Once a hidden gem, off the main Gringo trail, visiting Semuc Champey from Lanquin, Guatemala is shouting out to be a Central American highlight and rightly so! When I hear people ask "Is Semuc Champey worth it", it makes me laugh… 100%. Read on to find out what to do in Lanquin.
Lanquin itself is a small town, with only a handful of restaurants. The main reason for this is lack of demand, as most people opt to simply eat in their hostels or hotels as they are so tired from their various adventures. One restaurant I would highly advise making a trip to is Aragoncito Bistro al Carbón, they don’t actually have a menu but serve a small selection of meats depending what’s best at the market that day and one veggie option. As you may have guessed from the name the food is cooked on an open fire, we had pork & beef, both served with garlic potatoes, corn & salad. Both were delicious & the veggie options receive rave reviews too. Meat options are all Q50 and the veggie option was Q60.
Many people who visit Lanquin, Guatemala, simply go on a day trip to Semuc Champey and leave the next day. I personally didn’t like the sound of having 2 full days' journeys with only one day in between, so started asking the question what to do in Lanquin? Is there anything other than Semuc Champey? The answer is the main draw to the area is Semuc, but there is much more besides. See below for our top 5 things to do in Lanquin.
Top 5 things to do in Lanquin
1. Visit Semuc Champey caves - Kanba caves
Imagine going deep underground, into pitch black for an hour with only the light of a candle to guide the way. Add to the mix you will be travelling along a waterway which at some points you can’t touch the floor, a waterfall climb, natural slides and jumping off rocks into the water. No wonder there are so many stories about the Semuc Champey caves being unsafe! However if you enter the caves with a tour group with a small size so your guide can direct you safely, the Kanba caves will undoubtedly be a highlight of your visit to Guatemala if you the whole of Central America.
The Kanba caves are often referred to as the Semuc Champey caves, however, this isn’t strictly true. The Kanba caves are often visited at the same time as Semuc Champey and are likely to form part of any day tour to Semuc, however, they are actually owned by a private company and so you need to buy a ticket separately from your Semuc Champey ticket. The cost to enter the caves if you have made your own way to Semuc Champey is Q60.
2. Tubing Lanquin
There are multiple spots in and around Lanquin where hiring an old inner tube from a bus or truck is offered. Whether you are at Grutas de Lanquín or at Semuc Champey floating down the Rio Cahabon on a beautiful sunny day surrounded by lush Guatemalan jungle, what’s not to love? If that wasn’t your idea of paradise, maybe adding an ice-cold beer served to you in the river will make it your thing?
Tube hire Q10 if not part of a tour & beers Q25.
3. Semuc Champey bridge
Semuc Champey is a naturally formed limestone bridge with the Rio Cahabon flowing below it. The pools which form on Semuc Champey are fed by streams coming from the mountains on both sides. The slow speed at which the water travels from one pool to the next via the various waterfalls means the pools formed atop of Semuc Champey are much warmer than the Rio Cahabon flowing below.
Spend a few hours swimming, sliding down naturally formed slides, entering hidden caves or jumping into some of the deeper pools for a bit of an adrenaline rush. After all the excitement take some time to relax in the crystal clear waters taking in the astounding beauty of the area.
Entrance Q50, if not part of a tour.
4. Visit Grutas de Lanquín
Not the Lanquin cave people think of when visiting the area as it is often outshone by the Kanba caves next to Semuc Champey. This doesn’t mean it is not worth visiting. The Grutas de Lanquin are a 25 minute walk from Lanquin or about Q5 pp in a tuk-tuk. The entrance fee to the caves is Q30, and there is a beautiful swimming spot in the Rio Cahabon where you can hire tubes if that takes your fancy.
The cave itself is much larger than Kanba and has no water to traverse. There are metal walkways and strings of lights illuminating thousands of stalactites and stalagmites. Make sure to take a torch with you so you can explore the smaller darker corners in search of bats.
At around sundown, there have been reports of thousands of bats exiting the cave on mass setting off on their nightly hunt. Sadly the evening we were there it was more like tens of bats than thousands, hopefully, you are lucky! Either way, a trip to this humungous cave should definitely be on your Lanquin itinerary!
5. Check out Lanquin from above
A great free activity to do when visiting Lanquin is the hike to the beautiful church sitting on the hillside above Lanquin itself. The hike is only 3kms return, see the map below for the route.
On the way up the hillside you will see many friendly Qʼeqchiʼ people. Also on your way up, you will pass by many cacao plantations. A local man on our assent walked with us explaining a bit about the area and people. It’s hard to believe there weren’t really tourists visiting the area 20 years ago and the major source of income was from either cacao or cardamon. Many of these plantations still exist however, tourism does offer a much more fruitful income.
Other than the plantations you will see lush jungle on the surrounding hills before reaching the beautiful church at the top. The building itself isn’t impressive architecturally but very pretty inside!
Do take plenty of water for this hike as although it is short it is quite steep in parts and it’s normally humid in Lanquin. As it’s off the beaten track a little, you are not going to be greeted every 5 minutes and offered a refreshing beverage.
We'd love to hear from you if you go to Lanquin, 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.