Thinking of visiting Semuc Champey? Visiting Semuc Champey was one of the best decisions I made on my Guatemalan adventure. Sadly getting here and away isn’t so nice. You have to work hard to get here, but boy is it worth it! So here is my ultimate guide to visiting Semuc Champey.
If you want to know how to get her from Antigua, read this post. Or if you fare travelling from Semuc to Flores/ Tikal read this here.
In this post I’m going to cover
- Getting from Lanquin to your hotel
- Where to stay in Semuc Champey and Lanquin
- What to do in Lanquin
- How to see Semuc Champey
- What to pack
Arriving in Lanquin
You should arrive in Lanquin anywhere between 5-7pm depending on traffic and how crazy your bus driver is…
On arrival, you will likely be met by a wall of Guatemalan men shouting out hotel names to you. If you have booked accommodation already listen out for the name of your hotel and go towards that guy. Not booked your accommodation, but know where you want to go? Do the same but ask the guy if there are rooms available. However if you have no idea chat to someone and check out prices, they might be able to get you a deal. Either way, you will be ushered onto a pickup truck and dropped at your hotel, this is a free service.
Or get your bag and get away from the madness and find somewhere you can get a beer until it calms down and then go for a walk and find somewhere. Be warned though most of the accommodation is a bit of a walk.
Where to stay
Here are my best pics of places to stay. Almost all of the accommodation have a variety of budget options from 65Q dorm rooms with no AC to fancy riverside lodgings or tree houses in the jungle. One thing I would say though is to get AC if you can. Honestly, you’re in the jungle, it’s hot, pay the extra 10Q and get aAC room! I was so glad I did, although I think the heat and humidity affected me so much because I had been in Antigua for 2 months which is cool in the mornings and evenings.
Quiet and Relaxing
If you want some peace and quiet and to enjoy relaxing by the river and great food then I would recommend El Retiro. This is where I stayed for 2 nights in a 6 bed AC dorm. It cost me 75Q per night and if you book a tour with them you get the 3rd night for free…do make sure you ask about this when you check in though.
The food there is really good:
- Breakfast costs around 30-50Q my only complaint is that the coffee isn’t on tap and its cost 10Q a cup.
- If you are going on a tour you can order a lunch box for 25Q – It’s just a sandwich, some cookies and a banana but the alternative is all you can eat for 50Q a plate at Semuc.
- Dinner is all you can eat buffet for 50Q
It’s not easy to be on a budget here as there is no kitchen to prepare your own food but the food is very good so it’s worth the splurge. If you can’t afford to eat there El Retiro is only a short walk into town (it’s closer than the other two places) so you can always walk into town and find a street food cart. For this reason, if you are on a budget stay here. Almost all of the other places are a lot further away from town so you don’t have much choice but to eat at the hotel unless you pay for a tuk-tuk into town.
If you want a lively party place with a bar and a pool there you need to book into Zephyr Lodge. I didn’t stay there or even stop in for a visit but I met a lot of people who did stay there and they loved it. It’s where most of the backpackers go and so it has a real backpackers chilled out vibe. Make sure you book though as it does tend to get full especially if you want a dorm room!
An added bonus is that Zephyr is halfway between Lanquin and Semuc Champey making it a bit closer to get to the pools.
If you want a hippy haven in Semuc Champey itself then you should book into Utopia Eco Hotel. Like El Retiro, Utopia is on a river so you can cool down in the river when the jungle gets too hot! It’s also pretty close to the pools so you can save yourself a bumpy pickup ride and walk to the pools.
Rooms vary in price from a hammock outside to a Luxury tree house with AC. The food is all vegetarian and mid price range. One of the downsides to Utopia is if you are on a budget you are pretty stuck as there is nowhere to get cheap eats.
What to do in Lanquin
Relax. There really isn’t very much to do in Lanquin other than paddle in the river, swim in the pool or read a book in a hammock. Most people stay 2-4 nights. I only stayed for 2 nights and I really wish I’d had time to stay for an extra night so I could have had a chilled out day. Sadly I was on a tight schedule! There are lots of other tours you can do if you wanted to stay longer.
How to see Semuc Champey
I would recommend 2 visits if you have the time. On the first pay the money and do the tour. Yes, I know it’s 185Q which is quite a chunk of money if you are on a budget, but it’s worth it as it’s a jam packed day and you can access things on the tour that you can’t on your own, like the caves and river tubing. Then on your second visit do it yourself and spend the day chilling out in the pools and not being rushed around.
You can book a tour at your hotel, they are all pretty much the same price. The groups are likely to be large and there will only be one guide, so don’t expect much in the way of customer care but it’s still the best way to get the full experience.
The pick up is 8:30 and it will take you about 45 minutes to get to Semuc Champey in a pickup truck. Make sure you put sunscreen on but don’t forget to wash your hands, you will need the grip to hold on for dear life!
On arrival, you will pass all of your stuff to a guy in a hut to store while you explore the caves.
I was a little nervous about going into the caves as I had no real idea what to expect. I wasn’t even planning on doing a tour, as I’m normally a do-it-yourself kind of traveller. But my friends who had been working there for a few weeks told me it was much better to do the tour. Anyway as I didn’t bring a waterproof headlamp I was given a candle to hold! If you don’t have shoes that can go in the water you will need to go barefoot. In the cave, you will walk, climb swim, jump into a deep pool from 2-3 meters height (optional) and slide down rocks. It’s a pretty cool experience especially trying to navigate holding a candle whilst doing all of these things!
My main complaint about this part of the tour was we were a group of 18 and we only had one guide. As some of the sections were difficult and slightly risky to navigate the guide hung back to get everyone safely across. There were several times when we got a bit lost being at the front, ideally try and find a smaller group to go with if you can!
The Big Swing
From the caves, you will collect your bags and walk a short distance to a huge swing. If you are feeling brave you can swing and then jump into the water.
Continuing to walk down the river stopping a few times to decorate each other in natural red dye…
Eventually, you will reach a stunning waterfall and a place you can swim.
Here you can climb up and jump from a ledge at the top of the waterfall.
Be careful when swimming though as there is quite a strong current.
After the waterfall, you walk back to leave your bags locked up before grabbing a tub and floating down the river. Make sure you take some money with you for the beer (15Q) although if you don’t have any cash don’t worry they will come and find you later!
This was one of the best bits of the day for me. Although make sure you take your flip flops with you are the walk back on the red hot ground was hell!
You are taken to a place where you can eat food you brought with you or buy a plate for 50Q, expensive but it is all you can eat.
Hike to El Mirador
After lunch, you will walk down to the entrance of the pools. Here you can use the bathroom and buy some more water, you will need it! It’s also a good idea to put some clothes and your hiking shoes on! The next part of the day is a 30-45 minute hike up to a viewing platform. It’s not an easy hike as it’s, pretty much, steps all the way up…
Drink plenty of water and reapply sunscreen! The most difficult part of this hike is the heat! So do make sure you drink plenty of water. I actually saw someone stretchered down suffering from dehydration. This is not a place you want to be stretchered down from!
It is so worth the 30 minutes of effort though! This is the only place you can get this view.
After 5 minutes at the viewing platform, I was keen to get moving, I just wanted to cool off in the pools! You go down a different way though so I had to wait for the rest of the group.
Visiting the pools
You will leave your stuff in lockable seating and you have 1.5-2 hours to explore the pools.
This is not enough time which and the tour is so jam packed I really recommend returning on your own so you can explore properly in your own time.
I can’t put into words how amazing swimming in these pools was!
And I was also very happy to finally get to play with my GoPro
Although I think it’s going to take a bit of practice to get the underwater shot down…
What to Pack
- A waterproof headlamp – you will need this for the caves. If you don’t have one they will give you a candle, which is fun to try and swim with!
- Hiking Sandals – oh how I wished I’d packed mine. I can’t stress enough how much these would have helped me. Not only would I have saved burning my feet on the hot ground on the long walk back from river tubing but I also would have saved myself so many slips and falls trying to get in and out of the pools and in the caves.
- Flip flops and Sneakers – If you don’t have hiking sandals then you will need both sneakers and flip flops.
- Bug spray
- Money for beer when river tubing 15Q per can
- Money for lunch 50Q or bring lunch with you
- Waterproof camera/ GoPro
- Plenty of water (especially on the hike)
- A towel
- A hat
My only regret with visiting Semuc Champey was that I didn’t spend enough time there. I would strongly recommend a minimum of 3 nights, 4 if you can. You need it to be able to fully explore Semuc Champey as well as giving yourself time to recover from the bus ride and mentally prepare for the next one! I am already planning my return visit!