Semuc Champey

Semuc Champey Guatemala

After a much needed sleep from the previous day’s travels we are up early. Our accommodation is in a wooden hut perched on a hill. We are not in the main room of the hut but instead wedged in the attic of a hut in a simple bed made of sawn logs with a mosquito net covering the the bed.

Semuc Champey had been recommended way back in Isla Mujeres as we were rapidly putting together a rough itinerary. It had been mentioned a few more times also so it was one of the must do’s on the Central American gringo trail. Still I had no idea what it was, but the name sounded quite cool.

We gathered with a group of fellow backpackers on the back of a 4WD. There were quite a few of us so it was standing room only and we held on as the truck bumped its way along the rocky trail for the 10km trip to Semuc Champey. 10km doesn’t sound too far but it took an hour on this road.

On arrival we made our way to an entrance to a cave. We are each handed a candle as we walk into a hole in the side of the mountain. Immediately we step into waist deep water in the pitch black with mud enveloping our shoes. Keeping watch over the candle so it didn’t go out or melt wax all over our hands.

The deeper into the cave we went the deeper the water got until we were swimming with one arm raised to keep our candles alight. Why head torches weren’t used is a good question. This is Guatemala. Why no one brought their own is a puzzle too, yet like us they may not have known that were going caving!

We continue in deeper up over rocks, up ladders and waterfalls doing blind jumps into the water below. Often needing to relight our candles as they inevitably went out during all the splashing about. We arrived eventually at a large circular cavern where the group stopped and our tour guide said one or two words. The only bit I remember is that the mud we had been wading through in the cave was formed from bat guano. Nice.

Retracing our steps somewhat to the exit point there was one more challenge remaining. We assembled above a rushing stream in the dark with only one or two people bothering to relight their candles by now. In front of us you could make out the stream disappearing through the rocks. It was impossible to hear the instructions over the water except to see the guide jump into the hole and he, like the stream, disappeared.

Assuming he meant us to follow we took tentative steps towards the hole and stepped through the vortex. A bit of a scare as hips bounced along the rocks and then stuck for a second or two before the water pushed me through and down into a deep pool. Allison followed soon after and we took stock that all our bones were still in one piece.

We emerged from the cave covered in ‘mud’ and crossed a bridge over a running river. Keen to get clean some decided to jump the 10m into the river below. A tempting offer so I followed. Allison, Martina and Juli were much too smart and would wait for the lagoon that was to follow.

semuc champey pools


Arriving at Semuc Champey proper there were lagoons and pools scattered amongst the limestone bedrock which had formed a large clearing in the dense jungle. A hike up to the lookout made sense of just how magnificent it was. Bright green limestone with turquoise pools scattered around in a spectacular valley was quite the sight.

The rushing river through the limestone of Semuc Champey, Guatemala.

The rushing river through the limestone of Semuc Champey, Guatemala.

More time spent lazing about in the pools and jumping off a few rock ledges. The water at various points running away underground into yet another cave system formed over time. Quite a stunning spot and I can see why it was worth all the fuss, and effort, in getting to Semuc Champey.

The blue-green pools of Semuc Champey

The blue-green pools of Semuc Champey

The next day we spend chilling out in El Retiro Lodge by the river, reading, swinging in hammocks and doing a few chores. I try unsuccessfully to go to a bank again. This cash advance business is a real pain, yet I am beginning to know the Central American banking system. We are currently borrowing cash from Martina until we get to a bank that will hand us over some pesos. However I do check my bank balance and my end of year work bonus has come through, a much needed cash injection! Despite at this point being inaccessible.

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About The Author


Ever since venturing out the back gate into the bush as a kid, I've had a curiosity to escape and explore as often as I could. It's fair to say that my curiosity has continued to grow instead of fade as the years go on. It eventually came time to turn a few scribbled notes into some legible stories and travel tips for anyone with a similar curiosity as me.

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