We spent more time in Lanquin than most due to the dreadful weather which forced Semuc Champey’s closure for a few days. Due to all the time we spent here, we consider ourselves “experts” to an extent with lots of advice for travelers heading this way. This is our complete guide to visiting Semuc Champey, Guatemala including the weather, the costs, the cheapest way to get from Lanquin to Semuc Champey, how to explore Semuc Champey on your own or where to find Semuc Champey tours – we have all the info!
Is Semuc Champey Worth it?
We have been asked by various people “is Semuc Champey worth it” many times since our visit. This question is obviously referring to the long travel time to get there along with the rainy weather which made daily appearances during our travel time in October. Even with our journey and experience being longer than most, we would still say “yes”, it is absolutely worth it!
After a rather determined journey consisting of more than 12 hours on boats and buses we finally arrived in the small town of Lanquin where we would explore the stunning park of Semuc Champey. Getting off our final bus in the dark we were greeted with the news that Semuc Champey was currently closed and will remain closed for an undetermined amount of time. Despite this news, we remained hopeful and during our 5 days in Lanquin we eventually managed to see the famous turquoise pools that are Semuc Champey. Even with our extended wait time in the rain we still say that Semuc Champey was definitely worth the wait!
Getting to Semuc Champey, Guatemala
1. Get to the town of Lanquin
The first step to seeing the gorgeous Semuc Champey for yourself if to make your way to Lanquin which is a small town on the eastern side of Guatemala.
Due to the increasing number of local bus robberies and the awful road conditions I would recommend taking a shuttle to Lanquin from anywhere you are. A direct tourist shuttle is safer and will save you days of extra travel time. Taking local transport will involve several bus switches and navigating a system of unorganized and uncomfortable buses for days (I don’t even know where to begin on giving advice on this journey). Tourist Shuttles are affordable and readily available.
From Lake Atitlan – This was the route we did and it took just over 13 hours including the boat ride to Panajachel which was where our shuttle left from. We booked with Adrenalina Tours and it was a good journey even considering the amount of time it took. Our driver made enough stops to make sure we were fed and had bathroom breaks, our shuttle wasn’t over packed and had good air conditioning, and our driver drove fast enough to get us there quickly but also very safely. You can book with them here or call them on (502) 5308-1489. This shuttle costs $35 USD.
From Antigua – Expect about a 10-11 hour shuttle ride. Most shuttle companies leave at 8am where some offer a 2pm shuttle. Take the morning shuttle as arriving at such a late hour would not be convenient in such a small town with already limited services during daytime hours. Cost should be about $25-$30 USD.
From Flores – 8 hours and about $20 USD. Shuttles usually leave in the morning at 8am. Note, if it has been raining heavily the direct road can be closed and the journey can take up to 12 hours if the detour is required.
*Note: All shuttles will drop you in the town of Lanquin so if you booked a hostel out of town make sure to have further transport organized in advance with the hostel. Most hostels offer a free ride to their location, but will make you pay on your way back after checkout.
Lanquin to Semuc Champey
The second step is getting from Lanqin to Semuc Champey. Lanquin itself doesn’t have anything to do so you will need to get yourself from Lanquin to Semuc Champey at some point to experience the really beauty this area has to offer. Local transport comes in the form of utes/trucks where most people pile into the cab. Locals pay 10Q (just over $1 USD) for the ride from Lanquin to Semuc Champey area, but you are not a local so don’t expect the local price, be prepared to pay about 15-20Q depending on your group size and negotiating skills. The journey is a squished, bumpy and uncomfortable 45 minute drive.
If you want a more comfortable option, get a couple friends of together and get an entire vehicle for 100Q (about $15 USD) each way and the driver will wait for you while at the park. This is what we did as this way we could sit inside the vehicle when we wanted to and be more comfortable. There was five of us so the cost was the same. This vehicle can be organized on the main street in Lanquin with any driver or through your hostel. Just be aware this won’t stop the driver picking up more people.
Where to Stay in Semuc Champey, Guatemala
There are two main options, both with pros and cons.
1. Stay in the town of Lanquin
Pros – Staying in the actual town of Lanquin is great because after a long day of travel it is very easy to get to your accommodation from the shuttle. Lanquin also has cheap food options, tiendas and markets (the biggest market is on Mondays). There are even restaurants and hostels with free WiFi and some internet cafes. For someone on a very tight budget this is definitely the best option as accommodation is also cheaper in addition to the facilities.
Cons – When you want to visit Semuc Champey you must get the transport there and back which is about 40 minutes each way.
Recommended Hostel – El Muro Hostel is affordable and centrally located. We managed to snag a private room with a private bathroom for only 125Q a night (low season pricing only though.) They had better wifi than most places in and around Lanquin and lots of common areas to hang out with a view of the mountain valley. They also had a much needed generator for the regular power outages.
2. Stay close to Semuc Champey
Pros – Walking distance to access Semuc Champey whenever you want (it is still 1km from the closest hostel and 2 to 3km for most). This also means that you will able to get there early before anybody else. Staying out in nature is very peaceful and there are various nature walks to do around the area.
Cons – You are stuck with the hostels food only. Although affortdable, the food is more expensive than in town and you could be very limited for options. Also, the accommodation seems to be about 20-60Q more a night to stay near the park.
Recommended Hostel – Utopia is walking distance to the park with a river view. The food was affordable and the staff were helpful. They have accommodation for every budget from hammocks to private cabins with a river view. They have WiFi available in a particular area (many places near the park don’t at all). Make sure you book with them in advance to organize your free ride out there when your shuttle arrives!
Semuc Champey Tours
Every person and hostel will try and sell you a tour to Semuc Champey. We have heard mixed reviews about these tours. Some say they are worth the money, some say otherwise. We didn’t do one, not because of the price as the value was pretty good, but because we like to do things at our own pace and take our time with photography. We were very happy with our choice as we got to park before all of the tour groups and had it to ourselves for a couple of hours. However, we only visited the pools and didn’t see the caves whereas if you want to visit the caves then a tour is probably worth the extra money.
Our hostel advertised a full day tour including transport, an English speaking guide, a tour of the caves, cliff jumping, and a guided hike to the lookout for 190Q. However, this is high season price as when we spoke to them they said they could do the tour for 170Q including the park entrance fee of 50Q – great value really! If you wanted to do all these activites on your own it would cost 40Q on transport, 60Q on the caves, and 50Q entrance fee totally 150Q, so really the guide only costs 20Q which is worth it. But, if you are like us, don’t want to be in a bug group and are mostly interested in chilling in the pools then consider skipping the tour and make your own way to the park.
What to do in Semuc Champey
The main attraction of Semuc Champey is swimming in the many turquoise blue pools. There are also natural waterfall slides and some gorgeous views. Besides hanging out in the pools, I would recommend making sure you do the short 30 minute hike to the lookout. We did this first and then swam in the turquoise water to cool off after. The view is stunning and worth the hike up stairs and slippery rocks.
There are also caves to explore which must be done with a guide. We have done quite a bit of caving recently so we skipped it this time but apparently it is really cool and you can organize the guide yourself for about 60Q.
Tips for Visiting Semuc Champey
-Wear running or hiking shoes for going to the lookout. The rocks are slippery!
-Pack snacks or a lunch as food options were limited when we visited.
-Consider eating vegan while in the Lanquin/Semuc Champey area. We both got extremely sick while we were there and have heard many others have too. We think the reason is that they get frequent long (up to 12 hours) power outages where all their meat and dairy will get warm.
-Don’t expect to get excellent wifi while here, any important phone calls or projects should be made before your trip out to Lanquin.
We hope this guide helps you out when visiting the beautiful Semuc Champey! We truly enjoyed our time there and would say it was a highlight of our time in Guatemala.
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