That Semuc Champey was one of the things to see in Guatemala I knew it even before leaving, but all the images aroused in my mind by the dozens of photographs seen on the internet do not really do justice to what remains for me one of the places that I am most pleased to remember about all my journey since I am returned.
A waterfall in Semuc Champey
When to go
Most people (like us) go to Guatemala during the high season, from mid-December to mid-April as it doesn't rain often (even though we took a bad weather day that day) and the Cahabon River is much clearer.
Keep in mind though that the high season, Semuc Champey is often overcrowded with both locals and foreigners and you can't fully enjoy the beauty as there are millions of people around.
So if you can, go in the off season, when there are 60% fewer people. And yes, the pools are still crystal clear and turquoise blue. There is no need to worry!
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How to reach us
Arrivare a Semuc Champey you have to want it and want it strongly because reaching this paradise in the middle of nowhere is not very comfortable, indeed it is not at all, since its isolated position in the middle of the mountains of Alta Verapaz makes it far from any other destination in Guatemala.
Count a full day of travel to get there and a full day to leave more or less.
In any case, to go to Semuc Champey you have to go through the village of Lanquin that, unless you decide to stay in a hostel right in Semuc Champey (but they are isolated and almost always full, I don't recommend them), it is the base for visiting the lakes.
The easiest and most recommended way to get to Semuc Champey is then to take a shuttle from Flores to Lanquin or from Antigua a Lanquin (as we did) which will then drop you off at your hotel or hostel. Shuttles cost a little more than chicken buses, but on the other hand they are much faster and above all much safer.
PRO tip: Every hotel, hostel and local agency in Antigua can book the shuttle for you, just make sure you book it a couple of days in advance to find a place.
Even with the shuttle, however, it takes 8 to 9 hours to arrive.
Keep in mind that the road in both directions it is long and full of curves. For those who suffer from motion sickness, I recommend taking tablets or some other method to reduce the effects!
On the plus side of the trip: some of the views of the Guatemalan countryside are truly spectacular.
PRO tip: Don't take the shuttle from Antigua in the afternoon just to sleep longer, trust me: going through Guatemala City traffic will be a traffic bane, not to mention arriving in Lanquin late, around 22pm it's dangerous because the streets are dark.
Where sleeping in Semuc Champey
A Semuc Champey there are actually only a couple of hostels, theUtopia Eco Hotel ed The Portal of Champey which I must say are really beautiful, built completely in the middle of the forest and all in wood with their panoramic position overlooking the river (it seems, however, that there is no electricity at all times) while most of the other accommodations are located in Lanquin, a small town about an hour by off-road vehicle (let's call it that) from the famous pools and which is the most suitable base for visiting them.
Also to Lanquìn is there some nice hostel: especially for backpackers who like partying and casino places there is Zephir Lodge, famous for its breathtaking view, its swimming pool and its alcoholic party nights (although I have heard some complaints towards the staff who are apparently quite rude)
Panorama Semuc Champey (photo from the web)
When we arrived the Zephir was full (so much so the alcoholic nights tempted me) so in the end we went to El Muro which is certainly less beautiful but in which we had a great time thanks to the hospitality and kindness of the owners.
Another hotel worth mentioning is La Poza River Lodge, too bad we didn't find any posts there, but it is an excellent solution especially for the beautiful terrace and the free wi-fi.
What to do and see in Semuc Champey
Through the hostel we book the excursion for the day after to the pools, but not only, in the excursion we also include the visit of the water caves Kanba Caves, a system of caves in which a river flows that penetrate into the bowels of the earth and in which you enter for almost a kilometer and a half only by the light of a candle, swimming, climbing underground waterfalls, climbing, all only with the costume and without any protection.
Not recommended for those suffering from claustrophobia and those who are afraid of the dark. Sometimes the water is very high and one is forced to swim: of mine, swimming in the dark with one arm only because the other was busy holding the candle above the water I think I left both kneecaps by dint of knees on hidden stalactites underwater.
Inside the Kanba Caves
To get to Semuc Champey from Lanquin we are loaded into the body of an old Toyota pick-up, the day is not exactly the best, we will be tortured until evening by that annoying rain that slips everywhere and after an hour of terrible dirt road, a lot of mud and even a bit of cold we are finally unloaded in Semuc.
As I said, our first adventure will be in the water cave, le Kanba Caves from which we leave alive and thrilled by adrenaline after about a couple of hours.
Rope Swing e Tubing
In Semuc Champey in addition to the water caves and pools there is also a swing suspended over the river from which you can jump (rope swing) making a nice dip while for those looking for something a little quiet to enjoy the river you can do tubing or let yourself be carried away by the current beautifully sprawled on an air chamber. I didn't do it, it seemed to me to last a little short but it must be nice.
Mirador of the natural pools
Last but not least the famous ones natural pools of Semuc Champey. There are two paths in the forest to get there, one goes directly to the pools, the other climbs uphill until you reach the Mirador, a wooden platform suspended between the trees from which you can enjoy a beautiful view of the pools and the valley around. .
Getting there is quite tiring, especially due to the very high humidity that takes to the throat, giving the feeling of not being able to breathe. Strength and courage however, although the climb is tiring it does not last very long, if you go as slow as snails like me (I was the last of the group to arrive puffing like a horse) in about 40 minutes you are at the top and the view will pay off. .
The view over the pools from the Mirador
The descent is shorter and you can also enjoy the luxuriant nature around, with the tall trees, the lianas and the impenetrable bushes: it almost seems that at any moment some goblin with a red hat jumps out from behind the boulders covered with moss.
The only precaution is to be careful where you put your feet because the path is quite steep and the humidity makes it very slippery in some places (with the rain even worse)
Well, the geologist in me can't help but give some background information on how the pools formed. In reality it is a natural limestone bridge under which the Cahabòn river plunges.
Pools have formed over this natural limestone bridge, not from the river as one might think, but from hundreds of small streams of water that flow from the springs on the sides of the surrounding mountains.
The drops of water that form these tiny rivulets are precious because they are enriched with billions of microscopic particles of jade: this explains why the pools of Semuc Champey have this unique color that makes them one of the most incredible destinations in all of Guatemala.
One of the natural pools
In the pools, connected by a system of small waterfalls, you can dive and swim, practically a natural water park formed in the middle of nowhere.
If you want other experiences you can read See Champey at Viaggiaredasoli.net
Tired and happy at the end of the day
To conclude what to see and do in Semuc Champey:
Kanba Caves: beautiful, fun, full of adrenaline but not for everyone. To take into account the underwater kicks against the rocks while trying not to drown by swimming with one hand (the other is busy holding the candle, your only source of light). Do you recommend? Absolutely, but when does it happen again?
Rope Swing e Tubing: in the first I took a belly in the water so I didn't breathe for a quarter of an hour but still fun, the second I didn't but it's nice to enjoy the river.
Mirador and puddles of water: well why it comes up to Semuc Champey after dirt roads that make your soul jump out, they are the real stars of this place out of the world and out of time. Unmissable, as written in many guides: the last destination of Guatemala.
Useful tips for visiting Semuc Champey
Bring the swimsuit, a towel and a change of clothes: I got wet to the core and I would have paid gold for dry clothes.
Wear comfortable shoes. For the tour, I wore my trusty Teva sandals (which I practically always have with me when traveling), although to go up to the Mirador perhaps trekking shoes are better as the path can be slippery, especially downhill.
For the Kanba caves and swimming in the pools, however, my sandals were perfect.
If the day is nice don't forget the sunscreen, but even more absolutely bring a tropical mosquito repellent spray like this on Amazon because in the forest the insects are terrible.
There are bathrooms at the entrance to the Kanba caves where you can change clothes.
At the pools there are some lockers to leave your things, bring a padlock if you want to leave valuable things like your smartphone or camera to make sure they are safe.
The rocks in the pools are very slippery, be very careful when walking on the stones.Do you want to discover the Guatemala truer and more authentic by relying on atrusted local agency?
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