Swimming In Limestone Pools At Semuc Champey

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Semuc Champey Guatemala

Semuc Champey Pools

Lanquin, Guatemala

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!

Semuc Champey Guatemala

Semuc Champey Pools

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.

Cahabòn River Guatemala

Cahabòn River Disappears Underground

Semuc Champey Guatemala

Turquoise Pools of Semuc Champey

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.

Semuc Champey Pools Guatemala

Semuc Champey Limestone Shelf

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!

Semuc Champey Hike

Hiking Above the River

Guatemalan Adventure

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.

Semuc Champey Flowers

Wildflowers in the Jungle

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.

Semuc Champey Hitchhiking

Hitching a Ride Back

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:

BUDGET
Semuc Champey Hostel
Hostel El Retiro Lanquin
Great location close to town, with a selection of different room types. Cool terrace and good food too!

Check Prices / Read Reviews

BUDGET
Semuc Champey Hostel
Hostal Vista Verde Lanquin
Located 5.6 km from Semuc Champey, here you can sit by the infinity pool and enjoy the stunning surroundings.

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BUDGET
Semuc Champey Hostel
Ch’i Bocól Community Hostel
Just 2 minutes walk from the beach, this accomodation is known for its friendly staff and great food.

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BUDGET
Semuc Champey Hostel
El Portal De Champey
9 minute walk from Semuc Champey, El Portal De Champey features views of the mountain and great hospitality.

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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. ★

Traveling To Guatemala Soon?

Don’t forget travel insurance! I’m a big fan of World Nomads for short-term trips. Protect yourself from possible injury & theft abroad. Read more about why you should always carry travel insurance here.

TRIP PLANNING INFORMATION
Location: Semuc Champey, Guatemala
Accommodation: Zephyr Lodge
Cost: $6 USD entry fee
Useful Tips: You really don’t need a local guide to visit Semuc Champey, just “hitch” a ride into the park with a local or another tour van from the center of town for $2-3 US. Then you can stay there for as long as you like and hitch a ride back.

Have any questions about Semuc Champey? How beautiful does this place look?! Drop me a message in the comments below!

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31 Comments

  1. gracias matthew, had heard bout this place from another traveler, and ur article was great encouragement. def. going there in a few weeks after a stay at atitlan. i didn’t see a date on ur post, but from comments assume it was more than 5yrs. ago. me pregunto como ha cambiado…?
    miles

  2. Hey there, I need glasses to see, well, anything, and can’t do contact lenses. I have a band (croakies) to keep my glasses on my head…do you think this would be enough to not lose my only way of surviving and do the entirety of Semuc Champey? I also have prescription lenses in my scuba goggles, which might be a better move, but even then it might not be enough

    1. I’ve been there few months ago. If you go to the pools and do the hike to the viewpoint, you will be totally fine. But I would recommend you to book a tour – it will add to your day caving, tubing and jumping off the swing and bridge, if you like.

  3. Hey! All of your pictures look amazing! Guatemala is so beautiful. Heading down there in September. Wondering what camera did you use on this trip? Thank you

  4. Great post about this lovely spot in Guatemala. We really loved the Candle Light Cave tour, why didn’t you guys do that? We also wrote an article about this lovely place and the candle light cave tour on our blog, which was a bit sketchy but really fun!

  5. Your articles are really helpful and informative.

    Since you travel solo I was wondering what you do when you go swimming in caves or snorkeling with turtles in Mexico with your wallet, DSLR camera, phone.

    I have been to Quintana Roo, Mexico I usually asked someone to watch my bag or I went to a restaurant ordered something and asked if they keep my stuff. I never got anything stolen (except a pair of flip flops), but I wonder if you have any good advice since you have more experience.

    That would be an interesting article.

    1. I’m actually planning an article about tips like this. While I travel solo, I often meet people at the destination and hang out with them. If I’m going to the beach by myself, I’ll just bring some cash in a waterproof Aloksak bag, maybe my GoPro too.

  6. Great info! We are doing our best to escape all the tours that seem so popular in Central America and to do things on our own like we usually do while traveling. So it was great to finally find some info about doing the trip without a tour. Any other ideas/advice on great ways to enjoy Guatemala without going on tours? We are fit and keen hikers with all our camping gear. We haven’t done too much as we want to be smart and learn about our surroundings before walking off into the jungle. But we definitely prefer hitching and hiking than organized tours. Thanks again, great post!
    Grace & Chris

  7. shame on me that being guatemalan dont know semuc champey but seems like a nice place to know next tip am going thre

  8. Matt, this looks amazing – swimming in caves and among waterfalls like this is waaaay up there on my bucket list. Stone-fire pizza is always a great way to finish up the day, too ;)

    By the way, if you don’t mind me asking, what camera settings (aperture, shutter speed) did you use to get that effect with the water? Just got my first remotely fancy camera, and your photos look amazing!

  9. Hey Matt! Awesome post and photos mate, looks like you enjoyed Semuc Champey just as much as we did! In case you don’t remember, I was one of the Aussie boys you played “Fuck You” and Giant Jenga with at Zephyr Lodge. Great meeting you and best of luck for the rest of your travels, this blog is amazingly awesome!

  10. What a beautiful place. The color of the water is incredible. Makes the small waterfall I saw in Juayua, El Salvador today look like nothing :-)

  11. What an awesome trip. That is cool that you found your own little underground cave. Glad you got a ride although you would not have had to walk 14 miles. 9 km is less than 6 miles, but it still would have been too long to walk after swimming all day.

  12. How fun to look at your gorgeous shots of Semuc while waiting for my flight to Guate! Can’t wait to get back there again. Check out Finca El Paraiso while you’re in the hood. Take care.

  13. Oh my gosh, what absolutely gorgeous pictures!!!! It certainly looks like paradise. I disagree with whoever is THE CURMUDGEON–enjoy yourself and keep learning a lot. There are a lot of us that are living the experience through you. I do agree with Val–take a job and we’ll all go visit! I don’t know who that Curmudgeon is but he sounds like a cranky, old, retired person!!!!!!
    Have fun and be safe!

    1. An devilish woman has decided to comment. I’d guess, off hand, that she is reaching a milestone birthday, I won’t say which – nice guy that I am. I WILL mention that many aged women are influenced by the “little people”, kissing the Blarney stones(s)and other deviant behavior. You’ll have to take these people with a grain of granite. Life is tough and now, weird people have discovered your site. You need to find a four leaf clover and put it in a a glass of tequila. Forget the salt, the lemon; a true believer will toss it down. I add her to the list. Val, Trisha, and now Bla Bla. It’s a plot! Be safe, but don’t have fun, that’s the NE way.

  14. That may very well be the most beautiful place on earth! Maybe I can get a job as the guy with the whistle! Oh, maybe you should apply in a few months! We’ll come visit you often! :)

  15. That’s it. You’re having too much fun. Happy little kids that don’t own an X-Box, cigar smoking Auntie look-a-likes, good food, cheap digs, perfect skinny dipping waters (no dipping after age 30- illegal), and colorful people. Time to come home and get a 9-5 job and live in a box. I’ve saved you just in time. You owe me.

    1. You’re right. If I keep going at this rate, I’ll explode due to fun overload.

      I’m getting on the next plane. I’ll need you to line up a few job interviews for me, the more boring the job, the better! :)