Semuc Champey is one of Guatemala’s most iconic sights. Once you see it, you’ll instantly understand why!
Its 18 turquoise pools, broken up by limestone rocks, cascade their way through the lush Guatemalan jungle. Their vibrant colour will make you want to go swimming as soon as you see them.
The water is refreshing, full of natural slides and places to jump. There is also a rope swing or two (if you can find them)!
Even its name is magical. Translated, Semuc Champey literally means ‘where the river hides under the stone.’
You’ll soon understand why. Semuc Champey was created by water slowly eroding away the rock, forming an underground river that is now hidden by the natural rock bridge.
This guide has everything you need to plan the perfect trip to Semuc Champey. From where to stay and what to eat, to the top things to do in Semuc Champey, we’ve put together our best insider tips for visiting Guatemala’s jungle paradise.
Should you visit Semuc Champey?
There is more than swimming to Semuc Champey. You can go river tubing, hike to a viewpoint that gives you THE most incredible view of the river or take a candlelit tour of K’an Ba Cave (find out more detail on these below).
Semuc Champey is an unmissable place on your Guatemalan itinerary. The journey may be long, but it’s 100% worth it!
Note: Lanquin is the nearest town to Semuc Champey. You’ll likely stay here.
How long should you spend in Lanquin (Semuc Champey)?
Most people visit Lanquin purely to visit Semuc Champey. This only takes one day.
Other than enjoying Semuc Champey, there aren’t a ton of things to do in Lanquin and around. You can spend a few days relaxing in your jungle accommodation or go river tubing, but really we recommend a maximum of two days in Lanquin.
You’ll most likely be coming from Lake Atitlan and going to Flores after Semuc Champey (or the other way round). Neither of these are short distances, so we suggest one day of relaxing and doing nothing to recover from the long journey.
Where to stay for Semuc Champey
A lot of people refer to the whole area as Semuc Champey, when in fact, it’s just the natural wonder where you can find the incredible waterfalls and pools.
Lanquin — the nearest town to Semuc Champey
Best for: convenience, as shuttles from other towns in Guatemala will drop you in Lanquin. An adventure on a pick-up truck.
Who is it for: those wanting some infrastructure. Lanquin has a few restaurants, cafes and shops.
Don’t miss: the pick-up trucks to get to Semuc Champey! It’s an unforgettable journey.
Biggest downside: Lanquin lacks charm and things to do.
Jungle retreats — just outside Semuc Champey
Best for: being steps away from Semuc Champey and completely surrounded by lush jungle.
Who is it for: those that want to walk to Semuc Champey and immerse themselves in nature.
Don’t miss: the incredible jungle retreats and accommodation that can be found here.
Biggest downside: there are virtually no restaurants or shops in this area, except a couple of street food stands right outside the entrance to Semuc Champey park.
Accommodation in Lanquin and Semuc Champey
The accommodation options here are just as much of an experience as the Semuc Champey natural wonder itself.
There are some incredible places in both Lanquin and close to Semuc Champey. A lot of them offer unforgettable panoramic jungle views.
Zephyr Lodge is by far the most popular place to stay in Lanquin. Boasting an infinity pool, rooms with spectacular views of the jungle and a fun bar, this hostel is a travel destination in itself.
If you’re looking to be closer to Semuc Champey, Greengos Hotel is only steps away. The pick-up transfer from Lanquin to the hostel is included (when you book two or more nights) and there’s a stunning swimming pool with jungle views. Try their famous hummus while you’re at it, it may well be the best hummus in the country.
Where to eat in Lanquin
You’re not coming to Semuc Champey for incredible food. That’s something to keep in mind.
Lanquin is a small town with only a few restaurants that serve predominantly local Guatemalan cuisine. Most accommodations also have their own restaurants, which is where a lot of visitors end up eating.
Here are our favourite places to eat in Semuc Champey:
La Poza River Lodge
La Poza River Lodge is predominantly a hostel, but it also serves great food. You can find everything from a delicious breakfast, to burgers and a fan favourite: the beef casserole.
Surrounded by fairy lights and plants in the hostel’s garden, this is a great place to enjoy delicious food.
KALULA Café y Restaurante
The views are the highlight of Kalula Cafe. They have a beautiful open terrace that overlooks the lush jungle. The cafe is a lovely place to grab some food or enjoy a coffee.
The menu is quite simple with dishes such as burgers, pizzas, fajitas and similar Guatemalan restaurant staples. The quality of the food is good, but nothing to write home about. Still it’s one of the best that you’re going to get in Lanquin.
How to get around Lanquin
Lanquin is a small place that’s easy to get around. But unless you’re really keen on a hike, you’ll need to catch a ride to visit Semuc Champey: it’s 11 km away.
Here are the best transportation options available:
Your own two feet are the best form of transport whilst in Lanquin. Despite being a hilly town, it’s easy to walk to anywhere that you need to get to.
It’s also possible to walk to Semuc Champey from Lanquin. It will take around 2.5 hours one way.
By pick-up truck
This is Lanquin’s adrenaline-filled alternative to a traditional taxi. Every few minutes you’ll see a pick-up truck passing by full of people and more hanging off the back.
It’s more than just a way of getting from A to B — it’s part of your Semuc Champey adventure. At some points you’re holding on for your life, and at others you’re laughing with locals.
Pick-up truck to Semuc Champey
If you want to visit Semuc Champey independently, a pick up truck is the best way to get there. It costs around Q20 each way. The views along the way are incredible!
Like the pick-up trucks, you’ll see plenty of tuk-tuks zipping around Lanquin.
They are the best option if you don’t fancy walking and want to get around Lanquin. Simply hail one from the street and haggle a reasonable price. Lanquin is small, so don’t pay a lot!
Things to do in Semuc Champey
#1 Visit Semuc Champey (of course)
Exploring Semuc Champey is likely to be one of your favourite days in Guatemala.
The natural beauty of this place is beyond belief, with its vibrant turquoise waters contrasted against the lush green vegetation.
Semuc Champey has a little taste of everything — beauty, adventure, hiking and swimming.
How to visit Semuc Champey: tour or independently?
Chances are, you’re probably staying in the small town of Lanquin. It’s the gateway to Semuc Champey.
From here you have two choices — visit independently or join a tour to Semuc Champey.
Either option you’re going to have a great time, but here are some details to help you make your decision:
Visiting Semuc Champey independently
If you’re not a fan of group tours, or you want to save some money, then visiting independently is a better option. You’ll be able to take your sweet time in the pools, without feeling rushed.
How to get to Semuc Champey
Getting from Lanquin to Semuc Champey is easy. There are plenty of pick-up trucks roaming around Lanquin, waiting to take people to Semuc Champey.
They cost around Q20 each way. Make sure to haggle as they will probably start with a higher price.
The drive takes around 40 minutes, but the time flies by as you drive past the most spectacular views — waterfalls, rivers and mountains.
Holding on for your life at some points also adds to the fun!
There is also the option of walking from Lanquin to Semuc Champey, but this will take you around 2.5 hours each way, so you’ll spend less time at Semuc Champey.
Semuc Champey is open every day from 8am-4pm. Tickets cost Q50. You can buy them at the entrance.
Total for transportation and entrance fee: ~Q100
Top Tip: Try and arrive early at Semuc Champey to avoid the crowds. We recommend getting there as close to 8am as possible.
Visiting Semuc Champey with a tour
You will be able to book a tour to Semuc Champey through almost every accommodation in Lanquin. There are also tour agencies in town.
Tours cost around Q200-250 and include transportation plus your entrance ticket. Some of the tours will also include a visit to K’an Ba Caves (#3).
If your tour includes the caves, they usually start at 9am and finish before sunset.
#2 Hike up to the viewpoint in Semuc Champey
Whilst the pools at Semuc Champey are beautiful from the ground, they are somehow even better from above.
Close to the entrance of the park, there is a path that leads up to a spectacular viewpoint of Semuc Champey.
The hike takes around 30 minutes to reach the top. It’s pretty steep, but the view from the top is worth the sweat.
Take some time at the top to soak up the beauty of this natural wonder. You can also get some awesome pictures from this spot — of both you and Semuc Champey.
The walk back down takes around 20-30 minutes.
#3 Go caving in K’an Ba caves
This activity isn’t for the faint-hearted. They haven’t exactly got health and safety at the forefront on this one.
Over one hour, you’ll venture through a pitch-black cave with nothing to guide you except the light from your candle (and your guide).
Along the way (one-handed because of your candle), you’ll be climbing waterfalls, squeezing through tiny gaps in the rock, swimming and watching out for stalactites. There’s a lot going on, but it’s a ton of fun!
You can also paint your face, if you need an extra dose of warrior confidence.
How to visit K’an Ba caves
K’an Ba caves are about 1 km from the entrance to the Semuc Champey national monument, so you can walk between the two or catch a ride in a pick-up truck.
Cave tours run every half an hour between 9am-3pm. Entrance, including a guide, costs Q60.
#4 Try river tubing
You can visit Semuc Champey and go river tubing all in one day, if you’re short on time. Alternatively, it can be a nice way to spend an extra day in the town.
Grab a few beers and simply sit back and relax as you float down the River Cahabón. The views along the way are stunning, offering glimpses of small local houses along the river.
River tubing lasts for around 30 minutes to one hour and costs between Q30-50.
You can book your river tubing through your accommodation or tour agencies in Lanquin.
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Kate is a writer, (ex)Management Consultant and avid traveller. She recently returned from a 2-year career break exploring the world and decided corporate life wasn’t for her. She’ll soon be testing life as a digital nomad. She’s visited over 40 countries and fell in love with Latin America in particular. Her travelling has inspired a passion for yoga, salsa, hiking and Spanish.
Aleksandra is a writer and editor who recently moved from Hong Kong to London. She’s worked and studied in four countries (and counting) and picked up a new hobby in each of them. She’s a big fan of long train journeys so you can count on her to take the scenic route, finding a few hidden gems along the way.