Semuc Champey, Guatemala: Do this, Not that
A trip to Semuc Champey is like a choose-your-own-adventure Goosebumps story – and I took a lot of wrong turns. My time at Semuc was, of course, beautiful, but there are many things that I wish I had done differently. Enjoy your day in these natural, limestone pools by avoiding these mistakes.
I was easily impressed by the beauty of this area, but the travel to Semuc Champey alone is enough to make me never want to return. I started off on the wrong foot by arriving to Lanquin in the middle of the night, incapacitated by some type of stomach virus. By the next morning I was stumbling around the hot, humid town searching for an ATM, and bawling my eyes out when I came up empty handed.
But don’t fret! Bad luck and poor planning were my downfall. Follow these tips to survive, and most importantly, enjoy your day at Semuc Champey.
DO make a plan
This sounds obvious – don’t “just wing it” like I did. I was originally planning on skipping Semuc all together and heading straight to Tikal National Park. Low and behold, my FOMO took over when some fellow travelers convinced me that I would be a fool to skip it. Done deal. I was heading to Semuc!
Because I hadn’t planned on visiting Semuc, I hadn’t done my research (if you’re reading this then you’re already one step ahead).
DO prepare for difficult transportation
Many travelers will stay in Lanquin as it is significantly less expensive than staying close to the pools. But, matter where you are coming from – getting to Lanquin is treacherous. The winding roads are littered with pot holes and bumps which your driver may or may not slow down for (hello whiplash).
Take an early shuttle to Lanquin so that you will arrive in the early evening. Don’t take the 2:00 pm shuttle from Antigua. After a brutal eight hour drive you will need a good nights sleep before heading to Semuc Champey early the next day.
DO get to the pools in the morning
Because of my illness, I got a late start and had to snag the last ride to Semuc Champey (which cost me a few extra quetzales). Locals drive their trucks to-and-from the pools all morning long, but stop around 11:00 am. I stood in the back of a pick up truck for another bumpy 30 minutes before we arrived at the gates.
DO bring quetzales
You will want to bring cash with you to Lanquin and Semuc Champey. Don’t rely on an ATM. They are basically nonexistent. Luckily, my hostel was kind enough to loan me the cash I needed for the day. Additionally, the shops/restaurants in Lanquin will not accept foreign currency. Nor will they exchange it for quetzales.
DO prepare to hike
When arriving at Semuc you will pay the small entrance fee and hike up to the pools. There is a strenuous hike to a lookout point above the pools. I passed up most of the hiking due to nausea, but I’ve heard the views from up top are amazing!
DO add these items to your daypack
A towel/sarong – something to sit on/dry off with. There are a few areas to lay out a towel and relax, read a book, catch your breath, etc.
A camera – I really dropped the ball on taking pictures at the natural pools. I’ll probably never return to Semuc Champey so I wish I had better documentation of the magical views.
Water shoes – Keens and Chacos are lifesavers when traveling in Central America. They are great for both hiking and water adventures. There are a few sharp rocks lining the sides of the pools – keep your shoes on while you plunge into the sparkling water.
Food and water – there are only one or two dining options at Semuc Champey. It’s much easier to bring your own grub.
DO keep in mind these extras
You do not need a tour guide to enjoy Semuc Champey. You will have a wonderful day if you pay only the entrance fee and transportation costs. Keep in mind that there are plenty of extras you can add. If I had more time (and less illness) I may have rented an tube to float down the river, or joined a cave tour to get the full experience of this area.
Additionally, if you really want to do a tour at Semuc you should go for it. There’s a good chance that you won’t return to this off-the-beaten-path natural monument.
Other notes – it’s OK to wear a bikini or swimtrunks. The population at Semuc is half tourists, half locals. Zoe and I wore bikinis and we didn’t get any weird looks.
Hopefully you will have a better experience at Semuc Champey than I did! Have you already visited these limestone pools? Let me know if there’s anything you think should be added to this list. Also, connect with me on Pinterest and Instagram to keep up with the latest. Cheers, dolls.