Semuc Champy: a jungle oasis

Semuc Champy is 10-12 hours north of Antigua, 8 hours south of Flores and is home to amazing torquise waterfall pools, caves and a fast flowing river, famous for all sorts of adventure activities. The closest town is Lanquinn and this town is really just in the middle of the jungle. Semuc Champy is a further hour, but only 10km, down steep dirt roads. We lost many a things on that trip (RIP MEC water bottle and hat) due to the roller coaster nature of that bus ride. It was actually comical how much we were getting thrown around. Alas, don’t let the distance and uncomfortable shuttle ride deter you, Semuc is defiantly worth a visit!

Most backpackers you meet will have either come from Antigua (10-12 hours away) or from Flores/Tikal (8 hours away) and are usually stopping in Semuc for 2-3 days to break up their trip either north or south and to check out the famous waterfall pools.

We got to Semuc late in the evening and went to bed excited for a full day of activities the next morning. The tour starts at 8am and after some 10 minute walk from the hostel you arrive at the caves. You have to wear shoes in, so if you have hiking sandals this is their time to shine. A lot of people wore sneakers in, so it’s not an issue if you don’t, but I was very glad that my ugly, but very practical sandals, finally payed off. Before you enter your told to be careful, given a flimsy candle as a light source and that’s about it, off you go. No ridged saftey standards here. You will literally be climbing, sliding, swimming and jumping your way through the cave, and if your thinking that your candle will go out, rest assured that it defiantly will. Chances are it’ll break or you’ll loose it when you decide that holding onto the rope to avoid getting sucked into the waterfalls is more important than your ability to see. But hey, it’s all part of the novelty of using an outdated, highly inconveient light source , rather than an extremely practical, but oh-so-boring head light.

After you survive the caving, you’ll go to a massive rope swing that flings you into rapidly flowing water. Trying to swim back to shore is perhaps more adrenaline pumping than the swing itself, the current is seriously strong!

After this you’ll attempt to relax as you float uncontrollably down said fast flowing river, and probably get asked 50 times if you want to buy a beer from a child no older than 12, floating next to you with an esky.

Then it’s bridge jumping time. Lots of fun. Probably dangerous. Again fast flowing water. Swimming is an important skill here.

After lunch youll take the sweatest 1/2 hour walk of your life, vertically up to a veiwing platform, where you’ll fight to get the perfect panoramic picture of Semuc Champey’s famous pools. After a few snaps, you’ll begin climbing down to finally bath in these amazingly cool pools.

After this your days just about over,  getting back to the hostel around 5pm, just in time for some over priced food and a game of giant jenga, cards or just a well deserved beer.

It really was an awesome day and by the end of it you’ll be exhausted! Perfecto!!

Getting there: Shuttles to Semuc/Lanquinn are extremely easy to come by and you will defiantly walk past 100s of signs advertising shuttles before you actually book one. We payed 120Q for our airconitioned shuttle, but you can also find them for 100Q, on a bigger un-air conditioned bus. Likewise expect to pay more if you don’t hunt around and accept the first price they give you. The bus ride isn’t the worst thing, and if your staying in Lanquinn, as opposed to Semuc, then the journey is one hour less. See below for advise on where to stay.

Where to stay: firstly you have to decide if you want to stay in Lanquinn or Semuc Chamey itself. Personally we stayed in Semuc and very glad we did, as it meant we were first in the caves before the 15 other tour groups arrived an hour later. It also meant we were in the jungle for a few nights away from the sometimes overwhelming Central American street stalls, venders and traffic. However it also meant we had limited/no options for food outside the hostel, which did make for an expensive few days. Factors to consider are:

  1. Is wifi a nessecity? If yes, don’t stay in Semuuc as it is in the middle of the jungle and there is no wifi. If possible embrace not having access to the Internet for a few days, it was actually amazing and everyone was so much more social.
  2. Can you afford to eat 3 meals a day at the hostel? If not this doesn’t mean you can’t stay in Semuc, just ensure you bring lots of snacks with you, some fresh fruit and veggies. This should help reduce the cost somewhat.
  3. Do you want to do a tour to see th caves and the pools? if not, stay in Semuc as you don’t need transport to get to the caves or pools, they are within walking distance. If you stay in Lanquinn you will have no choice but to do a tour, as the only vechiles that go down that road are the big tour buses, no tuk-tuks brave that journey.

We stayed at Green Gos Hostel in Semuc and it was amazing. Hot showers, nice dorms and private villas, a volley ball court, amazing communal area with lots of games, a small gym space and a river flowing through the property. It was $10 AUD a night. However food cost us around 200Q for one full day of meals, one dinner and one breakfast. We didn’t know we would have no food options so had no snacks, which was a rookie error.

You will also hear a lot about Zepher Loodge in your travels, and this is the main party hostel in Lanquinn. So if you want to stay in Lanquinn and are into that kind of scene then this the place to be.

Cost:  $10-15 a night

What to do: the main things to do here is the waterfall pools, caving and tubing. You can do all of these things with a tour that will set you back about 200Q. The tours include, caving, tubing, rope swings, 10m bridge jumps, lunch and the pools.  We really enjoyed the tour , but it is also possible to do it by yourself, if your staying in Semuc. Without a tour entry to the pools costs 50Q, caving with a guide costs 70Q and lunch in the area will set you back around 30-50Q.

So really your only saving around 30-40Q to go it alone, but if you prefer to just do the pools then it’s more economical to do it alone.

Onwards travel: we booked our onwards shuttle to Antigua, when we booked our ticket to Semuc. We were initially hesitant about this but it ended up saving us around $5, so if you can buy both together. It is possible to arrange the shuttle at the hostel but it will be significantly more expensive and you will not be able to negotiate the price

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