As with many gems we’ve stumbled upon during our travels, we had never heard of Semuc Champey before some fellow travelers told us to go there. The promise of natural turquoise pools, waterslides, unexplored caves, and whitewater beer tubing was just too much to pass up. So our plans to return to Belize after visiting Tikal in northern Guatemala quickly changed to include a full tour of Semuc Champey and the Guatemalan mountains.
If you are into outdoor adventure, it’s hard to beat this place. You’ll feel like a 10 year old at a brand new fancy waterpark. We could’ve stayed here a week and not thought twice about it. Here are some of the activity highlights in Semuc Champey:
Hike to the Viewpoint
A great way to work up a sweat before enjoying the pools. Provides a bird’s eye view of the natural waterfalls and “swimming pools” that will serve as your playground for the day.
Swim in the Pools
A limestone bridge that runs over the roaring Cahabon River has created natural “stepped” pools that are quite a sight to see. Imagine cooling off after a hot hike in the steaming jungle by jumping off a waterfall into turquoise water, all while surrounded by even more waterfalls and a beautiful jungle valley. It just doesn’t seem real.
Go Caving (but make sure you have insurance first)
Another common activity here is to explore some of the caves in and around the area. Suffice it to say, in the middle of the jungle in Guatemala there are no safety regulations – wouldn’t be surprised if the Mayan rain gods claim a few more victims in here in the form of intrepid backpackers.
As a quick summary, we spent two hours swimming, climbing, crawling, jumping, bleeding, and sometimes crying our way through this godforsaken cave. Our only guiding lights were homemade wax candles that obviously went out as we tried to climb and doggy paddle through the many rivers, waterfalls, and deep pools. Picture us doggy paddling through deep pools with our left hand treading water and our right hand holding our “torch candle” above our heads, not knowing when our legs were flirting with jagged rocks until getting a busted knee, ankle, or foot. Imagine us putting the candles in our mouths as we climbed up and down makeshift ladders over and around wet rocks and waterfalls. Our “guide’s” only guidance was to yell “Vamonos! [Let’s Go!]” the entire time. That’s the only thing he said for two hours. All while barefoot. It was quite a hilarious (and scary, at times) experience.
If you read about our incredible ATM Cave experience in Belize, you may recall we thought that was quite unsafe but it doesn’t hold a candle (how ‘bout that pun?) to the unnamed cave we explored in Semuc Champey.
Definitely go on this tour but just be smart. And make sure you have some insurance.
One of my favorite pastimes in college was a lazy day of tubing on the James River in central Virginia. So when we found out that we could do that in Semuc Champey, it was an easy sell. Just grab a tube and a few beers from the ten year old kids (who seem to be the only ones with beer licenses in town) and enjoy the ride down the Cahabon River surrounded by gorgeous mountainous jungle scenery. Just watch out for the rocks!
Jump Off the Bridge (Mom and Grandma Stop Reading…)
There’s a bridge over the river toward the entrance to the park – I was very tempted to jump off it but couldn’t get a square answer from any of the locals on the depth of the water and whether it was safe. Then, on our last day, I saw some locals doing it on a tour with some other travelers (who had obviously paid money for their guidance). You CAN jump off this bridge! The locals just want you to buy a tour for “a vote of safety.”
Go to the pools early or late – There are some day trippers who come from Lanquin or Coban and usually arrive late morning and stay until mid afternoon. To avoid some of the crowds, head to the pools early or late in the afternoon and you’ll have them to yourself.
Don’t stay in Lanquin – Some people choose to stay in Lanquin, a town about 45 minutes drive from Semuc. Don’t stay there as it’ll require very bumpy trips to and from every day. And you’ll want to maximize your time at the pools by getting there early and staying late.
Prepare for the trip in – We arrived to Semuc from Flores/ Tikal. Although it doesn’t look far on a map, it took us a good 9-10 hours. The roads are poorly maintained, crooked, and very hilly so just plan accordingly. Also, there are occasional rivers that run across the main road with a barge that serves as a bridge that will eat up an hour or so.
Don’t eat the chicken from the vendors right outside the park – It looks and tastes good but I’m pretty sure it gave me a stomach bug. You’ve been forewarned.