I was genuinely surprised when I came across some statements and articles saying that Semuc Champey is not worth the visit.
Semuc Champey is a magical place. In fact, I remember thinking that it could not get much closer to paradise than that. Swimming in the turquoise river pools surrounded by lush jungle in the middle of exotic Guatemala. Really?
If you go on a quick, one night trip, don’t give yourself enough time to rest and enjoy and go on a one-day ‘do-it-all’ tour – you might as well leave disappointed. If you have only one day, I would say: don’t go to Semuc Champey. It is not worth it.
But is Semuc Champey worth the long journey? Definitely yes! Semuc Champey is beautiful, enchanting, paradise-like, and it is definitely worth getting there – if you do it right!
Semuc Champey means ‘where the river hides under the stones’, and it is a natural wonder in the department of Alta Verapaz of Guatemala, near the town of Lanquín.
Semuc Champey is becoming more and more popular and it is often described as one of Guatemala’s most beautiful and magical places.
Semuc Champey is a set of around 18 perfectly turquoise river pools and limestone bridges naturally formed over the Cahabón River. The river flows in the deep jungle gorge, and the best way to get a perfect view is to climb up to the famous mirador. The water in the pools is of perfect temperature and dreamy colour.
Although Semuc Champey is the area’s main attraction, I think it is not the only one! The river is beautiful, the surroundings tranquil, views to die for, and the town of Lanqion definitely worth visiting.
All you need to know about getting to Semuc Champey
To get to Semuc Champey, you need to aim for the town of Lanquin. Most lodging options will be in the town or in the jungle, but the only way to get to your hostel is by getting to Lanquin first.
The chances are that you are trying to get to Semuc Champey from Flores or Antigua. Some crazy travellers choose to do it from Rio Dulce. If you are heading from Rio Dulce or Livingston side of Guatemala, I do recommend going to Flores and stopping by Tikal Maya Ruins first. Unless you are happy with direct private shuttle (If I remember well, those don’t run every day and are a bit pricy, approximately Q250)
The best way to get to Semuc Champey from Flores or Antigua is by shuttle.
First of all – don’t just book any shuttle. Go with GuateGo. It is the most respectable shuttle company, their cars are airconditioned and semi-comfortable given it is not a big luxurious coach. Let’s be honest. The journey is long, uncomfortable, bumpy and tiring. You don’t want to end up in a dodgy car that will make you sit there with no air con or break halfway through. Book a shuttle with a respectable and well-known company – ask in your hostel for the best recommendation.
I went to Semuc from Flores and booked my shuttle with Los Amigos Hostel. The price was Q175.
If you are prone to motion sickness – this is the time to make sure you stocked up on motion sickness aids. I am lucky to be able to stand the windest and bumpiest roads, but even I, at one point, felt a bit of a churn in my stomach.
And don’t have any expectations as to when you will arrive there!
How did it go? It was a very adventurous journey, that’s for sure!
Some call it a journey from hell. I wouldn’t be so dramatic.
The bus left Flores at 8 am, and we headed towards Lanquin. Not long into the journey, we arrived at the river where a flat ferry was taking cars, tracks and pedestrians to the other side of the small town. Very slowly.
There were several small boats loading some folks and motorbikes, but all other vehicles were loaded on the ferry. We stayed in the queue for a while. We had no air con switched on until then, so all the windows were open for some fresh air. But as we stood in the queue, we started sweating buckets.
Finally, after around 15 minutes, the driver showed mercy, asked us to close the windows and switched on the air-con. And we sat there observing the slow movement of the ferry. I am still puzzled as to why a bridge wasn’t built over this river.
Finally, we loaded onto the ferry, which didn’t look like it was going to stand the weight of all the vehicles, including the big lorries! We have survived though and continued the journey.
The whole river crossing party was one of the most puzzling traffic situations I have experienced.
The journey continued through Guatemalan villages and the countryside. The first stop was by the petrol station where we had a chance to use a toilet and grab some snacks. There was a lady selling street food – some tamales and empanadas of some sort. It was very yummy!
This was also when we had to change the car. This was a regular occurrence during my shuttle and bus rides and travel around Guatemala. For no apparent reason and without explanation, you are asked to change the minibus. I always look carefully and with apprehension if my backpack isn’t left behind. I recommend you do the same!
The nearer the destination, the most beautiful the views were. We drove amongst stunning mountains with breathtaking jungle views
The last part of the journey is the most beautiful but also the bumpiest and most windy. In the past, that wasn’t a paved road either. But finally, a decision was made to lay asphalt – so I assume. There are roadworks along this part with the strangest traffic system again.
Basically for one to two hours, the road is completely closed for traffic while the work is going on. Then the work stops and the cars are allowed to move. Probably for around an hour or so. If you arrive too late – you are stuck. And so were we. We were supposed to wait just for approximately 15 minutes. We stood there for about an hour and a half.
Luckily by then, we had made friends and started making jokes about spending the night in the Guatemalan jungle and discussing how much supplies we had amongst us.
We arrived in Lanquin precisely 12 hours after leaving Flores. It was a long trip for sure – but I wouldn’t call it a journey from hell!
Call me a weirdo – maybe I didn’t love it at the time, but I love the memory of it. This is what travelling and backpacking is for me. If I wanted smooth sailing, getting from one place to another in comfort and drinking G&T while I’m at it – I would go on a luxurious resort holiday and travel by plane.
This is the authentic experience of travel – of sitting in a car with people who travel like this every day, making friends with random people (and staying in touch well after you left the country). Not always being comfortable, sometimes the opposite, sweating pants off, eating street food, and having the opportunity to witness the day-to-day life of villagers.
To arrive late, being thrown at the back of the track, asked if I want a Guatemalan boyfriend by someone ten years younger and 10 cm shorter than me, and finally sit by the river with cold Guatemalan beer in hand. This is life!
On your arrival in Lanquin, you will find several guys surrounding the bus and shouting different hostel names and offering a ride. If you have booked your hostel in advance (which I highly recommend) – don’t be alarmed. The shuttle to your hotel is free, and they were sent by your hostel. Listen carefully for the name of your place, and you can safely go with them. Most likely, you will be sat at the back of a track – hold on tight!
Where to stay in Lanquin
There are plenty of different lodging options around Semuc Champey catering for all tastes, budgets and preferences.
When looking for a hostel to stay in when visiting Semuc Champey, you’ll have to decide whether you’d rather stay in the town of Lanquin or a jungle lodge nearer the Semuc.
To help you make the right decision, I created a little pros and cons list of the best locations and hostels to stay near Semuc Champey
Hostels in Lanquin – pros and cons of staying in the town of Lanquin
- In the town with access to restaurants, shops and ATM’s
- In case you didn’t like your hostel, you can walk around and find another
- Easier to save on money
- To get to Semuc Champey you will have to book a tour or take a taxi track
Lanquin town is where you will be dropped off by the shuttle or the bus, and regardless of how far your hostel is – there will be a free transfer waiting for you.
Lanquin is a small town with not many things to do in the town itself; nevertheless, I really liked it. Staying in Lanquin will allow you to eat in local restaurants and access a few local shops and markets. There is also a bank and an ATM in Lanquin as well as few tour agencies.
You will, however, have to take a ‘taxi’ or organized tour to get to Semuc Champey Park unless you don’t mind 2 hours hike. I opted for a stay in Lanquin because I like flexibility, and I didn’t want to be stuck in one place. There are many hostels located in Lanquin, many offering the remote jungle feel as well.
El Retiro – a very popular hostel located right by the river offering dorms, private rooms and plenty of outside space. I have not eaten at El Retiro, but I have heard that the food there is delicious and reasonably priced. There is a great bar, hammocks and sun loungers with access to the river. I popped into El Retiro for a drink, and I really liked the hostel. You have to be aware that there is no kitchen, like in many other hostels in Semuc, so you will either have to purchase meals in the hostel or eat in town.
Hostal Oasis – I stayed in two hostels in Lanquin, and Oasis Hostal was one of them. This is a lovely, peaceful hostel with great dorm rooms as well as private rooms. It was also located right by the river and with a large on-site restaurant. The WiFi in the restaurant was pretty decent, and with the tranquil views, it was an excellent place to work. There is no communal kitchen, but the Lanquin centre is 10 minutes walk away. The service was great and all staff working there very friendly.
Vista Verde – I moved to Vista Verde because of its pool and beautiful views. This hostel offers cosy and comfortable dorms and massive outside space with reasonably priced food and good WiFi. The pool is really nice and the views to die for. It is a very relaxing hostel with friendly staff, and although it has a remote feel, it is only 10 minutes from the centre. I felt very well taken care of and met many travellers, and made long-lasting friendships.
Zephyr River Lodge – this is the most popular hostel in Lanquin, and for a reason. It is a beautiful and very sociable hostel located on the hill offering incredible views and a wonderful pool and outside space. It is known for being a party hostel and a great place to meet other travellers. In fact, most people I met on my shuttle stayed in Zephyr. It is said to be the best hostel in Central America, and although I personally haven’t stayed there, I have heard mixed opinions. It is definitely not the cheapest option, and food is supposed to be overpriced as well. You can book all tours and activities in the hostel, and I have heard good opinions about those. But I also heard that the stuff isn’t always the most helpful and that the hype about the hostel is slightly overblown. If I returned to Lanquin, I would probably not stay there given the mixed opinions and high prices – but if you are looking for a popular hostel with a pool and great views, give it a go.
In the majority of hotels near Semuch Champey, even those located nearer Lanquin, WiFi will be available in the common areas only. Most of the dorms and rooms will be spread along the field or mountains, so I guess it might be hard to provide good WiFi in all cabins. Keep that in mind if continued access to the internet is important for you. Or stock up on mobile data.
Staying in a Jungle Eco Lodge near Semuc Champey – pros and cons
- Incredible jungle surrounding
- You will be closer to the Semuc pools and often able to walk there
- The majority of jungle hostels are ecological and sustainable
- You will have to rely on a hostel for food, drink and entertainment
- The remoteness of those hostels might prevent you from seeing Lanquin itself
- Bugs! You will be in the jungle, can’t get away unfortunately
- Some properties are located on the river so after you’re done exploring Semuc Champey, you can ride a tube all the way back
I was seriously debating this option. I, however, stayed in this type of property in the past and as much as I loved it, I felt limited to my choices and ended up spending much more money than I was planning. Keep in mind that the below hostels are very remote, and you will be limited to purchasing their meals and drinks. This, for me, is the main downside of staying in the jungle lodge.
On the other hand, you will be much closer to Semuc and in some cases, you will be able to walk there, and the jungle location is incredible. I experienced it in Rio Dulce and Minca in Colombia. Falling asleep to the sound of the jungle and waking up surrounded by the most breathtaking nature and wilderness is an incredible experience. Make a choice based on your preferences. Although I haven’t stayed in any of the below, I have gathered all the information and opinions. Here is the list of the best jungle hostels near Semuc Champey:
Utopia Eco Hotel – is a tropical jungle lodge and eco-farm. It is one of the most popular hostels near Semuc Champey, and I nearly made a decision to stay there. Not only it is an excellent hostel with a cacao farm and incredible surroundings – it also has this ‘spiritual’ opinion with morning yoga classes and spots for meditation. You can do it all or do nothing at all there. Tours, bird watching, hiking, river tubing or just chilling – all available there.
If you are looking for a remote getaway, ecological and environmentally friendly – Utopia is a great choice. Meals are vegetarian, and I only heard great opinions about it. In fact, if I return to Lanquin, I will definitely check this hostel out.
Ch’i Bocol Community Hostel– I really regret not staying in this hostel, although I have booked and then cancelled twice! It was my first choice while I was still debating whether I should stay in Lanquin or the jungle. I love the concept of this hostel. Not only it is an affordable eco-lodge remotely situated in the wilderness with stunning views and proximity to the river and Champey – they also have their own vegetable garden where you can buy veggies and then cook your own food. I only heard great things about this hostel; however, keep in mind that you would have to trek for around half an hour to get there. So if you are arriving with a lot of luggage and don’t like hiking in the jungle, this hostel isn’t for you. From this hostel you can walk to Semuc Champey or take river tubing
El Portal De Champey – I actually don’t know anyone who stayed there and I haven’t seen this hostel yet it deserves mention as it’s literally located at the gate of Semuc Champey park. The reviews are mixed, some great, some average, but it seems reasonably priced and If you are looking to just do the Semuc Champey tour and not much else, this could be a good option.
How to Visit Semuc Champey / Tour or no Tour
The most popular way to visit Semuc Champey is by taking an organized tour which costs around Q170 ($22). The tour will also include visiting K’an Ba Cave (controversial – read on for more info), swing rope, and climbing a mirador for those famous views.
These days, most of the tours will start with the K’an Ba Cave visit. I heard horror stories about it, but also I heard some people saying it is an incredible adventure. I guess it all depends on how ‘adventurous’ you are. I believe that there is not much guidance and regulations around this particular caving experience, and it all depends on how lucky you are with a guide on a given day.
The journey through the underground river caves is around 1km long and consists of scrambling over rocks, climbing up waterfalls and swimming through narrow channels and pools. It is meant to be an exciting and enigmatic experience.
Take a headlamp (if you have one); otherwise, you will be given a candle that will potentially make this experience enchanting and mysterious, yet keep in mind that you will have to swim in darkness, scramble and slide in the dark cave. I’d rather have a headlamp.
Disclaimer – I decided not to do the caves. I am a hiker, and I love a good adventure. But I am clumsy, and I like to be prepared. I don’t go to the mountains in sneakers, I don’t travel without insurance, and I am not walking into the slippery and dark cave without the appropriate footwear. Call me a chicken, but it is who I am. I have travelled like this for years, and so far, I am in one peace and without major injuries or financial losses. It works for me.
So to cut it short – I didn’t have water shoes or any shoes that could work for caving inside the waterfall. I didn’t want to risk slipping and breaking my leg. I had a long journey ahead and instead decided to see the pools, hike to the mirador and enjoy the scenery.
If you’d rather not go to the cave, there is no need to take an organized tour. You cannot go to the cave without a guide, but you can do river tubing without one.
After visiting the caves, some tours will guide you to the mirador. This is around 45 minutes hike which I found not too challenging, and the views were definitely worth it!
Finally, you will visit the pools where you will spend the afternoon swimming in crystal waters and soaking up the sun and incredible surroundings. Definitely the best part of the tour!
How to visit Semuc Champey without the tour? Easy!
It is very straightforward to get to Semuc Champey from Lanquin. In the town, you can grab one of the track taxis (you will stand a the back – so much fun!). The official price is Q25 (for tourists), but you can definitely negotiate, especially if you are in a group. I went with a couple of friends, and we managed to get a taxi for Q20 each.
The taxi will drop you at the park entrance, where you will be asked to pay Q50 for the ticket. You will also definitely be approached by someone trying to offer you a tour or guidance.
The park is well marked and great for hiking. There are toilets and lockers in the park. Take a padlock if you’d like to use lockers.
Make sure you go early. We had breakfast in town around 8 am, and straight after, we hopped on a track that we booked the day before. We arrived at Semuc around 9:30. The organized tours will not arrive at the pools before midday, so if you arrive early, you will have plenty of time to take photos and enjoy the mirador and pools without the crowds.
As we arrived, we decided to climb the mirador first. It is a good walk up the stairs and rocks. Not too challenging, but it can be hot, so make sure you pack water.
On your way up, you will find many vendors selling fruit, coconut water and juices but all pretty overpriced.
The view from the mirador is spectacular. The climb is definitely worth it, and you should not miss it! The only downside is that you are only allowed 15 minutes at the mirador, and keep in mind that if you want to use a drone, you will be asked to pay a fee.
We then walked down to the pools and literally spent the rest of the day there. The Semuc Champey pools are a true paradise. The water’s temperature was perfect, colour out of the world and surrounding gorge and jungle made it an extraordinary experience. It is one of the most beautiful places and incredible things I have experienced in my life. Do I need to say more?
We returned to town on time for late lunch. I highly recommend Kalual restaurant.
I would say booking a Semuc Champey tour makes sense if you really want to see and experience the caves. If you are not bothered about the caves – go without the tour. It will be cheaper, and you will be able to do what you want with your time.
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Other things to do in Lanquin/Semuc Champey
River tubing is a really popular activity near Semuc Champey. It is great fun, and the River Cahabón is stunning! You can ask at your hostel or head towards Lanquin Caves, where you will be able to rent the tubes. You can take a tuk-tuk there. Tubes cost between Q30 and 50Q, and the tubings last for around 30 minutes.
It is recommended that you go tubing with the guide as it is easy to miss the exit and be taken down for a long float. The other perk of going tubing with the guide is that you will be able to get a beer straight from the guy in another tube! It’s a great relaxing day!
You can explore Grutas de Lanquín with its thousand bats! Not many visitors opt for this adventure, so it is definitely an off the beaten path experience. Lanquin caves are large and very interesting as well, being home to thousands of bats. You can explore with or without the guide. If you decide to go tubing, you can combine both activities – explore the caves first and then rent a tube for relaxing end of the day. You can either take a tuk-tuk or walk for around half an hour. The entrance fee is Q30.
If you want to see all the bats flying out into the night – stay till sunset!
Utopia hostel is also home to a Cacao Farm. I had the best chocolate ever in Guatemala, and if there is any country you should visit a cacao farm in, it is Guatemala. You will learn all the basics of Chocolate making, from the seed to delicious chocolate and drinks. Book your cacao farm tour here.
Make sure you explore the town of Lanquin. It is a very authentic, small and colourful town. Visit local shops, wander around the market and get the feel of the place. Pop into Kalula and have an iced mocha coffee on the terrace. The food in this restaurant is also great!
One of the best things to do in Semuc Chapey and Lanquin is just relaxing. Take walks, hike, watch the birds, sleep in a hammock or chill by the pool. I stayed in Lanquin for five days. After day-long travel – I needed it.
How many days do you need in Semuc Champey? Minimum two nights, but ideally three. It will give you enough time to recover from a long journey, plan your trips but also relax and enjoy the beautiful surroundings.
Semuc Champey – Practical tips and information
- Semuc Champey is open from 8 am to 4 pm daily. If you want to avoid the crowds, visit as early as you can
- It costs 50Q ($6.50 USD) to enter Semuc Champey which will include the mirador and all the facilities
- There are toilets, lockers (take padlock) that you can use. There is also a restaurant at the entrance.
- Pack plenty of water – it is hot.
- For your stay take insect repellant and sunscreen. Also, good walking shoes and ideally water shoes if you are planning on visiting the caves.
- In the town of Lanquin, there is an ATM and plenty of small shops. If however, you are planning to stay in a jungle eco-lodge, make sure you get the cash before arriving in Lanquin. You might not get a chance to stock up on arrival.
I thoroughly enjoyed my stay in Lanquin and I think Semuc Champey is spectacular. For me, it was definitely worth the journey.
I hope you found this guide to Semuc Champey helpful.
If you went and have a different opinion or would like to add anything – please make a comment below. I would like to hear from you!
Until then, happy travelling.!
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