Semuc Champey: Incredible Adventures In Guatemala’s Jungle Paradise

January 19, 2014

I had been told the turqoise-colored pools of Semuc Champey are very beautiful, but in no way did I expect it to top my list of best experiences in Guatemala.

Semuc Champey is a little slice of paradise at the heart of Guatemala’s jungles that is a bit difficult to reach: it takes a very bumpy ride by pick-up truck through dirt roads winding through the mountains.

The ride is quite an experience in itself, and standing in the back of the truck you will get some wonderful views of the surrounding nature.

As we went further into the jungle by foot, it struck me just how detailed the forest is here. It seemed like every tree had been meticulously embellished by a movie set designer with patches of moss, fungi, orchids and liana vines. But no, this isn’t a set from Indiana Jones… it’s a real place.

While the blue-green pools of water are the main attraction at Semuc Champey, our guide first took us to a nearby cave. I have explored quite a few caves before (see this story on my caving adventures in Thailand) but this was something quite different.

Firstly, because we went in only with candles for light…

And since much of the cave is flooded, it sometimes meant having to swim with one arm while holding a candle up in the air with the other.

Those who don’t like to get their hands dirty should definitely not go on this tour, but those with an adventurous spirit will absolutely love it. It would be a shame to spoil  the little spelunking challenges that await inside, but let’s just say I had to clench my teeth once or twice.

Halfway through the cave I was also forced to accept that I definitely lack the muscle power needed to climb up a rock wall right through a roaring waterfall. (Thanks, guy who pulled me up!)

After two hours in the cave we had some lunch outside, followed by a brief hike up to a look-out point. And there we finally saw the beautifully coloured pools down below.

We got back down to the river by way of a slippery hike, and it’s here that a gorgeous waterfall revealed itself at the top of the pools. We were just there at the right time as rays of sunlight came through the trees giving the whole place an ethereal feel.

Our guide took us swimming through each of the pools, which at times looked like a garden of Eden. Riding moss and rock slides over the falls, we gradually made our way into the pool belows. Again there were a few little surprises along the way courtesy of our guides (ones that are better left unspoiled).

By the way, prepare for a free fish pedicure as little fishes will almost certainly be nibbling at your feet!

I had seen some images before of Semuc Champey and expected to see just a pretty waterfall, but I was not prepared for its sheer majesty in reality. And what I thought would be a quick sightseeing stop turned out to be a day-long caving, climbing, hiking, swimming and rope-swinging experience that left me very satisfied (and tired!).

If you decide to visit (which you definitely should) be sure to take a tour; the guides add real value as they will show you a few little secrets in the cave and pools that you would otherwise miss.

By the way, if you are going to stay in nearby Lanquin, I highly recommend the El Retiro hostel, which is in a peaceful riverside location and has an amazing communal buffet every evening.

Thanks to the lovely Jennie for letting me use some of her pictures!

Just after I got out of the cave. On my face is some red plant juice and some dirt from a cave wall … shortly afterwards I wrestled a bear!

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14 comments

  1. Comment by Nick Stark

    Nick Stark Reply May 22, 2016 at 8:06 am

    Great work on this! I think you just persuaded me to choose Guatemala as my base for 10 days off this coming Fall 2016.

    Quick question, what was your map or route you followed? Where’d you start and end? How much time +/- in each destination?

    Thanks a million!

    Nick

    • Comment by Marek

      Marek Reply June 3, 2016 at 6:57 pm

      To be honest I didn’t really follow a map or route. I usually just look up what kind of things I want to see in a country and then start travelling. I recommend just going with the flow and playing it by ear. Maybe you enjoy Antigua for instance or maybe you hate it… so in that case you can just move to the next place the next day. I’m generally bad with recommending fixed itineraries as that’s not really my travel style 🙂

  2. Comment by Geert-Jan

    Geert-Jan Reply April 4, 2016 at 5:04 pm

    Cool post! This will be added on our itinerary through Central America (www.bruinenblond.nl). How did you get to El Retiro? Possible to stay overnight?

    Have you traveled to El Salvador?

    • Comment by Marek

      Marek Reply April 4, 2016 at 9:23 pm

      Hoi, toffe blog! 🙂

      Lanquin is the name of the town, while El Retiro is the name of the place I stayed (a hostel with bungalow style accommodation). There are other options for staying the night as well. Only travelled through El Salvador – it’s the one country in Central America I didn’t get to explore much…

  3. Comment by Michael De La Rosa

    Michael De La Rosa Reply January 6, 2016 at 5:06 am

    Hey Marek,

    How do I got about finding a guide for Semuc Champey such as the one that helped you guys out? How much did it cost?

    Thanks and Happy Travels,

    Mike

    • Comment by Marek

      Marek Reply January 6, 2016 at 3:38 pm

      I booked it at the reception of my accommodation which was El Retiro (nice place to stay). Ask around in Lanquin and you should be able to get a guide easily. Sadly, I forgot what it cost.

  4. Comment by Kenzi Alexandre De Keyser

    Kenzi Alexandre De Keyser Reply November 11, 2015 at 5:01 am

    Hey, I’ve been to Semuc Champey last year! Really amazing experience. I reckon I was afraid of going in the caves (self-proclaimed claustrophobic, whenever it suits me really..) but I definitely do not regret it!
    Here’s what I remember looking like after my trip inside the scary cave.. http://i.imgur.com/F1r1ouf.jpg
    Kenzi Alexandre De Keyser recently posted…First stop, Arizona!My Profile

  5. Comment by Arnah

    Arnah Reply November 5, 2015 at 2:57 am

    Hi there, this looks AMAZING! Can you go tubing here? I was thinking of doing tubing in Belize, but would it be better and cheaper here? Thanks, Arnah

    • Comment by Marek

      Marek Reply November 23, 2015 at 10:17 pm

      I did some tubing here, so yes it’s possible. We’re talking about 10 min though as it was part of the caving experience. Possibly you can have a dedicated tubing experience that’s longer than that. I haven’t done tubing in Belize, but travelled with some people who had; they loved Semuc Champey but thought Belize cave tubing was merely OK… but that’s honestly just the opinion of 3 girls from Canada, so your mileage may vary 🙂

  6. Comment by Emily Horswill

    Emily Horswill Reply March 24, 2015 at 2:40 am

    Hey, where did you get there from and do you reckon it is possible to get there from Flores? Thanks!

    • Comment by Marek Indietraveller

      Marek Indietraveller Reply March 24, 2015 at 11:54 am

      There are buses from Flores down to Lanquin. Takes about 6 hours if I recall correctly.

  7. Comment by Paula Bendfeldt-Diaz

    Paula Bendfeldt-Diaz Reply December 3, 2014 at 11:51 am

    Thanks for a wonderful post about my country! I always wondered if it was just me thinking that Semuc Champey is a magical, almost religious experience that can neither be described or caught in pictures : you totally have to be there! I live in FL now and am dying to go back but reading your post I am thinking that this trip might not be the best idea with two small kids in tow, so I might just have to do it kidless or wait a couple of years so kids are older. Great pictures and awesome info. Thanks!

    • Comment by Marek Indietraveller

      Marek Indietraveller Reply December 5, 2014 at 11:23 am

      Thanks for the kind words! You can probably tell from my writing that I really fell in love with Guatamala. It’s such an inspiring country. Hope you’ll have the opportunity to go back either with or without the kids 🙂

  8. Comment by Alex Bellink

    Alex Bellink Reply November 17, 2014 at 10:49 pm

    Woah, this look incredible! Glad to have stumbled upon this post as I am currently planning a trip to Central America. Definitely adding it to my to-do list.

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