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An essential guide to Semuc Champey, Guatemala – a spectacular natural monument

The Guatemalan Natural Monument Semuc Champey doesn’t require much of a presentation. I guess just by seeing the picture you would want to pack your bag and go there. Here I will tell you how to visit Semuc Champey, all the things you can do there and how to make the most of it.


Situated in the region of Alta Verapaz in the northeast of Guatemala, Semuc Champey is considered a natural monument for its unique formation, and it is one of the most visited places by travelers coming to explore Guatemala from all over the world.

Semuc Champey means “where the river hides under the earth”. In fact, it is a natural bridge formed by collapsed rocks from the surrounding hills on which natural pristine green water pools sit, while the  Cahabón River runs underneath and continues its flow through the lush and green valley, home of a huge variety of birds and wild fauna.

During the rainy season, with heavy rain, the area can become quite dangerous and the river could overflow through the natural pools.

To really understand and admire the magnificence and beauty of Semuc Champey you will need to get to the “mirador“, the viewpoint, where you can see exactly what you can appreciate in the picture below.

Semuc champey - a natural rock formation in a river surrounded by tropical jungle
Semuc Champey

Semuc Champey is probably one of the most popular attractions in Guatemala and as soon as I managed to visit it myself, I understood why.

Just picture walking on a cave holding a candle, floating on natural pools and sliding from one to the other in crystalline green waters, staring in bewilderment at the majestic rock formation from the lookout point above, tubing on the river. Have I convinced you, yet?

In this article, I am going to explain how to make the most of your visit and all kinds of information that I have wished I had found before getting there: where to stay, what to visit, what to bring and other practical tips on the Natural Monument Semuc Champey.

How to visit Semuc Champey - Boundless Roads
CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO SEE THE MAP

How to get to Semuc Champey

Getting to Semuc Champey is not one of the easiest and shortest trips, wherever you come from in Guatemala. Luckily, one of the things that I have appreciated the most about Guatemala is the efficient network of tourist busses that connects all the most visited places. I will talk more in detail about how to get around Guatemala on my complete guide to Guatemala that will come out shortly.

Public transportation is a little cheaper but really uncomfortable and unless you are a hardcore backpacker you will want to opt for the tourist bus. I am not, so I chose the comfort and I find it all worth the price.

Mind that it’s not only about traveling in a clean bus and on a comfortable seat without having to stick your elbow in somebody’s stomach or breath in somebody’s hair, but distances in Guatemala are pretty huge and on public transportation, you are often required to make two or three connections, that is to say, change bus multiple times and making your trip look like an odyssey.

If you love adventure, you have plenty of time and don’t have much baggage with you, go ahead then.

Here I will be talking about connections to Semuc Champey via “Tourism buses”.

All buses would take you to n which is the closest village to Semuc Champey and there you would meet the transportation from the hotel that you have booked. You can also avoid making a reservation and decide once you get in Lankin, where there are a few accommodations as well. It’s located at 30 minutes distance from the park. Since I stayed at Utopia I really enjoyed sleeping at the sounds of the jungle and the river and I would really recommend it. I will talk about accommodations later.

Getting to Semuc Champey from Flores (price from 115 to 130 GTQ)

That’s where I came from. There is one bus that leaves from Flores at 8 am and gets you to Lanquin at 4 pm. Yes right,  I am already seeing your face. If you look on the map it seems so close, but it’s not. The bus needs to get south to Coban and then back up again and east. It’s a beautiful winding road with sweeping views of the valley and the surrounding mountains covered by a lush vegetation. You will enjoy it, if you don’t feel sick.

In Coban, you will stop in a Plaza where you can have lunch by Mac Donalds (well, it is what it is…) and wait for those connecting from Antigua.

The road is winding but bearable. Just long. I had the fortune to find an interesting crew on the same journey and we had a great conversation which made the long trip seem shorter.

The driver was also a sweetheart, he suggested taking us to eat in another restaurant, much better than Mac Donalds and even stop on a viewpoint with amazing views over the valley. He was just one of a kind, ’cause he didn’t have to.

Getting to Semuc Champey from Antigua (price from 120 to 150 GTQ)

The travel agencies offer two daily trips, one at 8 am and another at 2 pm. I would suggest you should leave early so that you can get there before dark, for two main reasons, the roads are really bad and if it rains, even worse. In the rainy season especially you would expect rain after 3 pm and you don’t want to be on the road when that happens, trust me.

The other reason is that you might stay for two nights only and you will be happy to have some spare time in the afternoon to enjoy the magical nature surrounding you. Semuc Champey is not only about the natural pools, which is without of doubt majestic, but you will also be amazed by the devouring nature all around you and you will want to suck it all in and enjoy the vibes. So 8 am it is.

Getting to Semuc Champey from Rio Dulce (price 150 GTQ)

There is one tourist bus at 2.30 pm every day leaving from Sun Dog restaurant and will get you to Lakin around 8, where you will be transported to your hotel.  Beware that 2/3 of the road is literally rocky road and super bumpy. The views are priceless though and make up for it.

Going from Semuch Champy to anywhere else

From Semuc Champey to wherever you need to go, you can ask your hotel/hostel staff to book your transportation if you go on a tourist bus, otherwise, they can provide you with the schedule of the public bus, but I would not really recommend this one.

WHAT TO DO IN SEMUC CHAMPEY

There are a variety of activities in Semuc Champey that you can do while in the park and you don’t need to buy a tour or hire a guide. You can visit the park on your own and pay for the single activities separately.

I believe it’s more fun as you can decide to make use of your own time as you please, and it’s cheaper.

Hike to the mirador

I would do it as the first thing after you enter the park because it’s going to be a good sweat.  Afterward, you can just refresh and relax in the pools.

It’s a beautiful 30 mins hike although a bit strenuous. I made the mistake to go on my flip-flops, a very bad mistake, cause it’s slippery and you risk falling and twist your ankle. It’s doable, though. I survived, no matter how clumsy I am, so everybody can do it, it’s just not that comfortable and you need to pay extra attention to where you are stepping.

Once you get up there the view is just breathtaking, exactly how is in the pictures, or even more beautiful and real. It will make all your efforts worth it.

Relax in the pools

After you have been to the Mirador, you can get back down from the other side from where you climb and in about 25 minutes you will get right where the pools start forming. As soon as you are by the river you still need to walk back for a few meters and you are in a sort of “reception” where you can find lockers to have your valuable secured while you are enjoying the fresh waters.

Be careful that walking on the rocks is super slippery. Make sure you step where the terrain is not smooth, because you can hurt yourself. Other than that, enjoy the refreshing water.

Visit the K’an Ba Cave in Semuc Champey

I was a bit disappointed to miss this one. I have heard amazing things about the Semuc Champey cave tour. You basically walk barefoot and swim with a lit candle in your hand, watch stalactites and stalagmites while bats fly over you. It’s a one-hour fun guaranteed and a guide will be with you.

It costs 60 Quetzales including the guide. They need a minimum of 4 people to do the tour and this is why I didn’t do it as I was there in low season and nobody else was there with me at the same time.

When I went back it was a little late and pouring rain so no caves for me. But I suggest you should make sure you do it.

When you get at the yellow bridge before the entrance of Semuc Champey you will continue walking straight for 2 minutes and you will see the entrance.

Tubing

Tubing is one of the most demanded among the Semuc Champey tours. If you are up for a little adventure, you will love this. You will be just relaxing on an inflated inner tube floating on the river for about 1 km.

The cost is around 60 Quetzales. If you are staying at Utopia you can use this tour to get back to the hotel and the staff will get your belongings for you.

You will also have a guide with you, which is nice. The river is not that strong and when it rains too heavily they won’t do it.

Where to stay in Semuc Champey

Before listing my favorite hotels you should know a couple of things about the logistics.

Staying in Lanquin

Lanquin is the closest town to Semuc Champey. Here is where the buses arrive and leave from and you can find cute hotels and hostels with decent WIFI.

You will be about 15 km from the park and you will find transportation either public or private from your hotel/hostel to the park and return.

If you are traveling on a tight budget this is where you would want to stay. The town offers a variety of options on where to eat or grocery shops where to buy food.

If you decide to stay in one of the lodges in the jungle, but you still want to save some Quetzales remember to pass by the grocery stores to stock some food to take with you.  However, you still need to keep in mind that here hostels don’t have a kitchen available for the guest use, and the lodge’s restaurants are a little overpriced for being so isolated.

If you have a moderate or flexible budget and you can afford to eat out for about 12-15 USD per person per meal minimum, then you would be better off in the jungle to really get the full experience.

Staying in the Jungle

Staying far from the busy town of Lanquin, in total immersion with mother nature will definitely add to the experience. If you are not doing a tourist marathon and rushing around places you will want to add an extra night and enjoy the jungle lodge or hostel wherever you chose to stay.

Here are the hotels that I would suggest:

Utopia Eco Lodge

I have stayed at Utopia and it was the best decision I could have ever made. This place has something special. Nothing luxury per se, no fancy linen or premium amenities,  actually the opposite of that, but definitely a luxury experience, which is actually what matters the most in these places.

You are submerged within nature surrounded by trees and a lush green vegetation and you get to sleep at the sound of the river’s lullaby. They have different kinds of accommodation for any budget and needs. Wi-FI is only available in one spot, a great idea as the concept is a total relaxation.

However not comfortable if you have to work online but I am sure you can take a break for 2 days.   The hotel is located one hour walk to the park so you can also walk there or take their shuttle for 15 Quetzales each way. 10 am to go and  15.30 to go back.  They also have yoga classes.

To check out prices and rates: Booking.com

EL PORTAL

I have visited this hotel on my way to Semuc Champey as it’s right there 50 mt from the entrance. The best choice if you want to be close to the park. The hotel is really cute, all in wooden with a manicured garden with stunning views of the river. They have a lovely restaurant with great options. No wifi though. Keep it in mind if you really need it.

You can check out prices and availability on Booking.com.

To read the reviews and opinion from other guests on TripAdvisor.

Those are the places I have seen but if you wish to browse other options you can use the below practical map.

Practical Tips to Enjoy Semuc Champey to the fullest

Semuc Champey Entrance Fees

  • Entrance only: 50 GTQ
  • Cave exploring: 60 GTQ
  • Tubing: 60 GTQ

There are guides available but you don’t need them, even if you are a woman traveling alone.

What to bring to Semuc Champey

  • Hiking shoes to get to the Mirador – Don’t do it  like me, in flip-flop. I felt really stupid. The path, although not difficult, but it’s very slippery, especially if it has rained the previous day. But I would wear hiking boots regardless.
  • Swim suite and a change
  • A camera and possibly a GoPro or a camera case so that you can get pictures from the water without risking to ruin your camera. I had my GoPro with zero batteries because for some reasons they didn’t charge the night before. Bummer!
  • A lock for the lockers to store your staff.
  • Some snacks to picnic if you don’t want to get to the restaurant or the local street food.

Semuc Champey for solo female traveler

You are good to go, girl! This is a super safe place and you meet so many people to talk to either in your hotel /hostel or along the way. You don’t really need a tour to enjoy it.

Exploring the area around Semuc Champey

From Semuc Champey entrance, you will have 2 paths, one going down to the river, and one on a higher wider road. If you take this last one, you will find a way up to the mirador at a certain point.

Take that one go up and then go down from the other side. There is a path that takes you straight to the pools.

On the way back I would use the lower path which has amazing picks to the pools and views of the river, like this one in the picture.

Is Semuc Champey Safe?

I felt really safe walking around Semuc Champey by myself. Here my quick safety tips

  • Stay in the areas that have access.
  • Paths are clearly marked and so is the swimming area.
  • Don’t be a fool and play Indiana Jones. It’s not smart.
  • The natural pools have a limestone structure and it’s damn slippery. Be careful. Even if you are wearing those special shoes to walk in the water. IT IS SLIPPERY!

Other than that, just enjoy!

Best time to visit Semuc Champey

Locals say the best season to visit is April and May, while normally September and October is the rainy season and it’s easier to find bad weather. However, I have to say that I was there in September and I enjoyed having the place all for myself, or almost. If you don’t like the crowd, definitely avoid Christmas and Easter holidays.

ALWAYS RESPECT THE ENVIRONMENT

  • DON’T TRASH
  • DON’T WRITE ON THE ROCKS OR ANYWHERE ELSE OR RIP THE PLANTS
  • DON’T PUT ON SUNCREAM OR ANY PRODUCT BEFORE BATHING IN THE POOLS
  • DON’T SCREAM UNNECESSARILY

Semuc Champey pretty much resembles the idea of heaven, let’s just keep it like that!! 


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