How to Visit Semuc Champey: The Stunning Waterfalls in Guatemala (+Photos)

If you’ve ever contemplated a trip to the stunning Central American nation of Guatemala, you’ll be all too aware of its outstanding natural beauty. Perhaps one of the best examples is Semuc Champey, a breathtaking landmark that’s made its way onto every traveller’s bucket list.

Made up of a natural limestone bridge that runs for over 300 metres, Semuc Champey is topped with shimmering aquamarine pools, which have really put this spot on the map in recent years. The site lies deep in the Guatemalan rainforest, close to the town of Lanquin, which is home to a mostly Q’eqchi’ Maya population.

Semuc Champey was among the standout destinations I visited throughout my travels across Latin America, and I’ve yet to come across anything quite like it. If I haven’t already convinced you to visit, I hope this tell-all guide will do just that.

Read on to learn all the details you need to know, from how to get to Semuc Champey and where to stay to the top activities to check out during your visit.

What is Semuc Champey?

Semuc Champey

Semuc Champey’s uniqueness is somewhat of a natural phenomenon, and it is difficult to encapsulate in words that do this monument justice. In fact, because of its rarity, the Guatemalan government classifies Semuc Champey as a protected area.

The name itself comes from the Q’eqchi’ Maya language and translates to where the river hides under the earth, which is a pretty accurate description of Semuc Champey.

In the midst of the jungle is the Cahabon River, which flows under a naturally formed limestone bridge made over thousands of years from fossils and shells. Over time, the force of the river cut under the rock to form what we now know as Semuc Champey.

This exceptional bridge is now most famous for the refreshing pools that lie above it, as well as the point where the river plunges from underneath the limestone.

The series of pools are positioned in steps, with small waterfalls forming where each body of water meets. Not only are they beautiful to look at, but these pools are also a refreshing spot for a dip, which is most certainly welcome after trekking through the hot and humid Guatemalan rainforest.

How to Get to Semuc Champey

Get to Semuc Champey

Experiencing scenery that’s spectacular and unspoiled often requires some work, which is undoubtedly true for Semuc Champey.

Firstly, you’ll need to make your way to the nearby town of Lanquin, and getting here alone can be quite an adventurous experience. I travelled to Lanquin from the northern Guatemalan town of Flores, while many other visitors make the journey from southern hotspots like Antigua or Lake Atitlan.

No matter which tourist hub you’re coming from, the journey can take upwards of eight hours, depending on which route you take, and you’ll likely arrive via a bus or shuttle. My shuttle from Flores set off at around 8.00 a.m. and, after a long day of winding mountainous roads, touched down in Lanquin at around 4.30 p.m.

If you’re at all prone to travel-induced nausea, I suggest taking some motion sickness medication with you, as the drive can be unsettling at times!

When you reach Lanquin, you’ll notice a plethora of jeeps and pickup trucks parked right by the bus stop. As the road from Lanquin to Semuc Champey is primarily unpaved, most hostels, hotels, and guesthouses will send a 4X4 vehicle to take guests to their accommodation.

This journey took around 30 minutes for me, though the exact duration will depend on your lodging.

PRO TIP: You may have to wait for the jeep or pickup truck to fill up before departing, which usually takes around 20-30 minutes.

Where to Stay in Semuc Champey

Where to Stay in Semuc Champey

When planning your visit, you’ll need to consider whether you want to stay close to Semuc Champey or make a day trip from Lanquin instead. As I was eager to maximise my time, I opted to stay in Greengo’s Hotel, which was less than a 15-minute walk from the entrance to Semuc Champey.

If you choose to stay in Greengo’s or any other accommodations nearby, you can visit Semuc Champey on foot at your leisure and won’t have to worry about organising transport there and back. That being said, Lanquin tends to offer a wider range of accommodation options, often with a lower price tag, making it an excellent alternative.

From Lanquin, you’ll have a couple of options to consider when travelling to Semuc Champey. Joining a tour, hopping on a public pickup truck, or taking a taxi are some of the most popular ways of getting there. Pickup trucks are the most cost-effective, but you’ll usually need to wait until it has filled up before it leaves town.

PRO TIP: Most lodgings close to Semuc Champey are pretty isolated, meaning you’ll likely have to eat all your meals on-site, which may affect your decision about where to stay.

Entrance Fees

Semuc Champey

Regardless of whether you stay close to Semuc Champey or in Lanquin, you’ll need to pay for a ticket to explore the limestone formations, pools, and surrounding rainforests. The entry fee is 50 Quetzales (€5.90), and once you’ve paid, your ticket will be valid for the remainder of the day.

As you approach the entrance after walking through the car park, you’ll spot a small ticket booth where you must pay your entrance fee before continuing towards the monument. During my visit, the only option was to pay in cash, so it’s best to have some on hand, as card payments aren’t typically available.

I chose to explore Semuc Champey without a tour, but if you’d prefer to visit alongside a tour guide, you might find that your entrance ticket is included in the total cost of the tour. Be sure to check this with your guide ahead of time.

PRO TIP: Semuc Champey is open from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., and getting here early will allow you to beat the crowds that typically arrive in the late morning.

Hiking to the Viewpoint

Hiking to the Viewpoint

I reached the entrance to Semuc Champey just after it had opened and set off on the short but steep hike to the renowned viewpoint while the temperatures were relatively comfortable. In hindsight, this was a pretty great decision on my part, as I’m certain my 30-minute hike would have taken noticeably longer if I’d arrived later in the day.

As you walk along the path from the ticket office, you’ll quickly spot signs for the hiking path on your left-hand side. This trail mainly consists of steps, making it super straightforward to follow but slightly tough on your legs!

Hiking to the Viewpoint

After I reached the top, I purchased a fresh coconut from a local vendor who’d just set up his stall alongside the viewing platform and spent some time soaking up the vistas and revelling in the splendour of my surroundings. Needless to say, the sweat-inducing climb up was more than worth it!

PRO TIP: The observation deck is relatively small, so unless you get here early, prepare to share the space with your fellow travellers.

Swimming in the Turquoise Pools

Turquoise Pool

Having spent a sizeable portion of the morning admiring Semuc Champey from above, it was time to get a closer look at the glistening turquoise waters. From this viewpoint, you’ll follow the signposts that lead you to the pools. After a quick, 10-minute downhill walk, I arrived at the water’s edge and was ready to get some relief from the rainforest’s humidity.

I had heard petty theft can sometimes be an issue here, so I made my way to the set of lockers alongside the pools and stored my valuables away before diving in. As a word of warning, make sure you bring your own padlock, as only the lockers are provided.

Semuc Champey

The tiered pools were even more remarkable up close, and the clarity of the water was incredible. As there were several collections of pools where swimming was permitted, I set aside a few hours to explore as many of them as I could, with each looking even more impressive than the last.

Make sure you give yourself ample time to move downwards toward the waterfall-clad pools, as these are filled with hidden enclaves and quiet corners.

PRO TIP: Though not essential, water shoes would make the experience more comfortable and enjoyable as some rocks along the edge of the pools are sharp and slippy.

Additional Activities at Semuc Champey

Semuc Champey

While the pools and viewpoint were fantastic in their own right, there are a few other activities you can partake in at Semuc Champey that I’ve already added to my to-do list for my next visit.

Among the best-known excursions in the area, and one that’s especially appealing to adventurous travellers, is the cave tour. With nothing but a candle to direct you, you’ll journey with a guide through magical water-filled caves, climbing rope ladders, clambering over walls, and plunging into pools from tiny gaps in the rocks.

Another popular way to spend an afternoon at Semuc Champey is to hop on a tube and float down the river with a cold drink in hand. Those of you looking to enjoy some downtime during your visit can opt for just the tubing experience, but it’s common to combine this relaxing activity with the heart-pounding cave tour.

If there’s one activity in particular that I wish I’d included in my itinerary, it’s the swing into the cascading pools. Not your typical rope swing; you’ll need to jump off an actual seated swing from quite a height to reach the river from here!

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