My idea of travel-planning is just a small step up from sticking a map to the wall and throwing darts at it, so when I decided it was time to move on from Lake Atitilan, I booked a ticket to Semuc Champey without quite knowing where or exactly what, Semuc Champey was.
Getting there was a long day, starting at 4.30am, crammed in a mini-van. I spent the next 14 hours feeling grateful to be short. We arrived at our destination of Lanquin in the evening where another truck too me to my final destination, Utopia Hostel. It was here that I signed on to the Semuc Champey tour, still a little vague on what Semuc Champey was.
The tour started with a slightly hairy ride in the back of a truck, to our first stop at Kanba Caves. Kanba Caves are a network of caves and chambers stretching 8km into the earth and we were there to take a candle-light swim through the river that runs through them. This ‘swim’ turned out to be some real, risk to life and limb, Indiana Jones-style adventure shit. We scrambled over slippery rocks, swam through deep water while trying to keep our candle alight and climbed up a rope with a waterfall pouring over it. On the way out we had to slide down a hole with water rushing through it and the girl in front of me, who couldn’t swim, started to panic a little bit, but the only way out was down. In Australia, like most places, to go in anything like this you’d be required to sign a 6 page waiver, don full-body safety gear and undertake a two day training course. In Guatemala, they give you a candle.
Next up was a hike up El Mirador. We had a guide to take us, but he didn’t seem too fussed on the guiding people part of being a guide. He ignored us for most of the day, headphones in, I-pod on, charging off ahead. A few times I wondered if I was still going the right way. I caught up with him at one point and he looked at me, exasperated and asked.
“Where is everyone?”
I shrugged and thought, “I think answering that question is your job.”
The hike up El Mirador is beautiful, but steep and exhausting and I arrived to the top red-faced and drenched in sweat. Then I walked to the edge and looked down.
If the climb up there hadn’t already taken my breath away, this view would have.
Semuc Champey means “where the river hides beneath the earth”. It is a 300m long, natural limestone bridge with the Cahabón River roaring below it. The bridge is made up of a series of pools and small waterfalls filled with cool, turquoise water, surrounded on either side by sheer jungle-covered cliffs.
It really is knock-out gorgeous.
After giving us some time to catch our breath and take it all in, our impatient guide rounded us up, then took off again, this time down toward the pools.
Every hot, sweaty, muddy step was worth it when we arrived.
The rest of the afternoon was spent sliding down waterfalls and swimming in the clear, cool water. Despite beauty of Semuc Champey, it’s remote location and difficulty to access means relatively few people visit and there were only around 15 or so, including my group when I was there. It was easy to tune everyone out, float on my back, look up at the jungle and imagine I was 100,000 years in the past.
If that all sounds like enough awesomeness for one day, it’s probably because it was. I had earlier however, paid up-front to tube down the river back to my hostel rather than take the truck. This might have been fun if there had been other people, sunshine and beer. Instead it was just my guide and I, floating down a cold river. In the rain. It was kind of shit.
Cold and shit-house tubing trips aside, Semuc Champey is a massively under-rated natural wonder. Go before too many people figure it out.