As I set off from Rio Dulce by bus, I had no idea the actual sizeable trek that lay before me. I had seen Lanquin, Guatemala on the map and eyed the distance from Rio Dulce, and estimated it could only be a few hours. San Augustin Lanquin is a very small town situated in the rolling green hills of central Guatemala and the close real
town the Semuc Champey. Prior to my trip, I had never heard of Semuc Champey but a couple recommendations and pictures and I was sold.
Clear pools at Semuc Champey, Guatemala
Leaving Rio Dulce I was the only person in the van other than of course, the driver, who spoke not a lick of English. My Spanish not being that terrific at the time a lot of our conversations reverted to hand gestures and me nodding even though I had no idea if it was a yes or no question. Either way, I had my window down, breeze rolling through, jungle in my sights and that strange smell of burning earth that I enjoy for some reason. Moving alongside a lot of ranches and farms you would see piles of ash and charcoal from burning the excess bits of their crops, or garbage, Im not sure, but the farther we left Rio Dulce the more the scenery started to remind me of the outback of Australia and I felt strangely at home. A few stops in some small towns, some rotisserie chicken and rice at each stop, a refuel and we set off again, with me thinking we had to be close. As the sun starting to descend and go from bright to that evening glow, the road turned from bumpy asphalt, to displace rocks, to complete gravel. At the same time it started to get quite hilly and I asked the guy how far we had to go and he responded "mas o menos dos horas" more or less 2 hours. Two hours?! I didn't show my displeasure but the winding roads, the up and down, the slow pace we had to take on the poor quality roads was beginning to takes it toll.
Kitchen & Lounge at El Portal, Semuc Champey Hostel
Needless to say, when the sun was completely set, and we arrived in Lanquin, I was more relieved than anything else, and just a short ride to my Semuc Champey hostel, El Portal. You can stay in Lanquin, but it is still a short drive to Semuc Champey and I wanted to be able to wake up early, and go when I pleased, so I had elected for this eco-style hostel near the entrance over looking the river, and upon a warm arrival from guests and workers I was happy with my decision.
Travellers Tip: Lights go off at 10pm, if you have a flashlight, here is the point on your trip where you can look smart for packing one!
El Portal Hostel Semuc Champey has a great menu of reasonably priced meals and snacks being as there is no real places to grab your own groceries and cook, and you can just add it to your tab to pay as you check out. I filled up on some pasta, beef and veggies at night, crashed out, and filled up again on some eggs and ham in the morning. I let the food settle and with a couple friends I had met, we took the short 5-10 minute stroll to the entrance of Semuc Champey. You receive your receipt or ticket, keep this, and walk along the paths and trails until the trees open up exposing the first pool on the right. Water has never looked so tempting. Even though it is not that hot up there, the clear water showing the turquoise, green and yellow colours underneath is just asking for you to plunge in. I withheld and walked up to the open main pools and tossed my waterproof camera to a friend and James Bond Goldeneye dove in. Its like that magic water washed away the last 2 days of travel, bus rides, uncomfortable seats, stinky clothes, and lack of hygiene all in a split second. The water is cooler than I expected and I was so happy for that as it encompassed my whole body and I felt awake and incredible.
Semuc Champey, one of the places to visit in Guatemala
Sitting on a slippery, algae covered rock, I asked for my camera to take a look at the photo. Great shot! All of a sudden I felt a little pinch on my nipple! Looking down through the bubbles there were a couple little fish hovering around my chest. Then again! On my ankles and feet. I stayed still to see what was happening, and came to realize that these must be the same little fish that those strange tourists pay to have nibble their feet in those glass tanks! The only difference, these weren't particularly little! Some as long as my pointer finger or thumb, they can give you quite the shock if you are not expecting it, and you hear constant "Oh's" and "Ah's" from across the pools as people are feeling them for the first time.
Taking an amazing dip in the water at Semuc Champey, Guatemala
Completely wet, refreshed and happy as a pig in you know what, I grabbed my camera and started the stairs to the lookout. The switch back path is lined with stairs and small openings every so often for you to get a look down at the pools moving farther away. When its starts to flatten out, you move over to a wooden balcony over hanging the cliff with the long drag of the pools laid out below you. I spent a good amount of time looking toward me at the canopy of the tree's and down, towards the pools getting a real sense of how this amazing river is just cut right into the earth and is probably invisible from high above. As a rather large family from the United States accompanied me on the balcony, I thought about the Maximum Capacity sign in an elevator, decided I had enjoy my time up here and decided to descend.
Semuc Champey lookout
Sometimes when you are visiting somewhere, you need to remove yourself from it to realize how incredible it is and one of the best things about my decision to stay in the hostel close to Semuc Champey, is that the entrance cost is for the whole day. I got very hungry, headed back for a good feed at the hostel, and decided to head back to the pools with my book, swim and get nipped by the fish again. Enjoying the pools again was like a dog after his owner leaves for 5 minutes. You somehow have an instantly renewed appreciation and excitement.
Semuc Champey is by no means easy to get to, but do not let that deter you from going. Like I mentioned, when you plunge into that water, something so natural in such a breathtaking place, the journey, and uncomfortable ride to get there is either completely forgotten or just heightens the enjoyment. There is a reason it is one of the Guatemala tourist attractions, but that is not to say it is busy, or touristy, it is simply one of the places to visit in Guatemala and when you come here, enjoy it, and see how natural it has remained, you will be happy that it is far away and difficult to get to.