A picture is all you need to convince yourself that Semuc Champey is worth it. It’s hard to believe that this natural limestone bridge and its turquoise pools that weave through the jungles of Guatemala are not a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This place is stunning and remote and it’s a must-visit on any Guatemala itinerary. Visiting Semuc Champey is without a doubt one of the best things to do during your visit to Guatemala.
So what makes visiting Semuc Champey so special? Semuc Champey is a unique natural monument in the fact that it is a series of turquoise-tiered pools that cascade over limestone bridges until eventually waterfalling in the Cabahón River, which is the river that runs beneath Semuc Champey. When combined with the lush green jungle mountains that surround the pools, the scene looks nothing short of a fairy tale. It’s enchanting.
Once you arrive, you’ll see why Semuc Champey is one of the most visited places in all of Guatemala. But don’t be fooled, getting here definitely takes some effort. Read everything you need to know about visiting Semuc Champey just below!
Guide To Visiting Semuc Champey
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Where Is Semuc Champey Located?
Semuc Champey is a Natural Monument located in Alta Verapaz, Guatemala some 8 hours northeast of the capital of Guatemala, Guatemala City. The name Semuc Champey translates from the Mayan Kekchi language to “where the river hides“. This place is sacred and has been for centuries for the Mayans.
Use the + and – sign on the map above to zoom in and out to get a sense of where Semuc Champey is located in Guatemala and where other top Guatemalan locations are in relation to it.
The closest town to Semuc Champey and the place you’ll book your overland shuttles to is Lanquin. Once in Lanquin, you’ll need to take a 45-minute to 1-hour 4×4 truck ride down a bumpy jungle road until you reach the entrance to Semuc Champey.
Once at the entrance, you’ll pay a fee (we’ll get to that below!), and walk a few minutes until you reach what you’ve come for, the tiered pools of Semuc Champey.
Entrance Fee & Hours
No Semuc Champey is not free. When Visiting Semuc Champey, you must pay an entrance fee of 50Q per day, around $6.50 USD. The area opens at 8 am and closes at 5 pm, and that 50Q you paid to enter gives you access to Semuc Champey during this time.
Now, to do any additional activities at Semuc Champey, like tubing or a cave tour (more on these to come!), those are an additional fee on top of the 50Q you paid to enter the Natural Monument.
How To Get To Semuc Champey
Unfortunately, there is no quick way to get to Semuc Champey. There is no nearby airport you can fly into or no train within the country that will drop you off at a nearby station. The only way to get to Semuc Champey is by overland travel – a tourist shuttle, private car/taxi, or rent a car – to Lanquin.
- Antigua to Semuc Champey: 200 miles | 9-10+ hours
- Guatemala City to Semuc Champey: 180 miles | 8+ hours
- Panajachel to Semuc Champey: 185 miles | 10+ hours
- Flores To Semuc Champey: 160 miles | 9-10+ hours
- Lanquin to Semuc Champey: 6 miles | 45 minutes – 1 hour
If you are not staying in Lanquin, but rather down the bumpy jungle road closer to Semuc Champey, your accommodation should offer a 4×4 truck transport from Lanquin – definitely confirm with your accommodation prior to arriving in Lanquin! If you are staying in Lanquin, once you arrive, tuk-tuks/vehicles are available to take you to your accommodation if needed.
When To Go Visit Semuc Champey
Visiting Semuc Champey is best during Guatemala’s dry season. Sure, Semuc Champey can be enjoyed with a light rain drizzle, but planning your time around when the best weather in Guatemala is definitely not a bad idea.
- The dry season in Guatemala is from November to April
- The wet season in Guatemala is from May to October, but in some regions, it can continue into November
We visited Semuc Champey towards the end of January, and while the day started out as overcast, the afternoon was sunny, which was perfect for tubing down the river and enjoying the turquoise pools! Of course, even with your best planning, the weather is the weather and can’t be predicted 🙂
How Many Days Do You Need In Semuc Champey
One day in Semuc Champey is totally doable! However, we really recommend two. We spent 2 nights and 1 day in the area and to be honest, wish we would have stayed another day. Why? Well for one, the drive to get to Semuc Champey takes a full day. If you only spend one day, you’re drive time (to and from) is twice as long as you get the actually enjoy the area you’re in.
Two, the jungle is so peaceful it would have been nice to have a lazy day in a hammock reading a book, listening to the parrots and monkeys – essentially just resting and enjoying nature.
When looking to book accommodations for Semuc Champey, the closer you can get to the entrance, the better. There are two options on where to stay when visiting Semuc Champey
- Lanquin (45 minutes from Semuc Champey entrance)
- Down closer to the monument entrance
If you can swing staying close to Semuc Champey, it’s wonderful because you can WALK to the entrance vs. having to take a 45-minute ride down to Semuc Champey and then another 45-minute ride back up to Lanquin.
Places like Greengos Hotel, Utopia Eco Hotel, El Portal De Champey, and Ch’i Bocól Community Hostel are all locations close to Semuc Champey. If these places are not available, a little further away (up the road) from Semuc Champey is Mountain Nest. We stayed at B’antiox Guesthouse, and it was nothing short of amazing. Cozy little bungalows within a few minutes walk from the entrance of Semuc Champey.
For more places to stay near Semuc Champey, you can check out the latest places and prices here.
Things To Do In Semuc Champey
Relax & Swim In The Pools of Semuc Champey
Really, the thing you came here to do – swim! Yes, you can 100% swim in Semuc Champey. Just do your best to avoid swallowing any of that water 🙂
Semuc Champey is a 984 ft (300m) long pool that has six-tiered turquoise pools for you to enjoy. Some pools are deep enough to jump in (for safety, don’t dive head first) while others are good to wade through and relax in. Throw a towel on the rocks to get a little sun-tan in between climbing and jumping your way from pool to pool.
TIP: Arrive right when the Semuc Champey opens. As the day goes on, more people will show up for a visit and a swim.
Hike to The Mirador
The best view in all of Semuc Champey is the view from “El Mirador”. You’ll get a bird’s eye view of the entire valley from the Semuc Champey Mirador viewpoint. Now, to get here takes anywhere from 20-45 minutes (depending on your fitness level). It’s a little over a half-mile (1km) climb up a series of steps until eventually, you reach the viewing platform.
Along the way, Mayan women sell coconuts, cacao, beverages, and fruit, so if you need substances for your climb up or down, you have buying options!
The view at the top is nothing short of gorgeous. Unobstructed views of Semuc Champey, its lush jungles, and flowing waterfall. If there is one thing you do outside of swimming in the pools, let the hike up to Semuc Champey’s mirador be it! Totally worth it.
Explore The Semuc Champey Caves (K’an Ba Cave)
One of THE MOST unique (and questionable) experiences we’ve had while traveling is partaking in a cave tour in Semuc Champey. Safety is….well….umm…errr…. questionable at best, but ADVENTURE!
Picture this (and honestly you have to because we opted not to take our phones and our GoPro was ruined from our most recent scuba diving trip, so truly, no photos from this WILD experience. Only the memories :)).
Ok, back to it. Picture this. No headlamp. No helmet. Not a lifejacket in sight. You’re in your swimwear and either barefoot (or wearing heavily used water shoes provided by your accommodation) walking through a cave with a teenage Mayan guide for an hour-long cave tour.
You are given a candle (yes, truly, a candle) to light your way through the cave! WILD. The guide? Oh yeah, he uses candles as well by sticking them to the cave walls to help illuminate your path. What happens if all the candles go out….well, um…moving on.
During your cave tour, you’ll swim with one hand (while holding your lit candle above your head with the other), climb a ladder or two, jump off some ledges, and dodge as many stalactites as you can, until you eventually reach a 10 ft waterfall within the cave.
On your return, you have the option to jump from a mini-waterfall to a semi-deep pool below (if you’re tall, consider avoiding doing this). Sound like an adventure (with questionable safety measures)? WE THINK SO!
Now, you CANNOT enter the cave without a tour/guide. The admission fee for the cave tour is around Q60 ($8 USD). Cave tours run from 9 am-3 pm daily. Oh, and you’ll find plenty of eager teens at the park entrance offering their cave tour services to you. If you hear a guide named Charlie, he was ours and a mighty good one – all things considered 🙂
Note: Ok, really though. Safety disclaimer. Exploring the cave can be dangerous. People get hurt from slipping on rocks or hitting their head (or back) on stalactites. While we are unaware of any reported deaths, you should proceed with utmost caution as the nearest hospital to Semuc Champey is 4 hours away in Coban.
Tubing at Semuc Champey (Cahabon River)
When compared to your cave tour, hopping in an inflatable inner tube and floating down the Cahabon River is a cakewalk. At the end of the limestone pools of Semuc Champey, you’ll find the river that disappears and flows underneath Semuc Champey, the Cahabon River. This is the main river that flows through the area and one of the more popular things to do in Semuc Champey is tubing down it.
For around .5 miles (1km), you’ll float down the peaceful river surrounded by little homes and lush jungles and for the most part, the river is pretty calm. To rent an inner tub, the price is 50Q ($6-$7 USD).
As you float, a rambunctious group of kids awaits on the shoreline to toss you cold beers or other beverages. Don’t worry, they’ll meet you downstream to collect their well-earned money.
After about 30 minutes of floating, and a few empty beer cans later, you’ll end your tubing jaunt and walk back to the yellow bridge right outside of Semuc Champey. Tubing on the Cahabon River is a PERFECT way to end your day and time in Semuc Champey!
See What Wildlife You Can Spot
If you’re lucky, near the entrance of Semuc Champey, you may see a Howler Monkey or two. Be sure to look up in the treetops to see if you see a few scurrying around. Oh, and keep an eye out for parrots and other beautiful birds. The jungle is home to many amazing species, so if you’re lucky, you may see a few! Word to the wise, keep your eye out for scorpions and the little nibbling fish in the pools of Semuc Champey.
Where To Eat Near Semuc Champey
Depending on what accommodation you stay at, they may offer you a box lunch for your day at Semuc Champey. Up to you if you want to take them up on this offer, but know there are food options nearby the entrance.
We skipped the box lunch and opted for a hot meal instead. Nearby the entrance of Semuc Champey, there is a bridge. On one side of the yellow bridge, you will find a vendor selling meals for around Q40 to 50Q. It’s a buffet-style type of place offering black beans, rice, tortillas, chicken, fruit, and pasta. Outside of this place, you’ll also find a handful of street vendors selling cold drinks and beers.
Tips for Visiting Semuc Champey
- Arrive Early: Try to arrive right when the place opens (8 am), you’ll practically have the area to yourself
- Have a Quick Dry Towel Handy: You’ll need to dry off or have something to sit on
- Don’t Forget The Sunscreen: Protect that skin of yours, you’ll be outside all day
- There are levels to the pools: Each offering different views – so explore a little!
- Strappy sandals (like Teva’s or Choco’s) are great to wear as some of the rocks can be slippery
- Don’t always trust the forecast: The forecast predicted it to rain the entire time we were at Seumc Champey, it maybe rained for a few hours at night.
- Pack Drinkable Water: The tap water is not safe to drink in the area or in Guatemala in general
- Lockers: There are lockers available at the very top pool of Semuc Champey. While we did not have an issue with theft, keep your belongings where you can see them, especially when swimming.
Can You Visit Semuc Champey Without a Tour?
1000% yes. Semuc Champey can definitely be a do-it-yourself kind of attraction. You don’t need to pay for a tour to get here nor do you need to hire a guide. You will however need a guide if you opt to do a cave tour or tubing down the river, but in Semuc Champey itself, no guide is needed.
Semuc Champey can completely be done on your own, it’ll just take some simple coordination on your end. If you are staying up in Lanquin, you’ll need to organize your round-trip transportation to Semuc Champey through your accommodation.
Once at Semuc Champey, paying for your entrance fee, food, and cave tour/river tubing can be done on your own when you arrive.
If you are staying nearby, then you don’t have to worry about arranging transportation to and from Semuc Champey, you can use your own two feet!
Is Semuc Champey Worth It
In our opinion, yes! The pools are beautiful and a place we had practically to ourselves for around an hour. Semuc Champey feels like a place that due to its somewhat inconvenient location, isn’t swarming with people and backpackers. It still in some ways feels like a secret, at least that’s the way we felt during our visit.
There are not too many places like Semuc Champey in the world (maybe in Laos, but that’s totally overrun with tourists), so to us, it was well worth our nearly 12-hour ride from Antigua to get here!
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– Lauren & Jesse Stuart (The Stüs)