Semuc Champey, Guatemala: COMPLETE Guide to Visiting
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Semuc Champey is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Guatemala. In this blog, I share everything you need to know before you go, including how to get there, where to stay, and the best things to do in Semuc Champey!
Semuc Champey isn’t exactly a local secret. In fact, I heard about Semuc Champey long before I arrived in Guatemala and it quickly became one of my bucket-list places to explore.
After visiting, I must say Semuc Champey is one of the most breathtaking places I have seen and an overall highlight of my Guatemala trip. Just imagine stunning natural pools for over 300 meters surrounded by breathtaking greenery.
If that’s not enough to get you excited then just check out the photos in this blog or video below! And if that doesn’t, well, I don’t know what will!
With that said, visiting Semuc Champey isn’t straight forward. Despite being well on the beaten path, there’s plenty to know before you go. I myself know this all too well after almost missing the chance to see this stunning place due to heavy rainfall – I had no idea that Semuc Champey sometimes closes when it rains!
To help you plan your trip to Semuc Champey I’ll share what I learned after visiting, here’s our complete guide to visiting Semuc Champey, Guatemala!
About Semuc Champey, Guatamala
Semuc Champey is a natural attraction located on the Cahabon River (Rio Cahobon) in central Guatemala.
Semuc Champey is actually part of the Cahabon River, however, the river flows under a 300-meter sheet of limestone rock. In fact, Semuc Champey actually means “where the river hides under the earth”.
On top of the large sheet of limestone are the pools that makeup Semuc Champey and these pools are actually fed from surrounding waterfalls in the valley.
Because of this, the water in Semuc Champey is crystal clear. But as the water makes its way to the pools, it collects small particles that reflect light and give the water its stunning turquoise color.
This amazing natural attraction is extremely unique and unlike anything I have ever seen before! For this reason, Semuc Champey is a must-visit attraction in Guatemala in my eyes.
The closest town to Semuc Champey is called Lanquin. From the town, you are only 11 kilometers to Semuc Champey which makes it the most ideal place to stay.
However, there are also accommodation options closer to Semuc Champey both along the Rio Cahabon and on the road to Semuc Champey. In my opinion, these hotels are surrounded by nature and are just as much of an attraction as Semuc Champey.
Semuc Champey can be visited with or without a guide and explored at your own pace. You can swim at in the pools or take a short hike among other things which I talk about below.
Overall, Semuc Champey is a great place to visit and worth the long and bumpy journey to Lanquin!
Semuc Champey FAQs
It costs 50Q ($6.50 USD) to enter Semuc Champey for international visitors of all ages. For locals, you’ll pay 30Q (adults) and 10Q (children.) There are no other fees unless you are a commercial film or photography company.
Aside from the pools, you’ll find many facilities in the park. There are toilets (I’d recommend bringing toilet paper,) local people selling drinks and food at the entrance as well as a restaurant.
As long as you stick to swimming in the pools, Semuc Champey is a safe place to swim – just be sure to stay away from either end of the pools. Here you have the entrance and exit of the river under the limestone rock. This part has strong currents and at one end could suck you under the rock. Swimming areas are well sign-posted.
Semuc Champey is open from 8 am to 4 pm daily.
If you want to avoid the crowds and large tour groups I recommend visiting Semuc Champey first thing in the morning when the gates open at 8 am. If you do so, you’ll likely get to explore the pools with almost no people for a few hours as most tour groups arrive at lunchtime!
Getting to Semuc Champey, Guatemala
You can’t go directly to Semuc Champey (the name of the national park where you’ll find the gorgeous pools and waterfalls.) Instead, you must make your way to a very tiny town of Lanquin first.
These are the steps for getting to Semuc Champey:
Step 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 wherever you are in Guatemala.
A direct tourist shuttle is safer and will save you lots of extra travel time. Below is info on each shuttle from different places in Guatemala.
A) From Lake Atitlan
This was the route we did and it took just over 13 hours. Our shuttle bus left from the town of Panajachel on Lake Atitlan direct to Lanquin. 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 overpacked, had good air conditioning, and our driver drove fast enough to get us there quickly but also very safe.
This shuttle costs $35 USD and can be booked from hostels in Lake Atitlan.
B) From Antigua
From Antigua expect a 10 to 11 hour shuttle ride. Most shuttle companies leave at 8 am where some offer a 2 pm 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 the day.
The shuttle costs around $20 USD, however, the Three Monkey Hostel sells tickets for $15 USD.
C) From Flores (Tikal)
The shuttle from Flores takes 8 hours and costs about $20 USD. Shuttles usually leave in the morning at 8 am. It’s important to note that 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/hotel! Most hotels offer a free ride to their location but will make you pay on your way back after checkout. Just message your hotel prior to arriving if it is not within the Lanquin township.
Step 2. Lanquin to Semuc Champey
The second step is getting from Lanqin to Semuc Champey. If your hotel is located close to Semuc Champey then you can easily walk or take the hostel provided shuttle. However, from Lanquin town here are your 5 options:
1. Local Transport
Local transport comes in the form of trucks where most people pile into the back. Locals pay 10Q (just over $1 USD) for the ride from Lanquin to Semuc Champey, but you are not a local so don’t expect the local price. Instead, be prepared to pay about 15-20Q depending on your group size and negotiating skills.
The journey is a squished, bumpy, and an uncomfortable 45-minute drive. That being said, it is entertaining and a very cheap way to get around!
This local transport leaves from Lanquin and your hotel can tell you where when you arrive. Times vary but they run quite often.
2. Private Transfer
If you want a more comfortable option then get a couple of friends 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 wherever we wanted in the vehicle and not be squished with dozens of other people.
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. We also picked up some locals along the way and gave them a free ride because, why not?!
3. Hotel Transfer
If you booked a hotel outside of Lanquin then your hotel will be able to arrange a transfer for you. Sometimes it is included in your room price and sometimes it is not. Be sure to ask and organize this in advance of your arrival.
From Lanquin you can actually walk to Semuc Campey if you’re feeling up to it. It takes around 2.5 hours and the walk is supposed to be stunning. On the way back you can always get the local bus too so you don’t have to walk both ways!
If you’re planning on doing a guided tour then your transport will be organized with the tour company. Below I touch more on guided tours versus visiting on your own so keep reading for that!
6 Things to do at Semuc Champey
1. Hike to the mirador
Without a doubt, the best place to see Semuc Champey is from the viewpoint (or Mirador) of the pools. From this small platform, you get an amazing birds-eye view of the 300-meter sheet of limestone and the turquoise pools.
From the entrance gate, you’ll have two paths to choose from. One goes straight down to the pools and the other up to the viewpoint. Take the viewpoint trail and enjoy the 45-minute hike to the viewing platform. It’s likely that you’re going to be hot after you’ve enjoyed that view, so you can continue hiking on the same trail past a few waterfalls back down to the pools to cool off!
The entire trail takes around 1 hour to complete at a slow pace and takes you from the entrance to the platform and then to the far end of Semuc Champey. From here, you can slowly explore every pool on your way back to the entrance/exit gates.
2. Enjoy a fresh orange juice
After hiking to the viewpoint of Semuc Champey we were greeted with a lady selling freshly squeezed orange juice. For only 5Q or just under $1 USD we got a delicious cup of orange juice!
This was the perfect start to the day exploring Semuc Champey and gave us a great sugar hit to continue exploring. So, bring some cash along with you and support the local indigenous people of Semuc Champey all while getting a delicious juice!
3. Relax in the pools
The view of Semuc Champey is amazing, however, nothing beats actually swimming in the calm, shallow pools. Bailey and I, along with some friends from our hostel spent the entire day swimming at Semuc Champey.
I found the most beautiful pools were at the far end of Semuc Champey with the larger pools and waterfalls at the end near the entrance gate. Spend your time in the upper pools, it’s magical there!
4. River Tubing
A really popular activity near Semuc Champey is the river-tubing. Many of the hostels around town organize this and you can also do it on a day tour from Lanquin.
The tubing itself isn’t in Semuc Champey and instead just before the entrance gate in the river. You can ask your hotel for the exact location and if you want, you can head there yourself and just rent a tube or take a tour from the hostel (these are usually included in tours to Semuc Champey and the caves.) Tubes cost 50Q for the trip and the tubings last for around 30 minutes.
At the rental area there are kids who actually tube with you selling beers!
5. K’an Ba Cave
If you want a crazy adventure Guatemala style then head to the K’an Ba Cave at Semuc Champey for the cave tour! This tour sees you entering a cave with nothing but a candle for light and a guide. That’s right, no life jacket, helmet, or headlamp!
Despite being a little crazy, the tour is fun and a unique way to explore a cave. The caves are open every day at Semuc Campey from 9 am to 3 pm and entrance with a guide is 60Q per person (that includes your candle!)
This guided tour from Lanquin actually includes the visit to Semuc Champey along with the cave tour!
6. Hang with the local kids
Towards the end of the day, the kids in the area had finished school so they headed to Semuc Champey. They’re not shy and quickly introduced themselves before taking Bailey to places to jump off the waterfalls.
These kids don’t have much but absolutely take advantage of these stunning pools. Seeing them have a great time and having a fun time with them was one of the highlights of our day.
So, if like us you like to hang with the locals then get to know the kids and if you want, bring them treats they otherwise couldn’t afford!
Best Time to Visit Semuc Champey
During any day, the best time to visit Semuc Champey is in the morning. After lunch, Semuc Champey becomes crowded with visitors as the large tour groups begin to arrive.
During the year the best time to visit Semuc Campey is supposed to be December to April – otherwise known as the dry season. This time of year the pools are clearer and the river has a nice color to it. However, this time of year Semiuc Champey is really busy too!
The rainy season in Semuc Champey is from May to October. During these months, it is possible for Semuc Champey to flood meaning visitors won’t be allowed to visit. This actually happened to us and if we didn’t have extra time we would have missed visiting Semuc Champey. In fact, we spent a week in Lanquin waiting to visit Semuc Champey.
Fortunately, this usually only happens for a couple of days every year. During all other times, you can still visit Semuc Champey in the rainy season. This time of year is also much less busy and accommodation and tours will be cheaper!
Overall I’d say the dry season is the best time to visit. Many people missed visiting Semuc Champey because of the rain and that’s a risk many people won’t want to take! With that said, if large crowds aren’t your thing, then the wet season is perfect!
Where to Stay in Semuc Champey, Guatemala
There are two main options of where to stay when visiting Semuc Champey, both with pros and cons. You can stay in the town of Lanquin and then visit Semuc Champey when you want during the day. Or, you can stay at a hotel closer to Semuc Champey and stay in the jungle.
1. Stay in the town of Lanquin
Staying in the town of Lanquin is a popular choice when visiting Semuc Champey. Lanquin is only 40 minutes from Semuc Champey and with local transport, it’s easy to get there.
Lanquin also has cheap food options 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. Some great places to stay in Lanquin are:
El Retiro Lanquin: Despite being located in Lanquin, El Retiro is located on the outskirts of town along the river. The hostel has free wifi (although not in the rooms,) a great bar, dorm, and private bungalows and social atmosphere. This is the perfect place in town that’s not in town!
El Hostal Lanquín: If being right in town is important then El Hostal Lanquin is a great option. The hostel has great reviews and is simple, clean, and comfortable. Unfortunately, they only have dorms so its more suited to backpackers and solo travelers.
You can book on Booking.com
Guayaha: There arent many options in Lanquin for upmarket travelers and Guayaha is really your only option. It doesn’t have any reviews yet as it’s brand new and although the property looks amazing, it’s a luxury tent-style hotel. In the dry season this would be fine but without aircon in the wet season would not be nice for a luxury traveler.
Ypu can check it out on Booking.com but book at your own risk!
2. Stay closer to Semuc Champey in the jungle
Some of the best places to stay are actually in the jungle around Semuc Champey. These hotels are sometimes walking distance to Semuc Champey (although it’s still a few kilometers) and offer a relaxing stay surrounded by nature.
With that said, at these hotels/hostels you will need to buy and eat the hostel’s food. Although affordable, the food is more expensive than in town and you could be very limited for options.
Also, the accommodation is more expensive. The best hostels and hotels near Semuc Champey are:
Utopia Eco Hostel: Utopia is walking distance to Semuc Champey and located right on the river. The food is affordable and the staff are helpful. They have accommodation for every budget from hammocks to private cabins with a river view. They also have WiFi available in particular areas (many places near the park don’t at all.)
El Portal De Champey: This is one of the closest hotels to Semuc Champey. Its also a great choice for upmarket travelers and offers private rooms, a pool, restaurant, and a location that is walking distance to Semuc Champey right on the river. If you can afford it, I highly recommend staying here!
You can book on Booking.com
Semuc Champey Tours
Tours to Semuc Champey are very popular. Almost all include a package deal with a visit to Semuc Champey and the caves and sometimes even the river-tubing.
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 per person without the entrance fee to the caves. To be honest, it’s a great value tour!
If you wanted to do all the activities on the tour on your own it would cost 40Q on transport, 60Q on the caves, and 50Q entrance fee. This means it’ll cost a total of 150Q. So really, the guide only costs 20Q extra which is worth it.
With that said we didn’t go on a tour of Semuc Champey, not because of the price, but because we like to do things at our own pace. We were very happy with our choice as we got to the park before all of the tour groups and had it to ourselves for at least a couple of hours.
Tips for Visiting Semuc Champey and Lanquin
Wear running or hiking shoes: The hike to the viewpoint is best done in comfortable shoes. When we went it was muddy and slippery so proper shoes really helped!
Pack snacks or lunch: Food options are limited in Semuc Champey so bring some snacks with you to the park. Also, the restaurant is located outside the park so for convenience’s sake, bring some food to eat at the pools.
Consider eating vegan while in the Lanquin/Semuc Champey area: We both got extremely sick while we were in Lanquin and I had heard it is common. We think the reason is that they get frequent and long (up to 12 hours) power outages where all their meat and dairy will get warm.
Don’t expect to get excellent WiFi: While there is wifi in Lanquin and Semuc Champey it’s is very limited and barely works most of the time.
Bring cash with you to Lanquin: Cash is king in Lanquin and almost only accepted. The atm in town is also unreliable and runs out of cash often. Bring enough with you and a little extra just to be safe!
Before you go…
Semuc Champey really is one of the most spectacular places to visit in Guatemala. A truly unique natural attraction that has to be seen to be believed!
We hope this guide has helped you plan your upcoming visit to Semuc Champey and cleared up any questions you may have had! If you found this blog helpful then be sure to check out all our Guatemala blogs and Central America blogs or these related articles below!
July 30, 2020