6 Hot Tips You Need Before Visting Semuc Champey
Feeling completely exhausted from climbing Acatenango the day prior, I decided I could rest my weary body on the 12 hour bus trip from Antigua to Lanquin – where a full day of action, adventure and exercise awaited me in Semuc Champey. I booked my shuttle for 125Q from Agencia de Viajes Monja Blanca – the cheapest that I could find (we also got a discount for booking in a group of 4). After hours of rough, windy roads and a quick pit-stop at Maccas, we at long last made it to Lanquin. To get to your accommodation, most hostels had transport ready and waiting to take you where you needed to be – but it would pay to double check with your hostel just so you’re not stranded in the dark.
I stayed at Greengo’s Hotel in Semuc Champey based on the recommendation from fellow travelers. I would urge you to stay in Semuc Champey over Lanquin as you will be one of the first groups to start the tour, something which ended up being a huge advantage (I’ll touch on that later!). Greengo’s is a boutique eco hostel – just because you’re in the jungle doesn’t mean you have to give up the finer things in life! The showers are steaming hot, the rooms are spacious and clean and there’s a beach volleyball court where you can re-create your favourite Top Gun scene.
If you do decide to stay in Semuc, remember that you are isolated and your choices for eating and entertainment outside of the hostel are pretty much nonexistent. Luckily at Greengo’s there was a delicious menu with fresh, healthy, tasty food. It was a bit more expensive than what you would pay at a local restaurant and you can’t help but feel like they’ve got you by the balls with no other options, but the quality was definitely up there with the best in terms of hostel food.
I 100% recommend experiencing Semuc Champey with the day tour. Normally if there’s a way I can avoid doing a tour I would take that road but in this case you actually get so much more out of it – it was genuinely one of the most action packed days in the past 8 months of my Central America trip. Can’t be bothered reading all about it? Watch my video below! If you want a breakdown of the day – read on!
SPELUNKING (It’s a word, I promise!)
The first activity of the day is to explore some caves which link a waterfall to the river that runs through Semuc Champey. Armed with nothing but a long candle, you enter the cave at the top of a waterfall and wade through the chilly, waist deep water until the natural light disappears. Very soon you will be up to your neck in water (or swimming for your life if you’re not 6’3”) and juggling your candle and GoPro as you pull yourself along the rope. Normally you can continue right until the end where there is a waterfall jump, but due to the heavy rains over the last few days our guide decided that it was too dangerous and we turned around. At some points the current in the caves was very strong and this is where being the first group (and staying in Semuc Champey) comes in handy. As we were swimming back out the caves there were multiple groups entering – we later found out that some of the groups had panicked as the water levels rose and there was some chaos as everyone tried to get out. Not really the kind of situation I’d like to be in but luckily we avoided this by being one of the first groups in the caves.
HOT TIP #1: Caves are wet, fire is not. Keep that candle out of the water or you’ll have about as much sight as Stevie Wonder.
Having successfully exited the cave with minimum distress you’ll grab a car tube and head up the river for a spot of tubing, but not before stopping at a massive river swing! Sit that derrière on the seat, kick those legs out and squeal like a schoolgirl as you fly into the river.
Hot Tip #2: Don’t let go too early or you’ll face plant. Don’t let go at all and you had better hope your launch was straight!
Now I’ve done a fair bit of tubing, most of it fairly relaxing as you slowly wind your way down a serene river. This was not that. With the recent rains the river was high and flowing quickly which meant for a very exciting trip in a tube that was too small for my glowing, white arse (I struggled to even sit on it for the first 15 minutes). At some point you will be bombarded by some local kids selling beers – it might be 9.30 AM but ¿por qué no? Watch out for Ronaldo, a cheeky little shite of a 12 year old who has spent too much time around swearing Aussies, make sure to push him in the river for me if you meet him!
Hot Tip #3: Pick a larger tube and let someone else struggle to stay afloat. Also keep your ears alert for calls of ‘CULO ARRIBA!!’ which is your guide telling you to get your ‘ass up’ for the hidden rocks which will make a man out of you.
The first half of the day is almost complete, so what is the best way to bring in the drinks break other than jumping of a bridge into the rampaging river below? Ronaldo and his mates showed us it was safe by jumping through the truss of the bridge, head first into the river. You can’t argue with that! It’s about 10 metres depending on the river height, likely higher during the dry season. Just climb up over the cables and step off!
Hot Tip #4: Forget that the bridge has huge holes everywhere and that the river is thundering below you Just do it. You’ll kick yourself later on if you don’t!
At this point we were pretty exhausted and ready for some food. At Greengo’s, lunch is included back at the hostel as part of the tour. I heard a few stories about some travelers getting food poisoning from the local BBQ (where you would eat if staying in Lanquin) but again, you won’t have that problem if you’re staying in Semuc. With some food and a beer in your gut you might be thinking about a quick siesta but sleep can wait, you’ve got a mountain to hike!
I won’t lie, this was definitely the part I was dreading. Still sleep deprived and aching from hiking Acatenango a few days before, I had visions (read: nightmares) of a steep, muddy and rocky trail that went on for hours. In the end it really wasn’t that bad, I was definitely getting my fair share of leg day with some of the stairs but it wasn’t unbearable at all. And what do you get at the end of the hike? You’re rewarded with an (almost!) bird’s eye view of the stunning Semuc Champey pools. Lucky for you I managed to get a proper bird’s eye view with the use of my handy dandy drone!
Hot Tip #5: The best spot to take a group photo is to climb up the tree roots to the right of the platform and stand on the fence (which normally keeps you from an uncomfortable fall off the cliff). Here you can get a full shot of everyone on the platform and the bright blue rock pools below.
SEMUC CHAMPEY POOLS
So now you’ve got the perfect postcard photo of Semuc Champey for your Insta it’s time to experience it up close! I won’t give too much away (other than what’s in the video!) but there will be lots of jumping, swimming, sliding and exploring. There was one part where our guide took a breath and disappeared into an underwater cave where you had about 10cm of air between the rocks and the water – not for the claustrophobic!
Hot Tip #6: Head all the way to the top of the rock pools where you will see the roaring waterfall which feeds water all the way down to the bottom. If you’re really trying to save money and haven’t booked the tour, keep an eye on the groups that trickle in and take note of the best spots to jump from. Sometimes it’s worth paying a little to not have a broken neck!
We stumbled our way back to Greengo’s completely exhausted from an action packed day, cracking a cold one as soon as we arrived. And if we weren’t tired enough, there was another 12 hour bus ride to Flores where the huge ruins of Tikal awaited us!