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  • Writer's pictureKristin

Off the Beaten Path in Guatemala | Semuc Champey

If you’re looking for off the beaten path in Guatemala then look no further than Semuc Champey! This beautiful destination is literally off the beaten path, as it takes over 6 hours to get here from Guatemala City (or longer from other popular tourist spots in Guatemala). While it does take some time to get there, we thought it was 100 percent worth the effort. Semuc Champey, literally means “where the river hides” from the indigenous Q’eqchi’ language. The canyon formed over time has created canyon walls as high as 500 meters and are 300 meters wide. We’ll cover what you might need to know or consider when traveling as a family to Semuc Champey.

Getting There

Like mentioned, it is no easy task to get to Semuc Champey, it easily takes a full day to get there and then a full day to get back – especially if coming from Lake Atitlan or Antigua region. If you don’t have a vehicle, then there are buses that you can take to get to the area, or the option to hire private transportation. However, once getting to Lanquin, then most hotels or hostels in the area will coordinate pick up to take you to their site because beyond Lanquin the roads require 4x4 capabilities. However, be prepared that the roads leading to Lanquin can have rough spots as well – there were literally spots where the paved road would turn to gravel. There are also several curvy and windy roads; so if you get car sick easily make sure you have medication with you or take before departing!

Due to the fact that we had 4x4 capabilities we were able to take our truck all the way to our accommodation. We had our truck in 4x4 mode all the way and it wasn’t even rainy or wet.

Places to Stay

Once arriving in the Lanquin area there are a wide variety of hotels and hostels that you can choose to stay at, and many options exist on We stayed at Utopia Eco Hotel, which was 3 km away from Semuc Champey. This is a family-run sustainable eco hotel. They offer vegetarian and vegan meals at their café, as well as farm cacao from trees on their site.

Two children overlooking the railing of the cabin within the jungle near Semuc Champey.
Enjoying our cabin along the river and in the jungle at Utopia Eco Hotel near Semuc Champey, Guatemala.

Utopia Eco Hotel was such a perfect place for our family to stay – it was such a wonderful escape to nature and a relaxing time for us all. They offer a variety of accommodation including camping spots, hostel beds, as well as cabins with bathrooms included, which were great for our family. We stayed at one of the riverfront cabins and the sound of the river and the birds in the surrounding trees, were so soothing as we went to bed at night.

However, what we enjoyed most about it was how everything we needed was right there. They offered an outdoor gym, hiking paths, a mini beach along the river, play areas & sandbox for the kids, as well as daily yoga classes. Plus, we didn’t have to worry about meals, as they served family style lunch and dinner at their café (for additional cost). But the main highlight for the kids was the 12 different dogs they rescued and live on site. The kids immediately fell in love with them and made sure all the dogs got their attention and love. By the end of our stay, they knew all the dog’s names, personality traits and had given numerous hugs and cuddles. All the dogs were really well behaved and friendly too! The owners had children too, so the kids were excited to make some new friends and play with them during our stay.

Also, they were super helpful with planning your time in the area. Any activity that you wanted to do, they helped you coordinate with one of their local guides. (This is the way most hotels or hostels run in the area.)

Visiting Semuc Champey
Aerial view of Semuc Champey, Guatemala
View of Semuc Champey from the Lookout point.

There are two different ways you can visit Semuc Champey – either by an organized tour or on your own. However, it is important to note the ONLY way you can visit the inside of the caves is with a guide. The cave experience includes going into a cave with underground water pools where everyone carries their own candle with them while exploring the immense cave system. It is a highly suggested activity to do if you are in Semuc Champey.

However, with young children (5 and 8 years old) we decided to forego the cave tour. To be honest, we went back and forth about whether we should or shouldn’t do the tour. We even talked to owners about whether it was something suitable for the kids. They said that it could be done, and they suggested sending along an extra guide to assist & utilizing life jackets. We had lifejackets, so that was no problem, but lately Connor hasn’t been a fan of the dark. If it was a fairly short portion in the dark we probably would have attempted, but 90 minutes where he possibly might lose it, we decided it wasn’t worth it.

Therefore, we decided to explore the Semuc Champey lookout and pools on our own. Just a few days before our arrival, they changed the ticket system and supposedly now you had to arrive at the gate with your ticket already pre-purchased from your accommodation. The cost per ticket was 50 QTG ($6.50 USD/ $8.29 CDN) per foreign adult or child.

We hiked up to the lookout 'Mirador' where you get an aerial view of the pools below. The hike up was supposed to take about 30 minutes. (It might have taken us a little bit longer as it was quite steep and there were some large steps for the kids to climb.) However, it was a jungle hike, and we even saw monkeys in the trees as we ascended up.

Aerial view of Semuc Champey, Guatemala
Aerial view of Semuc Champey with the high canyon walls.

At the time of our visit in February 2022, they were restricting the amount of people on the lookout platform due to Covid precautions, so we had to wait while the previous people finished up. However, the views were incredible and we spent some time up there just taking it all in.

From the lookout there is a trail that continues down to the pool so you don’t have to backtrack the previous portion. This trail is only supposed to take about 20 minutes to descend. Unfortunately, we had left the lifejackets part way up the hill so we wouldn’t have to lug all the way up; as a result, Alex had to backtrack and then we met him at the pools.

Two children swimming in the pools at Semuc Champey, Guatemala
Swimming in the pools at Semuc Champey.

Once at the pools there were lockers you could use to put your things; however, you have to bring your own lock to secure them. Then we spent a couple of hours just swimming in the different pools. However, one important thing to note is that the rocks are covered with algae and can be super slippery - so it was super helpful to wear water shoes. (There are vendors near the site that sell the water shoes for visitors if interested.)

Because the pools are on a shelf, on the lowest level that was accessible to swim in, you could see how there were gaps under the rocks. One advantage of not going with a tour group was the extra time we got in the pools. By the time we got to the pools most of the tour groups had moved onto the cave portion, so the pools were relatively quiet and we had sections of them to ourselves in the early afternoon. We also packed our own lunch, so we didn’t have to leave the site to find food, as the closest eating places are outside of the park entrance.

Woman looking at the small waterfalls of Semuc Champey, Guatemala.
Taking in the beautiful views of Semuc Champey.

The Perfect Way to End Your Day at Semuc Champey

One of the other experiences at Semuc champey is to tube down the river. We hired a guide through Utopia Eco Hotel. However, there are also people at the end of the bridge trying to sell you the tubing experience. (I’m pretty sure they just offered the tubes and not a guide though.) However, we were grateful we got the guide to go with us! On the tube ride we came across sections of small rapids, and there is trees & other debris in the river, so our knowledgeable guide could steer us clear from danger. Plus, he was able to tell us where to stop to get out -- as places always look so different from the water than from land.

Tube view of floating down the Cahabon River at Semuc Champey.
Tubing down the Cahabón River back to Utopia Eco Hotel.

While most people tubed down with a beer in hand, we instead tubed down with kids in hand. The kids rode in a tube on our laps and we formed a train with our guide in the back navigating the way. We all really enjoyed tubing. The kids got super excited when they could hear another rapid coming up and screamed in delight as we went through them…..except when we got splashed with the cold water!

The tube experience was definitely a great way to finish the day and we’d highly recommend including this on your trip to Semuc Champey. Plus, it was a fun way to get back to the hotel.

If you have the time and patience to get to Semuc Champey, we highly recommend checking out this hidden gem in Guatemala! It was unique and a great place to just get away in nature.

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