Our first stop in Guatemala promised to be breathtaking, we’d seen the photos of these crystalline turquoise pools and knew it was right up our “Avenida”. Hiking, swimming, breathing fresh air and exploring natural wonders is all you can expect from Semuc Champey. But it’s becoming more and more popular by the year so how does one visit without a guide and without feeling stuck in amongst 100’s of other people and what can one expect?
Well, it sounds simple and it is. You can be anywhere near the nearby village of Lanquín and flag down a pickup heading to Semuc Champey, offer them 45Q ($8aud) and jump on the back. Hold on tight because you’ll be standing on the back for about 45 minutes as the truck winds around the mountains, the sights are spectacular so time passes quickly. Jump out at the entrance to the park and pay your 50Q to get in. Then it’s up to you how you pass the time! We hiked up to the mirador first, then hired a locker from a man at the natural limestone pools and dropped our things and swam and relaxed for the day. Before we exited we walked the extension track to see where the river spills out from underneath the limestone bridge that Semuc Champey was formed on which was beautiful in the fading light. Then we jumped on the back of another pickup and rode back to the centre! Let me break that down now…
PART 1: The Mirador
To get up to the lookout is a steep climb and it gets hot early if the sun’s out. We started to make our way up around 9am and were sweaty monsters by the time we reached the top. We managed to time it perfectly so we were the only tourists up there and were super lucky that one of the workers was taking a nap up there because he offered to take our photo from over the guardrail.
PART 2: Lock your bags away
The locker room is very near the top set of pools and lockers are free if you have your own padlock. We didn’t realise that but were able to hire one from the helpful worker for 10Q for the day.
PART 3: Enjoy!
This is one of the funnest natural water parks I have ever experienced. We started at the top, jumping into the pool from the edge then floated and relaxed while we watched little fish nibbling at our toes. At the end of each pool you have a selection of small plants growing in the limestone and sparkling streams create natural slip ‘n’ slides which are sometimes a lot faster than you’d think! We wondered how we would know we’d reached the end but there is a safety barrier made from a few pieces of bamboo and some rope to protect you from the shear drop into the river below.
PART 4: Visit the final falls
After collecting your bags and as you’re heading back toward the exit, look out for another path to your left which will take you down to the beautiful waterfall which spills out from under the limestone pools at the end. It’s quite lovely and on the walk you may just be lucky enough to spot a monkey or two!
The decision not to take a tour was a tough one for me. The tour includes a lot of extras including caving by candle light and tubing, but it means you’re rushed through the whole day on someone else’s agenda and don’t get to spend long at the pools. In my next post I will write about the cave we visited and the tubing experience we had on top of our trip to Semuc Champey which satisfied my FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). If you’re like us and want to do it all but would prefer to do it on your own, you could either do as we did, or you could stay at one of the hostels near the park and take the cave tour and tubing tour on a seperate day giving yourself more time to enjoy everything.
We arrived here from Copan in Honduras by shuttle, which seemed like the best way for us. We ended up changing buses and were on the same shuttle as the people coming from Lake Atitlan, which dropped us off in the centre of the lovely Lanquín at around 1am, from there the guys at Hostel Oasis picked us up. You could also take a three day tour from Antigua, or the chicken buses are another option if you have a lot of time. No matter how you arrive prepare yourself for a day to travel here and a day to travel onward because you will be out in the wop wops as we say in New Zealand. It really is a stupendous and surprising part of the world and after making the effort to come all this way it’s only fair that you give yourself at least two or three days to enjoy the stunning nature and clear sweet waters!