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If you’re traveling through Guatemala, then a place you simply cannot afford to miss is Semuc Champey.
Straight of the bat, I’m going to tell you that Semuc Champey is 100% worth visiting.
There are so many places around the world that have not lived up to the hype and I wish we would have skipped, but this is not the case here.
But if I was able to go back in time, there are a few things I wished I’d known before visiting Semuc Champey.
Such as where to stay, how long to stay and what to take with me on the day.
Luckily for you, you don't need to make any of the same mistakes we did!
Because to help you out, I've put together this awesome, full throttle guide on how to make the most of your time there!
First up ...
I’m not going to lie, before we actually visited, I wasn't even 100% sure what Semuc Champey was, how big it is and how long we would need to visit.
So here’s a quick overview …
Semuc Champey is a natural bridge that was created over hundreds, if not thousands of years.
It was created by water slowly eroding away at the rock and then eventually forming a river that actually goes underground to create a natural rock bridge.
According to Wikipedia and some other online sources, Semuc Champey literally means:
"Where the river hides under the stones"
It’s a very fascinating phenomenon and one that I’m not sure we've seen anywhere else in the world.
Over time, natural pools and miniature waterfalls have formed on top of this bridge, and it is these that have made Semuc Champey so popular amongst tourists.
I will discuss these in greater detail below, but be aware that this will be the main attraction of your day.
However, this is also a nice park that surrounds the pools, complete with trails that you can explore and discover more about this beautiful area.
There is one main dirt road that runs into Semuc Champey, and there are tonnes of different buses that run there.
Most commonly, backpackers and other tourists would choose to stay in a hostel or lodge either in Semuc Champey or nearby Lanquin.
It is possible to do a tour from other cities in Guatemala, such as Guatemala City or Antigua. However, these are multiple day tours, where you still likely stay in Lanquin for a night anyway.
If you choose to stay in Lanquin, then you can easily purchase a ride to the park and back through your hostel/hotel/lodge.
The price might vary slightly, but tends to be around Q50 for a return fair.
Alternatively, you can pay for a full tour which is around Q160. This includes all of the things mentioned below, but doesn't actually work out any cheaper than just picking and choosing which activities you’d like to do and then paying for them individually.
I’ve put an image below of the prices as offered by our hostel (they are likely very similar to what every other place offers in Lanquin).
The road down from Lanquin to Semuc Champey is a long dirt track, that is quite winding and rugged, so takes about 40-50 minutes.
They will load you up in the back of a big pickup truck and drive you there in the morning, usually leaving at around 9am.
How comfortable this ride is depends on how busy it is in the back of the truck.
On our way down to Semuc Champey, it was crammed full of about 20 or so people, so we did all feel a bit like cattle being driven off to market!
But on the way back it was less crowded and a little comfier.
Alternatively, you could walk from languid to Semuc Champey as there is nothing stopping you.
It takes about 2 and a half hours and is quite open much of the way, so just make sure to take plenty of water and sun tan lotion!
You might be pleased to learn that you can stay in a number of different lodges located much closer to Semuc Champey.
These can be anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes walk away, so you can simply get there on foot if you'd like.
Of course, you will need to catch a lift down to your lodge after you arrive in Semuc Champey, but this is relatively straightforward.
If you think you might be keen to try this option (and I suggest you do) then you can find out more information in the next section of this post
It takes about 8 hours to get from Antigua to Semuc Champey, so I wouldn't recommend doing this as a day trip!
However, plenty of people do take 3 day tours from Antigua to Semuc Champey which allow them base themselves in Antigua.
You can purchase tours from a number of tour companies all throughout Antigua, or online.
I have no experience with these tours, but here are some options:
Guatemala City is only about an hour or so from Antigua, so tours to Semuc Champey are a little bit closer.
You can speak to tour agencies in Guatemala City to find one that's right for you, or alternatively book a tour online.
Such as this one from Viator.
Benefits of staying in Lanquin:
Getting to and from Semuc Champey park:
You take the “cattle truck” which lasts for around 40-50 minutes. They return throughout the day.
It’s got a great location in town and offers clean dorm rooms for around $7USD per person.
Many other hostels in Lanquin are more open to the elements so you need to use a bug net so as to avoid getting bit.
But that’s not really a problem at Hostel Lanquin as they are actual brick-built rooms as opposed to wooden structures like you find elsewhere
This is where we stayed in Lanquin and I would certainly recommend it to others.
Though I’ve listed this as $$, our twin room still only cost us $22 for the night!
They also have a pool on site and great views out over the valley.
There is a communal area where you can eat, drink and get WiFi and there’s a really cool vibe here; we met a bunch of friends who we travelled with for at least a week or more.
Just be warned, the woman running the place is a bit quirky!
Not in a bad way, but one minute she speaks fluent English and then the next day will outrightly refuse to speak any English and will pretend like she has no idea what you’re saying!
She also doesn't trust you knowing the WiFi password as she is scared you will give it to nearby hostels who then steal it for their guests.
As you can see, accommodation in Lanquin really isn’t very expensive!
It’s pretty easy to pick up somewhere with great views and a solid number of reviews for less than $USD10 per person.
El Retiro Lanquin comes with more than a thousand reviews and has been going for years!
They tend to book up quite far in advance as you can get a private bathroom for not very much more, which many places nearby don’t offer!
They also have a volleyball court in-house restaurant, place to swim and table tennis.
Getting to and from Semuc Champey park:
Depending on where you are exactly, you can walk, catch a lift or tube it!
If you are looking for a remote, ecolodge paradise close to Semuc Champey, then this is the choice fo you!
After getting dropped off near to Semuc Champey, you then take a 30 minute hike through the jungle to get to the hostel.
This might put a lot of people off, but for others it is idyllic!
You find yourself in a truly beautiful location, close to the river, living in a hostel powered by solar panels.
They grow their own fruits and vegetables so you also enjoy wonderful, home-cooked meals.
This is the perfect choice if you want to stay as close to Semuc Champey as possible.
It is literally a 2 minute walk to the entrance, so you get to enjoy wonderful views of the lake and the jungle.
They also have a large open-air infinity pool and an onsite restaurant.
All of their rooms are really cheap and they have different sizes to suit your needs.
Once again, this is located in the jungle surrounding Semuc Champey, and is a great place to escape to the wilderness for a few nights or more.
It’s about 3 and a half km from Semuc Champey, so is close enough for a day trip, whilst being far enough to avoid any traffic or crowds.
They have both private rooms and dorms, as well as an on-site vegetarian restaurant and WiFi for those of you who are still keen to stay connected.
We might as well start with the number one reason that people choose to visit Semuc Champey.
Due to a natural phenomenon where water actually flows underneath a giant rock bridge, you have these wonderful, clear pools of water to swim in all throughout the year.
There are several different pools, all of which are very large and can hold a couple hundred people, though it was nowhere near that busy when we were there.
You can swim, jump, dive and even slide here! That's right, as you venture through the pools and enter the lower one, there is a natural rock slide that you can have a go on!
It’s a really great place to bust out the GoPro and capture some epic shots.
To get to the pools themselves, you have to pay the entrance fee of Q50 in order to enter the park.
Here, you will find a number of trails running around the park, though the straightforward route is to take a loop.
One part takes you up to a viewpoint (discussed below), whilst the rest of the trails then take you deeper in until you come to the pools.
After you've been for a swim, you then venture back along the trail which this time follows the river.
It’s a lovely walk as the river really is stunning the whole way down.
As you enter the park, you walk about a hundred metres or so along until you see a path leading off to the left.
This is an uphill walk that takes you all the way up to a mirador (lookout point).
The walk up takes about half an hour and it can be a little arduous.
However, the view at the end is more than worth the effort to get there!
You get unspoilt views down and out all across the river, including aerial views of the pools you’ll be swimming in later.
There’s a platform where you can capture photos and it helps to have someone with you who can perch themselves on the spot to the right of the walkway and get a shot, like the one below.
The walk back down is also quite steep, but more than doable, just make sure you wear good shoes.
I recommend doing this viewpoint first, before you go to see the pools, so you can relax and appreciate them fully afterwards.
The water running through and under the pools eventually forms a really nice waterfall.
However, you aren't actually able to see this as well from the side of the river that you start on.
Instead, it’s best to head back to the main bridge that you cross before entering the park and then heading down the right-hand side of the river.
Here, there is a small entrance fee to get into this side (as it is privately owned), and then there’s a roughly ten minute walk that leads all the way to the base of the waterfall.
I think it’s okay to swim here, as a guide told us that people used to jump from the waterfall itself before it got banned.
Alternatively, there is a man-made pool are that’s been built into the side of the river that you can swim in.
You can't miss it, you pass it just before you reach the waterfall.
There are other things to do on this side of the river, as the owners have built in a few attractions for tourists.
One of which is an awesome rope swing located just after you pay entrance to this side of the river.
It’s free to use, but it’s a good idea to have one for the locals show you how it’s done.
I had so much fun that I ended up going 4 times.
Though Cazzy and most of the other guys with us were a bit too chicken to give it a go ;)
But for me, after doing my Mostar Bridge jump the year before, I’m still yet to find anything quite as daunting as that!
Full disclosure here: we did not go in the caves.
Why? Well, both Cazzy and I are claustrophobic and from what we had heard from others, things can get a little tight!
However, the caves are still meant to be quite good fun and aren't very expensive.
You pay for entrance to the caves at the same place you pay to walk down to the rope swing at the waterfalls.
Once inside the caves, you are given a candle, which you must take care of as you traverse your way through the maze of caves.
Apparently, it’s not the safest experience as you must hold the candle whilst swimming through pools, climbing ladders and making your way through narrow gaps in rocks.
I really haven't sold this caving experience very well here, but people we spoke to did enjoy it!
For a more positive and in-depth recount of what it’s like, here’s a useful blog post I found online.
A great way to finish up your trip to Semuc Champey is by going tubing!
There are a few people offering this experience near to the bridge, or you can alternatively just pick one up at the same entrance to the waterfall/rope swing side of the river.
It’s not very expensive and you get to float casually back down the river from roughly the point where the rope swing begins.
If you choose to stay in a hostel that is by the river, you can actually use the tubes as a way to get back to your hostel!
To make the most of your trip to Semuc Champey, here are answers to common questions people have ...
Regardless of what you intend to do for the day, here’s some things you should take with you:
I recommend heading over the bridge and doing the actual Semuc Champey pools first.
This is most likely where your transport will drop you off anyway.
As you enter the park, stick to the left-hand path and go straight for the viewpoint which is on the left.
Afterwards, it’s a straightforward loop back down to the pools and, once you’re done swimming, follow the trail on the left which takes you back alongside the river.
Next, you can walk back down to the bridge, crossover and go down the other side.
Here, you’ll find the cave, tubing, rope swing and waterfall.
You sure can!
Outside of the Semuc Champey entrance are a number of stalls where locals sell meat, snacks and drinks.
A popular choice for lunch is to head back to the bridge where you find a hut with seating where they cook up a daily BBQ.
For just a few dollars, you get an all-you-can-eat BBQ, as well as rice.
Yes and no.
We were told that we could and decided to put it up when we go to the pools.
However once there, an official told us we had to first get permission from the guys at the entrance.
A guide then told us that yes, this way the case and that to get permission we would need to pay a fee that came close to around $250!
If you check the entrance prices in the image below, you'll see that the cost of flying a drone comes under "Filmaciones comerciales", which is Q2000.
However, the same guide told us that there is an easy way around this. And this is exactly what we did …
Alternatively, you can do what a bunch of Germans did whilst we were there, which was to head back out of the main entrance to the park and put the drone up right there.
They did it in front of all the guides and those that control the entrance to the park and nobody said a thing.
This is because they don't own this part of the land so have no control over drones here.
Just remember, drones are 100% legal in Guatemala so the only thing stopping you is where you actually take off from and who owns that piece of land.
You can see everything mentioned above in just one day.
We arrived at around 10am and left at about 3pm, which gave us tonnes of time to see everything and spend about an hour and a half in the pools.
You can stay longer if you like as there are regular trucks that leave the park in the evening, just check to see when the last one leaves.
After Semuc Champey, we took the roughly 8 or 9 hour shuttle to Antigua (which ended up taking 12 hours because of traffic!).
Some people chose to go straight from Lanquin to Lake Atitlan, and then go to Antigua afterwards.
It’s completely up to you which route you choose to do, but you can purchase shuttle tickets that go to either of these popular locations.
We purchased our shuttle tickets all in one go in Flores, as we thought this might enable us to save a few Q’s.
But in fact, it turned out to be cheaper if we had just waited and purchased the next leg of our journey from the hostel in Lanquin.
Here’s a picture of the prices they charge for shuttles (once again, these are pretty standard across the board, regardless of where you purchase).
In case you're wondering what cameras we used for these photos.
After almost 3 weeks in Guatemala, Semuc Champey really did stand out as one of the best places to visit.
It’s altogether very different from other experiences in Guatemala, such as Lake Atitlan or the Tikal Mayan ruins, so is well worth including as a stop through the country.
If you’ve got any more questions, then just let me know below and I’d be happy to help wherever I can!