Lanquin – Alta Verapaz, Guatemala
Imagine the most stunning crystal clear turquoise and emerald water you can. Semuc Champey and its cascading pools, limestone cliffs and lush green forest are probably even more incredible that what you had imagined. Semuc Champey is one of the most stunning natural landscapes on earth!
This is quite possibly my favorite place in all of Central America! But getting to Semuc Champey isn’t easy. 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? The chance to go swimming in cool watery pools with rope swings and mini-waterfalls, a candlelight journey through caves, and hiking to amazing lookout points. And because Semuc Champey is 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 Semuc Champey and head back to 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 at Semuc Champey!
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 Semuc Champey in our rear view Guatemala’s weather turned on us. The clouds were low and it began to drizzle just as I dozed off in the back of the van. I was awakened from my slumber as the van lost traction with the road and skid a dozen or so feet into a concrete ditch. Being careless I hadn’t fastened my seat belt; resulting in a jammed thumb from hitting the seat in front of me. The sudden and violent impact could have resulted in much worse bodily harm but thankfully no one else suffered any injuries and mine weren’t serious. The van however 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.
- Tour Info
This was the last day of my guided trip with Guatemalan Adventure, read more here:
- Day 1 – Hiking an Active Volcano
- Day 2 – The Chaotic Chichicastenango 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
5 days? I would love to stay there forever, no joke. It’s such a wonderful place, looks like a heaven on Earth. Look at the sky, love it already although I’ve never been there.
Sounds like getting to Semuc Champey is half the fun!
Wow! Looks amazing. We are headed to Guatemala in 2014 so we’ll have to make sure we partake in some of the adventures you went on! Thanks for sharing.
Guatemala was an amazing place! Enjoy it and don’t miss out on the magic of Semuc Champey!
Holy smoke – this sounds like such an adventure. So fantastic that you could cool off after a hot, sweaty hike. And your photos are fantastic.
Happy New Year.
It’s a kinda great adventure! Guatemala is beautiful. When is the perfect time to visit the place?
Wow. Great photos. And great information. Thanks for sharing your adventure!
Man! that place is spectacular! looks like a slice of heaven on earth… kudos on your photography too! brilliant pictures and great blog… thanks for sharing
Wow beautiful photos James. Ive always wanted to visit Guatemala, even more so now!
Wow, I have never heard about this and now its definitely on my Guatemala list! Thanks for inspiring! 🙂
Wow! Looks awesome. Photos are great! We are advancing to Honduras in 2014 so we’ll have to create sure we participate in some of the activities you went on!
Wow! I have only spent a few days in Guatemala on a border run from Mexico. These images make me want to fly halfway around the world back and give it another go. Beautiful!
It’s really more beautiful than photos can show. Guatemala is definitely worth it’s own trip!
Without a doubt, Semuc Champey is one of the less visited and known natural treasures of Guatemala. However, with your description I think few people will want to miss visiting it. Great pictures also!
Looks like an awesome place for trekking!
Awesome pictures!!! It’s a kind of excellent adventure! Guatemala is wonderful. That position is spectacular! Looks like a piece of paradise on earth… cheers on your photography too! Amazing images and excellent blog… Thanks for sharing.
What a stunning area – I would love to visit here some day and enjoy hiking everywhere – five days sounds like heaven!
This area looks so serene and beautiful. What a fun hike. Fantastic pictures and I especially love that waterfall shot. I’ve heard of those fish and seen them in foot spas but I like this version better.
Wow, this place looks unreal. I could swim there for hours and stay overnight there as well. It’s truly a hidden gem!
Stunning! This has got to go on the bucket list!
I had such an amazing trip when I went there. Unbelievably beautiful and off the beaten path
Fantastic view and incredible story! Thanks for sharing. It looks like no one has ever walked into this zone.
Wow, what stunning scenery- the blues and greens are amazing. It sounds like an awesome place to visit. Well worth the dodgy journey!
I Just returned from Semuc! <3 this place! Happy to report that the roads are as bad as ever. May only the worthy reach paradise.
We went to Guatemala on our honeymoon but didn’t have time to go here. I would love to visit again and go swimming here, it looks amazing!
Alyssa.. you definitely should.. it’s one of the most amazing places I’ve been!
WOW these pictures took my breath away!!!!