The Perfect Guide to Semuc Champey, Guatemala

Madalyne Loree
13 min readMar 26, 2023

The stunning Semuc Champey is a natural monument located in the middle of Guatemala. More specifically, the monument is about an hour outside of the nearest town of San Agustín Lanquín or just Lanquin (which is actually a Q’eqchi’ Maya town and therefore you will hear a lot less Spanish spoken there). In fact, the name “Semuc Champey” comes from the Qʼeqchiʼ language (one of the 20+ Mayan dialects spoken in Guatemala) and means “where the river hides under the earth.”

So what is Semuc Champey exactly? Well, it is a series of bright turquoise-colored pools that actually sits on top of a natural limestone bridge. The nearby Cahabón River (which you can swim and tube in) goes underneath that bridge — hence the Maya Q’eqchi’ name. Besides the pools, the monument and surrounding area also include numerous caves (one of which you can explore by candlelight), waterfalls, a few hiking trails and a small visitor center and food hall.

I actually visited Semuc Champey on a bit of a whim. Originally, I had only planned on checking out Antigua and Lake Atitlan during my 2.5 weeks in Guatemala. But then I met a friend and they were going and I figured “why not?”. So I booked an 8-hour bus ride and two nights at a surprisingly swanky jungle hostel and started to get super excited about the upcoming adventure. And man did Semuc Champey deliver.

Below you will find information on all of the key areas in Semuc Champey, my exact travel itinerary, and everything else you’d need to know to have your own epic Semuc Champey adventure.

IMPORTANT QUESTIONS

| What does it cost to visit Semuc Champey?

If you go with a tour, you can expect to pay around 200–250 quetzals (the Guatemalan currency). So roughly $25 — $32 USD for a full day. You can read my full outline of the tour below.

| Can you swim in Semuc Champey?

YES! And you definitely should. While the pools are a bit cold, they are super refreshing after a sweaty jungle hike.

| Is Semuc Champey safe?

I felt very safe there — both from a security standpoint and from an adventurer's standpoint (some people in my group thought the cave was a bit sketchy, but I thought it seemed totally safe).

\\ Top Things to Do at Semuc Champey

Besides getting those stunning photos of the famous turquoise pools, you also have the chance to explore a large waterlogged cave, go cliff jumping, hike up to the mirador and walk around the Semuc Champey National Monument.

THE CANDLELIT CAVE TOUR

Surprisingly, maybe my favorite part of the whole trip to Semuc Champey was the hike/swim in the nearby dark, water-filled caves. This adventure includes the opportunity to explore an unlit cave with only the help of a tall candle to light your way, as well as the chance to climb a few rope ladders (or a waterfall if you choose), swim through dark tunnels and go cliff jumping. Honestly, this whole 1.5-hour trip felt very much like a mix between Indiana Jones and Pirates of the Caribbean. I loved it.

💬INSIDER TIP: if you get claustrophobic or if you don’t feel comfortable swimming in the dark, then this tour might not be for you. While I thought this was one of the coolest parts of the tour, I also understand it isn’t for everyone.

HIKE UP TO THE MIRADOR

For the best photos of the famous pools, you will want to make the steep trek up to the national monument’s mirador (viewpoint). The hike up should take anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes and includes a whole lot of steps (pair that with the heat and humidity of the jungle and you will be dying for a refreshing dip in the pools afterward).

From the top, you can see the six pools in all of their glowing glory, as well as a better view of the surrounding jungle. I recommend bringing plenty of water with you and/or some cash so you can cool off with one of the always-sold fresh coconuts on your way down.

SWIM IN THE POOLS

Very likely the one adventure you have been most excited about is the opportunity to actually swim in the famous turquoise pools. There are six different pools that are all combined via small waterfalls and ledges. You can easily walk between each pool, with the last one ending at the waterfall that you saw earlier in the day.

The water is chilly, but very refreshing (especially after the hot hike up to the mirador). Make sure to bring sunglasses and/or a hat because there is no shade once you are out in the water.

❔GOOD TO KNOW: I ended up wearing sandals into the water (my trusty Teva’s to be exact), but I don’t think you really need to. While I was worried about sharp rocks on the bottom of the pools, in truth, the ground is quite soft. If you want to swim around, I would ditch the shoes and go barefoot instead.

\\ Guided Tour of Semuc Champey | What to Expect

I would say the best way to experience Semuc Champey — especially if you want a pretty hassle-free adventure — is to go with a guided tour. I paid Q240 (~ $31 USD) for a full-day tour. This price included transportation to and from Semuc Champey (one hour each way), lunch, a guide, and all entrance fees (including to the national monument).

A guided tour of Semuc Champey usually goes like this:

| Leave the hostel at around 8:30AM. Make sure to eat breakfast beforehand.

| Head out on a very bumpy hour ride to the entrance of Semuc Champey.

| Arrive in Semuc Champey and almost immediately drop your stuff off at the lockers and get ready to head into the caves

| Start the cave tour. Expect it to be quite dark and only lit by candles (including the one you have to carry the whole time). The tour is roughly 1.5 hours long and is an out and back. Along the way, you will have the opportunity to climb a small waterfall, cliff jump, and swim through some deeper sections.

| After the cave tour, you will head to the nearby waterfalls (a ~10 minute walk away). Here you can swim and partake in some more cliff jumping (~1 hour).

| After the waterfalls, it will be time for lunch. You will likely eat this near the large river. If you don’t pay for the tour’s lunch (Q40), you can also purchase food at one of the small food stalls (a plate lunch costs about Q60).

| After lunch, you will head to Semuc Champey National Monument. Before starting the hike up to the viewpoint (mirador) you will have a quick briefing about the monument and how Semuc Champey was formed.

| Hike to the mirador — this should take about 30–45 minutes each way. At the top, you will have amazing views of the Semuc Champey pools down below.

| Once you have your photos and have taken in the view, you will hike back down and head to a small locker room where you can store your stuff (your tour group will have their own lockers) and then jump into the turquoise pools themselves.

| Swim in the pools for an hour or so. Consider checking out all 6 of the pools — including the last one that actually leads to the waterfall you saw earlier in the day.

| Finally, make your way back to the entrance and start the bumpy hour drive back to the hostel at around 4PM.

| You should make it back to your hostel at around 5PM.

\\ What Gear to Bring With You to Semuc Champey

| Good Shoes: I wore my trusty Teva sandals into the cave and up to the mirador and had no problems with them — even on the cave’s slick rocks. If you want a pair of super comfortable and all-around good sandals for every kind of adventure, then I cannot recommend Teva’s enough. | FIND A PAIR

💬INSIDER TIP: before you even reach the entrance to Semuc Champey, you will likely meet a group of kids looking to rent (or sell) you some water shoes. If you don’t have a good set of shoes with you (for example flip-flops are a no-go) then I would recommend renting a pair for the day. It costs Q25 to rent or Q60 to buy ($3 or $7.70).

| Sunglasses: the sun can be really intense — especially while out in Semuc Champey’s pools. Make sure to pack a pair of handy sunglasses that can handle the water’s glare. This polarized pair by Goodr would work perfectly (plus, they’re cute!). | CHECK THEM OUT

| Sunscreen: never leave home without sunscreen, no matter where you are. In this case, the sun’s rays felt so intense while out exploring the pools and up at the mirador. I made sure to reapply a couple of times because sunburns are no joke. | GET YOUR SUNSCREEN NOW

❔GOOD TO KNOW: this was not stated anywhere, but I think it is worth saying that the famous Semuc Champey pools are becoming quite popular (with travelers and locals alike). Try to do your part in keeping the natural pools in great condition for future generations to come by being as sustainable a traveler as possible. One great way to do this is to wear eco-friendly sunscreen — like this one from Mad Hippie.

| Swimsuit: due to the heat and humidity, it is quite likely that you will want to spend all day in just your swimsuit (I know I did). So make sure to wear one that is comfortable and easy to move in (both for hiking and swimming). This set by Seafolly is made of a stretchy nylon material that is comfy and quick-drying — plus it comes in a cute tropical-style print. | CHECK THE SET OUT

| Water & Snacks: while you can definitely buy bottled drinks at Semuc Champey, why not instead be a more sustainable traveler and bring your own water bottle (or two). I would suggest at least 1 liter for the day — though due to the heat, more might be better.

Also, don’t forget the snacks like I did (I was absolutely famished on the hour ride back to the hostel). You can purchase a few things in the town of Lanquin ahead of time.

| Camera: even if you aren’t as interested in photography, you will still want some way to capture the stunning beauty that is Semuc Champey (it truly is as beautiful as all the photos make it look!). I brought my GoPro 9 along for the day but used my phone a bit more just because it was slightly handier.

Do know that the guides HIGHLY discourage you from bringing any technology with you into the caves due to the darkness, high water levels and likely a long history of tourists losing their phones and making the whole group have to wait for them to find it.

| Backpack: in order to carry all of the things you will need for a fun day out at Semuc Champey, I suggest bringing a sizeable backpack with you. This one by Osprey is just 13 liters in size — meaning it can easily be stuffed into the available lockers. | CHECK IT OUT

| Cash for Snacks and Gifts: you will have the chance to buy some very local chocolate, cold bottled drinks, fresh fruit (for Q5 each), and a grilled chicken plate.

\\ How to Get To and From Semuc Champey

While Semuc Champey and Lanquin are not exactly centrally located in Guatemala, they are still relatively easy to reach via bus. You can expect daily routes to and from Lanquin from many popular tourist cities, including Antigua, Lake Atitlan/Panajachel, Flores and Guatemala City.

All buses should arrive in Lanquin at around 5PM, since this is when the hostels send their own transportation to pick their guests up (this includes both Zephyr Hostel and Greengos Hotel). When leaving Semuc Champey and Lanquin, you can likely book a bus or shuttle through your hostel or online. All transportation leaves from the Shell gas station at the entrance to the town.

SEMUC CHAMPEY TO LANQUIN

Almost all hostels are located in and around the small town of Lanquin. To reach Semuc Champey from town, you will need to take a one-hour ride via a very rough and steep dirt road. Most tour operators do include transportation to and from Lanquin (though make sure to confirm this ahead of time!).

SEMUC CHAMPEY TO ANTIGUA

To reach Semuc Champey from Antigua, you will first need to take an 8 hour bus ride on a winding road to Lanquin. The buses usually leave downtown Antigua at around 9AM and arrive in Lanquin at roughly 5PM. Expect 2–3 stops along the way for food and to use the bathroom.

From Lanquin, it is another hour bus ride out to Semuc Champey.

SEMUC CHAMPEY TO LAKE ATITLAN

To reach Semuc Champey from Lake Atitlan, you will first need to take a 10 hour bus ride on a very winding (and sometimes rough) road. The buses usually leave Panajachel (the largest town on the lake) at around 7:30AM and arrive in Lanquin at roughly 5PM. Expect 2–3 stops along the way for food and to use the bathroom.

From Lanquin, it is another hour bus ride out to Semuc Champey.

SEMUC CHAMPEY TO FLORES

To reach Semuc Champey from Flores (which is the closest town to the famous Tikal ruins), you will need to take an 8 hour bus ride on a pretty jungle-y road. The buses usually leave Flores at around 9AM and arrive in Lanquin at roughly 5PM. Expect 2–3 stops along the way for food and to use the bathroom.

From Lanquin, it is another hour bus ride out to Semuc Champey.

SEMUC CHAMPEY TO GUATEMALA CITY

To reach Semuc Champey from the capital of the country, Guatemala City, you can expect a 7 to 8 hour bus ride on hot windy highways. The time will definitely depend on traffic within the city (sometimes it can be brutal). As with all other bus trips, you can expect to arrive in Lanquin at around 5PM.

From Lanquin, it is another hour bus ride out to Semuc Champey.

🚌TRANSPORTATION IN GUATEMALA: I highly recommend checking out the site GuateGo for all of your public transportation needs in Guatemala (and the rest of Central America). You can find up-to-date routes, buy your tickets and plan your trip all on their easy-to-use website. | CHECK IT OUT!

\\ Where to Stay in Semuc Champey

ZEPHYR LODGE

I ended up booking two nights here after my friend (who I was meeting in Semuc Champey) booked here before me. Turns out, this place is absolutely incredible and maybe one of my favorite hostel experiences ever. The location — high above the jungle and town — not to mention their beautiful infinity pool, lively restaurant and bar, and sweet dorm rooms, made Zephyr Lodge a pretty tough place to beat. If you can, stay here while in Lanquin.

BOOK YOUR STAY VIA HOSTELWORLD

GREENGOS HOTEL

Another great option is this eco-conscious hotel located on the outskirts of Lanquin. Greengos — like Zephyr Lodge — provides transportation from the bus stop to the hotel, has tours to Semuc Champey and other nearby adventures (including tubing), and many other traveler-focused activities (like beer-pong tournaments).

BOOK YOUR STAY

Other great options for where to stay in Lanquin/Semuc Champey include: Hostal Oasis, El Mirador de Tansu and Guayaha (which is more of a glamping setup).

\\ Where to Eat in Semuc Champey

KALULA CAFE AND RESTAURANT

This is one of the few restaurants in Lanquin. Located in the central part of town, this more up-scale spot has a decent amount of food and drink options; including, pasta, chicken, breakfast food, hamburgers and cocktails.

THE HOSTELS AND HOTELS

It seems like for most travelers that visit Semuc Champey and Lanquin, meals are mostly eaten at the hostel they are staying at. Luckily, for the most part, the food isn’t half bad (if only a bit more expensive than normal). I ended up getting 2 breakfasts and a large dinner at Zephyr Hostel and I have nothing bad to say about it!

Semuc Champey is one of the best places to travel to in Guatemala — especially if you are an adventurer looking for a more authentic, jungle experience.

Hopefully, this Semuc Champey travel guide helps you plan your own epic adventure. And remember, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them below or reach out at www.backroadpackers.com.

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Madalyne Loree

Solo female adventurer creating in-depth travel guides to inspire you to have your own grand, sustainable adventures.