Semuc Champey might be the most popular tourist attraction in Guatemala as well as one of the most famous in all of Central America. Without question I was interested in visiting such a well renowned natural phenomenon while I was in Guatemala, so away I went.
The site of Semuc Champey is situated near to the little town of Lanquin, one of the most inconvenient places to get to in all of Guatemala! While INGUAT tourist shuttles run between Lanquin and a variety of locations, you can expect between 8-15 hours to get to and from this jungle locale. This is not because the mileage is that grand, but because the roads are BRUTAL and the shuttles all leave at 8:00am and no other time. If you do the math, leaving Lanquin at 8:00am gets you into Guatemala City at 4:00pm which is straight rush hour. You guessed it…hours of traffic. Transportation in Guatemala can be a headache, but if you know how you can deal with it, here is how I did. However, going to Lanquin and spending a few days near Semuc Champey is in my eyes worth it if you have the time and patience, or if you decide to volunteer in Guatemala and stay a while. It is pretty cool.
Our tour picked us up at our hostel at 8:00am in the morning via pick-up truck. We climbed into the back of the truck and made our way to an area on the river which had a massive cave system for us to explore before going to Semuc Champey. The ride on the back of the truck to the caves felt as if it lasted an hour because of the brutal road conditions and a serious lack of speed. In retrospect the ride was probably only 30-40 minutes, but it just felt like an hour. Because the roads in and around Lanquin are so genuinely awful it can take 1 hour to drive 10km. As you make your way to the caves, prepare to be tossed around uncontrollably between the metal gates of the pick-up truck, leaving a couple war bruises and battle wounds.
Guilty. I am guilty of believing the caves were best part of the tour. Sorry Semuc, but they were actually awesome. When we arrived at the caves, we were given long, skinny white candles. These candles would be our only source of light as we traversed 1km into the cave system on foot. You will have to sacrifice a pair of shoes here as walking in the caves barefoot is not recommended.
The caves themselves are big, open, and dark, with the water being somewhere between waist deep and swimmable. As you walk/swim deeper into the caves, holding your candle out of the water, trying very hard not to slip on the poor footing which would result in a flameless candle, you start to wonder how long the caves go on. With our candle we climbed up and down little ladders set to help traverse the snake like track of the cave. I won’t lie, initially I was a little nervous being in a deep dark cave, but as I relaxed I had more fun swimming and splashing my way through these secret tunnels.
Eventually we arrived at a waterfall. I asked my guide if we could climb it…he said no, but he did take us underneath it one at a time and up a ladder to the next section. When we finally reached the end of the 1km journey, our guide said we could climb the cave wall and take a 3 meter plunge into a volcanic hole. Ok, so not many of us did this…but I did. I wanted to climb the wall anyways, plus he said if I jumped right in the middle I would be fine…and I was, though my candle did not make it. I took a re-light on the candle and we trudged our way back to the outside world.
After exiting the caves, we had the opportunity to take a swim in the Rio Cabahon. There was a giant swing on the river bank where you could take a seat and swing towards the river jumping off at the top of your swing, splashing into the water below. This is a one and done kind of thing. You have to jump off the swing the first time or else you will definitely get injured. Guatemalan safety.
After enjoying the swing, we moved on to a bridge which stood about 5 meters above the water. As you could guess, this bridge is not only for driving across but also for jumping from. To be fair, I found it pretty fun, but then again I am a sucker for heights.
Finally, the star of the show, the reason I made this unreasonable journey to Lanquin. It was time to visit the natural wonder that is Semuc Champey. We hopped into the back of our trusty pick-up truck and 20 minutes later we arrived at the park entrance.
First things first, the mirador. We had to see the grandeur of Semuc Champey from above. It was about a 20 minute hike up hill to get to the mirador. The path, well it is steep and it is slippery. Be careful and watch your step. Once we arrived at the mirador we were able to look out upon the natural site as our guide explained to us why it was so special. He said that the Cabahon River actually runs underneath the pools of Semuc. The light blue pools we see and swim in are actually formations which catch the natural spring water from the mountains. The Rio Cabahon runs in a tunnel underneath Semuc and out the other end. From the mirador you could see the start and stop of the river around Semuc Champey. We headed down the mountainside to get a closer look and to take a cheeky swim on a hot day.
When we arrived at the actual pools, our guide showed us where the river enters the tunnel underneath. Yup, there it was, the rushing brown water of the Rio Cabahon going underneath us as we walked through pools of clear blue water.
For the next 2 hours we had the opportunity to enjoy ourselves swimming in and around the beautiful natural pools of Semuc Champey. There was a locker provided for us to put our things in as a group so that we could swim without worry.
On this particular day our guide decided to join us for a swim. What a treat, he knew all the best places. We swam around every pool enjoying our surroundings, jumping and sliding from pool to pool. There was one area that had a secret underwater cave which our guide showed us. All you needed to do was take a deep breath and swim underwater until you came to a little opening. Our guide also showed us where natural rock slides were. You know the ones that have been smoothed out by so much flowing water that they become natural waterslides. We enjoyed the pools as a group all day playing in the water, and even getting our feet manicured by skin eating fish, like ones in spas.
Semuc Champey was truly an enjoyable day. The pools were beautiful. The park was well maintained, and our guide was fabulous. I do have to say, the caves were the most impressive part of the day for me. It was an absolute bonus to have 2 amazing moments in 1 trip, caves and pools.
Shannon - SoleSeeking says
Sounds like an amazing tour! I love how you were given candles in the caves rather than flashlights, very cool. My sister has been in Guatemala recently, maybe you crossed paths :)
Kimberly Erin says
Its possible! When did she go?
Wow this is stunning! I’ve actually never heard of Semuc Champey before, but now you’ve got me plotting to see how I could fit it in to my trip to Honduras later this year. I’m with you, caves are always amazing. What’s travel without a little adventure? Looks like an amazing trip!
FS Page says
Oh the journey must be tiring. But seeing the photographs I can see that it is all worth it. Walking in the caves barefoot with candle lights sounds scary as well as adventurous to me. The swing is adventurous too. The view from Mirador is breathtaking. Seems you had a great trip.
Abhinav Singh says
Central America is such an exciting destination. That part of the world has always attracted me. I love visiting places like Semuc Champey. I am not surprised it was the highlight of your trip. It is a perfect place for hike and trekking enthusiasts like myself.
this is such a helpful post! I have always wanted to explore more of Central America! I just went to Mexico and now I want to continue south and keep exploring! thanks for the information!!
Semuc Campey reminds me of the similar types of pools in Luang Prabang, Laos, I didn’t know there were similar pools in Guatemala, I thought of Guatemala as a mostly heritage/mayan destination so interesting to see this!
What a remarkable place! Thanks for sharing how to get there. It does sound a tad difficult.
YUKTI Agrawal says
I never heard of Semuc Champey but this place is full of natural beauty. It is a hidden treasure for which many people don’t know about it. Natural pools of Semuc Champey surrounded by forest are so inviting. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful place!
Seems like you had a lot of fun on your trip to Semuc Champey. The surroundings are so natural and green. That is the main attraction for me. Thanks for all the details on how to get here. Will be definitely useful
Archana Singh says
I have been dying to visit Central America and Guatemala is really high on my list. Semuc Champey with its amazing nature and adventure activities looks like a perfect place for me. Your pictures tell how much fun you had there.
Medha Verma says
I must admit – I have NEVER heard of Semuc Champey! It is incredible though, those waters, I could spend hours jumping and swimming in there. And the views from the top are breathtaking!
I’ve been walking in caves too and agree – you really need some sort of water sneaker that covers your whole foot. Gotta protect those puppies! :-) And the natural color of the Semuc Champey looks beautiful. Good tip about the traffic and what to expect on the road with battle scars as well!
Sandy N Vyjay says
Semuc Champey is truly unbelievable, it looks insanely beautiful and exotic. But the caves too seem intriguing. What an adventure it must have been walking and swimming in the dark caves, clutching on to the candle for dear life(light). Truly a unique and amazing adventure.
terrific cover photo of sitting on the edge and lovely waterfall to peacefully spend some time by. I also loved the shot of the village road, which is colourful and very interesting to look at. Fits my stereotype of south america filled in by magazines :-)
Semuc Champey looks so beautiful. I’m a huge fan of natural sites, so I am totally adding this to my Guatemala list. I love that they gave you candles instead of flashlights. I would love that, but my husband would HATE that!
Nick Wheatley says
Semuc Champey sounds pretty cool though it seems like a real PITA to get there (spending a couple days in Lanquin would probably make it a bit more manageable). It’s a real adventure treking through those caves with nothing but a candle to light your way. And I can’t believe you worked up the nerve to jump through that hole without really knowing where you were going to come out! I would love to check this area out sometime.
I visited Guatemala back in 2009 and didn’t hear about Cemuc Champey at all! Fascinating that this is such a popular place. It reminds of Plitvice in Croatia. I think, like you, I would be most down with the caves. They seem like such a blast and full of adventure and exploration. And I hear you about those buses! When we went to Tikal, I had to sedate myself with dramamine because those roadside conditions were brutal indeed!
I’ve never heard of Semuc Champey, coming from the other side of the world, but now you’ve got me interested! I’ll be heading to Laos in a couple of days, and the pools have a striking resemblance with the places I’ll be visiting. Perhaps, we can compare photos when I’m back from Laos :)
Divyakshi Gupta says
I had never heard of Semuc Champey and no matter how challenging it is to get there , the views are just so worth all the hassle :D No pain no gain! :P The caves and the tunnels look sooo fabulous! :) The swings had to the euphoria of being in such a destination! SO much fun honestly. I had seen this picture of the view from the mirador on your facebook page! Just too cool! Stunning views and splendid pools!
I’ve been to Semuc Champey in november and in my opinion, the long trip to go there wasn’t worth it. I also prefered the caves than the pools and everything was nice but you have like a 20-24h bus ride roundtrip for only one day there, since there is nothing else to do around. So, if you have a lot of time in Guatemala, you should do it, but otherwise I think Semuc is a bit overrated as I heard before going there but I really wanted to do it anyways!
in which month did you visit semuc?
i heard it can be chilly/cold to swim in january.