It Really is Worth it

The amazing view from El Mirador

The amazing view from El Mirador

Turquoise pools and mysterious caves are just two reasons why Semuc Champey is a must-visit destination.

When traveling, you often find yourself evaluating the many destinations, and here in Guatemala the variety is astounding. One of the must-visit attractions is Semuc Champey. You may have seen pictures of the shimmering turquoise pools, cascading through the jungle. The water is so blue that looks like it was transported right out of the Caribbean Sea. You’ve probably also heard it is quite a journey and are wondering if it is really worth the trip. I am here to tell you that yes, Semuc Champey really is worth it. Be sure to plan some extra time to explore the surrounding caves and flora and fauna.

The drive from Guatemala City can take up to eight hours. Shuttles are available from a number of travel agencies; another option is a coach-style bus (far different than a camioneta) from Guatemala City. Two companies run coach buses: ADN and Monja Blanca. You’ll first head to the city of Cobán, located in the department of Alta Verapaz. This city and its surrounding area have enough attractions to warrant an overnight stay. (There will be more on Cobán in next month’s Revue.) From Cobán, you can book a shuttle straight to Lanquín, your jumping-off point to all the adventures in and around Semuc Champey.

You’ll descend down from Cobán through cool cloud forests and into Lanquín, a welcoming and warm tropical retreat with flowers, cacao trees and flowing cobalt rivers. There are a number of beautiful palm roof-style lodges to call home for a few days. My favorites include El Retiro Lodge, featuring private cabanas and a new hot tub; the Zephyr Lodge, with its signature wood-fired pizzas and homemade bread; and the Utopia Eco Hotel, with its all-vegetarian and kosher family-style meals at affordable prices. Each one is a slice of heaven nestled near the Cahabón River. To take full advantage of the surroundings without rushing through at a break-neck pace, give yourself at least three nights in the area.

Guided tours of Semuc Champey can be arranged through each hotel and are the best way to fully enjoy the park. They all provide roundtrip transportation and a box lunch, since food and beverage options at the park are scarce. You’ll definitely want your camera for the breathtaking views that await at the mirador (lookout), following a strenuous 45-minute hike up. Gazing at the cascading turquoise water, you’ll understand why it’s sometimes called the Eighth Wonder of the World. After your workout you’ll be ready to jump into the water to cool off. Be careful—the rocks around the pools can be a little slick. Be sure to visit the impressive El Sumidero, where the river tumbles through extreme rapids and disappears underground—a great photo op but don’t fall in.

After the pools, your guide will take you up to the Kan’Ba Caves for some heart-pounding excitement. You’ll be escorted through with only a candle for light—and you’ll be swimming with your candle most of the way. Don’t splash too much or you’ll put your candle out. Crawl up a rope through a tumbling waterfall and take a blind leap, splashing down into the pool on the other side.

After a full day at the park you’ll be ready for a hearty dinner, at your hotel the staff will be waiting with an amazing spread to help you recover. Fall asleep to the sound of crickets and the “hoot hoot” of the owl—leaving the rumbling buses and car horns miles away.

In addition to Semuc Champey, you can also explore the Lanquín Caves, which offer a spectacular view of bats leaving at dusk, and go tubing down the Cahabón River. If you haven’t already reached your adrenaline quota, try the “extreme tubing” tour, which leaves from Utopia Eco Hotel and starts with a jump off the bridge. There is plenty of hiking in the area, and the bird watching is fabulous with more than 90 species recorded.

So look at your calendar and schedule your trip to Semuc Champey. You’ll come back telling your friends, “Yes, it really is worth it!”

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