Semuc Champey is not easy to get to. It is out of the way and isolated but that’s part of its appeal. Imagine a jungle landscape with green as far as the eye can see and a beautiful turquoise natural pool in the middle.
If you’re up for a 6 hour bumpy ride into the middle of the Guatemalan jungle then I would suggest staying in Lanquin for 2 or 3 days, relaxing poolside at Zephyr Lodge and doing a day trip to Semuc Champey. I had a lot of fun wondering around the small town itself, hiking to the hill-top church and eating at the local eateries around town.
The highlight of my time in Lanquin was visiting the Kam’ba cave system during the Semuc Champey day trip and putting on my Indiana Jones hat for a couple of hours. It was so much fun and months later I have not been able to stop talking about.
Semuc Champey Day Trip
All of the hotels and hostels in the area will offer a tour to Semuc Champey. It’s really your reason for visiting Lanquin! Besides the main attraction of Semuc Champey, there are several other side activities that get to do on a day trip.
Cuevas de Kam'ba
At the time of my visit Zephyr Lodge had stopped offering the cave portion of the tour due to safety and theft concerns so a group of us just booked a complete tour through another hostel. Feel free to ask around but prices were all kind of similar.
One of the funnest things I have ever done in my travels was exploring the Kam'ba Caves at Semuc Chmpey and I’m so glad I took the gamble against my hostel’s warnings. It really isn’t the safest attraction and you are in the middle of the jungle in Guatemala so if you decide to do this trip then I suggest you walk and swim slowly and take your time when doing some more of the riskier activities. Also when walking through some of the darker section, keep a look out for sudden drops from the roof. Watch your head, there are no helmets on this tour!
Once you enter the caves, you are given a candle to light your way. No modern flashlights here! At the entrance the guides will decorate you with war paint fresh from the walls of the cave so it’s a good idea to be nice so you don’t end up with a moustache! Our guide joked it was bat poop but I chose to pretend it was something else.
I was quickly submerged in the cold cave water as we started the two-hour trek into the cave system. This wasn’t my favourite part as I don’t like the cold but I soon forgot about my discomfort when we got to our first adventure. Climbing a wood and rope ladder contraption that looked as old as the caves, one-handed, while trying to keep the candle away in the other hand.
There were a few spots where I actually had to swim through the cave when I couldn’t touch the bottom but luckily there was usually a rope to guide us along. These parts where I was fully submerged is where I got the majority of my bumps and scrapes from the stalagmites poking out from the bottom.
For the extra adventurous, there was an opportunity to scale up a rock face and dive into a deep pool below. I tried my best but I couldn’t get my little legs up there to even attempt the jump. I had also had more than my fair share of Guatemalan tostadas by then so I wasn’t in the best shape.
Halfway through I got to try the most challenging thing I had done in weeks, climbing up a mini waterfall by rope. With my candle down my bikini bottoms for safe keeping I had to scale a small cliff with water rushing into my face while looking out for the best foot holds. This was super fun and super scary. If this is too much for you, there is a slightly less challenging rope ladder that you can climb off to the side to help you get up away from the waterfall.
Towards the end of the trek you get to slide down a natural waterslide through a waterfall into a dark cavern. One of the guides stayed at the top to show you where to slide and one was down below to make sure you landed safely.
The cave tour was honestly worth the 6-hour ride to get to Semuc Champey on its own and its something I would do again in a heartbeat. My friend and I kept talking about how much fun we were having and that we wished we could stay longer. You don’t get much more fun and adventurous than this.
River tubing, bridge jumps and a rope swing
Once you’re out of the cave it’s time to relax. You can look forward to floating gently down the Cahabón River with a beer in your hand and a huge grin on your face. But first I was invited to try out the rope swing into the river. This one hurts if you don't land perfectly straight! Tuck your legs in while you’re swinging and make sure to let go at the end as it won’t be pretty.
Once we had floated all the way down to the rickety old bridge and had climbed out, we were invited to do one last jump - off the 10-metre high bridge into the river below. I had had enough adventure for one day and lunch was calling my name so I just watched the brave souls jump in and then struggle to swim back to shore in the current. What an exhausting morning!
After lunch, we walked across the bridge and entered the park of Semuc Champey. At this point you can just head straight to the main attraction and just relax or you can opt to do the one hour long hike to get to the view point so you can see the whole effect of these beautiful natural pools. Hiking through the jungle covered in war paint and a bikini is one thing I never imagined I would do but there I was, living the dream!
It’s a muddy hike up and very steep but once you’re up there it’s really quite breathtaking. Once you’re down you can pack away anything you don’t want to get lost in the lockers provided and can finally jump into the pools!
Semuc Champey consists of a natural 300 metre long limestone bridge, under which passes the Cahabón River. Atop the bridge is a series of stepped, turquoise pools that are perfect for exploring. My guide took us to some of the more impressive parts of the pools including showing us where we could safely jump from and the hidden mini caves including one that you needed to swim underwater to get to.
Semuc Champey is really beautiful and my photos don’t do the pools any justice. If you’re in Guatemala I really hope you don’t miss this trip.
Where to stay
I stayed at Zephyr Lodge. Zephyr is a great place to stay in Lanquin but does have its downsides. If you have the budget, their private rooms are great and include your own balcony overlooking the jungle. The dorms are hit and miss. Comfortable beds but the dorms located near the bar are noisy at night until the party dies down. The shared showers have their own individual view of the jungle which is kind of cool as do some of the toilets. Everything is very clean and well maintained.
The infinity pool is really the attraction here. The pool has a stunning backdrop and a swim up bar. There’s a large sun deck for perfect days relaxing by the pool with a strong drink as well as a hot tub with very restrictive opening hours. Overall I recommend Zephyr Lodge. It’s a good place to stay for a couple of days, you can relax or party and have a good place to rest your head after a long day at Semuc Champey.
You could consider staying at a hotel or hostel close to Semuc Champey. There are a few that sounded really nice and it means you can visit Semuc Champey more than once or for longer than we did on the tour. One friend recommended Utopia.
Check out TripAdvisor for some more options.
- A good option is to use this as a stop over point between Tikal and Antigua.
- Most travel agencies and hostels offer a shared shuttle service to Lanquin from Flores, Antigua or Lake Atitlan. Once you’re here an onward shuttle is just as easy to find. From memory, shuttles were a bit more expensive at Zephyr so if you’re feeling up to it you could walk into town and book something from another hostel or agency.
- You don’t necessarily need a guide to just visit Semuc Champey. You can arrange a ride in town or try to hitch along the main road. Entry fee to the site is approx USD $6.