Semuc Champey, Guatemala
Semuc Champey, located in northern Guatemala, is a pretty impressive sight! It consists of multiple natural pools of crystal clear water in which you can swim freely from pool to pool.
What’s even more impressive, besides that amazing views, is that these pools are actually on a natural limestone “bridge” that has formed OVER a raging river! The powerful river runs UNDER the pools that you can swim in! If you go to either end of the the pools, you can see where the river enters, and exits from the natural tunnel underneath!
Entrance Fee: 70Q (~US$10)
There are a few sections of the park: The one lookout/viewpoint on top of the mountain, and three entry points at the river.
The viewpoint is called “Mirador” (which simply means “viewpoint” in Spanish) and is up the mountain. It’s about a 30 minute hike up – it’s pretty steep, up and down steep steps. Then, it’s about a 30 minute hike back down the other side (you don’t come back the same way).
♡ I recommend doing the hike first! (1) Swimming after hiking is way more refreshing. (2) If you swim first, who wants to ever hike wet??? (3) You won’t be pressed for time if you’re at the top of the mountain and then you realize your transportation is leaving in 3 minutes.
Once you’re down on the other side, you’re at the first entry point of the river. Here, you can see where the river runs underneath the pools! I think this is super interesting and definitely worth checking out!
The middle entry point: This one has lockers, so if you have a travel lock with you, you can store your clothes and camera. This middle entry point is for sure the most crowded – I’m not sure if it’s because of the lockers or what, but it has way too many people for my liking.
The third, and last, entry point: The least amount of people and the most relaxing! It’s also where you can see the river exit the tunnel underneath!
♡ I recommend the third entry point! (1) Less people, (2) keep your belongings on the side without a locker and it’ll be just fine, (3) best pictures [looking up the waterfalls], (4) look over the end to see where the river exits!
How to Get There
The closest town is Lanquín (kind of sounds like “Lion King” if you say “Lion” fast and with only one syllable – this is exactly how I remembered how to say it when I asking for buses there, haha).
On the map, it’ll say “San Agustín Lanquín” – I’m not 100% sure. I asked a bunch of locals and no one knew exactly why (although I heard a few theories). Long story short, that’s how it is on a map, but no one actually says that (I was really confused and almost got off the shuttle at the wrong location because of this).
Local “chicken” buses do not go to Lanquín. Instead, you’ll have to book a shuttle (also known as a “collectivo bus”). You can do this in whatever town/hostel you end up outside of Lanquín and should be no more than 150Q (~$20). I paid 150Q, but I head other people booking it for 100Q… so use that information when you’re bargaining with the guys… don’t book for 250Q (which they’ll probably say at first just to see how stupid tourists are).
Once you’re in Lanquín, getting to the park is not difficult – just walk outside and flag down a guy with a pick up truck. Ask him how much to get to the park – he’ll probably say 30Q, but don’t settle for more than 20Q. I paid 20Q each way (~$2.70 each way).
It takes about 45 minutes – 1 hour driving from Lanquín to Semuc Champey (and you’ll be standing the whole time in the back of the pick up truck). It’s better to go relatively early (around 8 or 9am), and then catch another truck back at around 2pm, 2:30pm, 3pm… They’ll most likely tell you when to meet them back at the truck (but it’s usually around those times). I arrived to the parking lot a bit early and just paid a different truck to take me back – it’s no big deal.
Where to Stay
The hostel I stay in turned out to be the hot-spot of Lanquín: Lots of room-options, a bar, food, amazing views, etc. It’s called “El Muro Pub and Hostel.” I paid about US$8 for a shared dorm room (which isn’t bad) and Happy Hour at the bar ran all night – until 11pm or so, for whatever reason… I’m not sure why, but I wasn’t about to question it! I paid only 10Q for my beers all night – which is about $1.20! Other travelers from other hostels around town all came to El Muro just to hang out and get cheap drinks. I was happy that I chose to stay there so that I didn’t have to walk back to another hostel, alone, in the dark.