Semuc Champey Guatemala: all you need to know

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Dreamy turquoise pools, connected by tiny waterfalls, in th middle of the lush Guatemalan jungle. You probably saw images of Semuc Champey Guatemala before.And if you’re backpacking in Central America, this destination should be in your itinerary. There’s no doubt about that!

While Semuc Champey once was an off the beaten path destination in Guatemala, these days we can state that it is a popular destination in the heart of Guatemala where every backpacker goes to. So, most likely, you will visit as well! 

In this article, we will guide you through all the things to do at Semuc Champey, but we’ll also provide information about how to get there, where to stay, and wether you need to get a guided tour or not. 

So, let’s dive right in!

A few interesting facts about Semuc Champey in Guatemala

  • The name Semuc Champey comes from the Q’eqchi’ Mayan language and means “where the river hides under the stones.”
  • The pools of Semuc Champey are formed by the Cahabón River, which flows underground for a stretch of around 300 meters before resurfacing below the series of pools.
  • These pools are resting on a limestone bridge or arch where the river runs underneath at a high speed
  • Needless to say, it’s very dangerous to swim in the river near the place where it goes underground
  • The nearby Kanba Cave is an adventurous attraction where you can explore the dark passages and underground chambers while wading and swimming through the cave system.
Semuc champey pools
Semuc champey pools

Things to do in Semuc Champey

Semuc Champey is a natural wonder located in the heart of Guatemala, featuring a series of stunning turquoise pools cascading over limestone formations. The area around Semuc Champey is home to an incredible diversity of wildlife, including howler monkeys, toucans, and colorful tropical birds, making it a paradise for nature lovers and birdwatchers alike.

And, there are quite a few interesting and fun things to see and do in the area.

K'An Ba Caves

These interesting caves are part of most Semuc Champey tours. You definitely need a guide to go in there anyway, unless you feel very brave!

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 of 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 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 the caves. We loved this activity very much and felt like Indiana Jones on a quest.

Beware: not everyone like this activity. It can be experiences as being dangerous and there are people who have hurt themselves in the caves. So, if you’re having doubts, you might even want to skip this activity altogether. If you do, have a look at the Lanquin Caves (keep scrolling). They might be more your thing.

Tips

  • Bring your own headlight. The candles are not convenient
  • Wear water shoes. You wouldn’t want to go barefoot in there!

Tarzan Swing

The Tarzan rope swing is a long piece of rope and a swing, which is located near the entrance of the caves.

The swing rope is pretty long! It takes you more or less halfway the strong current of the river.

We saw other people do it and were quickly discouraged to do so. The first girl that jumped off the swing, got catapulted with a very uncomfortable body posture and she ended up hitting the river surface full force… face first. In short: it didn’t look pretty and I believe it didn’t feel great either!

This activity is free.

Bridge jumping

For the adrenalin junkies… you can also jump off bridges!

The yellow bridge I mentioned before is the place where this activity takes place!

Unfortunately, I can’t tell you the exact height of this bridge. I can tell you it is way too high for me to jump into the fast flowing river!

And again, we saw other people do this jump. One guy was a jumper and you could see that this altitude was a joke for him. He plunged down without doubt about it for a second. But when the girl, who was already red-faced, made the jump, her body didn’t react how it should have… again. Once more, she hit the river surface face first.

This activity is free. The optional ambulance might not be free of charge!

Semuc Champey Guatemala: all you need to know
Cahabon river bridge

Semuc Champey pools

The pools itself are the main reason for visiting Semuc Champey. These beautiful series of pools is located on a limestone arch, hovering over the wild river Cahabon. 

There are a few different pools, are varying in size and depth, but mostly no deeper than 1 meter. 

You can use the path next to the pools to walk along them, all the way up to where the Cahabon river disappears underground.

Semuc Champey pools
Semuc Champey pools

The mouth of the river arch

The mouth of the cave, where the Cahabon River disappears underground is a place where you can just sense the danger. You can reach it by walking all the way up by the side of the pools.

At the first pool (or the last) you walk over the side of the arch, to the other side of the river. There’s a (way too small) lining, showing not to cross this point in order not to faal into the river. 

From the other side of the river, you can see very well how the river disappears into the cave. And you can also witness how wild this river actually is.

I’d recommend to be somewhat careful in this area, as it can be a deadly place if you fall into the river at this point.

Semuc Champey Guatemala: all you need to know
Cahabon river

Mirador hike

All the pictures where you get a birds eye view of the beautiful pools, those are taken from the mirador or viewpoint (or with a drone obviously).

The hike to the mirador is not a walk in the park, as the path is steep and it can be slippery. Make sure to take decent walking shoes and a bottle of water. 

Of course, the hike is very much worth the effort as the views from above are really beautiful.

Walking up there takes around 30 minutes. Some people found that the descend was worse than the climb, especially after rainfall.

Semuc Champey seen from the mirador
Semuc Champey seen from the mirador

Things to do in the Lanquin area

Aside from visiting Semuc Champey, there are a few other things you can do in this region. So, if you’re like us, and you have a few extra days to spare in Lanquin, consider doing one or more of these fun activities.

Rafting the Rio Cahabon

The Rio Cahabon is quite a wild river and it’s the best river for white water rafting in Guatemala. It offers class III and class IV rapids, which are at there best during rainy season, between June and February.

If you plan to go white water rafting in Guatemala, the Rio Cahabon  is the river to choose. There are a few companies that offer rafting tours, like Lanquin Rafting.

River Tubing

We selected the more chill and relaxed river tubing, as white water rafting was not on the hostels activity list when we visited. And, we were very much into this typical backpacker activity. 

The river tubing excursions offer a ride from the hostel to the place where you get into the river. You get a large inner tube, which you use to float down the river. Then, of course, beers are included. 

It’s really a relaxed activity and, with the right company, it brings a lot of fun. We also got the opportunity to jump into the river from an overhanging tree. 

A few tips for this activity:

  • Don’t grab a tree branch if you want to go slower. It will make you flip over.
  • Look out for the exit place beforehand. If you miss it, you have to walk back!

Lanquin cave visit

It seems that many people mistake the K’An Ba Caves for the Lanquin Caves, but they are two completely different caves in the same region. 

Lanquin Caves are about 1,5km from the town of Lanquin and can be visited on a separate trip. This cave is not as wet as the one at Semuc Champey and they let you inside without a guide. 

For a few 100 metres, the cave is illuminated. After that, it’s completely dark. 

There are massive chambers with stalactites and a lot of people find these caves more interesting than the ones at Semuc Champey.

Entrada a la Gruta de Lanqúin

Guided tour or not?

You might be wondering: should I get a guided tour or not to visit Semuc Champey. Well, as usual: it depends!

What's in the tour?

To know if you need a tour or not, let’s first see what most tours include. This list is what the regular Semuc Champey tours have. It’s perfectly possible that you can book a different tour, with different activities.

  • Transportation from your hostel in the Semuc Champey region
  • K’An Ba Caves Tour (use of candle included)
  • Optional: Tarzan Rope swing into the river 
  • Optional: jump from the bridge into the river
  • Entrance to the Natural Park
  • Transportation back to your hostel

What do you want to do?

First of all, what do you want to do in Semuc Champey? 

If you just want to travel to the Natural Park and have a relaxed day at Semuc Champey, you don’t really need a guided tour for that. 

Having a chill day at the pools is completely recommended. That’s because a lot of travellers don’t really enjoy the side activities that are included with the tour.

For instance, we didn’t want to jump from bridges or use the Tarzan rope swing after we saw people land face-first into the fast flowing river. 

We did enjoy the cave visit, but some people don’t. 

So, if you only want to visit the park, you can get there without the tour.

Where's your lodging?

Then, if you don’t want to do the extra activities, and you lodge is near the pools, then I recommend just paying the entrance fee to the Natural Park and enjoy one or more days at the pools.

Have a look at the accommodation options near Semuc Champey to find a hostel within walking distance to the entrance of the park.

If you select a lodge that is far from the entrance, then you still need to get transportation to the park. But, you can find cheap transportation without having to book a complete tour.

How good is your Spanish?

Speaking a few words of Spanish is a great way to find transportation without booking a tour. You can easily get a collectivo or a jeep to take you up to the entrance of the park. 

And that will work best when you can talk to the local people in Spanish. People will be more inclined to help you out if you make an effort to speak the local language.

Best guided Semuc Champey tours

 

Practical information about your trip

All right! Regardless of whether or not you want to book a complete tour or just get your own transportation to the pools, here’s some information about the park itself.

Semuc Champey Entrance fee

If you book a tour to the pools, the entrance fee is included in the tour.

If you travel there on your own, or if you stay in one of the hostels near the entrance, you can walk there by yourself and just pay the entrance fee when you enter the park. 

  • Guatemalan visitors pay 30Q to enter the park.
  • Extranjeros pay 50Q to enter.

 

Prices may change, obviously.

Opening hours

The park also has actual opening hours, even though I’m not sure if anybody really cares if you stay longer. 

The entrance opens at 7h in the morning and closes at 16.30h in the evening. 

Most guided tours will leave around that time as well, as the drive back to Lanquin takes around one hour. You can expect nightfall around 18h.

Best time to visit Semuc Champey

As is true for every natural highlight in the world, there are good, better, and horrible times to visit certain places.

High season or dry season

During the dry season, Semuc Champey can be super crowded! Locals, as well as backpackers and tourists, flood the area. This could result in a less relaxed visit. But it could just as well be super nice. 

In the dry season, weather is hot and beautiful. There will be less water in the pools and the force of the river is at its lowest.

  • Dry season in Guatemala is from November to April.

Low season or wet season

During the wet season, the area is less busy.You do have more chance on rainy days, but rain usually happens in the afternoon, so you might want to move your visit to the morning instead of the afternoon.

In the wet season, the Rio Cahabon is strong and powerful. The pools and small waterfalls in between also have more water, which makes them more beautiful!

  • Wet season in Guatemala is from May to October.

Warning for wet season travellers

In cases of heavy weather, the pools tend to flood and sometimes the pools 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.

Semuc Champey view from above
Semuc Champey - Photo by Christopher Crouzet on Unsplash

What the area looks like

The different areas in the region are important to recognize. You need to know where you are in order to decide on accommodation and transportation.

The National Park and the Jungle

The National Park is where it all happens. In the National Park, you find the actual Semuc Champey pools, the Mirador, the K’An Ba caves, the rope swing, … All the action!

Lanquin

The village of Lanquin in Alta Verapaz Guatemala is the closest to the National Park at a distance of 11km. Even though the distance is short, the trip from the village to the National Park takes almost an hour over a bumpy and dusty road.Lanquin has quite a few lodging options, restaurants, bars, grocery stores, and even an ATM. It is, however, still a jungle village and it’s is surrounded by nature and jungle sounds!

Coban

Coban is a larger city, further away. It’s located around 75km from the Semuc Champey National Park. The first part of this trip is more convenient and has some paved roads, but the last part from Lanquin to the pools is the same dusty and bumpy road. Traveling from Coban to Semuc Champey takes around 3 hours.This city has multiple ATM’s, larger grocery stores, more hotels, and hostels.

Where to stay in Semuc Champey?

Now that you know about the different areas, you can make a good decision when it comes to accommodation. Do you want to stay near the National Park? Or would you rather stay in Lanquin or the city of Coban? 

We stayed in the El Retiro Lodge in Lanquin and we can definitely recommend the place to other travelers. We enjoyed our stay here and it was a convenient starting point for the activities we did.

Most travellers choose to stay in Lanquin or the jungle surrounding the National Park. These are some the the best and most popular options.

El Retiro - Lanquin - Guatemala

El Retiro Lanquin, located 10 km from Semuc Champey in Lanquin, Guatemala, offers a chilled-out, rustic vibe ideal for nature lovers and backpackers. It features amenities like a bar, restaurant, and terrace for relaxation and socializing, with good and reasonably priced food, although there's no common kitchen available. You can also book tours and transportation here.

El Retiro on Booking El Retiro on Agoda
Zephyr Lodge - Lanquin - Guatemala

Zephyr Lodge in Lanquin, Guatemala, near Semuc Champey, offers a social and lively atmosphere for travelers. This party hostel features a licensed bar, restaurant, and an infinity pool.

Check out on Hostelworld
Greengo's - Semuc Champey - Guatemala

Greengo's Hostel offers a peaceful and sociable environment ideal for meeting fellow travelers. With various accommodation options from dorms to private rooms and amenities like a pool and communal spaces, it's perfect for those looking to relax and connect.

Check prices on Hostelworld

How to get to Semuc Champey

The Semuc Champey region in Guatemala is not the easiest to reach, as it is located in the jungle. Depending on your departure point, it could take you an entire day to reach the area. 

From Lanquin

When taking a day trip to Semuc Champey from Lanquin, you need to get a jeep to take you to the park. The distance is 11km, so if you’re a hiker, you can also choose to hike this journey.

This 11km ride takes around an hour in the back of an open jeep.

If you decide to stay in one of the jungle lodges near the park, you might be able to just walk to the pools.

From your lodging

Depending on where you actually stay, the trip is different. 

Usually, your host will help you out in order to get to the pools. So, that is the best way to get your transportation: ask your host!

From other places in Guatemala

Lanquin and Semuc Champey can be reached from almost anywhere in Guatemala. We traveled from Rio Dulce to Semuc Champey. Our trip lasted from early morning until late at night. The drive took longer than 9 hours.

I believe most travelers might be traveling from Antigua to Lanquin, which is a better traject since Antigua has some beautiful roads to start with.

You can check distances in Google Maps, but don’t expect the travel time to be any accurate!

  • Antigua to Lanquin: 320 km – 7 to 9 hours
  • Rio Dulce to Lanquin: 200 km – 5 to 12 hours
Semuc Champey Guatemala: all you need to know
Kids on the Road to Lanquin

How to integrate Semuc Champey into your Guatemala itinerary?

Maybe you’re still wondering if and how to fit Semuc Champey into your Guatemala itinerary. First of all, we recommend doing so. It still is a magical place and it is a perfect opportunity to get to know the rural Guatemala. 

This location has been rightfully named one of the best adventurous places in Central America!

Have a look at a few Guatemala itinerary ideas and see if one of these fits your travel plans.

Semuc Champey Guatemala: all you need to know
Semuc Champey pools

FAQs and facts

We’ve noticed that this area of Guatemala raises more questions and doubt. My guess is that people are doubting to come here because it takes quite some time to travel here. So, travellers see it as a detour. But actually, it’s not! You should see this place as a perfect break between other destinations. There’s so much beauty on both sides of the country and Semuc is in the perfect middle of that.

The meaning of Semuc Champey

Semuc Champey is the Mayan language for ‘Where the river hides under the stones’. The Cahabon River disappears underground at this place. You can’t see it, but when relaxing in the turquoise pools, the brute force of this wild river rages a few meters below you! Scary!

Is Semuc Champey worth it?

Yes! Without a doubt!

Don’t let some grumpy nay sayers tell you otherwise.

The pools of Semuc Champey are more than worth the long trip. The way these pools are set into the amazing Guatemalan landscape that surrounds the area, it really is amazing. 

Hike up to the mirador in order to see how rugged the surrounding area actually is.

And about the nay sayers: they usually talk about the K’An Ba cave visit, which you can skip if you want. Or sometimes, they visited on a rainy day. Rain is not the best weather condition to visit this place.

What should I bring?

If you plan a day trip to the pools and the caves, bring these things:

  • hiking shoes
  • water shoes or old sneakers
  • a headlight or torch
  • bathing suit and towel
  • snacks and water

Where can I have lunch or dinner?

If you stay at a lodge outside of the village, there are basically no other options than to eat at the restaurant in the lodge, since there’s nothing else in the area.In Lanquin, you have a few extra restaurant options and even a grocery store, but most lodges offer restaurant services.For your visit to the pools, most lodges offer to make a lunch box. You can either take the lunch box or get lunch at the National Park. Locals sell street food in the area surrounding the entrance and there’s a restaurant at the entrance of the National Park.

Other things to see in the area

Semuc Chapey is one of these must-see destinations in Guatemala, even though it’s a little bit off the main tourist trail. It will take you a little longer to get there. But, it’s popular, so you won’t be alone!

These nearby destinations are a little further afield than usual, because Semuc Champey has this off trail location.

Rio Dulce and Livingston

The Rio Dulce area on the Caribbean side of Guatemala is the perfect next stop on your trip. Explore the Rio Dulce area and visit the Garifuna community of Livingston on the coast.

Don’t forget to check out the jungle lodges on the Rio Dulce and the river lodges in Livingston.

Some of the very best Guatemalan beaches can be found in Livingston.

Flores

Flores, the little colonial peninsula in Lake Peten Itza is a definite must-visit. The town itself is beautiful and there are a lot of things to do around Flores. But, it’s also the gateway to the many Mayan ruins in Guatemala and that is the main reason to visit for most people. 

Imagine visiting the hidden ruins of Yaxha or Nakum. Or spend a night in Tikal National Park. Or maybe you rather book a stay in a beautiful boutique hotel on the peninsula of Flores. The options are endless!

Lake Atitlan

Lake Atitlan is a true traveller highlight. It’s not too far from Antigua and most travellers love this beautiful destination a lot. It’s one of those places where you can stay forever. We stayed for over a month to enjoy the most amazing views, the peace, and tranquility.

There are many quant villages surrounding Lake Atitlan, each with their own typical vibe and charms. Each of these towns offer accommodation, but some towns are more popular or most interesting. 

Check out the best hostels in Lake Atitlan. Or would you rather stay in one of these stylish boutique hotels?

Antigua

We probably don’t have to tell you about Antigua. Every travellers, from backpacker to luxury traveller has Antigua on their destination list. 

We can give you a few tips about the cool things to see and do in Antigua

Have a look at the best hostels and the best boutique hotels in Antigua. This amazing colonial city is one of these places where you can easily hang around for days, weeks, or even months. Some people even stay indefinitely!

More interesting sights in Guatemala​

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Semuc Champey Guatemala - A complete backpacker guide
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