Semuc Champey Guatemala – A Complete Backpacker Guide

Semuc Champey Guatemala is a natural gem that every traveler in Central America should include in their itinerary.

Located in the heart of the Guatemalan jungle, these turquoise natural pools lie on top of the fast flowing and wild Rio Cahabon, which 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. This location has been rightfully named one of the best adventurous places in Central America!

Even though the pools have a central location in Guatemala, they can still be difficult to reach, especially during the rainy season!

In this article, we will explain everything you need to know before visiting the area and the pools.

This page holds all the information on how to get there, things to do, places to sleep and how to arrange your excursions and tours!

Are you planning to go backpacking all over Guatemala? Don’t forget to read our backpacking guide for Guatemala!

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Semuc champey pools

Things to do in Semuc Champey Guatemala

Travelers who visit the area, mostly want to do the same things. They want to visit the pools and the K’An Ba caves. These top activities are brought together in a one-day Semuc Champey tour, which we did as well. And by doing this, we were able to tick the most interesting activities off our to-do list all at once. This is the best tour you can book for the area!

These are the most popular activities to do: 

Semuc Champey pools

Attraction number 1: the out-of-this-world, amazing pools!

At this location, the Cahabon River disappears underground for 300 meters. On the surface, a series of turquoise pools are interconnected with waterfalls. They form a limestone bridge over the raging river.

The pools look amazing and they’re an awesome place to spend an entire afternoon while splashing in the water and discovering the different pools.

Getting there

Depending on the location of your accommodation, you could be already right next to them. Hostal El Portal is at the entrance of the park. Or you could be further away.

There are also a few different options for booking your tour to the pools. We dedicated a paragraph to ‘Getting to the pools’ below. Keep scrolling!

Semuc Champey Entrance fee

The entrance fee is 50 Q (note that prices may change quickly)

If you book a complete tour, the entrance fee might already be included in the tour price.

Check out this cool video of Semuc Champey

The Mirador or viewpoint

The Mirador at the pools is a hike you can do in order to get a beautiful bird-eye view over the pools and the surrounding area.

This hike is not a walk in the park, especially on hot and humid days! Expect to sweat a little!

Getting there

The start of the Mirador hike can be found when entering the park. It’s a path on your left side, accompanied by an arrow with the word ‘Mirador’

Entrance Fee

You can do the hike for free once you’re inside the National park

Tips

  • Take a lot of water with you!
  • Hiking shoes are better than flip flops for this hike
Semuc Champey view from above
Semuc Champey - Photo by Christopher Crouzet on Unsplash

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.

How to get there

When reaching the Semuc Champey National Park, you have to cross a yellow bridge to get to the pools. If you don’t cross the bridge, but keep going straight ahead, the entrance to the caves is on your right side.

Entrance Fee

The entrance to the cave with a guide is around 60 Q (Price may increase without notice)

We recommend doing this activity as a part of the tour. This way, your entrance fee, and guide are included!

Tips

  • Bring a headlight, unless you like the taste of candle wax in your mouth
  • Wear shoes for water activities. I wouldn’t want to be barefoot.

Tarzan Rope 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 jump into the Rio Cahabon

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!

Cahabon river bridge

River Tubing on the Cahabon River

River tubing is a must-do activity in the Lanquin area. It’s fun and relaxing.

Basically, you get an inner tube of a car tire, which is a well-floating device. Conveniently, it also has a perfect location to fit your bum.

I had to focus on not thinking about how my ass would look from below. I also didn’t want to think about hungry or toothy fish that might want to taste my buttocks. But aside from that, this activity is super fun to do.

Fee

Prices vary depending on where you book your tour. Expect to pay anywhere between 10€ to 30€

Tips

  • Look out for exit places. If you miss the designated exit area, you might be in for a long float.
  • Don’t grab low hanging branches, unless you want to flip over!

Rafting on the Rio Cahabon

The Rio Cahabon is one of the best places in Guatemala to do some river rafting.

You can venture out to do a full day river rafting activity from Lanquin. The Rio Cahabon has a rafting difficulty of 3 to 4, depending on the amount of rain there has been.

This tour takes all day, of which 4 hours will be spent on the river. During these 4 hours, you travel 19 km.

Price: The price for a full day of river rafting and activities is around 90€.

The Semuc Champey Region explained

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: hostels and jungle lodges

With the information we mentioned in the paragraph above, you might be able to make up your mind about where to stay!

You can either stay really close to the pools: in the jungle surrounding Semuc Champey. The closest possible lodge is El Portal Lodge, which you can find at the entrance of the National Park.

Your second option is to find lodging in Lanquin. This is what we did. We stayed at El Retiro Lodge: a very nice place to spend a few days!

And the third option is to find accommodation in Coban, which is not recommendable for visiting the pools. But if you don’t want to stay in the jungle, this is your best option.

Make sure to check out the different lodging options and lodges in the area!

El Retiro Lodge

  • Tours and activities
  • Backpacker vibe

Getting around Semuc Champey area

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.

Then getting to the pools is another interesting trip. Most of the getting around information depends on where you choose to get lodging.

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.

Kids on the Road to Lanquin
Cahabon river

Getting into the area

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

Getting to the pools

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.

Best time to visit Semuc Champey

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.

The 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!

The wet season in Guatemala is from May to October.

Warning for wet season travelers

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 pools

Facts and FAQ’s

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!

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

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.

Conclusion

We think you should definitely visit Semuc Champey Guatemala! 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 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.

Do you still need more convincing? Find more reasons to visit Guatemala. Do you want some more facts about Guatemala? Check out our post Interesting facts about Guatemala you should know before you go!

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Semuc Champey Guatemala - A complete backpacker guide

5 Responses

    1. Thanks for your comment! I’m glad to hear you liked it! Semuc Champey is definitely worth a visit!

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