Enter the words “Backpacking” and “Guatemala” in Google and Semuc Champey is sure to pop out at you almost immediately. Semuc Champey is located in the Alta Verapaz department and is a series of limestones pools in which the river Cahabón flows underneath. These pools consist of numerous colors ranging from dark blue to light green and some are even deep enough to jump or dive into. Set deep within the jungle, it is the surroundings which highlight the beauty of this natural wonder. Due to this remote location any trip to Semuc Champey needs to be carefully planned.

Getting to Semuc Champey

The two most popular routes for getting to Semuc are from Antigua to the west and Flores to the north. Both are scheduled to take 8 hours from their destination. We arrived from Flores and the journey was completed mainly on dirt roads. We passed very few towns, the first major one being Coban, some 2 hours away from Lanquin (the nearest town to Semuc Champey). Make sure to pack some snacks if you think you will get hungry!

The road from Coban to Semuc Champey is probably the worst part of the journey, it is quite bumpy and the last 10km or so are particularly horrific! Most tourist shuttles will stop in Lanquin itself. Your accommodation (if you have something booked) will organise to collect you in Lanquin and bring you back to their place.

Our shuttle from Flores cost 120Q (14e) each and we organised it with REPTSA at their office in Flores. I have read some bad reviews on this company but we had no problems with them, apart from the drivers desire to overtake at sharp bends all the time!

Staying in Semuc Champey

Most people who come to Semuc Champey will stay in the nearby town of Lanquin, approximately 10km from the site. Research where you are going to stay as this small town contains very few dining options so you will mostly be eating meals offered by your accommodation. We stayed in El Retiro Lodge, a popular place to stay, with a breakfast and lunch menu and a plentiful buffet at dinner time. El Retiro is also located close to the Rio Cahabón so the scenery was amazing.

There are also some options to stay closer to Semuc Champey, but you are completely at the mercy of your hotel. We enjoyed having the options of being able to stretch our legs and go for a walk around Lanquin town.

Visiting Semuc Champey

You have two options to visit Semuc, book a tour or go on your own. We decided to go on our own as the price of a tour (185Q/21e each) was too expensive for our budget. Tours include transport, entrance to the site, a guide, entrance to the caves, tubing, and more!

We were able to get the same transport as the tour group that was going from El Retiro and it cost us 25Q (3e) each, one way. The trip from Lanquin to Semuc Champey is one we will never forget. You get in the back of a pick up truck and have to hold on for dear life as the driver meanders around bumpy bends. Needless to say we were quite sore when we finally arrived some 60 minutes after leaving Lanquin (which is 10km away!!).

Once you reach the entrance to the site, it is 50Q (6e) per person.  Now that you are in you have numerous choices, you can head straight to the pools, go for a river side walk or climb the El Mirador to get an overall view of this natural wonder. We decided to start with the hike to the viewpoint, which is 500 metres, the majority of which is all uphill. It is quite hard but doable for all fitness levels if you take your time and watch your step. There are some local women selling bananas, oranges and chocolate on the way if you need an extra boost. When you reach the top, the climb up is more than worth it. They say a picture paints a thousand words so check out our snaps below and judge for yourself!

The view of Semuc Champey from the Mirador

We made it to the top!

The lush rainforest that surrounds Semuc

Afterwards, we followed the path on the way down to reach the pools. Its an easy climb down and when you get there you have the option of storing your bag in a locker, so make sure to bring a good padlock. The pools are refreshing after the hike and the further down you go the more the scenery changes. There are waterfalls, underground caves and a rock slide to explore! You could easily spend a couple of hours in the pools (like we did).

Some of the waterfalls at the pools

The pools at ground level

The next thing to do at Semuc Champey is to visit the caves. We opted out of this for a few reasons, the main one being that we didn’t have appropriate footwear. It is recommended that you don’t wear flip flops and as we were unprepared to wear our runners in the water we decided it wasn’t for us. You can purchase water shoes in Lanquin town if you forgot yours and would like to try the caves, we found this out too late unfortunately. The other reason we decided to skip the caves is that Guatemalan safety standards are different to those in Europe and we heard about a lot of people getting injured doing this due to the slippy stones and jagged rocks in the cave. Most people really enjoy this part of the tour however so don’t let this stop you, entrance is 60Q (7e).

The walk along the river is really cool too. You can do this after leaving the pools and on the way to the exit. You get the see where the river reappears from underneath the limestone bridge. You can hear the roar of the water as it reappears. We really enjoyed this part too!

The river reappearing from underneath the pools

To get back to Lanquin we just waited by the entrance for a pickup truck and hopped on. Again it was 25Q each and this time the driver drove alot faster and we got back in 40 minutes!

The river in full flow!


  • I really thought long and hard about visiting Semuc Champey when planning our stay in Guatemala. It takes so long to get there and out of there (it took us 12 hours to get to Antigua after our stay!!) that you really have alot of traveling to do to experience it. Would I recommend it? Yes, but ONLY if you are traveling long term in Guatemala. I don’t think that if you are here for 2 weeks that it is worth such an arduous trip. We ended up staying for 4 nights so that we could rest up after a bout of sickness and spread out the long journeys.
  • If you want to do the caves it makes sense to book a tour. We spent 100Q each just for the pools and transport but the 185Q for a tour includes alot more, well worth it!
  • Spend at least two hours exploring the pools, that is the main reason you come to Semuc Champey so why not spend most of your time there!
  • Do the hike to the mirador first, it will make your dip in the pools so refreshing!

Leave a Reply

1 Comment threads
0 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
0 Comment authors
Recent comment authors
newest oldest most voted
Notify of

[…] and alluring waters of Semuc Champey. Where I relaxed on a hammock and read two books! Click here for more on Semuc Champey. We spent 4 nights here in El Retiro Lodge which has a really nice […]