers for the tubing.
The entrance to Semuc Champney is 50Q per person. The cave tour was 60Q each plus an extra 10Q for the tubing, or 25Q (I think) if you just wanted to do the tubing. It’s probably best to wear shoes in the cave as we did, but be warned it’s hard to get them dry in the humid climate of the area. The caves are on the other side of the bridge to Semuc, just walk down for 5 minutes and you’ll find the entrance.
Getting out is an issue, Greengo’s offered a shuttle but it was far more expensive than other options down the road, one of which we chose. However this meant a 20 minute walk with our bags, even at 7am the heat and humidity was pretty bad.