Semuc Champey seems to be in the middle of nowhere in Guatemala as there are no major cities within hours of driving. It was a long full day of travel just to get there and then our first day in the area was rained out a bit so we waited until the day after to begin our adventure through this Guatemalan natural monument. I can now say that it was definitely worth the wait and a highlight of our trip so far.
Semuc Champey is known for the beautiful turqouis pools that form as the Cahabon River cuts through the lush mountain valley. We figured it would be scenic, but we had no idea about the level of adventure that was in store for us.
The nearest town is a place called Lanquin but we opted to stay more remotely at a lodge just a few kilometers from the entrance. Unless you have your own four wheel drive vehicle, Semuc Champey and where we were staying are accessable by hopping in the back of a pickup truck for the hour long mountain dirt road commute. Our temporary home for the few days we were in the area was called “Utopia”, which was only fitting given the idelic mountain scenery that surrounded and river flowing down below.
It was Utopia who also arranged our awesome tour, which began first thing in the morning. We hopped back in a pickup to go the rest of the way from Utopia to the entrance. Before we visited the natural pools which is the primary draw of Semuc, we first would visit a cave known as Kan ‘Ba. We walked up to a waterfall and then up a path on the side of the small falls. Turns out the water was flowing out of the mouth of the cave we would be entering.
This was another wet cave, meaning you’re swimming in it, rather than walking or climbing. It was reminiscent of our recent experience with the ATM cave in Belize. But here, there were no headlamps or even helmets. Instead we simply carried candles to light the way. In parts where you could not reach the bottom, you just had to paddle with one hand and hold the candle above water with the other. If the candle did get wet, they thankfully were able to be relit.
A short way into the cave, we reached a waterfall. There was a rope hanging down the length of the ten to fifteen foot waterfall. What could that be for? We were going to climb up it! As the waterfall gushed over us, we held our breath and hoisted ourselves up the falls trying not to get knocked back down by all the rushing water.
Swimming, crawling, and climbing deeper and deeper upstream into the cave, we finally reached a fairly wider area in which the waters were calm. Here we could climb high up onto the side of a rock and jump into the dark pool below. Nope, that’s where we draw the line. There will be no jumping into pitch black water in a cave for us. But it was fun to watch others do it.
Getting back out of the cave was a whole different ballgame. We were now going down stream and we went out a bit of a different route. Going with the flow of the water makes it easier. It was fun sliding down some of the natural slides the water had carved out through the cave. But we were not prepared for what they called “the toilet bowl”, in which the water flowed down a hole and into a different cave area below where we would emerge back and be able to breathe again. This was pretty insane, but we did it and survived!
After making our way out of the cave, we walked for a bit along the Cahabon River to a long and large swing attached to a tree. This swing would propel you several dozen feet way up in the air only to get flung right on into the river. Heather did not land so gracefully and got a nice bruise on her stomach to prove it.
After a quick lunch, we hiked nearly an hour up a steep yet well maintained trail to a lookout where we got a beautiful birdseye view of the scenic pools below.
Then it was back down to take a dip in those pools. They were more beautiful than we had imagined. No pictures or video will truly do it justice. It was fun to swim around in the turqouse waters which flowed over the limestone formations which created a series of natural swimming pools. We began to hop down from one pool to another; sometimes swimming, sometimes sliding, sometimes jumping.
We enjoyed the pools for a few hours, but the sun was starting to get low on the horizon, which meant it was time to make our way back to the lodge. Instead of taking the truck back, we decided to arrive in style and float back in tubes down the river which would bring us right up to where we were staying after an hour or so float. A vendor was selling cold beers so we grabbed a few for the ride and began our float. We thought it would be a relaxing calm float, which is was at times. But then some decent sized rapids would come out of no where. This was not the beer-drinking lazy river floats we are used to. This was a hold-on-tight and try not to flip over float! This turbulent tubing was only a fitting ending to our the crazy adventure of the day.
I’m trying to work out our trip in August and we are definitely going to the atm caves in Belize. We’re thinking about visiting semuc champey as I keep reading it’s a must. We are quite tight for time though and would need to cut our time in Antigua to see it. Do you think it’s worth it if we are already going to ATM caves?
John Widmer says
That’s a tough call but I would recommend trying to squeeze it in if possible. We really loved Semuc Champey and it was very different than the ATM caves. Should you cut your time in Antigua to make it happen? It really depends on your interests/preferences and also how much time you already have in Antigua. If you already have two days in Antigua and you’re cutting a third day to go to Semuc Champey instead, then I would say go for it. But that’s just my two-cents as I prefer outdoors & adventure over cities/culture/history. It will also likely add a considerable amount of travel time to your overall trip, so that’s also something to consider. But again, if you’re able to squeeze it in, I’d try to make it happen.
Did you go to the bat caves near Lanquin?
When I was there, I met someone at the comedor who was with the public health service and was doing measles vaccinations. I joined up for a day and experienced rural public health in backwoods Baja Verapaz. After seeing Quetzales down the highway in the biotopo
John Widmer says
We were briefly in Lanquin but didn’t make it to the bat caves, as we stayed close to Semuc Champey. Sounds interesting though! What an experience that must have been to help out with the vaccinations all the way out there. Awesome!
Def like your take on trips, as I have read some of your other posts. Semuc may be my favorite place on earth, as I love the escape and knowing that it is in the middle of nowhere. Great jobs and keep traveling!!
John Widmer says
Thanks Jose! Isn’t Semuc awesome? It was pretty unexpected for us. We hadn’t even heard of it until we got to Guatemala. We were so amazed and it made for such an awesome day trip! Happy travels!
pete lafroscia says
Goonies NEVER SAY DIE!!!
elizabeth lafroscia says
Why don’t you guys post something when you start having fun? Haha! God speed… Love u guys, Liz & Pete
John Widmer says
Haha! Semuc Champey was truly a blast! Thanks guys!