“The road’s a pain in the a$$ but totally worth it.” That’s what everyone told me when I said I was going to Semuc Champey in Guatemala.
They were right. The journey is terrible, no matter where you start. And the last hour is particularly special as you lumber through potholes dodging and swerving around trucks and cars along the narrow, twisting dirt road. The end result when arriving is a small, remote Guatemalan town situated in a lush mountain jungle.
I was unsure of what to expect when I started towards to Semuc Champey, or rather, the town of Lanquin. While I was unimpressed with where I slept, I was blown away by the endless beauty of the area.
The rolling green mountains and winding rivers surprised and delighted me, and it felt good to be back in a jungle with heat and humidity.
I learned a few things along the way, and if I were to do it again, I would do it a little differently, but I would do it again.
A Must-Visit in Guatemala
If you love jungles, natural beauty, and outdoor adventures you won’t be disappointed by Lanquin and Semuc Champey. It is one of the prettiest places I’ve seen in all of Central America and is unlike any place I’ve ever visited on my travels. Semuc is a one-of-a-kind place that left me, once again, in awe of the amazing beauty this incredible world has to offer.
Places like this tend to strike a cord and leave me feeling in touch with nature because you never know how long these areas will stay the way we seem them today. With climate change and increased tourism, which I’m aware I contribute to, I feel it’s important to see these natural wonders now before things change or disappear completely. It’s part of the reason I’m so obsessed with travel.
That said (this is my eco-PSA for this post) take care of the environment around you! Do your best to be eco-friendly, turn off the lights, turn off the fan or AC when you’re not in your room, eat local food, and for the love of everything, throw your trash away! Now, more than ever, it’s important for all of us to do our part. Every bit matters and makes a difference.
Semuc Champey is a national park with natural limestone pools of turquoise water and waterfalls in southern-central Guatemala. It’s popular on the backpacker trail and relatively easy to get to in the sense that you hop on a series of buses or a shuttle. The trip takes anywhere between 10-17 hours, depending on where you’re starting, and you’ll arrive in Lanquin, the central town of Semuc Champey, or Semuc, as it’s called by many.
There’s not a whole lot going on in Lanquin, and it becomes apparent pretty quickly that the main draw is the surrounding natural area. It’s a quiet town in a tropical, mountain jungle that reminded me a bit of Salento, Colombia, and the Cocora Valley.
Hostel and food options are limited so be prepared, either mentally knowing that you’re going to spend money, or realistically by bringing extra food with you. There are a few comedores in town that offer cheap, local food and there’s also a local market where you can buy a limited amount of fruit and veggies.
We, my English and Italian travel companions, spent three nights in Lanquin. Most people spend two, one night when they arrive and one night after exploring the Semuc, but I couldn’t bare the thought of another seven to eight-hour journey in a crappy shuttle right after my horrific 17-hour drive.
Exploring Semuc Champey
There are various ways to explore Semuc Champey, depending on your money, time, and level of adventure.
Book a tour
We booked a tour through our hostel for Q125, which included transportation and park entry. The highlight of this for me was the cave tour using only candles to light the way. It was a first-time experience for me to be in a cave in that way, and I’m pretty sure no tour like that exists in the US. It was one-of-a-kind.
There are other tours you can book, some cheaper and some more expensive, but all offer a somewhat similar experience. Make sure to ask all the questions about what you’re getting before you book and pay, i.e., Does it include transportation and park entry? Does it include lunch? How many hours is the tour? What will you be seeing and doing?
Explore on your own
In hindsight, because I wasn’t solo for this portion of my trip, a part of me wishes we’d gone with this option. Realistically, I’m not sure if you’ll save that much more money, but at least you can spend your time doing what you want without being herded like cattle from place to place and activity to activity.
You can take a truck to Semuc for about Q25 and entry into the park is another Q50.
Some Other Things You Might Like to Know
If taking a shuttle from Lake Atitlan, leave from Panajachel
We left directly from San Pedro in Lake Atitlan at 4 AM, and it wasn’t until the evening before that I realized we were going to Antigua. The journey ended up being 17 hours from start to finish. If you go straight from Panajachel, you skip the trip to Antigua and save yourself hours of pain.
Overall, though, I’d recommend leaving from Antigua for Flores.
I also know people who made the journey via chicken bus. From what I’ve heard, you’ll save about $4-5 and have to change buses a few times. Regarding comfort, it’s probably a wash.
Overall, it’s expensive
Hostels are expensive. Food is expensive. Transportation in and out of Lanquin is expensive. I ended up spending more than I wanted, which is fine, but it’s good to mentally prepare before arriving.
Some Ideas on Where to Stay
I was convinced to stay here, even though it’s the most expensive hostel in the area. You’ll pay $15/night for a dorm bed, and there’s no kitchen – only a restaurant. It has a pool, though, and the views are stunning. Was it worth it? For me, not really. For the boys, yes. To each their own. It’s the “go-to” place to stay in Lanquin because of the pool, the view, and the supposed party, so make sure you email ahead of time.
Significantly cheaper and quieter, Oasis hostel is on the river and located down the road from Zephyr Lodge. Apart of me wishes I’d stayed here if only to save money and it’s equally beautiful in a different way.
El Portal de Champey
I only saw this place when I was at Semuc Champey. It’s right at the park entrance, which makes it super convenient for adventures.
This hostel is also outside of Lanquin at the entrance to Semuc, so you’re a bit isolated, but it’s cheap and looks amazing! Sleeping in a hammock starts at Q35/night.
Regardless of how you see Semuc Champey, this is a must-do, must-visit, don’t-miss trip while in Guatemala in my book.