There are a few places that demand a visit, places that other travellers implore you to 'do', a ‘you’ve just got to go’, a genuine must-see. Semuc Champey is one of those places you hear about on the grapevine, whenever a conversation switches to destinations in Guatemala. In fairness, it deserves the praise. This natural paradise astounds those who visit. The views and the experience are all something to write home about.
Part of the charm of Semuc Champey is its remoteness. About half of the two-hour journey from Coban, Semuc’s nearest city, is spent on a bumpy dirt track. The bus winds its way past endless rolling hills through narrow little valleys. From the small town of Lanquin the view is irresistible. At sunrise in particular, the colours are astounding and low, misty clouds descend on the scene, giving the hills a certain mystique.
Several hostels in Lanquin and the surrounding countryside boast swimming pools, and although it would be easy to spend all day admiring the view from the water, it is Semuc Champey that people come to visit. The name means ‘where the river hides under the earth’ in Q’eqchi’ and the geographical highlight is undoubtedly the limestone bridge, filled with natural infinity pools, under which the river passes. The smooth rock means that adventurous souls can slide down from one pool to another without fear of doing any serious backside damage. A short but steep hike leads to a lookout point, but sadly, photographs don’t quite do it justice.
Fear not, however, because Semuc is home to far more than just unique and remarkable rock formations. As ever in this part of the world, waterfalls are common, but perhaps more exciting are the numerous jump spots. One option is the bridge (man-made sadly) over the river. Although, locals kindly pointing out the rocks that you must avoid is hardly a pre-jump confidence booster. A slightly less vertigo-inducing option is the swing that launches you out into the water. However, when you find yourself thinking, “oh gosh, this is higher than I expected” on the descent, you know you've fallen from a fair height.
A trip to Semuc Champey is not complete without paying a visit to the K’an-Ba caves. Armed with nothing but a candle, visitors are invited to wend their way through a series of caves, sometimes swimming, sometimes hauling themselves up rock faces or leaping in from the other side. It is a fairly novel experience and pleasantly manageable.
However, despite all the wondrous sights and activities at Semuc, I would recommend La Huasteca in Mexico in a shootout between the two, where seclusion and more variety give it a slight edge. That said, when in Guatemala, Semuc is a must-see. The travellers are right. It is a beautiful region and a place that puts people in a good mood. The drinks flow as people soak up the Semuc charm. So when you visit, join in. Crack open a beer, or perhaps uncork the Champey.