Ultimate Guide for Visiting Semuc Champey in Guatemala: From An Insider

This guide to visiting Semuc Champey in Guatemala is filled with important information and everything you need to know before you visit this natural wonder. This is definitely a stop to add to your Guatemalan itinerary if you’re looking for hidden gems in Guatemala. In my opinion Semuc Champey is one of the best things to do in Guatemala.  

Semuc Champey is a natural wonder located in the department of Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. It is a series of limestone pools and waterfalls that are nestled in the heart of the jungle. The pools are fed by a subterranean river, and the water is crystal clear and turquoise blue. The area is surrounded by lush vegetation and is a popular spot for tourists looking to experience the natural beauty of Guatemala.

Best guide for visiting Semuc Champey in Guatemala

Best Guide To Semuc Champey: Written By A Guatemalan

I was born and raised in Guatemala and have been going to Semuc Champey since I was a kid. In my opinion, having traveled through Guatemala extensively, I believe that Semuc Champey is one of the most beautiful destinations in Guatemala. Semuc Champey is a Guatemalan natural wonder and you should definitely consider adding it to your Guatemala itinerary as it is one of the best things to do in Guatemala.

Semuc Champey: a Magical Place

Not only is Semuc Champey a natural wonder, but the place is magical. It has a special energy and if you have ever been to Sedona and experiences the vortexes you know what I am talking about. This magical energy can also be felt in Lake Atitlan but I feel that it is stronger in Semuc Champey. 

How to get to Semuc Champey?

Getting to Semuc Champey can be a little trickier than reaching more popular destinations like Lake Atitlán or Antigua Guatemala. However, with a little planning and time, the journey to see these beautiful pools is totally worth it! The new road to Semuc Champey, completed in early 2023, has significantly improved travel here. Previously, the journey from Lanquín was long and challenging, but now it takes only about 45 minutes. The well-paved road offers a smoother, more comfortable ride through the scenic Guatemalan landscape. While Semuc Champey remains a bit far, the new road makes this stunning natural wonder much more accessible than before.

Getting to Semuc Champey from Antigua

Take a shuttle:

If you are traveling from Antigua you can take a tourist shuttle to Lanquin, where you will then need to get transportation to Semuc Champey or to your hotel or hostel if it’s not located in town. Ask your hotel or hostel in Lanquin to provide you with transportation recommendations. Because of the newly completed (June 2024) well paved road from Lanquín to Semuch Champey getting there is so much easier!



Take a Tour:

Booking a tour from Antigua Guatemala is a great option and what I would personally recommend. Because Semuc Champey is about a 6 hour drive from Antigua tours include at least one night of accommodations. If you have the time it is better to book a multi day tour and enjoy other attractions in the Cobán area like Hunal Ye, Candelaria Caves, Rey Marcos Caves and viewing the respladescent quetzal (Guatemala’s national bird) at Ranchitos del Quetzal. We really like Guat2Do Travel Experiences as they can arrange transportation or multi day private tours.

Public Transportation:

Public transportation is not recommended from Antigua as there are special buses and chicken buses are risky, uncomfortable and take a long time to get you to your destination.

Estimated Travel Time Antigua to Lanquín: 8-10 hours



Getting to Semuc Champey from Coban

Take a Tour:

The best option is to take a full day tour from Cobán. Taking a tour gives you the opportunity to relax and just enjoy this beautiful paradise as everything is taken care of for you from transportation to and from Cobán to Semuc Champey to lunch and some tours even include other activities like the Kan’ba caves or the Lanquin Caves. 



Public Transport:

To get to Semuc Champey you can get a public shuttle from Cobán to Lanquin, which takes about 2 hours. From Lanquin, you can arrange transportation to Semuc Champey. The road to Lanquin to Semuc Champey used to require a 4×4 vehicle but in June of 2024 a new road was finished and it’s now very easy and much quicker to get to Semuc Champey.

Estimated Travel Time from Cobán to : 2 to 2 and a half hours. The road from Lanquín is brand new and it’s an easy and beautiful scenic ride.

Getting to Semuc Champey from Guatemala City

Take the shuttle:

You can get a shared tourist shuttle from Guatemala City to Coban or opt for a private shuttle for a more comfortable ride. 



Book a tour:

When booking a tour from Guatemala City it’s best to choose a 2 or 3 day tour as you can’t really enjoy Semuc Champey fully unless you give yourself some time. Many of the tours already include accommodations, along with trasportation. They can also include other activities in the area and some them include some of the meals. We loved the tour we took with Guat2Do Travel Experiences from Cobán which included transportation an guide and a great lunch as well as an adventure into the Kanba cava.



Via public transport:

If you are looking to save some money take a Monja Blanca Bus to Cobán, they usually leave every half hour. You can get more information on the Monja Blanca website here. Although these are not chicken buses they are still public transport and you should be careful with your belongings. They have different kinds of buses, the standard which costs about Q65 and makes a lot of stops so it will take you a lot longer to get to Lanquín. We recommend taking the “ESPECIAL” bus, which costs Q70 (about US $9), for a more comfortable and faster ride. 

After arriving to  Coban, look for look for local transport to Lanquin or take a taxi to Transportes Martinez buses. Transportes Martinez company small buses that depart towards Lankquín every half hour, cost is Q30 (about US$4). Once in Lanquín ask for local transport to your hotel. It is better to arrange this with your hostel or hotel beforehand. 

Estimated Travel Time: Guatemala to Cobán 4-5 hours, Cobán to Lanquín 2-3 hours

Helicopter ride to Semuc Champey

You can also hire a helicopter tour to Semuc Champey. The helicopter leaves from the Guatemala City Airport and lands a 10 minute walk away from the park and it is a great option if you are short ton time and have the budget for it.

Estimated travel time: 40 minutes

Multi Day Tour Options for a Comfortable Journey

For a more comfortable and hassle-free journey to Semuc Champey, consider booking a guided tour. Multi-day tours to Semuc Champey from Antigua Guatemala or Guatemala City often include Semuc Champey as part of their itinerary, along with other destinations like Cuevas de Candelaria and other natural attractions. Additionally, full-day tours are available from Coban, offering a convenient way to explore Semuc Champey without the stress of arranging transportation on your own. These tours typically include transportation, guides, and sometimes even meals, providing a seamless and enjoyable experience for travelers. 

What Tour Company to Choose When Visiting Semuc Champey?

I recently visited Semuc Champey with my dad and my teen son, I didn’t want to drive and so we decided to go with a tour company. There are lots of tour companies out there but we chose to go with Guat2do Travel Experiences and had a wonderful time. They take care of everything, including transportation, entrance fees, and provided a guide who shared tips and interesting facts about the area. The lunch they arrange is delicious. I really love that Guat2do is dedicated to your safety and comfort, so you can relax and enjoy time with your family. They offer custom itineraries for day tours or multi-day trips, and transportation services across Guatemala, Central America, Belize, and Mexico. With Guat2do, your trip is planned smoothly, letting you focus on making unforgettable memories.

What does Semuc Champey mean?

The name “Semuc Champey” is derived from the K’iche’ Maya language, which is one of the primary indigenous languages spoken in Guatemala. It is a combination of two words, “Semuc,” meaning underground or subterranean, and “Champey,” meaning bridge or natural bridge; thus, the name “Semuc Champey” can be translated to “underground bridge.” This refers to the natural limestone pools and waterfalls that are fed by a subterranean river, creating a natural bridge formation.

Is visiting Semuc Champey worth it?

As a Guatemalan I consider Semuc Champey to be one of the most beautiful places in Guatemala. If you love nature and love adventure and really appreciate a pristine natural wonder this is the place for you! It’s got that wild, untouched kinda of vibe similar to Tikal. That being said Semuc Champey is not easy to get to as it’s a bit far from Guatemalan City, Antigua and Lake Atitlan.

It’s and ideal Guatemalan natural attraction if you are spending at least 10 days in Guatemala as you will need to spend at least one night in Cobán. It’s also a great option if you have already visiting other more popular Guatemalan attractions like Lake Atitlan, Antigua Guatemala and Tikal and want to explore a new place. 

Things to do at Semuc Champey

Hike to the viewpoint

Once you arrive at Semuc Champey, you can take a hike to the top of the limestone formation to get a panoramic view of the pools and the surrounding jungle. The hike is steep, but the trail is well built with over 600 steps. The trail can be slippery when wet, so take your time and watch your step. From the top, you can see the pools stretching out below you in a beautiful, natural bridge

Semuc Champey viewpoint
Semuc Champey viewpoint

Take a dip in the pools

After the hike, you can head down to the pools and take a dip in the cool, crystal-clear water. The water is refreshing and provides a great respite from the heat of the jungle. Some people like to swim in the pools, while others prefer to relax on the rocks and soak up the sun.

See where the underground river emerges 

You can hike to the top of the  pools to see where the river goes underground. It’s a short hike however take care to stay at a safe distance from the river as it goes underground again and under the rock as you would not want to fall in. Don’t worry the area is cordoned off for safety.

Semuc Champey underground river

Take a tour of the K’an Ba caves under the pools

The K’an Ba Caves are located under the pools in Semuc Champey. The tour takes you through the caves, and you will be wading in water often above your knees. Most tour operators give you only a candle to light your way through the dark caves; this experience is recommended only for the most adventurous. Discover the K’an Ba Caves with our experienced local guide. You will feel like Indiana Jones submerged in fresh river water with just a candle to light the way. Climb through the caves, shimmy along the rock walls, and jump from large rocks into the natural underground pools.

Check out the wildlife

Semuc Champey is also a great place to spot wildlife. You might see monkeys, toucans, and parrots while you’re there. And if you’re lucky, you might even see a jaguar or a crocodile. Bring a good camera and binoculars to help you spot birds and other wildlife. 

Things To Do Near Lanquin

While not inside the Semuc Champey park there are many things to do in the Lanquín area, so consider booking a 2 or 3 day stay so you can enjoy them all. 

Visit the Lanquin Caves

Exploring the Lanquin Caves in Guatemala offers a thrilling adventure for nature enthusiasts. Descend into the underground world and marvel at the intricate limestone formations illuminated by your guide’s flashlight. As you navigate through the caverns, you’ll encounter fascinating rock formations, underground rivers, and eerie chambers, creating an unforgettable experience. You can book a tour through your hotel or hostel.

Extreme Tubing

For an adrenaline rush, try tubing down the Cahabon River. Feel the excitement as you ride through cascades and rapids while taking in the beautiful river scenery. It’s like a thrilling journey through the jungle! You can book a touring experience at most hotels and hostels in Lanquin or Semuc Champey.

Chocolate Workshop

Learn all about making chocolate in a traditional workshop. From picking cacao fruits to roasting and grinding beans, you’ll experience the whole process and even get to make your own chocolate. You can book this experience through your hotel or hostel.

Community Tours

Get a taste of local life with a village tour. Meet families, learn about their way of life and crops, enjoy a homemade meal, and see community projects up close. You can organize these tours through your hotel or hostel. 

Birdwatching and Hiking Trails

Don’t forget your binoculars for birdwatching! Some hotels like Utopia and Guayaha offer free hiking trails where you can explore the area’s natural beauty.

Best guide to visiting Semuc Champey in Guatemala

Tips for visiting Semuc Champey in Guatemala

  1. Bring Enough Cash: Make sure to bring plenty of cash for your entire stay. Most hotels and businesses in the area prefer cash payments, and there are limited ATMs available. It’s best to withdraw cash in larger cities like Guatemala City or Antigua Guatemala before heading to Semuc Champey.
  2. Plan ahead: Semuc Champey has a limited number of visitors per day, so it’s a good idea to make a reservation for tours and accommodations in advance.
  3. Bring comfortable shoes and clothing: The park is only accessible on foot, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes and bring clothing that you don’t mind getting wet.
  4. Water-Friendly Shoes: Pack water-friendly shoes, especially if you plan to visit the K’an Ba Caves. These shoes will provide traction on slippery surfaces and protect your feet during water activities.
  5. Bring biodegradable sunscreen and insect repellent: The park is located in the jungle, so it’s important to protect yourself from the sun and insects. Consider using natural, biodegradable products. This helps minimize the impact on the local ecosystem and keeps the water clean for everyone to enjoy.
  6. Bring a reusable water bottle: The park is located in a remote area, and water can be scarce. It’s important to stay hydrated, so bring a reusable water bottle and refill it at the park’s water stations.
  7. Respect the local community: Semuc Champey is located in a remote area, and the local community relies on tourism for their livelihood. Be respectful of the local culture and customs, and support the local businesses and guides.
  8. Be mindful of the environment: Semuc Champey is a natural wonder, and it’s important to take care of it. Avoid littering and follow the park’s rules and guidelines to help preserve the area for future visitors.
  9. Be prepared for the weather: The weather in the area can be unpredictable, so be prepared for rain or shine. Be sure to bring a waterproof bag and a rain poncho or umbrella.
  10. Consider hiring a guide: Hiring a guide can make your visit more informative and enjoyable. Guides can provide information about the history, culture, and wildlife of the area and can also help you navigate the park.
  11. Be flexible: The park and surrounding area are beautiful, but sometimes it can be challenging to get there, so it’s important to be flexible and go with the flow. With the right attitude, you will be able to enjoy the journey and have an unforgettable experience.

What time of the year is best for visiting Semuc Champey?

When deciding when to visit Semuc Champey, it’s important to consider what you want to experience. The park is open all year, but the weather and water levels can differ depending on the season.

The peak season is from November to April, which is when the weather is typically sunny and dry, and the water in the pools is at its highest. This makes it ideal for swimming and other water activities, but it can also be the most crowded time to visit.

Semuc Champey best guide for visiting

On the other hand, the rainy season from May to October is less crowded, and the park is greener, but the water levels in the pools are lower, and the water can be cloudy or even brown. It can also be more challenging to access the park during this time due to road conditions. If you’re looking for a more tranquil and less crowded experience, the rainy season might be a better option. However, if you’re looking to swim and enjoy water activities, the dry season would be the ideal time to visit. It’s important to keep in mind that the weather in the area can be unpredictable, so it’s best to be prepared for any conditions.

Semuc Champey in the summer
Semuc Champey in the summer

If you’re planning your trip to Guatemala make sure to check out my article for the best time to visit Guatemala where I break down the different seasons and Guatemala and the best times to visit. 

Can you swim in Semuc Champey?

Yes, swimming is permitted at Semuc Champey, where visitors can enjoy the crystal clear and turquoise water of the natural limestone pools and waterfalls that are fed by an underground river. 

However, there are some guidelines to keep in mind when taking a dip in the pools.

  • The water levels in the pools can vary depending on the time of year and the amount of rainfall. During the dry season, the water levels are the highest, making it the best time for swimming. During the rainy season, the water levels can be lower and the water can be cloudy.
  • The park is located in a remote area, and there are no lifeguards on duty. Visitors are responsible for their own safety and should be aware of their own swimming abilities.
  • The park has rules and guidelines to help preserve the area, and visitors should follow these rules and guidelines when swimming.
  • There is no diving allowed in the pools, the park’s administration wants to protect the pools and nature.
  • Remember that the park is a natural wonder, and it’s essential to take care of it. Visitors should avoid littering and follow the park’s rules and guidelines to help preserve the area for future visitors.

Swimming in Semuc Champey is a great experience, and visitors can enjoy the natural beauty of the area while also taking a refreshing swim in the clear and turquoise waters.

Is the cave tour in Semuc Champey safe?

The cave tour at Semuc Champey involves hiking, climbing, and swimming through caves, and visitors should be in good physical condition and comfortable with these activities. The tour is guided by experienced guides who provide necessary equipment and safety instructions. Visitors should be aware of the challenges and bring appropriate gear like a flashlight or headlamp. Following the guide’s instructions and informing them of any concerns or limitations is important for a safe tour. It is also important to heed their advice if it’s not safe to proceed due to weather conditions or other issues.

Based on my recent experience, I would not recommend the cave tour at Semuc Champey to everyone. During the tour, you are only given candles to light your way, which might not be enough to navigate the dark caves. Additionally, unexpected situations can occur, like the water level rising quickly, which can be dangerous for visitors who have mobility challenges or are not comfortable with a moderate level of risk. Although the guides are experienced and provide safety instructions, they did not advise us about the possibility of having to get out of the cave in a hurry, which made things quite scary as one person in our group could not move quickly and we were the last ones out of the cave. Therefore, I would only recommend the cave tour to adventurous visitors who are comfortable with the inherent risks involved.

Where to Stay When Visiting Semuc Champey in Guatemala

When planning a trip to Semuc Champey is an important decision. There are two main options when it comes to accommodations: staying near the town of Lanquin, which is close to the natural pools or opting for a hotel in Cobán, which is about 2 hours away from Semuc Champey. I have stayed at hotels in both areas and both have their advantages and disadvantages. It also depends on what other attractions you want to see in the Verapaces or Ruta a Cobán.

Staying in Lanquín

Lanquin is a very small towns and you will find a few hotels in the Lanquin area some of them closer to Semuc Champey. It’s important to take into consideration that if you choose a hotel or hostel that is within walking distance to the pools you will need to find transportation to get there and the road to Semuc Champey requires not only a 4×4 vehicle but someone who knows the road well. Do not try to get there on your own even if you have a 4×4.

Staying in Lanquin gets you close to Semuc Champey, making it easy to explore the park’s beautiful pools and trails. However, hotels there might not have all the comforts you’d find in Cobán. Some hostels, like Zephyr Lodge and Greengos are strictly +18, cater to a younger crowd and are known for their party atmosphere.

Best Hotels in Semuc Champey and  Lanquín area:

  • Guayaha: Guayaha is one of the best hotels in Lanquín, offering a beautiful garden and outdoor fun like ziplining. You can enjoy free WiFi in your room and take a dip in one of their three pools. Don’t forget to check out their glamping options for a unique experience! Book it here
  • Zephyr Lodge: Perched amid beautiful mountain scenery, Zephyr Lodge is famous for its lively party scene, boasting an iconic infinity pool and a bustling backpackers bar. Offering both dorms and cozy private rooms, it ensures a comfortable stay for all guests amidst the fun atmosphere.
  • Greengo’s Hostel: Greengo’s is a colorful hotel and hostel in Semuc Champey, surrounded by greenery and mountains, and only a short walk from the famous pools. You can stay in shared or private rooms and enjoy the beautiful natural surroundings.

Staying in Cobán

Opting to stay in Coban gives you more hotel options with better amenities and comfort. Although Coban is a bit farther from Semuc Champey than Lanquin, about a 2.5 to 3-hour drive, staying in Coban offers a more comfortable experience with extra services and facilities. If you’re in Cobán, consider taking a full-day tour to Semuc Champey, which often includes transportation, visits to Lanquin caves or Kan’ba caves, and a boxed lunch.

Another perk of Cobán is its central location, making it closer to other attractions like Candelaria Caves, Caves of Rey Marcos, and Biotopo del Quetzal, where you can spot Guatemala’s national bird, the resplendent quetzal. Cobán also boasts a variety of dining options, while Lanquín mostly has hotel restaurants. During my last visit to Semuc Champey, we wanted to explore Candelaria Caves. Since there’s no direct road from Semuc Champey to Cuevas de Candelaria, returning to Cobán was the logical choice for us.

Best Hotels in Cobán

I have included different hotel options taking into consideration you will want to pick a hotel in Cobán or very near Cobán. Although there are a few fantastic options that are further from the city they will make getting to Semuc Champey more difficult as most tours pick you up only from the hotels in town. Being further away also means it may be more difficult or time consuming to get to other attractions in the area.

  • Casa Gaia (Top Choice):Located in Cobán’s serene wooded reserve, Hotel Casa Gaia offers a perfect mix of peace and convenience. Surrounded by lush gardens and trees, it feels like a city escape right in the heart of town. With cozy rooms and personalized service, Casa Gaia is a tranquil retreat where you can relax and unwind. What stands out to me about Casa Gaia is its cozy vibe and attention to detail. With just 11 rooms, it provides a personal touch that larger hotels often lack. Plus, the on-site restaurant serves mouthwatering local and international dishes, allowing you to savor the flavors of Guatemala without leaving the hotel. Don’t forget to explore the hiking trail for breathtaking city views. If you’re seeking an authentic and serene stay in Cobán, Casa Gaia is definitely one of my top picks. Book it here.
  • Estancia del Monje: This cozy and small hotel is located just outside Coban, about 2 miles from the city center. I really like that it’s nestled in a serene private reserve surrounded by pine forest, offering tranquility and comfort and perfect for relaxing. It also has an on site restaurant with that serves a delicious breakfast.
  • Casa Duranta: Nestled in bustling Coban, Casa Duranta offers a peaceful retreat with a warm and accommodating staff. Its charming courtyard and garden provide a refreshing escape, especially at sunset. While they offer a cozy dining area, note that food service may vary. Enjoy reliable internet access and secure parking nearby, along with clean rooms boasting old-world charm. Book it here.

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