After a picturesque hike through the Guatemalan jungle, I found paradise. The natural limestone bridge and turquoise blue pools of Semuc Champey had revealed themselves.
From the town of Lanquin, the national park of Semuc Champey is a bumpy and winding 40-minute pickup-truck ride into the jungle—and definitely not for the faint of heart (or the carsick).
Standing in the back of the truck, you get a great view of the scenery around you while thumping along the road.
Then the Cahabòn River comes into view for the first time.
As far as whitewater rafting and kayaking go, this river is pretty much as good as it gets in Guatemala. Stretching about 196 kilometers, it winds through caves and jungles, and snakes through the Semuc Champey land bridge.
Not to mention the river’s color—which is incredible—a strong bright turquoise blue that sharply stands out from the surrounding green jungle.
Though not totally undiscovered by tourists, Semuc Champey still definitely feels like a hidden wonder!
A Jungle Paradise
After arriving to Semuc Champey and entering the park, a short but steep 45-minute hike will put you high up in the cliffs where you can look down at the beautiful limestone shelf far below.
This view is the money shot, so prepare accordingly. Some water still passes over the top of the shelf, which creates the magnificent blue-green pools and small waterfalls.
Hiking back down the other side of the viewpoint, you’ll meet up with the water itself. A short walk up-river reveals where the water rushes underground.
A few people have fallen in here before, never to be found again… so be careful!
Because of the risk, the park hired a guy to stand near the hole with a whistle to warn people when they get too close to the edge.
But putting all this aside, Semuc Champey is a must-visit if you’re traveling to Guatemala.
Semuc Champey Pools
Semuc Champey is a natural waterpark in the middle of nowhere. Some areas are deep enough to dive into from high points on the limestone shelf—but make sure you double check the depth yourself before diving in!
Since the water is so clear, you can see everything —- fish swimming in the pools, the rock surfaces, the sandy ground.
Semuc Champey’s limestone formations include little caves too, and you can swim into them and look out from underneath a waterfall. After a little exploring, I found one cave that was only accessible by swimming to it underwater.
In general, there’s no shortage of hidden enclaves at Semuc Champey, so be sure you leave enough time for adequate exploration.
Temperature-wise, the water is comfortable without being too warm, and provides much-needed refuge from the Guatemalan heat.
History Of The Area
Semuc Champey (which means “sacred water” in the Maya language) has always been renowned for its swimming spots, along with its 300-meter limestone formation under which the Cahabón River flows.
Despite the difficulty in getting here, Semuc Champey remains an attraction for visitors and locals alike.
The nearby town of Lanquín, established in 1540 (!), is home to about 16,500 people and situated at 380 meters above sea level.
Culturally speaking, this region of Guatemala is founded on the basic principle of q’eqchi’—which involves a deep respect of one’s natural surroundings and people.
Keep this in mind as you travel through, and the land will treat you as you treat it!
Although incredible, visiting the limestone pools at Semuc Champey is only part of the great Guatemalan adventure you can have, where every town and bumpy journey presents another chance to experience a rich, vibrant culture.
After spending the day diving from waterfalls, swimming into caves, and chasing fish around, it was time for me to head back to the town of Lanquin—a lovely little tropical enclave in its own right.
Because I didn’t go with a tour, I needed to hitch a ride back with someone.
On the way out of the park, I ran into another group of international travelers who had the same idea, and so we all started walking back to town after waiting for a while without seeing any trucks drive by.
We found a roadside bar and ordered a few cervezas while we waited. Roadside bars are common in Guatemala, and they present fantastic opportunities to meet fellow travelers and practice your Spanish.
Stone Fire Pizza!
One truck finally stopped, and we tried to bargain with the driver on a price. Our efforts failed when he suddenly drove off without us!
It was getting dark, and we really didn’t want to walk 9 km (14 miles) through the jungle at night. Generally speaking though, it isn’t too difficult to hitch a ride in Guatemala. Just be sure you use good judgement, agree on a price beforehand, and never forget to smile.
Luckily another truck came by eventually, and we quickly agreed to his inflated price because sacrifices, sometimes, are necessary to make while traveling!
After getting dropped off in the center of town, I walked back to my hostel to enjoy another beer and some delicious stone-fire oven pizza. This was the perfect way to end an adventure at Semuc Champey National Park.
How To Get to Semuc Champey
Your first order of business is to get to Lanquin. If you’re coming from Flores, Antigua or Guatemala City, you have the option of traveling by bus—which can take up to 12 hours.
The shortest trip would have to be from Guatemala City, which still will run about 6-8 hours.
Semuc Champey is only about 10 kilometers from Lanquin, but those 10 kilometers are particularly difficult to travel (which is, of course, all part of the fun).
In Lanquin, you’ll find a number of pick-up trucks ready and eager to take travelers to Semuc Champey. Many of these trucks are part of hostels, but pretty much anyone can hitch a ride with one of them.
The 40-minute drive to the pools is a ridiculously winding, bumpy journey, but the destination is well-worth any bruises gained in the process.
Where To Stay In Semuc Champey
If you’re wondering where to stay in Semuc Champey, here are my recommendations:
Tips For Visiting
Because of the effort and time involved in getting to both Lanquin and Semuc Champey, making it a day trip is more or less impossible.
If you’re trying to squeeze as much adventure as you can out of things, consider a 3 or 4-day journey down the river that can be paired with caving and visiting the Quirigua Mayan ruins.
Also, make sure you bring enough cash to Semuc Champey, as there is no ATM there (the closest is in Lanquin). The entrance fee to the park is roughly $6 USD.
You don’t need to go with a guided tour, however they do make getting to the park a bit easier. ★
Have any questions about Semuc Champey? How beautiful does this place look?! Drop me a message in the comments below!