Guatemala is such a varied country. It has incredible Mayan ruins, beautiful colonial cities and breath-taking nature. Whether you are seeking jungle, desert or volcanoes; Guatemala has it all. With so much to see, is it worth going to Semuc Champey?
Situated off the main route between Antigua and Flores, it’s an extra effort to get to Semuc Champey. Being off the beaten track, less tourists visit the area. But speak to anyone that made the journey and they’ll rave about the jungles’ astounding beauty and the bright blue waters of Semuc Champey. Waking up in the middle of the jungle is an experience not to be missed.Water-to-Go’s Unique 3-in-1 technology means you can drink from any non-salt water source around the world!
Semuc Champey is where the Cahabon River passes under a limestone bridge in the middle of the most spectacular jungle-covered mountains. On top of the limestone bridge, sit pools of water of the most beautiful blue hue. Tourists and locals flock to swim and take in the view from this fresh water pools. A true natural wonder.
So, is it worth going to Semuc Champey? We say yes. The journey is an adventure and it’s unlike any place we’ve ever visited before.
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How to get to Semuc Champey?
So being honest, getting to Semuc Champey is a nightmare because of the long drive. Arranging transport to Lanquin, the closest town to Semuc Champey, is not the problem. There are various shuttles going from the hostels in Antigua and Flores, so it’s easy to arrange.
You may find some companies that offer the journey a couple of dollars cheaper. Saving a dollar should not be your main priority. You need to ensure you are the first person on the bus because you need to get a good seat. This is important because you do not want to repeat our experience!
Arriving at the minibus in Flores we found we were the last to get onboard. This turned out to be a disaster because we had been left the two smallest seats at the back of the bus.
Being over 6 ft we were not thrilled about the seven hour journey ahead of us. The buses are laden with everyone’s bags on top and inside it’s cramped. If you are sitting on the wheels at the back of the bus, the lack of suspension means you will soon feel queasy.
Two hours into the journey, our driver was driving full pelt around some steep bends. Soon I asked the driver to stop so I could be sick. Still green around the gills, I took the spare seat up at the front for some respite from the bumpy ride. We suggest that you buy travel sickness bands to try and counteract any car sickness. They are a necessity for travelling in Guatemala.
A couple of hours from Semuc Champey, the road disappears completely. A rocky track replaces the road for the last section of the journey. Thankfully the buses usually go slower at this point, in an attempt to save their tires, but it also saves the passengers’ stomachs!
So yes, getting to and from Semuc Champey is dreadful, but this ends up adding to the experience. You are so happy when you finally arrive that it highlights your stunning surroundings. The spectacular jungle views instantly make up for the awful drive.
What to bring?
- Mosquito repellent – We recommend you use Skin so Soft. We’ve used other brands, but they are not as good. Plus it smells great and hydrates your skin too, protecting that tan. Double win.
- White tiger balm – Rub white tiger balm on any bites for a couple of seconds until you feel the area tingle. It relieves the sting of the bites. An absolute life saver and it stops you scratching which leads to scarring.
- Antihistamine – Continuing on a theme, (we are heading to the jungle after all!) if you do get bitten, these will really help.
- Reef safe suntan lotion – If you are planning on visiting Semuc Champey and going in the pools, you should use a biodegradable sun tan lotion. Don’t ruin this beautiful site for future generations.
- Water to Go water bottle – The walk to Semuc Champey from Utopia Eco-Hotel is hot. Make sure you keep hydrated. Reduce your plastic waste and use our discount code ‘ EATWITHWALKER’ to get 15% off all Water to Go products.
- Travel sickness bands – These are an utter godsend if you ever get vaguely car sick. Small and easy to store, they are great to have for bus journeys through Guatemala.
- Watershoes – These are really useful if you want to swim in the pools at Semuc Champey and want to go tubing.
- Money – We found that the card machine wasn’t working (& charged an additional 3%). Having money is a good idea.
Where to stay?
There are a variety of hostels catering to everyone’s wants and needs near Lanquin. There are party hostels if that’s what you’re looking for or chilled out havens in the jungle. We opted for the latter.
Utopia Eco-Hotel was a recommendation from a like minded traveller. When we arrived we instantly fell in love with Utopia’s relaxed vibe and beautiful views.
We arrived at Utopia at 7 pm after a long day of travelling. After arriving in Lanquin, there had a further 40 minute ride on a pick up truck to get to Utopia. In the dark, up steep, steep hills.
In town, we had grabbed a beer and jumped in the back of the truck, after being told that we would be waiting half an hour for some other guests. Suddenly the truck took off and there were we, trying to hold on to a beer bottle, our luggage and the truck without no warning!
Festoon lighting adorned the wooden railings at Utopia Eco-Hotel. After jumping down from the pick up truck, we guided our giddy legs towards the bar area. We arrived to smiles and a band playing some folk music.
The audience were smiling and nodding their heads in time with the music. After we signed in and gratefully received a welcome drink, we were led to a table where we told about the Eco-Hotel and all the activities on offer.
Luckily we’d arrived in time to enjoy ‘Family Dinner’. At a set time each evening there is ‘Family Dinner’ for $7 USD. Everyone shares a large communal table where you sit together chatting with staff and other guests. The food is vegetarian, delicious and the portions are enormous.
In addition to a main meal you also get a pudding which we thought was amazing value. The ‘Family Dinner’ creates a community atmosphere and enables conversation. We loved the idea and every evening meal we ate was fabulous.
Be aware there is no communal kitchen here for you to cook your own food. Being in the middle of nowhere, the only option is eating food cooked at the Utopia. Not exactly a hardship as the food is great quality and mouth-wateringly good. We are not vegetarian and found the menu to be excellent.
We thought Utopia was great value for money. The breakfast, lunch and dinner there were delicious. We found that happy hour and all the tempting drinks was our downfall and affected our budget! However, the whole experience of staying in the jungle and eating incredible food was one of our favourite experiences in Guatemala.
The breakfast is scrumptious and a brilliant way to start your day. The bar area in the light of day was even more spectacular than we had first imagined. The main bar is a wooden balcony, perching over the jungle with views extending for as far as the eye can see. You can sit up on stools, eating your meal and looking over the jungle, listening to the river gurgle below.
In the early morning the jungle is shrouded in cloud which starts to burn off as the sun heats up. This means the view seems to change the whole time. Never is it boring. Along with the wonderful noises from the jungle wildlife nearby, we fell in love with jungle living.
Being on a budget, the rooms offer excellent value. For a bed in a 4-bed dorm you only pay $5 USD per night. The rooms are simple, a good size and very comfortable. The loos and showers are only a short walk away.
Sleeping in the jungle in a wooden hut, be aware that it’s loud as the jungle wakes up! We loved the sounds of the birds and the howler monkeys. It was one of the reasons we’d come to the jungle. Not all the guests appreciated nature’s early alarm though!
Unless it’s Happy Hour at Utopia, there is no WIFI in the main bar area. A very clever way to get everyone to buy drinks and get together. We found the WIFI was never that great in the bar area as inevitably everyone was trying to get online. But we found that by the time we had a drink in hand, we forgot about using the WIFI anyway!
That said, there is another area, a short walk up the hill, where you can connect to WIFI. If you do need to check emails, make future plans or call people, you can get online. We actually enjoyed this digital detox and it definitely added to the friendly, relaxed vibe of Utopia Eco-Hotel.
As for facilities the Eco-Hotel offers free yoga classes on a beautiful balcony overlooking the jungle. Yoga classes are dependent on the interest of the guests. If people don’t sign up, the classes may not happen. There is also a free outdoor gym with lots of fitness machines to use.
Utopia Eco-Hotel offers a range of activities to do during your stay. Tours offered include a chocolate making tour, a trip to Semuc Champey and a candle lit tour of the caves or tubing from the bridge near Semuc Champey back to Utopia.
Hammocks are littered throughout the property, encouraging you to relax and enjoy the view. After the drive to get to Utopia we spent a whole day in a hammock listening to the howler monkeys and admiring the view. It was one of the most relaxing days we enjoyed in Guatemala.
The Eco-Hotel has the river running alongside the bottom of the property. Ideal should you fancy a dip to cool down or want to indulge in a bit of tubing.
Getting to Semuc Champey
Utopia is very close to Semuc Champey and was one of the reasons we decided to stay. We were able to walk along the path by the river all the way to Semuc Champey. The walk takes about 45 minutes. The route is hot and hilly, but the views of the surrounding jungle are breath-taking. Take a water!
We came to a viewpoint as you walk into Semuc Champey. At only $2 USD each we decided to do the hike up to the viewpoint. Upon setting out we asked how long it would take. 10 minutes we suggested? More like 20 he replied.
It did not take us 20 minutes! More like 30 minutes. It’s steep and in the midday sun, you’ll definitely end up a sweaty mess. Although strenuous, we were enjoyed our first glimpse of the pools at Semuc Champey.
After this viewpoint you’ll head towards the entrance. You’ll have to cross a bridge where there is a restaurant, which serves good, cheap local food. If you want a change from the vegetarian menu at Utopia and want some meat this is probably the nearest restaurant. The tubing activity starts from this bridge.
Continue to walk over the bridge and as you approach the entrance there are lots of people selling food and cold drinks. We went straight past and into Semuc Champey.
Once you are in, you start to walk alongside the beautiful blue pools. Being a Saturday they had lots of people sitting in them, swimming or relaxing on the shore with a picnic. There were lots of locals enjoying the weekend, chilling out and enjoying the sunshine and cool waters. Head there on a weekday to avoid the crowds.
Having already tackled one viewpoint we were very excited about jumping in the water to cool down. We walked to the pools further upstream, looking for some space to enjoy a dip.
Further up we found some lockers to store our belongings. To secure your belongings, you have to have your own lock as none were provided. With our belongings locked away we were free to enjoy this beautiful area.
We jumped into the pools which were instantly cooling. We admired the jungle covered mountains as we sat in the water. Jungle frames Semuc Champey and it’s beauty is spectacular.
The viewpoint in Semuc Champey
Having arranged to tube back to Utopia and wanting to visit the other viewpoint, we set off up the hill. The path is very rocky and slippery underfoot. Shoes with grip are essential. As you walk up the hill there are people selling drinks and coconuts. We treated ourselves to a coconut as we reached the viewpoint.
The view is incredible. It is the main reason it’s worth going to Semuc Champey. Looking over the green valley and the colour of the water is mesmerising. The rolling hills, covered in vegetation, are a very impressive view.
Luckily it wasn’t too busy at the viewpoint, allowing us to take lots of pictures of the waters below. Make sure you allow yourself to stand there taking it all in. The view is mesmerising.
We spent about half an hour at the top, starring at the incredible view. Suddenly, we realised we needed to head off to the tubing meeting point. It took us half an hour to climb down the rocky terrain. The descent was just as challenging as the climb up had been.
At the bridge we met lots of people from Utopia. Our group was a mixture of guests and volunteers working at Utopia Eco-Hotel. We collected a life jacket and a tube and we were off. We negotiated our way down to the river and gently pushed ourselves off the riverbank and into the tube. Some more successfully than others!
The current then starts to take you down the river gently. You enjoy the views and the noises coming from the birds and the nearby buses from the road.
We floated down the meandering river and suddenly we heard rapids ahead. The guides got us to link up. The front person had the second person’s legs linked under their arms to make a chain. As a three we headed down the rapids together.
The guide positions himself at the back guiding you past rocks and down the rapids. Our guide used his flip flops as a rudder. It was very impressive!
We absolutely loved the tubing and the activity alone is worth going to Semuc Champey for. The views were incredible and the rapids added a bit of adventure. After hiking up two viewpoints in the hot sun, we were ready to relax. It was an absolute relief to be tubing home and not walking!
The journey home was about an hour, ending at the shore next to Utopia. We arrived in time for a quick change before happy hour and then Family Dinner. A brilliant end to a fantastic afternoon.
We had been keen to do the chocolate workshop,but it hadn’t been possible. The person that did the tour was only free on the day we’d allocated to visit Semuc Champey. The workshop lasts a few hours and you get to make your own chocolate.
You learn all about the process of making chocolate. It looked like a really interesting activity and a total dream if you love chocolate as much as us!
Semuc Champey & caves tour
We decided not to do the tour as we fancied the walk there and the walk is free! The candle lit tour of the caves was not on our to do list. In San Ignacio, Belize we went to the ATM caves which was incredible. Our lust for caves was quenched.
We met some people that said they did the caves tour and really enjoyed it. You go through the caves by candlelight. It sounded different from the ATM caves, so do go if you want a different caving experience.
We’ll be back
We both would like to return to Semuc Champey. We would definitely go back to Utopia Eco-Hotel. It was a jungle paradise with spectacular food and views. The staff are warm and welcoming and you instantly relax.
Semuc Champey is off the beaten track and yes, the journey to get there is awful. However, if you are seeking experiences that are different, you need to visit. We travel to see new things and there is no where we’ve ever visited that is like Semuc Champey.
The long journey to get to the jungle will be forgotten once you have a drink in hand. Enjoy the jungle views from your hammock and the long transfer will all be a distant memory. It’s definitely worth going to Semuc Champey.
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