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  • Writer's pictureDave Jackson

Kanba Caves - Semuc Champey Caves, amazing or dangerous?

Updated: Jun 10, 2023

Visiting the Kanba Caves turned out to be one of our highlights of our time in Guatemala. We all agreed our day trip without the Semuc Champey caves wouldn’t have been anywhere near as memorable!

As you enter the cave and start to wade through the shallow cold water darkness soon defends and the only source of light is flickering candles, you can’t help but think the activity you are about to start is a little foolhardy. There is however a certain beauty to the cave which is amplified by the twinkling flames and near darkness of the surroundings. The lack of light heightens your other senses to the smells and sounds of the cave’s echo along with the sound of your heart beating faster with the adrenaline of the experience.

When you first enter the cave, the water is around knee-deep. This does change within minutes to be above your waist and before you know it you can no longer touch the floor. You have the option of going for a one-handed doggy paddle with your candle held aloft or pulling yourself along the ropes set up throughout the cave for safety and ease of passage.

We both look nervous with candles in hand, just after entering Semuc Champey Caves
Nervous, just after entering Semuc Champey Caves

The first major obstacle you are met with is the waterfall climb, in honesty this is probably the most dangerous in the Kanba caves but there is a ladder you can take if you doubt your upper body strength. The climb is around 3 meters with decent places to place your feet and a rope to heave your way up.

Once you have made it up the waterfall you continue to go further upstream and deeper into the Semuc Champey caves system. As you get deeper in to the caves you take on activities like jumping off rocks into deep pools and sliding down naturally formed slides. The scariest part we all agreed was sliding through a tight gap into a deep pool, our guide however told us exactly where to put of feet and hands to make our way through to make it perfectly safe.

On the way out of the Kanba caves I was a little sad it was only an hour long. I absolutely loved the excitement of the unknown. I can’t deny it was nice to have full use of my eyes again and to be greeted with the heat of the Guatemalan jungle.

Is it possible to visit Semuc Champey Caves without a guide?

It is possible to make your own way to Semuc Champey without a tour, crammed in the back of a pickup or via tuk-tuk. However, you can’t enter the Kanba caves without a guide. It would be dangerous to go in without a guide, well unless you are an experienced spelunker (yes I did need to look up the name!). If you make your own way there the cost is Q60 to enter the cave.

How dangerous are Semuc Champey Caves?

If you tell anyone you have been to Semuc Champey, one of the first questions they are likely to ask is, did you do the Semuc Champey Caves? Followed by, how dangerous do you think they are? Or possibly, how bad was the journey to Semuc Champey? If you were to ask me would the activity be allowed in the UK, my answer is a resounding no, or if it did, it would definitely look a lot different to how it does at Kanba Caves. That doesn’t mean though that you can’t visit and be safe.

On our visit to the Kanba caves, we did see many large hostel groups of around 20-30 people. Our guide says some of the hostels even have groups of up to 40! Groups this size, I would highly advise against, as it’s going to be extremely difficult for your guide to point out dangers and communicate the best route to the whole group. We visited with David, the son of the family that runs the hotel we were staying at, Casa Mary. They only operate tours of between 2-8 people. We visited as a group of four and I would say we all felt extremely safe the whole way through the Kanba caves as David clearly knew the caves very well and told us all exactly where to put our feet and hands at any slippery or potentially dangerous parts.

We have not seen one blog mention that there are many candles throughout the Kanba caves. The guides are constantly lighting new ones which are positioned at different points on the walls to illuminate the route. On several occasions, we all dunked our candles in the water but there is always someone close by or a wall-mounted one you can use to relight your candle.

What to pack for Semuc Champey Caves

Swimwear - In the Kanba caves you will spend the whole time in the water, it’s not going to be a comfortable experience in jeans!!

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.

Waterproof head torch - Although I don’t advise leaving it on for the whole time as it may ruin the experience having a waterproof head torch will help with taking pictures or if you did get a little unsure at some point you can turn it on to assist.

Waterproof phone case - Your pictures aren’t going to be amazing from inside the cave but it’s nice to take a few to help remember such an amazing experience!

Padlock - keep your valuables safe whilst in the cave, there are free lockers but you need your own padlock.

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We'd love to hear from you if you go to Kanba Caves, 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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