Guatemala’s Hidden Paradise
Lanquin – Alta Verapaz, Guatemala
Imagine the most beautiful crystal clear turquoise and emerald water you can. Pour that water into large cascading pools surrounded by limestone cliffs and lush green forest. This is Semuc Champey – one of the most stunning natural landscapes on earth.
But if you want to enjoy this beautiful place you’re going to have to work for it! The closest town nearby is Lanquin, getting there is a 4 hour journey from Guatemala City and requires braving the infamously dangerous roads. Vehicles are at nature’s mercy as landslides are common; slippery roads without guardrails run the risk of falling off cliffs, and with lots of yearly rain the roads are rarely dry. After making it to Lanquín the journey is not over – regular vehicles have no chance of traversing the last miles of steep inclined rocky, muddy road. The town has a large fleet of 4×4 trucks that cram everyone into the back like sardines before taking off. The 30 minute truck ride is uncomfortable and very bumpy, you’ll want to hold on tight!
Pictured above – the end of our rough 4×4 ride, we cross the Cahabón River.
The reward for all this work? A swim in cool watery pools with rope swings and mini-waterfalls, a candlelight journey through caves, and hiking to amazing lookout points. And because it’s so far off the normal tourist path you don’t have to share this incredible place with hoards of people. After our group survived the roller coaster 4×4 ride we took a short and easy 15-minute walk along the river, finally reaching the magical cascading pools of Semuc Champey.
The Incredible View
We were now faced with a tough decision. Hike up to the viewpoint first (what we were told was an hour-long strenuous path) or explore the beautiful pools of water and go swimming. With limited time before having to leave for Guatemala City that afternoon most of the group decided to skip the hike, but me and another guy couldn’t pass it up. Right after making this decision I realized I hadn’t brought my shoes, only flip-flops! The path started out with some moist, slippery wooden bridges and right away I was worried I might not be able to make it up. Throwing caution to the wind, we decided to rush, worried we wouldn’t have a lot of time left after the round-trip hike up and down. Practically running uphill through the muddy trail I did my best to avoid injury in my flimsy footwear, only slipping in the mud a few times. We reached the top of the cliff in 30 minutes time, covered in sweat, calves on fire, and our lungs begging for more oxygen. As soon as I glimpsed the view from the lookout deck all the psychical pain disappeared – the view was unlike anything I’d ever seen.. so many beautiful and contrasting colors.
I’m proof it can be done in flip-flops and in a hurry, but I highly recommend wearing good shoes and giving yourself plenty of time.
A Refreshing Swim
Exhausted from the hike up and down I wasted no time jumping into the cool water; it was as refreshing as it looks. Shortly after relaxing and holding still I noticed something was in the water with me. Tiny fish were nibbling on my body! I was familiar with these as I had a similar experience in Belize months earlier.. they eat the dead skin off your body!
After the fish were done making a buffet out of me we took turns on a rope swing, jumping off a cliff into the deeper water.
More to Explore!
Although We didn’t have time to see it ourselves, there are also caves nearby that you can explore with a guide. They are partially underwater and exploration is done by candlelight; for those of you brave enough to enter it sounds like a good time
There are also waterfalls and several other trails leading to different views of the river.
On the way out of the park we even had a loud goodbye from some howler monkeys!
Did Someone Mention Dangerous Roads?
As we left Lanquin in our rear view Guatemala’s weather turned on us and it began to drizzle just as I dozed off in the back of our tour van. I was awaken as the van slid off road and into a concrete ditch. Being careless I hadn’t fastened my seat belt and jammed my thumb on the seat in front of me when the van met unmovable concrete. Thankfully no one else suffered any injuries – but the van wasn’t going anywhere.
After hitching a ride on the back of a truck we made it to a small city and waited for a replacement vehicle. Although late, we all made it back to Guatemala City safely that night. A good ending to our group-tour, I said goodbye to my new friends I’d shared an unforgettable journey with.
This was the last day of my guided trip with Guatemalan Adventure, read more here:
Day 1 – Hiking an Active Volcano
Day 2 – Bloody Sacrifices & the Chaotic Market
Day 3 – Lake Atitlan – The Most Beautiful Lake in the World?
Day 4 – Hiking the Biotopo del Quetzal Cloud Forest
Day 5 – Semuc Champey – Guatemala’s Hidden Paradise