The Jungle Utopia Semuc Champey

Picture of Semuc Champey from above

The Jungle Utopia Semuc Champey

Diving into crystal turquoise pools in the middle of the Guatemalan jungle.  Scaling rickety stairs 500m up a cliff to look out onto the gleaming pools and the surrounding lush wilderness.   Meandering through a narrow cave, with just a candle to guide your way.  This isn’t the chronicles of a National Geographic explorer, this is the reality of an ever growing number of backpackers in Semuc Champey, Guatemala.

People throw the term ‘must-visit’ around quite a lot these days.  That term is often paired with Semuc Champey.  However, Semuc Champey well and truly deserves its name under the term ‘must-visit’.  This Guatemalan natural gem is on the lips of every backpacker in Central America.

What is Semuc Champey Natural Monument?

Semuc Champey Natural Monument (often shortened to Semuc Champey) is set on a limestone bridge spanning 300m, which hangs over the Cahabon River.  On the limestone bridge is a set of stepped pools, leading to a waterfall flowing back into the Cahabon River.  The water is as clean as a whistle, a dreamy turquoise colour and perfectly safe to swim in.  It’s so clear you can see the bed of the deepest areas of the limestone pools.

Although Semuc Champey isn’t the easiest place to get to, it has become a hit amongst backpackers in Guatemala.  I’d go as far as saying it’s the highlight of all my time in Mexico, Belize and Guatemala, up there with the likes of the perfect Balandra Beach.  It is a must-see on any trip to Central America.

A picture of one of the pools you can swim in at semuc champey

One of the pools you can swim in

A picture of one of the unswimmable pools at semuc champey, leading towards the end and the waterfall

Leading towards the large waterfall at the end of the pools

Exploring Semuc Champey Without a Tour

Is it possible to explore Semuc Champey without a tour? In a word, yes.  The main advantage to staying in the village right by Semuc Champey is that you’ll be walking distance from the pools.  Some people prefer tours, some don’t.  It’s good to have the option.  The main advantage of disregarding the tour and going it alone is you can lie around in those stunning pools all day.  Who wouldn’t enjoy that?!

How Much is Entry to Semuc Champey

To enter the site of Semuc Champey, you will need to pay an entrance fee.  The entrance fee is 50 GTQ (6.80 USD) for tourists.  You come to accept separate fees for tourists and locals after a while in Central America.

Semuc Champey opening times are 8am-6pm.

What to do Once You’re in Semuc Champey

Swim in the Limestone Pools

You made it, the long journey from wherever you were in Guatemala was all for this moment.  Make the 5 minute walk across the path leading through the jungle and prepare to be in awe.  Through the gaps in the jungle, you will spy the glistening turquoise water. You’ll hear the water of the water trickling from pool to pool.  Eventually, the first pool will come into sight, prepare to be stunned by its natural beauty.

Put your stuff into one of the lockers (make sure you bring your own padlock) and head to the highest pool.  The water is so clear you’re able to see right down to the floor.  Spotting where’s deep enough to dive and jump into.  Make your way down to the lower pools by sliding down the limestone rocks leading from pool to pool.  Spend the rest of the day floating around in the sun.

A picture of one of the pools at semuc champey

Begging to be jumped into

A picture of someone swimming around the pools at Semuc Champey

Olivia swimming around the pools

Climb to El Mirador

A 30-minute walk up unsteady steps scaling a height of 500 metres, in 30-degrees humid heat, Excuse me?!

While that may not sound the most appealing of sentences in the world.  Deciding to make the tiring and sweaty hike to El Mirador viewpoint is one of the best decisions of my life.  Saying the view in unbelievable is an understatement.  The true beauty of the limestone pools is seen from a birds-eye view.  The formation of the limestone pools looks incredible from above, with the water flowing into the next pool down, all the way down to the waterfall.   Lush green jungle surrounds the pools, which scales the striking cliff faces along the edges of the river.  A truly unique site.

A picture showing the signs which signal the beginning of the climb to el mirador

The beginning of the climb to El Mirador

Picture of Semuc Champey from el mirador

The view…

K’an Ba Cave

If all the floating around and relaxing in the pools has got you craving a bit of adventure, K’an Ba Cave is the place for you.  Think the opposite of your conventional cave tour.  While you’re meandering around stalactites or swimming to the next bit of rock you won’t be finding your way with a head torch.  Oh no, you’ll be holding a candle with a naked flame that could go out at any second.

Does K’an Ba Cave sound like your kind of adventure? If so, cave tours here run every half-hour from 9am-3pm and admission is 60 GTQ ($8.25)

Where to Stay in Semuc Champey?

Here’s a question I found myself struggling to find the answer to, should you stay in the nearby town Lanquin or the village next to Semuc Champey?  There’s choice in both, but staying in Semuc Champey and being so close to the pools makes the most sense if you’re looking to go to Semuc Champey without a tour.  Otherwise, you’d be looking at paying for transport from Lanquin or a 2.5-hour walk.

My recommendation for accommodation in Semuc Champey…

Greengos Hotel – I couldn’t fault this place.  There are private rooms and dorms available.  There are an on-site restaurant and bar (restaurants are hard to come by in Semuc Champey, with the only place selling hot food that I found to be by the entrance to Semuc Champey).  You will find a great all round atmosphere in this accommodation.  You can also book your bus to your next destination and if going it alone isn’t your thing, book a Semuc Champey Natural Monument tour with them for 200 GTQ ($27.50).  It’s located a short walk from Semuc Champey so you can get there for the opening time at 8 am.

Should You Go to Semuc Champey in Rainy Season?

Are you in Guatemala during the rainy season? Wondering whether it’s worth making the long journey to Semuc Champey?

You can’t rely on the weather 100%, whatever the season.  Yes, there is more of a chance it will be raining during the rainy season, the clue is in the name I suppose.  Ask yourself, how many times will you be in Guatemala in your life?  You should not miss Semuc Champey.  Afternoons do often bring rain during the low season, however, the mornings are usually beautiful and the sun shines.  Set your alarm and get to the pools for the opening time of 8 am.  We went to Semuc Champey in June and had the whole place to ourselves with beautiful weather all day long.

Also, from what I’ve heard, Semuc Champey gets jam packed during high season.  Avoid the crowds and take the risk in low season.

A picture of one of the pools at semuc champey showing hardly anyone is there in low season

Lovely weather and barely anyone in sight

A picture of one of the pools at semuc champey showing hardly anyone is there in low season

Still barely anyone in sight…

How to Get to Semuc Champey from Guatemala City

I understand, public transport in Guatemala may not be for everyone.  However, if you’re on a budget, there’s no getting away from it, it’s by far the cheapest way to get anywhere.

Unfortunately, there’s no direct bus from Guatemala City to Semuc Champey, so the only option is a couple of changes along the way.  Don’t worry, it’s all straight forward and I’ll take you through every step of the way on how to get to Semuc Champey from Guatemala City.

Stage 1…

Guatemala City – Coban

From the Monja Blanca bus station in Guatemala City, you can catch a bus to Coban for the first leg of your journey.  The Guatemala City to Coban bus goes from the Central Norte bus station.  However, there is a Monja Blanca bus station in Zone 1.  As Zone 1 will more than likely be closer from your hotel, head to the Monja Blanca bus station, where you can buy your ticket to Coban and you’ll get a free bus to the Central Norte bus station.  Win, win!

The ticket from Guatemala City to Coban is 65 GTQ ($8.90).  In terms of comfort, there’s certainly worse buses you can catch, I even managed to catch a couple of hours sleep.  4.5 hours later, you’ll be in Coban.

Coban – Lanquin

For the next stage of the journey, you will need to go to the Transportes Martinez station in Coban.  This is where the comfort levels go significantly downhill (yet still more comfortable than tourist buses, funnily enough).  Expect a rickety minibus, which may break down a few times, will have every man and his dog packed on and even people hanging off the back at some point.  That’s part of the fun though, isn’t it?

If you’re afraid of heights, I’d advise not to look out of the window at some parts of the journey!  The rocky and bumpy roads hug the cliff’s edge and it’s a long way down.

The bus from Coban to Lanquin will set you back 30 GTQ ($4.10).  The journey should take 2.5-3.5 hours.  It all depends on if you break down or not along the way.

Lanquin – Semuc Champey

This is the easy part of the journey.  Whether you’ve booked your accommodation beforehand or not, you’ll be able to catch a free ride to Semuc Champey from Lanquin.  All of the Semuc Champey accommodation have reps waving a card if your face when you’re off the bus to get you to go with them.

The rather uncomfortable journey down the winding ‘roads’ (I use the term roads loosely) will take you around 40 minutes

Around 8 hours from setting off from Guatemala City, you’ll be in Semuc Champey village.

Check out more destinations in Guatemala.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask me in the comments section.

Have you been to Semuc Champey before? Do you think the long journey would be worth it?  Do you think it would be one of the highlights of your trip?

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