Why I didn’t really like Semuc Champey

After three days Antigua, a hike to the volcanoes Acatenango and Fuego and a few days relaxing in San Marcos on Lake Atitlan, we travel to Lanquin and Semuc Champey. To get here we have to travel a considerable distance by bus meaning hours and hours of bumpy roads. When I speak with other travellers, they tell me the distance to travel to Semuc Champey is totally worth it since it’s so nice… But to be honest, after making this trip, I don’t agree with them. In this blog, I tell you our experiences with Semuc Champey and why we would NOT recommend you to travel to this place.


Day 7: travel day from Lake Atitlan to Lanquin.

We sit, still a bit sleepy, in the small boat which transports us from San Marcos to Panajachel. From there the shuttle bus leaves which will take us to Lanquin in ten hours. When we arrive in Panajachel we meet Stef and Matthias and together we eat a quick breakfast before we hop into the bus.

It is a long but fun bus ride. We meet Linda, also Dutch, and play with the five of us games like ‘who is it’, churches bingo (self-invented game) and a music quiz. As we progress, the road becomes worse and very bumpy. It is almost five o’clock when we arrive at the MacDonalds in Coban. From here it is two hours to Laquin, but we first have an hour break. A number of Big Macs and fries later, we enter the bus again. It is now completely dark and it starts to rain slowly.

When we arrive in Lanquin around 8 pm, it rains cats and dogs. Fortunately, our hotel pick up, a big van is awaiting us. When we get out of the shuttle bus, we see the van is in real life a tuk-tuk, which is a way to small to fit four big Europeans and backpacks. The driver doesn’t know what to do and decides to try it anyway. Have you ever seen that movie of those clowns trying to fit into a tiny car? Well, that that’s us! I’m halfway on the driver’s lap, and in the back Ries, Matthias and Stef are sitting on top of each other. Slowly the tuk-tuk starts to move, and then after 500 meters, it stops again. The drivers tell us that we have to get off and so we escape the tiny tuktuk. After waiting for five minutes, a real van arrives, which brings us to the hostel. Once there, I have an argument with the receptionist (she wants me to hand in my passport for the next three days, I indicate that’s illegal to do), but I eventually cut my losses and a few minutes later we enter our room and lay down on our bed.

But the evening is not over yet, after a lovely shower we walk towards the bar and order four Cuba libre’s (rum cola’s). Most of the other guests are already a few drinks ahead of us and are half drunk trying to dance or hit on each other. There are also whole mating rituals in progress like as if we are watching a nature program. And so we end the evening, with the four of us playing cards, and in the meantime looking around as if we are anthropologists.


Day 8: Semuc Champey

Our hotel is located just outside of the village Lanquin, but the reason we are here for is Semuc Champey. This is a nature reserve area which is known for its beautiful blue pools. Semuc Champey is an hour away, in the middle of the jungle. When we drive there, it starts to rain softly again, and that adds to the ‘rainforest feeling’ that prevails. Once we arrive at the parking lot, we are also reunited with Linda from the bus of yesterday.

Today we have planned a cave tour, followed by a visit to the famous pools. When we arrive at the caves, we have to leave all of our stuff behind and change our shoes for Crocs. Hmm, I feel like I haven’t fully read into this activity. In the past, we have visited caves more often, but we never got wet. At most of splashing water from the boat, we were touring through the caves. Well, this is a different thing … as soon as we walk into the cave, we get a burning candle from our guide, a completely absurd gesture since we have to enter the water. Yes, there is water in this cave, and the ‘fun’ of this cave tour is that you swim through the water, clamber and walk under waterfalls. This is not really my thing. It is cold, my candle constantly blows out, and I have to wade through dark water without seeing what is beneath me.

I am definitely not the only one who feels this, but apparently the most dramatic, witness the giggles from the rest of the group. Oh well, I can actually see the fun of it. Here we walk, shivering from the cold, without protecting helmets or flashlights with a guide who finds everything hilarious. Remember, those Thai guys in that cave … well, we are thinking about that too ;-).

An hour and a half later, with only two scratches and a bulge above my eye (my head did not win from a rock wall), we walk out of the cave and I am relieved. We shiver a little and unfortunately see that it’s raining very hard now. The next activity on the schedule is a big swing with which you can jump into the river. It looks nice until Matthias jumps off the swing into the water and falls flat on his stomach. Completely red he stumbles out of the water. Later we hear that there is sometimes a crocodile in the river, everything is at your own risk.

It is finally time for the highlight, the turquoise pools that we have already seen on many beautiful pictures These pools are made of limestone and lie on top of an underground river. They fall into each other step by step which creates get small waterfalls between the different pools. Not only can you swim in the various pools, but you can also hike up to a viewing point from where you have an amazing view over them. And that image, that’s exactly what we came for.Semuc Champey Guatemala

It is a short walk, but on our way, our guide tells us that we won’t go to the viewpoint. Since it’s in fact completely covered in clouds and we won’t see anything from there. Really too bad, that’s what we came for! We, therefore, walk directly to the pools themselves, to take a swim. There are small fish in them, nibbling your toes and knees, which is a funny and weird feeling. And despite the grey weather, the environment with blue water surrounded by green plants is very beautiful. Nevertheless, it’s a bit disappointing and super cold so after an hour everyone is ready to go back to our hostel.

Just in time for happy hour, the four of us arrive there. We are going to take advantage of this and we will immediately order a few Cuba Libre’s, and that’s how we end our last night in Semuc Champey. Tomorrow we will travel to Flores, a small city from where we will go to the ancient Mayan temples in Tikal.


Facts and Figures Semuc Champey

Useful information for when you visit Lanquin and Semuc Champey!

Where do you stay: in Lanquin or Semuc Champey?

Lanquin is a small village at about an hour’s drive from Semuc Champey. Here are most hostels located. We slept in hostel Zypher, just outside of Lanquin. Not recommended, the staff was unfriendly, the food not good and the prices high. It did have a nice pool and a beautiful view though.

The caves and pools are located in Semuc Champey. There are also some hostels here. The advantage of staying in Semuc Champey is that you can visit the pools before all tourists come. The disadvantage is that after you arrive in Lanquin, you will still have to travel for an hour.

We have not visited other ho(s)tels but heard good stories about Greengo’s (in Semuc Champey), and Utopia Eco Hotel. I recommend choosing a location based on your hostel. It does not matter that much (also in terms of transport costs).What did we spend in Guatemala?

Travel to Lanquin:

Note: You always travel to Lanquin, where you are dropped off by the shuttle bus. According to the travel agencies, this trip always takes a lot shorter than the actual travel time. For example, it was indicated that it would take 8 hours from Lake Atitlan, while in reality, we were travelling for 10 hours.

  • From Lake Atitlan: 10 am (please note, don’t catch the bus from 2 pm from Lake Atitlan, it’s a scam)
  • From Antigua: 6 hours
  • From Guatemala city: 5 hours
  • From Flores: 8 hours

You will be deposited in the middle of the village. Most ho(s)tels have a pickup service, so someone is waiting for you. If your bus is delayed, you will arrive late at night. It is then useful to inform your ho(s)tel, especially if it is outside Lanquin. There is a chance that they will not come to pick you up otherwise.

Do you need a tour for Semuc Champey?

You don’t need a tour to visit Semuc Champey. When you only visit the pools and the viewpoint, you just pay the entrance fee and possibly transport.

We paid 170Q per person for our tour (after negotiation). This included transport, a guide and entrance. We booked this at the same local office where we also booked our bus tickets. You can book these tours both in your hostel and in Lanquin. Transport from Lanquin to Semuc Champey is about 20Q per person, entrance fee for the park is 50Q.

What are you taking to Semuc Champey?

As little as possible! Water shoes/crocs are handy (and a must when you enter the caves) but also bring sports/hiking shoes. You can rent Crocs for Q25. You can also bring lunch, or buy it for 50Q in places (rice, vegetables and meat). Water and sunscreen are smart to bring, just like a bikini or swimming trunks a bath towel and possibly a GoPro / water camera.

That is all that you will need. Do not take too much with you, there are no lockable lockers.


Conclusion: I don’t recommend Semuc Champey!

This blog may sound very negative and normally I am very positive, but I think it’s important, to be honest. And if I’m very honest, I did not really think Semuc Champey was worth the hassle. You lose two days that you spend in the bus because of the location. Those two days I would rather have spent longer at Lake Atitlan or perhaps on one of the surf beaches. In addition, I found the pools nice, but I certainly have seen much nicer thinks in Guatemala. Maybe it was also because we had bad weather and it would have been more fun with the sun. When we were here, it was not crowded in terms of tourists, but it still feels like this place is created for tourists only. And well, caves are not my thing at all, which also plays a roll in my dislike of Semuc Champey


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