Semuc Champey Guatemala is a natural gem that every traveler in Guatemala should visit. Located in the heart of the Guatemalan jungle, these natural pools lie on top of the fast flowing Rio Cahabon. The river itself is perfect for floating on inner tubes. Most hostels in the area offer river tubing as an activity. At Semuc Champey Guatemala, the wild Rio Cahabon goes underground for a few hundred meters. The surface above the river has a series of limestone pools that look like they’re from another planet. Near the pools, you can also visit the Semuc Champey caves, but beware, this excursion is not for the faint-hearted! For true adrenalin seekers, you can jump into the Rio Cahabon from a bridge over the river. We didn’t dare to do that, but we saw others jump the way-too-high bridge. Semuc Champey Guatemala is just one of the many reasons to visit magical Guatemala. Don’t forget to read these must-know facts about Guatemala too!
Getting to Semuc Champey Guatemala
Located in Alta Verapaz in Central Guatemala, Semuc Champey is accessible from everywhere, though it might take you a while. To get from Antigua to Semuc Champey, you can take a shuttle to either Coban or Lanquin, which will probably take a good part of your day. Most shuttles can be easily booked in your hostel. The next day you can book transportation from Lanquin to Semuc Champey in your hostel.
We traveled from Rio Dulce to Lanquin by shuttle and it took us a full day. We left Rio Dulce at 9 AM and arrived at El Retiro lodge after dark. The road was in pretty bad condition, but it was an adventurous trip. You can take a collectivo, chicken bus or even a private minivan to get anywhere in Guatemala. Not many tour groups include Semuc Champey in their itinerary, so you won’t encounter too many buses. Most travelers you meet here, are independent travelers.
Lanquin and Coban
Lanquin and Coban are two Guatemalan villages in the Alta Verapaz region that are often used as a hub to visit the pools of Semuc Champey Guatemala. Coban is a larger town where you can easily find hostels and other travelers. We opted for Lanquin, a real jungle town with cozy cabanas and off-grid hostels. Lanquin is located 6km from the pools and the hostels arrange transportation and tours to get there. Tours usually include a visit to the Semuc Champey pools and some other activities, like the Semuc Champey caves and jumping into the Rio Cahabon.
El Retiro Lodge – Semuc Champey Guatemala
El Retiro Lodge has private cabanas or suites and dorm beds in the middle of the Guatemalan jungle. The lodge has a large tranquil domain with many cabanas and sanitary facilities. The on-site restaurant and bar have theme nights and you can choose to join in on the meal or find food elsewhere. The Rio Cahabon passes by the domain and you can take a swim if you like, but it’s not easy. The river flows very fast and almost impossible to swim. A safety rope connects both shores of the river, but we didn’t manage to cross the river without letting go and floating off. Be careful not to lose your pants while fighting the current and holding on to the rope… All staff in El Retiro Lodge is Guatemalan or volunteering, so it is a great place to practice Spanish and meet local people. In short, we had a great experience at the lodge. It was very relaxing and back to basic: exactly what we needed.
Semuc Champey Guatemala Pools
After paying the entrance fee of around 6€, we’re allowed to wander the jungle surrounding the pools. Close to the entrance of the Semuc Champey Guatemala National Park you can follow a path to the Semuc Champey mirador or viewpoint where you get a magnificent view over the turquoise pools. Or you can head straight to the pools and dive in. The Semuc Champey pools are connected by small waterfalls and the whole setting is very surreal. If you walk all the way to the top of the pools, you can watch the Cahabon river go underground. The river is very wild before it dives into the tunnel and diving in is lethal. This natural monument is well worth the visit and entrance fee.
A small warning before traveling to Semuc Champey Guatemala!
In cases of heavy weather, the pools tend to flood and sometimes the Semuc Champey National Park is shut down and closed due to heavy weather. Before visiting Semuc Champey Guatemala, check the weather! If it has been raining massively, you might not be able to visit…
K’a-Ba Caves – Semuc Champey Caves
The K’an-Ba caves or Semuc Champey caves are located very close to the natural pools and they’re usually included into the same Semuc Champey tour. Because of their proximity to the Guatemalan pools, they’re also called the Semuc Champey caves. The tour is very cool and we both loved it a lot. Bring a headlamp, unless you love the taste candle wax when using your mouth to hold a candle while you’re climbing up and down ladders and waterfalls. Candles are offered when entering, but since the Semuc Champey caves are pretty wet, you’re very likely to lose your source of light during the cave expedition. The caves are large and you crawl through different environments over a few hundred meters. There’s some wading through shallow pools, climbing slippery ladders, swimming through deep pools and climbing over rocks. At the end of the trail, there’s a deeper pool which you can jump from some sort of platform inside the cave. It is pitch black in the caves and you have no idea how deep the pools are. At some point, you have to climb a waterfall inside of the Semuc Champey caves. We loved this activity very much and felt like Indiana Jones on a quest.
Tubing the Rio Cahabon
Our lodge offered an afternoon tubing activity on the river. A jeep, stacked with inner tubes, took us to the start off point of our tube-fest. River tubing isn’t much of a job and mostly you’re just laying back in the tube, holding your beer and enjoying the surroundings while floating gently down the stream. Just make sure not to wander too far from the guide as he has important information on where to get out of the water. Getting out was difficult because of the strong current of the river. Once past the actual place where you have to make land, getting out is really hard. Don’t expect your guide to tell you in advance where to leave the river. He’ll let you know only when the small landing area is visible…
Should you visit Semuc Champey Guatemala?
Yes! You should! Here’s why:
Are you looking to visit rural Guatemala and meet locals? Do you love visiting a natural wonder? You want to see and hear howler monkeys roar? Semuc Champey Guatemala and Lanquin are worth a detour on your Guatemalan itinerary. We’d recommend at least 3 days to visit the region and relax a little. But if you only want to visit the pools and get out quickly, 1 day and 2 nights are enough. The pools are a definite must-visit when in Guatemala. If you’re backpacking Guatemala, the Semuc Champey pools, caves, and Rio Cahabon can’t be skipped! Before taking off, read these things to know before visiting Guatemala.