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Hidden deep in the jungle is one of the most beautiful natural wonders in Guatemala – Semuc Champey. It’s a natural limestone bridge with six stunning cascading turquoise pools.
Difficult to reach? Yes. Worth it? Absolutely. Semuc Champey is one of the best places for outdoor adventure in Guatemala.
How to get to Semuc Champey Guatemala
In order to visit Semuc Champey, you will first need to get to Laquin, which is a small town built around this natural wonder. It’s actually really just a dirt road with some small shops.
There are chicken busses as well as tourist busses that go to Lanquin from other cities and tourist places in Guatemala. Most people go from Antigua or Flores (Tikal), which is about eight hours (on a regular tourist bus, chicken busses will take you much longer). There are also 3-day tours that take you from Guatemala City to Semuc Champey and back.
Me and my travel companions thought it would be a quicker ride to get to Lanquin from the city of Xela so we stopped there after Lake Atitlan to check out the hot springs for a few days. In the end, it took us 12 hours from Xela to Lanquin.
The truth is, no matter where you are coming from in Guatemala, the bus ride is going to suck. Be grateful if you get a shuttle that’s not crammed with people – I was not so lucky. The drive starts off okay but then the road becomes increasingly bumpy with many hairpin turns.
The bus driver stopped twice about every four hours. Once at a store where you can get some questionable fried food and a second time in the town of Coban, which has better food options. After Coban, it’s another two and a half hour drive. I found this part of the drive even more brutal as the fog was so thick we had almost no visibility. This, combined with hairpin turn dirt roads, was a terrifying experience. Alas, I live to write the tail.
Things to do around Semuc Champey
Swim in the limestone pools
This is the number one thing you’ll want to do at Semuc Champey. Getting to swim in these magical turquoise pools is so much fun.
You can slide/jump from one pool to the next, and the water is lovely to swim in. I kept looking around me while swimming and just couldn’t believe just how magical the area was. Aside from the perfect turquoise pools, the area is covered in beautiful and colourful fauna. I love nature so much!
Candlelight Caving at KanBa Cave
As part of my day tour to Semuc Champey, we visited KanBa Cave for a candlelight caves tour. This is some of the best caving I’ve ever done – it’s a massive cave and so cool to walk through by candlelights. In parts of the cave, you will be almost completely submerged by water. At the end, there is a ledge where you can jump off into the water.
The cave should be included with any Semuc Champey day tour you book. If you are visiting the park on your own, you will have to pay an additional fee to enter.
Outside of the cave there is a rope swing you can go on and jump off into the river, as well as a small waterfall you can swim by.
El Mirador Hike (the best viewpoint of Semuc Champey)
You’ll want to visit this viewpoint to get this birds eye view of Semuc Champey, where you can truly appreciate how incredible it is.
There are signs marking the trail by Mirador, which means viewpoint in Spanish. It’s a 45-minute walk up a set of stairs which I found pretty difficult because we had just eaten lunch and the afternoon sun was shining bright. But the views are worth it, and then you get to cool off in the pools afterward.
It’s much easier going back down, and then you can spend the rest of the afternoon exploring and swimming in the stunning turquoise pools.
Another really fun thing to do in the area is to tubing down the river. I booked this tour through Zephyr Lodge and did it on a separate day, but you can also go tubing in the park.
The scenery along the river is beautiful, as you pass through the jungle full of wild birds. We even saw parrots!
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The river is calm at first and then picks up at the end. Major shout out to the guy who attached me to his tube so I stopped getting stuck in the trees. The guides even bring beer down the river so you can refill as you float! This tour is a great way to spend an afternoon in Lanquin.
How to Visit Semuc Champey
Depending on the hostel/hotel you are staying in Lanquin, Semuc Champey is probably still an uncomfortable ride away. Although it is possible to walk from some hotels.
From Zephyr Lodge, it was a 10km drive down a bumpy road. You’ll need to take a 4×4 truck to get there, which they stuff backpackers on like cattle. It’s not a comfortable ride, but Semuc Champey is worth it!
It is possible to visit Semuc Champey on your own, or you can go on a guided tour. You can book that online here or through your hostel/hotel in Lanquin.
I booked my tour through Zephyr Lodge which included transport there and back, as well as all the activities I mentioned above except tubing (I did that on a separate day). It does not include lunch, but there are a few stands in the park selling platters of food for 25Q. It’s a typical Guatemalan plate – grilled chicken with rice, beans, and cabbage salad.
If you book a tour to Semuc Champey, it should include all of these activities as well as the park entrance fee in the price. If you visit on your own, you will have to pay the park entrance fee (50Q), plus pay separately for the tours you want to do (caving and tubing).
There are some benefits to visiting Semuc Champey on your own. You will pay slightly less than a guided tour, and you’ll be on your own schedule so you won’t have to worry about being stuck in a crowd (my group was about 30 people). That said, I really enjoyed the tour and was glad I didn’t have to worry about getting to/from the park on my own. It was nice to have everything organized for me and a great way to make friends.
Where to stay while visiting Semuc Champey
Since there isn’t much to do in this area outside of Semuc Champey, you’ll want to pick somewhere good to stay as this is where you’ll be eating most of your meals and spending a lot of your time. You can either stay inside the park or around Lanquin.
The bus will drop you off in Lanquin, which is a very small town. There are a few tiendas (convenient store), and one ATM. It is not reliable so bring enough cash for your stay. Some of the lodges only accept cash, so make sure to check beforehand and plan ahead for how much cash you need.
Many of the lodges/hotels are located away from Lanquin on the hillside. Most offer pickup for an additional charge, but make sure you arrange this in advance.
I stayed atZephyr Lodge which has gained a reputation among the backpacker trail in Guatemala. Some love it, while others will tell you to stay away. Personally, I loved this place. It’s a gorgeous lodge set high in the mountains with an infinity pool overlooking the river below. Below is a drone video showing the lodge.
Zephy lodge offers private room and shared accommodation. Inside there is a large bar/shared social space, and outside there is the infinity pool and hot tub. It’s chill during the day but at night gets rowdy as the dice start to get tossed. The dice game is an intense drinking game where each person rolls a dice and the person with the lowest number has to buy everyone a round of shots.
Yes, it’s a party hostel.
There are also three adorable dogs that live at Zephyr Lodge which made me super happy.
If you don’t want to stay at Zephyr Lodge, there are many more accommodation options in Lanquin.
Utopia Eco Hostel is another popular choice. It’s an open-air lodge situated on a hill overlooking the jungle. It offers both private and shared bedrooms and is walking distance to Semuc Champey.
Hotel Oasis is a luxury jungle resort, with a pool, bar, restaurant, and tiki-style rooms.
How Long to Spend in Semuc Champey
You’ll want to plan to spend a minimum of two nights here, and ideally longer. You’ll need a full day to explore the park. Since the travel days there and back are so long, I’d recommend another day just to rest. I actually spent three full days here. One exploring Semuc Champey, one tubing, and one just relaxing at Zephyr Lodge.
What to Pack for Semuc Champey
- a dry bag for keeping your belongings dry while near the pools
- swimsuit and towel
- a waterproof phone/phonecase or GoPro to take photos
- sun protection
- insect repellant
- cash for the entrance fee and tours
- a good pair of walking shoes for el mirador
- water (there are locals selling it there)
Where to go after in Guatemala
After Semuc Champey, I went to Rio Dulce which was only a six-hour bus. I say only because this felt like nothing after the 12-hour journey there.
Depending on where you are in your Guatemala trip, both Antigua and Flores (Tikal), make logical stops after visiting Semuc Champey.
While out of the way, Semuc Champey is definitely a highlight of any Guatemala itinerary. Make the journey here to witness this incredible jungle paradise, it will be one of your favorite memories of Guatemala.
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