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Semuc Champey, Guatemala

Semuc Champey - GuatemalaSemuc Champey is a natural monument in the department of Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, near the Q'eqchi' Maya town of Lanquín. It consists of a natural 300 meter limestone bridge, under which passes the Cahabón River.

Atop the bridge is a series of stepped, turquoise pools, a popular swimming attraction, and an extremely beautiful tourist location.

The best and most popular way to see Semuc Champey in all its glory, is from the "El Mirador" viewpoint. Though it is a roughly 45-minute hot, uphill jungle hike from the parking area, the views into the valley are unparalleled.

Although it can be difficult to get to, Semuc is becoming more and more popular with travelers. Semuc Champey is really part of the Cahabon River, but the river flows under a 300 meter-long sheet of limestone. In fact, Semuc Champey actually means “where the river hides under the earth”.

On top of the large sheet of limestone are the pools that make up Semuc Champey and these pools are actually fed from surrounding waterfalls in the surrounding valley.

Because of this, the water is crystal clear. But as this water makes its way to these pools, it collects small particles that reflect light and give the water its transparent turquoise coloring.

Set just outside - about 6 miles - the small town of Lanquín in Guatemala, Semuc Champey is a set of crystalline pools which have become extremely popular with travellers recently.

The cost is nominal - 50Q ($6.50 USD) to enter Semuc Champey for foreign visitors of all ages. Locals only pay 30Q for adults and 10Q for children. There are no other fees unless you are a commercial film crew or photography company.

Semuc Champey - GuatemalaThere are toilet facilities, but it is recommended to bring some your own toilet paper. Local Guatemalans sell drinks and food at the entrance as well as at an on site restaurant.

If large crowds don't interest you, then the wet season is perfect time to visit Semuc Champey. During any day, the best time to visit is in the morning.

After lunch, it becomes crowded with visitors as the large tour groups begin to arrive. If you can, be at the entrance gate before 9 am and enjoy Semuc Champey without the distracting crowds.

Situated over the Río Cahabón in Alta Verapaz, it consists of a natural 300 meter limestone bridge. While under this bridge you can see the Cahabón River flowing, atop is the series of beautiful pools which form a staircase of turquoise pools that extend over a natural limestone bridge.

The river stretches for about 196 kilometres where it winds through caves and jungles and snakes through the Semuc Champey land bridge. The water is the runoff from the Río Cahabón, which tunnels underground before resurfacing downstream of the pools.

The colour of the water is extremely bright turquoise blue that sharply stands out from the surrounding green shades of the jungle.

Semuc being a part of the backpacker trail in Guatemala, it has therefore quickly grown to be Guatemala’s best spots for swimming and sunning.

But aside from relaxing at these calm pools, it also offers a series of trails or hanging bridges which extend into the nearby forest, from which the travellers can walk along on.

Explore the spot where the Río Cahabón plunges underground or take a hike up a steep trail that leads to a lookout point with excellent views of the pools.

Semuc Champey - GuatemalaTucked away in the densely forested mountains of Alta Verapaz, Semuc Champey’s limestone formations also include small caves where visitors can swim into them and take a look out from underneath one of the waterfalls.

Semuc Champey lies at an altitude of approximately 341 meters. Therefore, climate-wise it is usually warm, just like a typical tropical rainforest jungle.

However, it gets colder through the night -as it is surrounded by tropical jungle, Semuc Champey is often clouded, especially in the rainy season.

Now as far as the temperature of the water is concerned, if not too warm, it provides much-needed refuge from the Guatemalan heat. The paths here are wet, rocky, and visibility can be limited. Thus, it is suggested you carry sturdy footwear for this trip.

To Reach the natural paradise of Semuc Champey, first, reach Lanquin from Flores, Antigua or Guatemala City. You can also take the bus that will take up to 12 hours.

Now Semuc Champey is only about 10 kilometers, or 6 miles from Lanquin. But keep in mind that those 10 kilometres aren’t particularly easily traveled ones.

In Lanquin, you can either walk for about 2.5 hours or take a pickup truck “taxi” to the entrance of the falls. Many of these pick-up trucks are part of hostels, but almost anyone can hitch a ride with one of them.

Now begins the 40 gruelling minutes drive to the pools. This is an incredibly bumpy journey, so be prepared! But then, the destination is well worth any bruises gained in the process.

That Semuc Champey was one of the things to see in Guatemala that most know before even leaving for the country, but even though all those images posted on the internet will arouse your mind but do not really do justice to what remains when you arrive there.

Semuc Champey - GuatemalaMost people go to Guatemala during the high season, from mid-December to mid-April as it doesn't rain as much and the Cahabon River is much clearer.

Keep in mind though that in the high season, Semuc Champey is often so overcrowded that you can't fully enjoy the beauty as much when there are millions of people around.

So if you can, go in the off season, when there are 60% fewer people. And yes, the pools are still crystal clear and turquoise blue.

Keep in mind that to arrive at Semuc Champey you have to want to see it and want it badly because reaching this paradise in the middle of nowhere is not a very comfortable journey due to its isolated position in the middle of the mountains of Alta Verapaz - you must count a full day of travel to get there and a full day of rugged travel in order to leave.

In any case, to go to Semuc Champey you have to go through the village of Lanquin that, unless you decide to stay in a hostel right in Semuc Champey. But they are isolated and almost always fully occupied, it's hard to recommend them.

The easiest and most recommended way to get to Semuc Champey is then to take a shuttle from Flores to Lanquin or from Antigua a Lanquin - which will then drop you off at your hotel or hostel. Shuttles cost a little more than chicken buses, but on the other hand they are much faster and above all much safer.

Every hotel, hostel and local agency in Antigua can book the shuttle for you, just make sure you book it a couple of days in advance to insure a place on it. Even with the shuttle, however, it takes 8 to 9 hours of travel time to arrive.

Keep in mind that the road in both directions it is long, riddled with potholes and full of curves. For those who suffer from motion sickness, It is recommended to take tablets or some other method to reduce the effects!

Semuc Champey - GuatemalaOn the plus side of the trip: some of the views of the Guatemalan countryside are truly out of this world.

Not a good idea to take the shuttle from Antigua in the afternoon just to sleep longer, as going through Guatemala City traffic will be a nightmare, not to mention arriving in Lanquin late, around 2am when it's dangerous because the streets are dark.

A Semuc Champey there are actually only a couple of hostels, theUtopia Eco Hotel and The Portal of Champey which are really beautiful, built completely in the middle of the forest, all in wood and with their panoramic locations overlooking the river,

While most of the other accommodations are located in Lanquin, a small town about an hour by off-road vehicles from the famous pools and which is the most suitable base for visiting them.

Also to Lanquìn is there some nice hostels - especially for backpackers who like partying and casino places there is Zephir Lodge, famous for its breathtaking view, its swimming pool and its alcoholic party nights

There is another hotel worth a try - La Poza River Lodge is an excellent solution especially for its beautiful terrace and the free wi-fi.

To get to Semuc Champey from Lanquin you are loaded into the bed of an old Toyota pick-up in which you'll be tortured until that night by that annoying rain that permeates everywhere and after an hour of terrible dirt roads, tons of mud and even a bit of icy cold air you'll be finally unloaded in Semuc.

Last but not least the famous natural pools of Semuc Champey. There are two paths in the forest to get there, one goes directly to the pools, the other climbs uphill until you reach the Mirador, a wooden platform suspended between the trees from which you can enjoy a beautiful view of the pools and the valley that surrounds them. .

Semuc Champey - GuatemalaGetting there is quite tiring, especially due to the very high humidity that sometimes gives the feeling of not being able to breathe. Press on, however, although the climb is tiring it does not last very long, if you go slowly as snails it takes about 40 minutes for you to be at the top and the view more than worth it.

The descent from the Mirador is shorter and you can also enjoy the amazing nature surrrounds you, with the tall trees, the lianas and the impenetrable bushes it is impressive.

Just be careful where you put your feet because the downhill path is quite steep and the humidity makes it very slippery in some places - and with the rain even worse.

While in the pools you can dive and swim - it is practically a natural water park formed in the middle of nowhere in incrediblly scenic Guatemala

Semuc Champey is known as being un-missable, as written in many guides: the last destination of Guatemala. Bring your swimsuit, a towel and a change of clothes: When you get wet to the core and many would have paid in gold for dry clothes. Also, be sure to wear comfortable shoes.

There are bathrooms at the entrance to the Kanba caves where you can change clothes. At the pools there are some lockers where you can leave your things - bring a padlock if you want to leave valuable things like your smartphone or camera to make sure they are safe.

The rocks in the pools are very slippery, so be very careful when walking on the stones. Due to the increasing number of local bus robberies and the awful road conditions, it is recommended taking a shuttle to Lanquin from wherever you are in Guatemala.

From Lake Atitlan the route took just over 13 hours. The shuttle bus left from the town of Panajachel on Lake Atitlan direct to Lanquin. It can be booked with Adrenalina Tours and it was a good journey even considering the amount of time it takes.

Semuc Champey - GuatemalaThe driver makes enough stops to make sure that passengers were fed and had sufficient bathroom breaks. The shuttle isn’t overpacked, has good air conditioning, and the driver drove fast enough to get everyone there quickly but also very safely.

This shuttle costs $65 USD per person and can be booked from hostels in Lake Atitlan or directly on the web.

From Antigua expect a 10 to 11-hour shuttle ride. Most shuttle companies leave at 8 am whereas some offer a 2 pm shuttle. Take the morning shuttle as arriving at such a late hour would not be convenient in such a small town with already limited services during the day.

The shuttle costs around $50 USD, and can also be booked with Adrenalina Tours. If you’d prefer to do a tour, this top-rated 3-day adventure tour leaves from Antigua and includes your hotel, transport, guide, and some meals.

The shuttle service from Guatemala City to Lanquin is very similar to the one from Antigua. However, the shuttle from Guatemala City is 1 hour shorter and costs only $45 USD with Adrenalina Tours.

If you’re short on time, you can also book this guided tour from Guatemala City, which includes accommodation, meals, transport, plus an expert guide. You’ll visit Semuc Chapey & Kamba Caves during 3 days and 2 nights.

The shuttle from Flores (Tikal) takes 8 hours and costs about $45 USD. Shuttles usually leave in the morning at 8 am. It’s important to note that if it has been raining heavily the direct road can be closed and the journey can take up to 12 hours if a detour is required.

Once in Lanquin, you’ll then need to make your way from town or your hotel to Semuc Champey. This is a very easy task and there are a lot of options suited to all travelers - the easiest way is to just speak with your hotel or hostel.

Semuc Champey - GuatemalaThe cheapest way to visit Semuc Champey is to use the local transport on a self-guided visit. Local transport in Lanquin comes in the form of trucks where most people pile into the bed in the back.

Locals pay 10Q (just over $1 USD) for the ride from Lanquin to Semuc Champey, so, not being a local, don’t expect the local price. Instead, be prepared to pay about 15 to 20Q depending on your group size and negotiating skills.

The journey is squished, bumpy, and uncomfortable and takes 45-minutes. That being said, it is adventurous and a very cheap way to get to places.

This local transport leaves from Lanquin and your hotel can tell you where and when you'll arrive. Times vary but they run quite often. Even if you’re hotel is not in Lanquin, if it’s located near the road to Semuc Champey, you can still catch these local trucks. simply walk to the road and wait for one and flag it down.

If you want a more comfortable option then get a couple of friends together and get an entire vehicle for 140Q (about $18 USD) each way and the driver will wait for you while at the park. Likely the best option if you want an enjoyable carefree day.

From Lanquin you can actually walk to Semuc Campey if you’re feeling up for it. It takes about 2 1/2 hours and the walk is supposed to be incredible.

On the way back you can always get the local bus too so you don’t have to walk both ways! Ask your hotel about this during your visit as weather conditions can make the trail dangerous.

Guided tours are another great way to visit Semuc Champey from Lanquin. These can be arranged in town through your hotel/ hostel and start from $30 USD. These include transport, a local guide, and some activities. These tours change regularly so you’ll need to speak with your hostel/ hotel when you arrive or in advance.

Semuc Champey - GuatemalaIf your hotel is located outside of Lanquin, then you may be either closer or further from Semuc Champey. In fact, some hotels are only a 10-minute walk from the entrance to the park. Greengos Hotel is one of the closest places to stay and is only 500 meters from the entrance.

Once you get to the entrance gate, you’ll have two paths to choose from. One goes straight down to the pools and the other up to the viewpoint. Take the viewpoint trail and enjoy the 45-minute hike to the viewing platform.

It’s likely that you’re going to be hot after you’ve enjoyed that view, so you can continue hiking on the same trail past a few waterfalls back down to the pools to cool off!

The entire trail takes around 1 hour to complete at a slow pace and takes you from the entrance to the platform and then to the far end of Semuc Champey. From here, you can slowly explore every pool on your way back to the entrance/exit gates.

After hiking to the viewpoint of Semuc Champey find the lady selling freshly squeezed orange juice. For only 5Q or just under $1 USD you can get a very refreshing cup of orange juice.

Pack snacks and lunch. Food options are limited in Semuc Champey so bring some food with you to the park. Due to frequent and long-term power outages - all their meat and dairy often gets too warm. Food poisoning is not an option you want to choose in a remote mountain area.

Don’t expect to get very good WiFi - there is wifi in Lanquin and Semuc Champey, but it’s is very limited and barely works most of the time.

Bring cash with you to Lanquin: Cash is king in Lanquin and almost the only payment accepted. The ATM in town is also unreliable and runs out of cash often.

Bring more than enough with you and even a little extra just to be safe! Also, the restaurant is located outside the park so for convenience’s sake, bring along some food to eat at the pools.

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