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  • Writer's pictureDave Jackson

Is Semuc Champey worth it? | Semuc Champey, Guatemala

Updated: Jun 10, 2023

Before venturing off the typical Gringo trail, we spent a lot of time asking ourselves “is Semuc Champey worth it?” Below is the reason why you should absolutely add Semuc Champey to your Guatemala itinerary.


At one point Becca had actually scrapped Semuc Champey from our route altogether having read horror stories about the journey from Tikal to Semuc Champey and then from Semuc Champey to Lake Atitlan. Realistically, making the journey in and out of the Guatemalan jungle does take a full days travel on either side of your Semuc Champey visit, but it is well and truly worth that extra bit of effort. I have seen on a number of blogs that it’s not worth the 24-hour round trip, but unless they were planning on teleporting to Lake Atitlan from Flores my maths says you are doing one extra day's travel, not two. Travelling between Flores/Atitlan takes about 12 hours, and going from Flores to Semuc Champey and then to Lake Atitlan is 2 days travel of between 9-12 hours.


Also, there is more to Lanquin than just Semuc Champey, so you will want to spend more than one day (see our What do in Lanquin, Guatemala | Create your Lanquin itinerary) but Semuc is the main reason you make your way there!

 

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What is Semuc Champey?


Semuc Champey is a natural limestone bridge holding multiple cascading crystal clear pools. The cold Rio Cahabon flows below, but the shallower pools above are slightly warmed by the sun-soaked rocks. Lush green tropical jungle coats the mountains on either side where if you are lucky toucans, parrots and monkeys can be seen. You are free to hike up to a viewpoint where these stunning pools can be seen from above, and then return down to relax in the cool waters admiring the beautiful surroundings.


Semuc Chapmey, Guatemala. Tranquil blue lagoon on a sunny day
Semuc Champey, Guatemala

Can you visit Semuc Champey without a tour?


Absolutely you can visit Semuc Champey without a tour. As a rule, I normally try to avoid tours, however, I would advise taking a tour if you want to do all the highlight activities of Semuc. We did a tour and it was absolutely amazing. I will cover more about it and our experience below. We priced up the activities and it worked out at Q30 (£3/$4.60) per person more for the tour than paying for the activities individually. Going on a tour means you can relax, follow your guide and know he will get you safely through the day and manage the timekeeping for you.


Tour cost Q200


Individual activity costs

Entrance to Semuc Champey Q50

Kanba Caves Q60

Tubing on Rio Cahabon Q10

Transport Q25 each way


If you only wish to visit the pools on the Semuc Champey Bridge and do nothing else then travelling there without a tour is the way to go. You can expect to pay Q25 per person, each way, from Lanquin to Semuc Champey. People are piled in the back of pickup trucks from the town centre of Lanquin to drive the unsealed road up to Semuc Champey, taking approximately 40 minutes. You will just need to pay Q50 per person and this will allow you to walk up to the Semuc Champey Mirador and spend as much time as you like in the pools and waterfalls of Semuc Champey.


Tip: Avoid a large tour group if you can. Some of the more popular hostels run tours of upto 30/40 people. Going into the Kanba caves with that many people takes much longer to enjoy the activities inside and is also less safe as there is no way the guide can advise that many people directly. This is where the reported injuries come from. We stayed at Casa Mary, a lovely budget-friendly hotel/hostel in Lanquin that operates tours for between 2-8 people. David, who runs the tours, is amazing & the cost is only Q200. We would highly recommend staying here and going to Semuc Champey with David.


Things to do in Semuc Champey


As most people do when visiting Semuc Champey we opted to take a one day tour which encompasses all the highlights of Semuc Champey - Kanba caves, jumping into crystal clear water, hiking to Semuc Chamey mirador, relaxing and swimming in the beautiful pools atop Semuc Champey and tubing down the Rio Cahabon.


After breakfast David, our tour guide from Casa Mary, greeted us with a friendly smile, and we set off just after 8:30 am. Our journey to Semuc Champey was much more comfortable than most people describe, Casa Mary only operates small groups so David drove us there comfortably in his 4x4. We did pass a number of rather full pickup trucks along the way with so many people in the back there is no option but to stand for the 40-minute journey.


Kanba Caves (Semuc Champey Caves)

The Kanba Caves unexpectedly turned out to be the highlight of our trip to Semuc Champey.

Becca was a little nervous about this part, as swimming through water-filled, deep, dark caves and jumping into pools with only the assistance of a candle, seemed a bit crazy! It was crazy, but it was such a lot of fun and unlike anything we had ever done before. As we were such a small group and David was so attentive; pointing out all hazards and looking after us so well; we didn’t feel unsafe at all. It was a bizarre experience, but super cool.


Kanba Caves, Semuc Champey Caves lit by candlelight
Kanba Caves, Semuc Champey Caves lit by candlelight

Trying to swim one-handed, whilst holding your candle aloft as hot wax drips onto your arm, is certainly not your regular Tuesday morning activity! The water was quite cold adding to your already heightened senses and the cave was very dark but eerily lit with candles.


We’d read on some blogs you shouldn’t do this tour if you are claustrophobic. I would say unless you are very claustrophobic you’ll be fine. The Kanba caves have very high ceilings and to be honest I forgot we were even in a cave!



Semuc Champey waterfall swimming and jumps

Leaving the Kanba caves we were all handed truck inner tubes and we set off walking upstream. Walking along the Rio Cahabon, with rings over our shoulders for 5/10 minutes was a great opportunity to discuss the amazing experience we’d just had in the caves, whilst taking in the surroundings.


Semuc Champey waterfall, Guatemala
Semuc Champey waterfall

Just as your adrenaline levels started to subside its time to visit the Samuc Champey waterfall. Here there are a series of jumps, we did the 6 and 8-meter jumps but David advised against the 10 and the 12-meter jumps as the water level was too low. I was in my element, I love the feeling of free fall before plunging into the depths of crystal-clear cool water.


Becca did the 6 meter jump but turned down the 8 as it’s really not her thing. Either way, we all enjoyed a swim in the cool waters.


Tubing on Rio Cahabon

Tubing on Rio Cahabon, Becca enjoying a cold Corona whilst floating down stream
Tubing on Rio Cahabon

Next, it was time to put those inner tubes to good use. Just after the rapids beyond the waterfall, we a


ll slipped into our rings before being chased down by a group of local lads all vying for our business “happy hour beers”. It was only 11:30 am but hey "the sun is over the yardarm!"


Lazy river, beautifully blue water, surrounded by the jungle with vines dangling down… Bliss!




Buffet lunch

I’ve read blogs saying hostels like Zephyr mislead their guests into saying the food places aren’t always there so that they can sell their own packed lunches. However, I’m 100% positive there will always be food options at Semuc Champey, it is too good an opportunity for the locals to miss. The real question is whether they are the best for the price.


Our all-you-can-eat buffet lunch was tasty, with meat it cost Q60 per person & Q50 for veggie only, so a little on the pricey side. Based on the meal prices at our hostel I suggested to our guide that they should offer packed lunches so watch this space.


Your hostel may offer packed lunches but unless they are cheap take advantage of the buffet outside Semuc.


Hike to Mirador Semuc Champey

The only thing I wasn’t 100% happy with was hiking straight after lunch (I may have also overdone it to get my money's worth! 🥴) It was 1:30 pm, probably the hottest point of the day and we were full form lunch. We were all dripping wet with sweat by the time we got to the top around 30 minutes later and it was a tough climb. David said he chose this order as we were in Semuc during Holy Week so it was busier than usual and the Kanba caves would be much better first thing. The caves were amazing, I will give him that!


At the top, we took a few pictures and took 5 minutes to catch our breath and cool down a little. Then set off towards the Semuc Champey pools which looked so inviting from above.


View from Mirador of Semuc Champey, Guatemala
View from Mirador of Semuc Champey

Visiting Semuc Champey pools

The whole reason we had taken on the extra 12-hour journey and why we were there. The limestone bridge is covered in pools of all different shapes and sizes from tiny little private pools to extremely deep pools you can safely dive into.


David took us around showing us some great spots to slide down, jump from and then into a cool cave with barely enough space for all 5 of us to fit. It was a little claustrophobic, but it was reassuring to know you could take a quick breath and swim to freedom and the sunlight beyond very quickly.


After our little tour, he left us with some time to explore on our own. After all the excitement of the day, we were all happy to grab a private pool to sit and discuss what an amazing day we’d had, whilst enjoying the last of the sunlight.


Semuc Champey swimming area, beautiful blue waters and waterfalls
Semuc Champey swimming area

What to pack for Semuc Champey


Swimwear - Most of the day you are going to spend in and out of water.


Trek towel or sarong - Something to dry yourself that won’t take an age to dry.


Water shoes- The floor in the cave is gravelly, you don’t want to be heading in there barefoot as you won’t be able to see the bottom. If you have strap-up sandals, these should do the job but not flip-flops. If you plan on missing the Kanba caves, water shoes are still a good idea as some of the limestone is sharp and slippery in the Semuc Champey pools.


Waterproof head torch- Good for the Kanba caves. I'm not 100% sure if ours is waterproof but David took a dry bag with him so we popped it in there when jumping/sliding into deep water.


Waterproof phone case- You don’t want to leave your phone in the locker all day, you'll want to snap some memories.


Padlock - Keep your valuables safe. There are free lockers to use but you need your own padlock.


Water bottle & plenty of water - 2 litres of water per person is a good amount, you are going to be doing a lot of activities and spending a lot of time in the sun. We always travel with our LifeStraw go.


Insect repellent - It’s the middle of the jungle so expect biting insects. Make sure it contains deet!


Sun cream - The sun is powerful, if you are fair-skinned an SPF 50+ is a good idea.


Packed lunch - We didn’t take a packed lunch but I wished we did. We ended up paying Q60 for a buffet lunch, it was tasty but the prices are definitely inflated as they have a captive audience at Semuc Champey.



We'd love to hear from you if you go to Semuc Champey, to hear about how you found it too.


Please drop a message in the comments at the bottom of the page.


For more inspiration for your Guatemala visit see our other Guatemala blog posts.

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