Tucked away in the densely forested mountains of Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, near the town of Lanquín, lies an idyllic limestone paradise-Semuc Champey. Despite the grueling hours of off-road forging it takes to get there, it is one of the most beautiful hidden natural gems.
Here is my complete guide to visiting Semuc Champey to help you plan your next trip.
Table of Contents
How to get to Semuc Champey
Getting to Semuc Champey is an adventure by itself. While it is possible to rent a car and drive on your own, the easiest and safest way to get to Semuc Champey is by booking a minibus through a travel agency in one of Guatemala’s larger cities. I booked a minibus in Antiqua to Lanquin, and it took about 12 hours. I left early in the morning and arrived in the late evening. Minibusses will drop you off at Lanquin, the town closest to Semuc Champey.
Useful Tip: Book your accommodation in advance. You can stay in Lanquin, Semuc Champey or Coban. In general, there are not a lot of hotels/hostels and they book up really fast. I stayed in Lanquin at El Retiro Lodge, and it was one of the best hostels in Guatemala. Once you arrive at Lanquin, there are several options to get to the pools.
Walk, Drive, or Tour
First, you can walk for about 2.5 hours, but the road is not well maintained and you will be competing with 4×4 jeeps for space to walk. Second, you can take a 4×4 pickup truck “taxi” to the entrance of the falls. If you just start walking in Lanquin someone with a 4×4 will ask if you want a ride. In my case, it was the same driver who was picking up a tour from my hostel, but I paid half the price for the same ride. The driver then waits for you and drives you back (you pay at the end, so you know the driver will wait).
Finally, most hotels/hostels in and around Lanquin also offer day tours to Semuc Champey. It is worth it to shop around for the best price. I did not do this, but I met other travelers who did, and they seemed quite happy. Personally, I found it quite expensive. The area is safe and everything is clearly marked so it’s easy to find your way without a guide.
Things to do in Semuc Champey
There are several things to do in Lanquin and Semuc Champey, and, for nature lovers, it is a dream come true.
1. Hike to the Mirador
The hike to the mirador was quite challenging. If it rains the night before, as it did in my case, it can be quite muddy, so it is important to wear good hiking shoes. I choose to wear sandals and greatly regretted my choice. But the views are stunning, and at the top, there are people selling coconut juice so you can have a refreshing drink while you enjoy the magnificent views.
2. Swim in the Limestone Pools
After a difficult hike, you can swim in the refreshing pools. There are several pools, and even some slides made from the limestone. The pools are also filled with small fish that nibble at your feet. You don’t have to do the hike to go swimming, you can skip this part and go directly to the pools.
3. Visit the Watery Caves
There are a series of caves near the pools that you can visit by candlelight, and it is mandatory to have a guide. You can sign up with a guide on arrival or, if you are on a tour, it will be included. This is the only activity that I would recommend having a group. Since the tour is by candlelight, it is challenging to see everything if you are only a few people. In addition, the guides move quickly through the caves, so larger numbers slow the tour down. Make sure to wear strapped sandals or swimming shoes, there are several rocks under the water at the entrance and it is easy to stub a toe. Also, bring a headlamp, the candles do not provide enough light in the dark caves.
4. Go Tubbing Down the River in Lanquin
You can also go swimming in the river in Lanquin, and even go tubing down the river. When I visited Guatemala, it was the rainy season so the current was strong and the river was high, and there was nobody tubbing or swimming in the river.
Tips for Visiting Semuc Champey
- Be prepared for muddy trails. There are no paved roads or hiking trails. So, where good hiking shoes.
- Pre-book your accommodation. There are only a few hostels, and they fill up quickly.
- Bring sandals for the cave exploration. There are sharp rocks, ladders, and slippery surfaces, so good footwear is a must here.
- Bring a waterproof bag. There are lockers to store your things, but they are not dry. If you want to keep your camera gear safe, be sure to have a dry bag.
- Don’t book a tour. It’s overpriced and not worth it.
- It’s safe. This part of Guatemala is very safe and locals are friendly.
- There’s only one ATM. So, be sure to have some extra cash!
Check Out My Other Travel Guides
Hope you enjoyed my guide to visiting Semuc Champey and found it useful. Here are my other articles on traveling in Guatemala that I think you might find interesting.
- Hiking Acatenango: Face-To-Face with an Erupting Volcano
- Fun Things to Do in Guatemala
- Hiking Volcano San Pedro on Lake Atitlan