Deep in the Guatemalan jungle lies a paradise known as Semuc Champey with stepped turquoise pools excellent for swimming. In this guide, we’ll go over everything you need to know to plan your trip to Semuc Champey Natural Monument, including how to get there, where to stay and things to do nearby.
The cascading turquoise pools of Semuc Champey National Park are set in a lush mountain valley deep in the Guatemalan jungle. Far from any major cities, this area has a feel that is truly different from anywhere else in Guatemala (or the rest of the world, for that matter!).
Before we go any further, let me give you a warning: The journey to Semuc Champey is not for the faint of heart.
Getting to this remote jungle oasis requires a bus ride so bumpy you won’t soon forget it. The closest town is Lanquin, which is only 10 km away, but still takes 45 minutes in a 4×4 jeep.
In this guide, we’ll cover everything from exactly how to get to Semuc Champey to insider tips you’ll be glad you know before you get there.
If you’re up for an adventure and come with an open mind, a trip to Semuc Champey Park may just be a highlight of your time in Central America.
Semuc Champey Guatemala Guide
- Things to do at Semuc Champey
- Best way to visit
- Visiting Semuc Champey without a tour
- Visiting Semuc Champey with a tour
- Our experience
- How to get there
- Where to stay nearby
- How many nights should you stay?
- Weather in Semuc Champey
- What to pack
Things to do at Semuc Champey
While the namesake turquoise pools are the draw to this remote part of Guatemala, there are a few other things to do in the area that’ll get your heart pumping for all the right reasons!
1. Swim in the limestone pools at Semuc Champey
Getting to splash around in the turquoise pools of Semuc Champey is THE reason to come here. Swim, float, slide down the waterfalls, soak up the sun, read a book… do whatever your heart desires!
2. Go river tubing down Río Cahabón
“Extreme river tubing” down the Cahabón River (Río Cahabón) is a popular activity after visiting the turquoise pools. Depending on the water levels, your trip can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours to get back to your starting point.
The river float is called “extreme” for good reason—you will go over some rapids on your tubes. Locals will float along beside you to sell you beer along the way. However, we’d recommend being careful, as some of the rapids are quite big!
Also, depending on the time of year you visit, the water might not be all that warm. We visited Semuc Champey in May and the water was still pretty chilly. Just be prepared to stick it out and shiver a bit like we did!
3. Visit KanBa Cave (“Candlelight Cave”)
Usually combined with a day trip to the pools of Semuc Champey, visiting the nearby KanBa Cave is very popular. Each person gets a candle and you spend about an hour and a half exploring the cave with a guide by candlelight.
If you’re not in a tour group but still want to see the cave, you can show up and pay the 50Q (~$6 USD) entrance fee.
Tours leave every half hour from 9 a.m. — 3 p.m. (Note: Most of the hostel-run tour groups do this in the morning, so it might be a good idea to go a bit later to avoid the crowds.)
4. Hike to El Mirador (aka the viewpoint of Semuc Champey)
The viewpoint is definitely a highlight of any visit to Semuc Champey. Being up close and personal in the pools is awesome, but it’s just as fun to get a view from above.
Follow the signs to the mirador (Spanish for “viewpoint”) and start your climb. The hike takes about 45 minutes each way, and is quite steep on some pretty rickety stairs in some parts. At the top, there’s a platform you can view the pools from, and a few women sell fresh fruits and coconuts.
Best way to visit Semuc Champey
You can visit the pools of Semuc Champey on your own, or you can organize a tour through your hostel.
If you’re on a budget or just want some time to relax and take pictures without the crowds, you’ll want to visit Semuc Champey independently.
On the other hand, if you want to mingle with other travelers and pack as much into one day as possible, you’ll enjoy going to Semuc Champey with a tour!
Both options are good, and we’ll walk you through what to expect with each so you can make the best decision for you.
Note: All prices are as of 2023. Prices may change over time so be sure to double check with tour companies.
Visiting Semuc Champey on your own (without a tour)
- It will be slightly cheaper. (See more on the total cost below.)
- If you visit on your own you have more freedom to visit the pools at your own pace.
- You won’t be stuck in a crowd. Depending on the day or the season you’re visiting, the groups can get quite large (we saw a group of about 40 people).
- You’ll get to hang out in the pools in the morning light before the tour groups get there. While we were there, the morning light was much nicer than in the afternoon when the clouds took over and it got a bit chilly (with a few rain sprinkles!).
- If you make it to the viewpoint before the tour groups arrive, you will likely have it all to yourself!
- You won’t see the cave that’s included in the tour, unless you go on your own!
- You won’t have the chance to mingle with other travelers in your tour group.
Cost of visiting Semuc Champey without a tour
The cost of getting to Semuc Champey is going to vary depending on where you are staying.
The park is within walking distance of a few hotels, whereas it’s nearly a 1-hour drive from others. But to give you an idea, we’ll share the costs of visiting Semuc Champey independently from a few different locations.
Here’s an idea of what you can expect to spend:
- 25Q for transportation from Lanquin (~$3 USD)
- 150Q shuttle from Antigua to Lanquin (~$20 USD)
- $25 USD for the Monja Blanca Bus from Guatemala City to Coban
- 30Q per person for the local bus from Coban to Lanquin (~$4 USD)
- 50Q entrance fee for foreigners (~$6 USD)
- 65Q if you choose to go tubing (~$8 USD), or 15Q for return transport ($2 USD)
You’ll also need to pay for lunch on your own. There are a few stands near the park entrance selling a big platter of food for 40Q (grilled chicken, rice, black beans, cabbage salad, avocado), which is perfect to split between 2 people. There are a couple other vendors selling fresh fruits, chocolate and soda (and the young girls can be quite pushy, but super cute).
Visiting Semuc Champey with a tour
- Everything is organized for you.
- You’ll get to hang out with others from your hostel for the whole day.
- The tour includes an hour and a half visit through a cave by candlelight.
Note: We’ve heard very mixed reviews about the cave that’s included on the tour. Both a good friend of ours as well as someone we had just met in Guatemala told us it was nothing special, and even used the word “boring” to describe it.
On the other hand, we heard from a couple others that they thought it was a great experience and they really enjoyed it. This goes to show that travel is totally personal, and the right decision for one person is not necessarily right for another.
- You won’t be able to go at your own pace. This is something to consider if you like to take photos along the way or if you get annoyed by waiting for others.
- Sometimes the tours are large and you won’t really be able to have any alone time.
- It is slightly more expensive, so if you’re on a budget, this is something to consider.
- The viewpoint can get really crowded with a whole tour group up there at the same time.
Cost of visiting Semuc Champey with a tour
The tour to Semuc Champey can cost anywhere from $20 USD to well over $100 depending on where you are coming from and what the tour includes.
When we were there, the cost of a hostel-organized tour from Lanquin was 180Q (~$23 USD), which included transportation, park entrance and a guide. You could also opt to include a packed lunch for an additional 35Q (~$4.50 USD, or purchase on your own) and tubing for 55Q (~$7 USD).
If you are staying in Antigua or Guatemala City and want all of the logistics planned for you, this 3-day Semuc Champey tour includes all transportation, a professional English speaking guide, park entrance fees, 2 nights at Park Hotel in Coban, and daily breakfast for $425 USD.
Our experience visiting Semuc Champey
We chose to visit Semuc Champey without a tour, and we were happy with our decision. I wasn’t feeling well the morning of the tour, and the thought of being inside a cave sounded much less appealing than relaxing in refreshing pools, so we opted out of the tour.
I have a huge case of FOMO, and am a bit bummed we missed the cave, but honestly, we had such a good day on our own that I can’t complain too much.
That said, going solo isn’t the best option for everyone. Hopefully our explanations above will help you decide which way is best for you to visit Semuc Champey.
How to get to Semuc Champey
The first stop on your journey to Semuc Champey is the town of Lanquin. And when we say “town”, let’s specify by saying there’s a dirt road with some small shops and houses. Most of the hotels, however, are located a bit outside Lanquin.
There are a few different ways to get to Lanquin, depending on where in Guatemala you are coming from…
If you are coming from Antigua, the ride will take about 8-9 hours. There are generally two shuttle services to Lanquin daily at 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. You can arrange these with your hostel or hotel.
We’d recommend taking the 8 a.m. (you can sleep on the bus!) so you arrive at a reasonable hour (around 5 p.m.). If you take the 2 p.m. you’ll sit through traffic in Guatemala City and won’t arrive in Languin until 10/11 p.m.
From Guatemala City
If you are coming from Guatemala City, you can take the Monja Blanca Bus to Coban for about $25 USD. The bus leaves at 9 a.m. and the ride will be about 5 hours as it makes stops along the way. But at least it’s a comfortable tour bus with AC.
From Coban, you can take the local bus another 1.5 hours to Lanquin for about 30Q (~$4 USD).
Shuttle to your hotel from Lanquin
Many of the hotels in the area will arrange a shuttle for you (whether it’s free or not depends on the hotel). Just email them your departure city and time and there will be someone waiting for you when you arrive in Lanquin.
Word of warning: You will most likely be asked (like 5 times!) if you want to book a shuttle out of Lanquin right as you arrive. When we boarded our bus in Flores, our driver asked us before he even started the engine. We heard that sometimes they oversell these buses and people are left without a ride. Ignore the touts and instead book your shuttle from your hotel.
Rent a car
There is always the possibility to rent a car and make the drive to Semuc Champey on your own. Renting a car is a good way to cut down on travel time, plus you’ll be able to explore at your own pace.
However, inter-city travel after dark is not recommended for foreigners in Guatemala due to the increased risk of crime. So maybe do a bit more of your own research before you decide to venture out on the roads on your own.
Where to stay near Semuc Champey
There are plenty of options near Semuc Champey – from party hostels with a young crowd to off-the-grid digs to chilled eco lodges.
It can be overwhelming choosing a hotel because the town of Lanquin isn’t one that you’ll want to spend all that much time in. This means that typically your hotel will be where you eat, sleep, hang out and organize tours through.
Add to this that many of the hostels are still a journey from Lanquin, and you might be left scratching your head.
Where we stayed: Utopia Eco Hotel
This open-air lodge is situated on a hill overlooking lush jungle. There are no other hotels in sight, and it truly feels like paradise. That said, any hotel built in the middle of the jungle is going to have some issues and lack some of the conveniences of staying in a city.
What we loved about Utopia:
- Enjoying amazing jungle views on a candlelit terrace is something that just can’t be beat.
- Compared to some of the other hostels in the area, this one has a bit of a wider age range. That said, it’s still a pretty young crowd.
- Surprisingly, the showers have hot water!
- There’s a water fill up station, which makes it easy to avoid buying bottled water.
- There is a yoga platform that looked really nice. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to use it since we were only there one full day.
Room for improvement:
- Rooms are basic, and honestly, we weren’t expecting much. But the bed wasn’t the most comfortable.
- If you book a dorm or a “private nook”, like we did, know that you’ll have to go down a set of stairs to use the shared restroom. Not ideal in the middle of the night.
- There are bugs. Lots of them. And truthfully this isn’t really a negative on the hostel itself. You’re staying in the middle of the freakin’ jungle, so there are gonna be bugs. We didn’t have an issue with them, but it is worth mentioning to those who might be a bit squeamish.
- The WiFi didn’t work for us. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing (you’re in the jungle, after all!), but it is worth mentioning so you can plan ahead and don’t arrive with the expectation of connecting.
The food at Utopia:
As with pretty much any place you choose to stay near Semuc Champey, you will be having your meals there as well. The food at Utopia is all vegetarian, which we’re totally on board with, but honestly, the options are kind of limited.
Each evening there’s a communal dinner, which they encourage people to order. The options while we were there were a veggie burger one night and spaghetti the next, both of which were fine (nothing special, but not bad).
It costs 60Q ($8 USD) per person, which is a bit steep. But seeing as you’re in the jungle and all the ingredients have to be brought in, you can understand the prices.
Other accommodation in Semuc Champey/Lanquin
There are plenty of great options in and around Lanquin, but don’t come here expecting luxury. Even the highest priced rooms are still rustic, as this is a remote part of Guatemala.
It’s also important to look up how close your accommodation is from Lanquin and ask if they offer pick-up, as the roads in this area are a bit, how shall we put this… BUMPY!
Even a short distance can take quite a while. The lodges outside of the town have incredible views and are an experience in themselves, but they can take upwards of 45 minutes to reach from Lanquin.
Backpacker & Friendly Vibes: Greengo’s
With a pool and Jacuzzi, a social vibe, and the choice of dorm beds or private rooms, this makes a great choice for many budget travelers.
Riverside Bungalows: El Retiro Lodge
This riverside hostel has stunning views of the natural surroundings. You can pick between a bungalow, suite, or dorm-style accommodation. Enjoy an a la carte breakfast and the staff can help you set up tours around the area.
Eco-Conscious on a Budget: Vista Verde Hostal
This eco-conscious hostel located in Lanquin has a huge pool to chill out in to escape the heat of the jungle. They offer comfortable rooms, both private and dorm style, at a reasonable price. The bar and restaurant area acts as a social gathering place and can be pretty fun at night.
Off the Grid: Ch’i Bocól Community Hostel
If you’re looking for a super unique place to stay and have an adventurous spirit, this might be just the place for you! Getting here requires a 30-minute hike, but you’ll be met with a solar-powered jungle oasis, complete with onsite gardens and a community kitchen. We’d only recommend staying here if you can spend a couple of days in the area, since it’s a bit difficult to get to.
Best for Couples: Mountain Nest
With some of the most amazing views in the area, this is a great choice for couples and those seeking a remote and tranquil stay. The price is more than most of the popular backpacker options, but is still incredibly affordable.
Party Hostel: Zephyr Lodge
This is undoubtedly the most famous hostel in Lanquin, and it’s best known for its parties. If you’re looking for a super social atmosphere that includes slamming shots and dancing the night away with new friends, this is the place to stay!
How many days should I spend in Semuc Champey?
As a minimum, you need to stay 2 nights near Semuc Champey. You will arrive in the evening and the only time you can leave is in the morning. So if you intend to visit the pools (umm, that’s the reason you go there!), you must plan to have a day in between your transportation.
Being that we were on a tight schedule, we only stayed two nights. That said, getting to and from Semuc Champey takes a FULL day on either end, and it would have been nice to have at least one more day there to relax and enjoy jungle life before hopping in a bus again.
If hanging out in the jungle sounds like a perfect detox from the real world, you might want to extend your stay for a few days. In addition to enjoying the beautiful fairytale pools and cave, you can take Spanish lessons, practice yoga, and learn about the art of chocolate making.
Weather in Semuc Champey
Know that rain in the afternoon can be very common during many times of the year. It’s the rainforest, after all!
While we were there in May (beginning of the rainy season), the entire week had thunderstorms predicted every day on my Apple Weather app. I was worried, but it turned out that it only rained in the afternoon and nighttime, and we lucked out with pretty nice days.
You’ll be getting wet in the pools anyway, and rain means you’ll likely be avoiding the crowds of high season. Pack a raincoat and a good attitude and hopefully you’ll enjoy Semuc Champey, rain or shine!
It’s also helpful to know that it’s not always super hot in this area.
While we were there it was warm enough at midday that swimming in the pools was refreshing. But in the afternoon when we started tubing on the river, it was a bit chilly and we were shivering part of the way.
What to pack for Semuc Champey
There are a few essentials that will make your visit to Semuc Champey a bit more comfortable.
- Mosquito repellant (we love this natural, solid stick version)
- Dry bag: handy to keep your things dry while you’re near the pools
- Waterproof phone case
- Quick dry travel towel
- Camera and tripod to take some awesome photos (this is our favorite tripod for travel)
- A lock if you want to use the self-serviced lockers near the pools
- Cash (there is one ATM in Lanquin, but you don’t want to take the chance of it being out of order. Many hotels don’t take credit cards or charge you a fee.)
Are you planning a trip to Guatemala?
We have lots more resources on travel in Guatemala and destinations throughout the country. Check out our Ultimate Guatemala Travel Guide for all the important travel information, or read some of our favorite articles below.
- Unforgettable Things to Do in Guatemala
- Top Things to Do in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
- Top Tips for Visiting Tikal in Guatemala
- Best Things to Do in Antigua, Guatemala
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