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Guide To Semuc Champey, Guatemala and Best Things To Do

Guide To Semuc Champey, Guatemala and Best Things To Do

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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 those bucket-list places to visit on my Guatemala itinerary.

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 straightforward. 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

Daniel swims in a small pool at Semuc Champey, Guatamala
Daniel is swimming in a small pool at Semuc Champey, Guatemala.

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 make up 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.

Diagram showing how Semuc Champey works with the river flowing underneath
This diagram shows you how Semuc Champey was created and also the dangers of swimming at the beginning on the pools where the river goes underneath the limestone rock!

The closest town to Semuc Champey is called San Agustín Lanquín. From Lanquin, you are only 11 kilometers from 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, the hotels outside of Lanquin are just as much of an attraction as Semuc Champey due to the surrounding nature.

Semuc Champey can be visited with or without a guide and explored at your own pace. You can swim 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!

Related read: Not too far from Semuc Champey is the town of Flores, Guatemala. Read all about the town and Tikal in our blog!

Semuc Champey FAQs

A map of the trails at Semuc Champey
A map of the trails at Semuc Champey

Best Time to Visit Semuc Champey

Bailey walks along the edge of one of the pools at Semuc Champey

During the year the best time to visit Semuc Campey is 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!

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. If you can, get to the entrance gate before 9 am and enjoy Semuc Champey without the crowds.

Getting to Lanquin, Guatemala

The big waterfall at Semuc Champey, Guatemala
Bailey enjoying the view of the big waterfall at Semuc Champey, Guatemala

Semuc Champey is a remote attraction in Guatemala and accessing the natural pools is done from the small town of Lanquin. For that reason, the first step on this journey is getting to Lanquin.

Important: 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.

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 $65 USD per person and can be booked from hostels in Lake Atitlan or directly on their website.

From Antigua

From Antigua expect a 10 to 11-hour shuttle ride. Most shuttle companies leave at 8 am whereas 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 $50 USD, and can also be booked with Adrenalina Tours.

If you’d prefer to do a tour, this top-rated 3-day adventure tour leaves from Antigua and includes your hotel, transport, guide, and some meals.

From Guatemala City

The shuttle service from Guatemala City to Lanquin is very similar to the one from Antigua. However, the shuttle from Guatemala City is 1 hour shorter and costs only $45 USD with Adrenalina Tours.

If you’re short on time, you can also book this guided tour from Guatemala City, which includes accommodation, meals, transport, and an expert guide. You’ll visit Semuc Chapey & Kamba Caves over 3 days and 2 nights.

From Flores (Tikal)

The shuttle from Flores takes 8 hours and costs about $45 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 a 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.

Getting to Semuc Champey, Guatemala from Lanquin

Daniel in the back of a truck on the way to Semuc Champey from Lanquin
Daniel in the back of a truck on the way to Semuc Champey from Lanquin

Once in Lanquin, you’ll then need to make your way from town or your hotel to Semuc Champey. This is a very easy task and there are a lot of options suited to all travelers. Although I will provide the information below, the easiest way is to just speak with your hotel or hostel.

Local Transport

The cheapest way to visit Semuc Champey is to use the local transport on a self-guided visit.

Local transport in Lanquin 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 to 20Q depending on your group size and negotiating skills.

The journey is squished, bumpy, and uncomfortable and takes 45-minutes. 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. Even if you’re hotel is not in Lanquin, if it’s located near the road to Semuc Champey, you can still catch these local trucks. simply walk to the road and wait!

Private Transfer

If you want a more comfortable option then get a couple of friends together and get an entire vehicle for 140Q (about $18 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 were five of us so the cost was almost 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?!

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. Of course, you can also walk out to the main road and get the local transport from there.

Walk

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! Ask your hotel about this during your visit as weather conditions can make the trail dangerous.

Tours

Guided tours are another great way to visit Semuc Champey from Lanquin. These can be arranged in town through your hotel/ hostel and start from $30 USD. These include transport, a local guide, and some activities. These tours change regularly so you’ll need to speak with your hostel/ hotel when you arrive or in advance.

Getting to Semuc Champey from a Remote Hotel

If your hotel is located outside of Lanquin, then you may be either closer or further from Semuc Champey. In fact, some hotels are only a 10-minute walk from the entrance to the park. Greengos Hotel is one of the closest places to stay and is only 500 meters from the entrance.

Remember, if you choose a place outside of Lanquin, organize transport from Lanquin to your hotel before arriving. All the hotels out of town have a procedure for this and will organize a ride for you.

6 Things to do at Semuc Champey

1. Hike to the mirador

The mirador at Semuc Champey, Guatemala
What a stunning view of Semuc Champey

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 by 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 delicious fresh juice!

3. Relax in the pools

Bailey sits on the edge of one of the pools at Semuc Champey
Not a bad place for a swim!

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. If you follow the advice above and hike to the viewpoint first, you’ll begin your day at the far end of Semuc Champey. So, spend your time in the upper pools, it’s magical there!

4. Hang with the local kids

Local kids show Bailey where to jump into the water at Semuc Champey
The kids showed Bailey where to jump into the water!

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 introduce 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!

5. Explore K’an Ba Cave

If you want a crazy adventure Guatemala style then head to the K’an Ba Cave near 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 the entrance with a guide is 60Q per person (that includes your candle!)

The entrance to the cave is located outside of Semuc Champey. To reach the entrance, head back outside the park and cross the large bridge over the Cahabon River. As soon as you cross the bridge, turn left and follow the river up to the entrance. It’s on the opposite side of Hostal El Portal de Semuc Champey.

It’s completely dark in the cave so it’s very hard to get photos. On top of that, this is not a fun activity if you’re claustrophobic.

6. Go 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!

Where to Stay in Semuc Champey, Guatemala

Bailey on the viewing deck at Semuc Champey
Not a bad view!

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.

When compared to the huge list of towns and places to stay on Lake Atitlan it is a much easier choice.

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 and is a top choice for budget travelers. The hostel has free wifi (although not in the rooms,) a great bar, dorm, private bungalows, and a social atmosphere. This is the perfect place in town that’s not in town!

Hostal Vista Verde Lanquin: This next hostel is the perfect option for those who want to be close to town but surrounded by nature. The hostel has magnificent views, a pool, a restaurant, and free filtered water. You can also find the hotel on both Booking.com and on Hostelworld.

Guayaha: There arent many options in Lanquin for upmarket travelers and Guayaha is really your only option. The property is amazing though and it’s a luxury tent-style hotel. The hotel is located on the outskirts of Lanquin but close enough to walk to town.

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 within 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 Hotel: Utopia is within walking distance to Semuc Champey and is located right on the river. The food is affordable and the staff is helpful. They have a few different rooms including family rooms. What I love so much about this hotel are the views and surrounding nature. You can hear the birds and spot other wildlife. They also have WiFi available in particular areas (many places near the park don’t at all.)

Greengos Hotel: This hotel is only a 10-minute walk from the entrance to the park. Greengos Hotel is one of the top-rated hotels in the area and despite the reviews is still well priced. They have double rooms, dorms, and two pools. If you want to stay close to the park, this is the best hotel!

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

A close up of Semuc Champey from the viewpoint above.
After the hike we were ready for a swim!

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…

Bailey and Daniel take a selfie at Semuc Champey
Thanks for reading!

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!

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Complete guide to the Acatenango Volcano hike

Things to do in Lake Atitlan

-Bailey

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