“You are alone?” The guide looked curiously behind me. He was sitting comfortably on the guardrail at the El Mirado scenic point in Semuc Champey before a sweaty tourist (a.k.a me) stumbled upon the view.
“Yea,” I smiled. This was a question I get often.
“Come up?” He asked, pointing at the space beside him.
I peered through the wooden fence. Two mountains and thousands of trees parted way for a cluster of turquoise pools. The path from where I started this climb was tucked hundreds of meters below.
It’d be hell to fall.
I shook my head weakly.
“You want photo?” The man put his hands together and made a clicking gesture with his index finger, “I’m a professional!”
He hopped off the railing and gently swapped the camera away from my grateful hands. Then, this guy who I’ve never met before, jumped up a few rocky steps behind where I was standing and proceeded to snap photos of a stranger like a long-time friend.
It is these simple encounters that propel me to travel.
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But honestly, it is the Bolivian grandpa who taught me Spanish on a 5 hour bus ride in Colombia, the ice cream man who helped me climb stacks of gigantic boulders along the shoreline to avoid tourist zones, the driver who asked me to sit beside him for safety during a night ride towards the Himalayas, the Indian family who invited me home at 3 in the morning when I was stranded at a bus station, the security guards who danced with us backstage at a bar in Cuba, the woman in Venice who walked some 2 hours with me to find my Airbnb, the Turkish Rideshare drivers who wouldn’t let me pay a cent because I was a visitor to their country. The hundreds of people I’ve stayed with and the thousands I’ve met or traveled with. The many that invited me into their lives without asking for anything in return. These are the moments that define my travels, the glorious, magnificent humanity of it all.
Semuc Champey is an off-the-beaten-path destination in Guatemala. It isn’t the bumpy ride or mountain roads, but rather the length of the journey that makes it harder to reach.
Unless you want to spend an extremely cramped day in Semuc (not recommended/almost impossible due to the lack of shuttle service), it would be best to plan for a few nights in Lanquin, a nearby Mayan village.
Thus, finding a shuttle to this town is key.
Fortunately, many shuttle services provide direct transportation to Lanquin from Guate City, Antigua, and Flores.
From Guatemala City, You can grab a shared shuttle at the Guate Airport or contact a travel agency. This is best arranged through your hotel or hostel at either location.
There are also public buses that go to Coban, where you can take a two-hour bus to Lanquin. One company that provides such a service is Transportes Monja Blanca, which runs hourly to from Guate City to Coban out of the North Bus Terminal.
There are also Chicken buses between Guate City and Coban that cost much less than shuttles!
As with Guate City, there are many private shuttles between Antigua and Lanquin. Most of them are similar in cost and can be arranged through your hostel or a local agency.
Since Guate City lies between Antigua and Lanquin, it is likely that any non-direct shuttles you take will stop in Guate City to pick up passangers. Make sure to clarify this beforehand 🙂
Like most of my destinations, Lanquin was one that appeared on my itinerary at a last moment’s notice. I was speaking to my host in Flores (Tikal) when talks of Semuc Champey, a relaxing haven popped into the conversation.
After some research, I hopped onto a minivan at the Santa Elena Bus Terminal at 6:00 am the next morning towards Coban.
The minivan was so stuffed, that THERE WERE 20 PEOPLE at one point, with half crouched over in misery. (Again, try to arrange a direct bus if you can!)
Coban is a small town at the center of Guatemala. The van from Flores dropped me off at the central bus station, where I walked for some 20 minutes before finding my way onto another two-hour bus ride towards Lanquin.
Lanquin is a serene town surrounded by undulating mountain ranges. The ride here passed deep valleys and winding roads.
The humid summer heat, stuffed minivan, and soul-crushing traffic made the ride kinda miserable. I arrived in the Lanquin town center battered and exhausted from the 10-hour journey.
But once I got off the bus, the charming streets and mid-afternoon breeze completely calmed my senses. A man saw my backpack and correctly assumed my tourist status. We chatted briefly before he happily pointed at my luggage,
“Need a hostel?” My new friend pitched, “Only Q 50!”
Clearly, it wasn’t too difficult to find a hostel/ hotel in Lanquin. Since the town is quite small, most of the accommodation are easily accessible. Many hotels are extremely cheap, costing as little as US 10/night during shoulder season.
I thanked him and went on my way. I was lucky enough to have arranged a last-minute host at the foot of the mountains.
My host was the owner of Vinas hostel. And I was to camp by a pool for the next two days.
Versatility in the Couchsurfing community means unique experiences. The last time I camped out was with a hippie community at a lake side in East Berlin. My friend and I conversed with a shaman by campfire and were introduced to backpackers from all over the world.
That trip was unlike any other.
I was intrigued to know how this time will go.
Unsurprisingly, the Viñas Hotel was very, very different from my time spent sleeping in a tent built by recyclables.
The mini-villa-like-establishment was connected to the mountain. Parts of the hotel were on a slope, with many of the individual rooms sitting peacefully on the rolling hill. The walls of this establishment were bright, charming, and wonderous.
As with the relaxing vibes of the hotel, my host was very flexible with my comings and goings. So, with little deliberation, I decided on tackling Semuc Champey the very next day.
There are local jeeps that bridge Lanquin town center and Semuc on a regular basis. They operate every half an hour since 7 am or so and costs Q 25.
I know this because I didn’t have enough change. After a hearty breakfast costing Q 13, the jeep ride seemed a bit too much. I had Q 150 to stretch me for a few days, including a bus to Panajachel, where I hoped to find a money exchange location.
After some thought, I decided to walk to Semuc.
Yes, I decided to hike a 3-hour trail along mountain roads in the dead heat of Central American summer in flip flops, a dress, and with one bottle of water to Semuc Champey.
Of course, I actually thought myself frugal & tough until 45 minutes in, when my water was nearly out, and I was about drowning in sweat. I started to feel all whoozy and contemplated whether catching a heat stroke in the mountains of Guatemala was a good idea.
Nope, it really didn’t seem like it.
So I ditched my frugal & tough plan and played safe.
Thankfully, there were many jeeps heading towards Semuc. I caught one and paid Q 15 for 20 minutes of bumpy ride with a group of curious locals towards my destination.
Semuc Champey, Guatemala is a natural monument that sits near the Q’eqchi’ Maya town of Lanquín. This forest/jungle consists of a a series of amber limestone steps and still turquoise pools. It is home of the the Cahabón River and has become a popular swimming destination.
Once you pay the Q 50 entrance fee, follow the path forward towards El Mirador Viewpoint.
El Mirador Viewpoint
El Mirador is a rocky uphill hike around 20 minutes. With stone steps and tall trees, this trek literally took the breath out of me.
It was well worth it on top.
Here was where I met the friendly guide.
“Now you can go down for a swim,” he hinted at my sweaty face and nodded towards the ponds below “Enjoy!”
Ponds in Semuc Champey
There are two main sections of ponds of varying sizes in Semuc.
From the entrance, you can walk straight, bypassing El Mirador viewpoint towards the waters.
If you’ve ascended El Mirador, just follow the semi-paved pathway downhill.
It was about 12 pm when I reached the pond, self high-fived (no heat-stroke), and dipped into the chilly waters under a tree. Finally cooling down, I looked out at the people spread across the waters.
Surrounded by mountains and trees, it isn’t a surprise that Semuc has become a popular spot for both tourists and locals a like.
Families laid by the rocks; friends splashed in the waters. I sat by myself, with no signal on my devices ,and confronted by a sudden longing for a travel companion.
These are moments of solo travel that are most expected by those around me, yet strangely, very rarely experienced while I travel.
“Aren’t you lonely?”
Even for those of us traveling alone, it’s impossible to be completely unplugged from the world around us. We are constantly meeting people on the road, at hostels, in resturants. Moments of down time are usually packed by exchanges over phones, social media, and the like.
We are readily connected to threads of human interaction that keep us feeling sane, feeling safe.
But when of it disappears and we are left with no distractions, nothing to do, and nowhere to explore, it is a vastly different, extremely strange world.
Suddenly, I felt a tingle on my legs. I looked down to find dozens of tiny fish swimming around me, nibbling away at my legs.
As quick as the feeling of oddity came to be, it evaporated into this familiarity.
We stand on the same ground stood on by thousands before, share the same space with millions around us, breathe the air like a billion others.
We are never really alone, are we?
Best Time to Visit Semuc Champey
The weather in Guatemala stays warm year-round and the area around Lanquin is quite stuffy no matter the season. However, it might be cloudy and/or rainy during the wet season between May and October, so the best time to stay in Lanquin is during dry season.
I’d recommend visiting Semuc during the morning. Catch a jeep at the town center and arrive early to avoid the crowds/hot weather.
Looking for a tour group around Guatemala?
Other than the Acatenango Volcano, I didn’t use any tours. However, for those that’d like a smoother trip, below are a few tour options that may help ease your trip.
Things to Bring to Semuc Champey
In total, I spent Q 360 (~US 47) for this three day trip. The breakdown is as follows:
- Q 150 (~ US 20) in Lanquin, this included
- Q 50 for the Semuc Champey;
- Q 50 for the jeep to Semuc (roundtrip);
- Q 50 for food.
- Q 210 (~ US 27.5) to go to/from Lanquin
- Q 80 from Flores to Coban
- Q 30 from Coban to Lanquin
- Q 100 from Lanquin to Panajachel
If you’d like to stay in a hostel or hotel, do budget AT LEAST Q 50/night!