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Semuc Champey Tour in Guatemala

Semuc Champey Guatemala - Finding the Best Hostels in Semuc Champey

Semuc Champey Guatemala is one of the highlights of most people’s visit to Central America.  Beautiful turquoise pools amid the lush Guatemalan jungle certainly is a sight to behold.  However, as a visit to Semuc Champey requires a 2-day detour between Antigua and Flores in northern Guatemala, if you are on a tight schedule think very carefully if you have time to fit in this little slice of paradise.  Once you have decided to go, the next decision is whether to take a Semuc Champey tour or to visit independently.

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How to Get to Semuc Champey Guatemala

The easiest, and recommended, way to Semuc Champey is to take a shuttle from Flores to Lanquin or Antigua to Lanquin, which then drop you off at your hotel or hostel in Semuc Champey (or nearby Lanquin), with a stop off in Coban. 

With prices starting from 100 quetzales it probably works out just as cheap as taking the chicken buses, and a lot quicker.  Even so, it still takes 8-9 hours from either city, and the shuttles always travel by day. 

I left Flores at 8am and arrived in Lanquín (the closest town to Semuc Champey) at around 5pm, and when travelling on to Antigua, I left Lanquín at 8am, and arrived in Antigua at 6pm.

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Bear in mind that the road in both directions is very windy, and continuously so.  For those of you who suffer from motion sickness, I recommend taking tablets or another method of reducing the effects!  I had 2 of my tablets, wore my acupressure bands, and managed to negotiate a seat at the front, which helped a lot!  

On the plus side, some of the views of the Guatemalan countryside from Flores to Lanquin on the way to Semuc Champey are quite spectacular.


Semuc Champey tour or without a guide - Semuc Champey Guatemala
On the road to Lanquin, we passed locals carrying allsorts on their heads

Hostels in Semuc Champey Guatemala

There are a couple of options for a Semuc Champey hostel, within walking distance to the entrance of the park, or in nearby Lanquin.  I preferred to stay in Lanquín which had more choice and had the chance of strolling around the town too.  

Zephyr Lodge in Lanquín is more of a party hostel but has great views and a swimming pool.  I stayed at the more chilled out El Retiro Lanquin, which offers private rooms and dorms, and is right by the river so you can swim there instead.  The dorms were basic, and smelled a little damp, but the setting was beautiful.  

A simple but well-selected breakfast & lunch menu is complemented by a themed buffet dinner every night.  Breakfast & lunch costs around 25-30 Q, and the lunch buffet was 50-60 quetzales.  The buffets included lots of vegetables too, so it was great to get some vitamins! 

They also have a bar on site with a ping pong table, pool table, and swings to relax on.  I really enjoyed my stay here, and at 50 Q a night for a dorm bed you can’t go wrong!

READ MORE: The Best Hostels in Semuc Champey

Where to stay in Semuc Champey Guatemala
One of the best hostels in Semuc Champey Guatemala is El Retiro

The Semuc Champey Tour

All of the hotels/hostels in Lanquín arrange Semuc Champey tours and follow the same basic format.  They include:

An English speaking guide, transport in the back of a van to Semuc Champey, a visit to the Kan’Ba caves, swinging off a giant swing into the river, tubing down the river, a break for lunch (food is not included), then hiking to the viewpoint and time to swim in the pools.  The tour from El Retiro cost 185 Quetzales, and left at 9am, returning approximately 5.30pm.

The Semuc Champey Caves Tour

The tour of the Semuc Champey caves is great for the adventurous but not for the fainthearted.  After visiting the ATM caves in Belize I thought I was prepared for anything, but no helmets and no headlamps here – just a candle.  A candle.

Semuc Champey Tour or Without a Guide - Semuc Champey Guatemala
Part of the Semuc Champey Tour was a Cave Tour. By Candlight. Fun and Terrifying!  Courtesy: Sandie Chauveau

The first part of the cave tour was fine, a couple of bruises from bumping into rocks, and then an optional precarious climb & leap into a dark pool below.  I politely declined, my paranoia of suffering an injury so far away from a hospital preventing me from really letting go! 

Then I ended up at the front of our group, and unsuspectingly was led down a drop in the cave – expecting to hit ground a few centimetres below I got a hell of a shock when I kept falling then plunged into water below.  The guide said he didn’t tell me as most people love it, but I was terrified and pretty pissed off!  Maybe it was my fault for going first, at least the others behind me knew what was coming. 

The other optional fun was using a black substance from walls to paint your face – I’m not sure if it was bat guano or something from the rock but that stuff is a nightmare to get off!  Personally, I hated this part of the tour, but most people love visiting the Semuc Champey caves, so perhaps it’s just me.

After the caves, we emerged & walked a bit further upriver to a giant swing which we could leap off into the river below.  It looked like fun, but after my shock in the cave, I wasn’t really in the mood for it.  My new friend Sandie did a great job though!

Tubing at Semuc Champey

We then walked another 5 minutes up river to where the waterfalls at the bottom of Semuc Champey cascade into the river below.  A pretty spot for photographs there was also the chance to swim here and for daredevils yet another jump into the water from the top of the falls.

Then came the tubing.  A gentle 20 minutes or so float down the river.  The local kids were peddling beers to drink on the way and would catch you on the way back up to make sure you paid them.

Semuc Champey Tour or Without a Guide - Semuc Champey Guatemala
The waterfall at the end of the Semuc Champey pools in Guatemala

After tubing, we took a break for lunch.  A couple of our group had a takeaway lunch from El Retiro; a stuffed sandwich, fruit and a biscuit for 25-30 Q, but we went to eat at a stall selling a buffet for 50Q.  The food was good, and make-shift restaurant was clean.  This was just before the river crossing, on the hill next to the white stone ‘Bienvenidos’ sign. 

After stuffing myself silly, now was time for the hike up to the viewpoint at Semuc Champey.  We hopped back into our truck and were driven across a VERY rickety bridge to the entrance to the Semuc Champey park.  After a bathroom break, we entered the park and followed the signs to the mirador.

The Semuc Champey Viewpoint

The hike to the viewpoint is a steep 30 minute climb, mostly up a combination of stone steps and wooden staircase.  It was cloudy when I was there, so I was spared some of the heat, but still needed a couple of breathers along the way.  The hike wasn’t difficult, just steep – and definitely worth the climb!

Semuc Champey Independently or With a Guide
Even if you go to Semuc Champey without a guide, make sure you take the hike up to the viewpoint!

We rested at the top, took photos and climbed down a different way to come out at the entrance to the pools (pozos).  There were a few lockers at the entrance, although you would need to bring your own lock, and test several to get a relatively secure one! 

The pools were beautiful; cool and deep enough for jumping in places, and others shallow enough to sit and wallow.  When we visited at the end of May, in the afternoon the sun was behind the mountain alongside the pools, so we could swim without worrying about burning.  Sunscreen adds to the chemicals in the water so it is best to avoid if you can! 

We stayed in the pools for about an hour, then returned to take our bumpy ride back to Lanquín.

Semuc Champey Without a Guide or Tour
Getting to Semuc Champey from Lanquin involves hanging on the back of a truck like this.

Getting to Semuc Champey Independently

If you prefer not to take a Semuc Champey tour, it is easy to reach the park on your own.  In the morning there are plenty of trucks going to Semuc Champey from Lanquín.  An option is to use the same transport as your hostel tour, for example from El Retiro the guide was charging 25 Q just for the ride to Semuc Champey, not including anything from the tour. 

You may be able to negotiate a better deal with another truck in town, just hang around and flag down any passing truck.  The entrance fee to the park itself was 50 Quetzales for foreigners and less for people from Guatemala.  At the entrance to the park there are several stands selling food (although I’m not sure about the quality), drinks and sliced fruits. 

There are bathrooms at the entrance, and lockers inside by the pools. Once you’ve had your fill, negotiate a ride back to town on any of the leaving trucks.

If you are making an independent trip to Semuc Champey without a guide, I recommend hiking up the viewpoint first, then after the sweaty walk, you will be more than ready for a swim in the cool water!

Semuc Champey Tour or Without a Guide
The water at Semuc Champey Guatemala really is this beautiful!

Which is best, a tour to Semuc Champey, or an Independent Visit?

If you want to also visit the extra things like the caves, tubing and the swing then the Semuc Champey tour is definitely worth it, as each extra item has its own additional cost. 

If you just want to come and enjoy the pools and the viewpoint, then it is just as easy to come alone to Semuc Champey without a guide.  The price of the Semuc Champey tour is very good, considering everything that is included.  However, if I went again, I would definitely go independently.

Tips for Visiting Semuc Champey Guatemala

Wear comfortable shoes.  For the tour, I wore my trusty Merrel sandals, although I would have been glad for more sturdy shoes on the hike.  For the swimming and the caves though these sandals were perfect.

The 45-minute truck journey to the park is very bumpy, on a dirt track.  Everyone piles into the back of the trucks and hang on for dear life!  The scenery was incredible, I would have loved to take photos but it was just too bumpy.

Put reef-safe sunscreen on before you leave your hostel.  If it is sunny, you’ll need it for the truck ride.

Everywhere you may need water, local people will be selling it!  Be aware that as soon as you arrive at the Semuc Champey bridge, kids will be there selling drinks and chocolate.  They are fluent in several languages (at least the phrases they need – What is your name, where are you from, chocolate, 5 quetzales – and maybe later?)  and ask your name so they can write it down and find you later!  I found this quite uncomfortable, it is hard to know whether to give them money or not; that is up to you.

There are bathrooms at the cave entrance of you decide to go there, and at the entrance to the pools.

At the pools there are some lockers to leave your belongings, bring your own lock & check them to make sure it is secure.

The rocks in the pools are very slippery, take extra care when walking on the stones.

Have you taken a Semuc Champey tour or did you go there independently?  Share your experiences in the comments below.

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Last updated: June 19, 2020

15 thoughts on “Semuc Champey Tour in Guatemala

  1. Kelly Ziemba says:

    I’m planning a short trip, 6 days, to Guatemala and I really want to visit Semuc Champey. I will be coming from Guatemala City & will only be able to stay one full day at SC. Do you recommend I take the time to drive there, spend only one day, and drive back or should I just explore/hike around Antigua?
    Any recommendation would be much appreciated!

    • Claire says:

      Hi Kelly, thanks for reading!! It is a tough call and it is hard if it is something you really want to do. However, it is a long way to come just for one day. You will spend 2 full days just driving – the road from Coban to Semuc isn’t the best, and I don’t certainly don’t advise driving at night if you have your own car. So it seems a long way to come – 3 of your 6 days in Guatemala just for 1 day at Semuc Champey. I think I would probably stay around Antigua or Lake Atitlan for those days, both of which are beautiful places themselves! I hope that helps 🙂

  2. Cat says:

    Did I hear adventurous? Then, I’m in for the tour! The cave tour looks fun! But the guide should have told you what’s ahead just so you’re prepared. If I were you, I would be pissed too!

  3. Sheena says:

    I visited Semuc Champey on my own, the only hard part was trying to find a ride for a reasonable price… and that road! What a ride! We stopped a few times for the driver & locals to make their errands too. Also loved hiking to the lookout & Kanba caves!

  4. Ryan Biddulph says:

    Hi Claire,

    Awesome stuff. My wife would be woozy reading this; she gets motion sickness on long haul bus rides, especially on windy roads. I believe she fell ill in this region of Guatemala but twas before we visited Central America together. Thanks for sharing 🙂


  5. candy says:

    This is quite the adventure. I can’t believe you were tricked into a drop in that cave. I would have been pretty pissed myself since I worry so much about getting injured (health care in the states is so expensive!). Glad nothing happened to you 🙂 I also get quite a bit of motion sickness and have never tried the acupressure bands. I need to try those!

  6. sarah says:

    How beautiful! These are definitely on my list for when I go back to Guatemala. Your blog is very detailed, especially with whether or not its better to go with a tour or independent. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Susan R says:

    I hadn’t heard of Semuc Champey so this was a really interesting read. The candlelight cave tour sounds very adventurous! I’d like to try the swing in the river if it’s not too deep water?

  8. michele h peterson says:

    Great post with lots of honest information! I too have been to the cave and was eaten to bits by mosquitos but am grateful I didn’t take that leap into darkness as you did. Love your photos!

  9. Veronica P. says:

    I have just added one more location to my Travel Bucket list. I love places like this, still untouched and without guides wearing the same t-shirts.

  10. mark wyld says:

    Wow that hostel El Retiro looks amazing. the place to have a drink and relax looks so peaceful and beautiful. Thanks for introducing this destination to me.

  11. Paige says:

    I would’ve definitely been in the more chill place with you. That view is just unreal! I’ve never been, but I think I would enjoy the tour just because it’s easier than trying to get around to all the things. I’d be afraid I’d miss out. Plus, it sounds like a pretty reasonable price. This is definitely on the list!

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