60 minutes from Guatemala City and 2 hours from Lake Atitlan, the city of Antigua is another stunning destination showing the versatility of Guatemala.
Hiking and camping overnight on Acatenango Volcano (next to Volcano Fuego) is one of the hardest yet most rewarding activities you can undertake from Antigua, Guatemala.
Semuc Champey in Guatemala is a beautiful and must-see tourist attraction, offering cool pools for swimming, hiking, caves, and more. There is definitely more to this area than just viewing and swimming in the colourful waters in the jungle, and we’re here to give you a comprehensive guide on making sure you see it all in the small amount of time most people put aside for this place.
Getting to Semuc Champey
Getting there is half the battle, with most travellers making their way either from Antigua/Guatemala City in the south, or from Flores in the north.
There are a multitude of options for making your way to Semuc, including direct buses from the south using Monja Blanca, colectivos from the north (from Flores usually), and everyone’s favourite friend when backpacking- the expensive shuttle. In this case however the shuttles are quite economical (coming in at around 150GTQ from the north, sometimes less), and choosing a direct mode of transport isn’t a bad idea when the route includes on and off road experiences.
Overall, no matter how you get there, your journey will take a day, usually between 7 and 12 hours depending on how fortunate the transport gods are feeling. For us, it was a harrowing 10 hour journey! Eventually you will arrive in Lanquin, which is the springboard town for visiting Semuc Champey which is approximately 45 minutes away by 4WD shuttle. It is at this point that you need to make some decisions regarding accommodation.
There are many options for backpackers, though there are definitely some that are favoured more than others.
The decision you need to make is if you would rather stay in Lanquin and visit Semuc Champey and its surrounds by day trip, or if you would like to stay within walkable distance to Semuc and be void of a few creature comforts for a few days (goodbye WiFi!).
Here are some more popular options:
1. Zephyr Lodge
Set amongst the hills in Lanquin, this seems to be the ultimate jungle lodge for backpackers, complete with infinity pool.
It is quite a popular spot owing to a great web presence, however it is one of the more expensive places to stay near Semuc and is based close to Lanquin (giving you a 45 minute journey to reach the pools).
2. El Retiro
Another hostel based in Lanquin, though this one is slightly cheaper than Zephyr. A good option if you want the comforts of the town of Lanquin but don’t want to spend the money on Zephyr.
3. El Portal
The closest hostel and accommodation to Semuc Champey (they are located 200 metres from the entrance), this is where we stayed when visiting.
The power only comes on between the hours of 6 and 10:30 at night and there is no WiFi, however it was cheap at around $8US a night and you can’t beat the proximity to the pools!
This place can’t be booked online, the best bet is to turn up to Lanquin and catch their shuttle- we arrived late at night and they had plenty of room.
4. Las Marias
2nd closest to the pools at around 500 metres or so, this is another option that will allow you to walk to Semuc.
Staying here also provides you with a discount if you choose to do the cave and river tubing which is also nice.
5. Greengo’s Hostel
Set a fair but walkable distance to Semuc Champey on the road in, this is another great budget option for travellers.
They offer dorms, cabins, and camping on their grounds, as well as shuttles to the entrance for guests.
6. Utopia Lodge
Utopia is around a 45 minute walk from Semuc, being off the main road between Lanquin and the pools. It is walkable, but they also offer a shuttle depending on the time of day.
The upside to staying here is that if you are doing river tubing you can float all the way back to your hostel over the course of around 20 minutes (better have a wet bag!).
Once you’ve made your choice for where to stay, you can begin to explore Semuc Champey and its surrounds. There are at least five great main things to do on your trip here, and only three of them are located inside the paid area of Semuc Champey!
Inside Semuc Champey
After paying the entry price of 50GTQ to enter Semuc Champey, we began our journey.
El Mirador Hike
We decided to take this hike before heading to the pools, treating them as a reward for completing the round loop hike to see Semuc from above.
After entering the grounds, you will see an arrow pointing you to El Mirador and some roughly cut steps leading up the hill. Following this path will take you uphill for around 20-30 minutes (depending on your fitness levels), until you reach the viewpoint.
This is where you can take your iconic shot of Semuc Champey below, including a few selfies for good measure.
You complete the hike by continuing down the hill (in a loop away from where you went up), where you will eventually end up at the back end of Semuc looking at the cave and river that runs underneath the pools.
The Cave and River Under Semuc
Quite obviously not explorable, the cave and rapids that run underneath the pools of Semuc Champey (only to emerge afterward as the main river), are an example of power and we were in awe to see it.
You can walk over to peer over the edge where a fence has been erected, giving you a close-hand view at the force that water itself can have.
The Pools of Semuc Champey
Now what everyone comes here for, and as you walk away from the underground river system you come across the famous pools in all of their glory.
Put your items into some lockers (costing a few dollars), or store them on some benches that have been added between some trees and jump on into the cool and refreshing waters.
There are many pools to be explored here, including ones where you can jump in from a short height, and others where you can find small fish nibbling at your feet and ankles!
If you are lucky, you might also happen across some natural slides along the way (follow a tour group to locate them mor easily), and even further adventurous leaps into the water. Be careful though, we have heard reports of injuries here on the rocks, with the closes hospital being around 4 hours away!
Outside Semuc Champey
Once completing your relaxing or adventurous swim in the pools, you can make your way back to the entrance to try what else the area has on offer. Just outside of the entrance and back across the bridge lay a few more great activities to try out whilst you are in the area.
K’an Ba Cave
Ever wanted to be led through a cave with only a candle as your source of light? Sure it may seem like a bit of a gimmick but this is exactly what you get to do at K’an Ba cave, just a short walk from the entrance of Semuc
Once exiting Semuc Champey, head back over the bridge, turn left immediately, and walk around 250 metres to reach a small building that acts as the entrance to the cave.
Upon paying 60GTQ to enter K’an Ba cave you are taken through the cave with a guide, climbing up and down including climbing up an internal waterfall. If you choose, you can also pay an additional 10GTQ and have river tubing included in your entry price (what a bargain!).
Upon reaching the end of the cave, you are given the choice of climbing up and jumping around 3 metres into a murky pool below. Some of our group chose not to do it, and we can understand why, but when in Guatemala..!
At this point the cave guide takes you back to the entrance and leads you to the tubes where you can ride along the flowing river for around 5-10 minutes.
The current is quite strong making this quite fun, with further laughs added when the many kid street vendors join you in the water with mini-coolers trying to throw beers at you for a nominal fee!
All in all it’s great fun, and for us we ended up back at our accommodation (El Portal) at the end, making it easy to relax after a long day exploring the area.
This optional activity that we have added on involves jumping off the main bridge that leads up to Semuc Champey, into the cool water below.
It certainly is a bit more extreme than jumping into the pools at Semuc, but fun nonetheless and a great closure to an adventurous day (if you can talk yourself into it).
Overall we stayed 3 nights at Semuc Champey in attempting to make up for the travel day to get us there (and the one taken up getting us back out of there and to Guatemala City). This allowed us to split these activities up over 2 days.
The majority of people stay only 2 nights and cram everything into one day, which is most certainly doable, and we would probably recommend this over what we did. This is purely because we began to get fidgety at the end of our stay, not wanting to pay to get into Semuc again, and not wanting to just sit around the hostel!
It was a great time at Semuc Champey, and hopefully our guide can help you to experience all it has to offer.