Why I wouldn’t recommend Semuc Champey (Lanquin) in Guatemala!

In this blog, I tell you our experiences with Semuc Champey and why we wouldn’t really recommend you to travel to this place.

Why I don’t think Semuc Champey in Guatemala is worth it!

After three days Antigua, a hike to the volcanoes Acatenango and Fuego and a few days relaxing in San Marcos on Lake Atitlan, we travel to Lanquin and Semuc Champey. To get here we have to travel a considerable distance by bus meaning hours and hours of bumpy roads. When I speak with other travellers, they tell me the distance to travel to Semuc Champey is totally worth it since it’s so nice… But to be honest, after making this trip, I don’t agree with them. I think Semuc Champey and Lanquin are a bit overrated and I wouldn’t say it is worth the long travel time.

Travelling from Lake Atitlan to Lanquin.

We sit, still a bit sleepy, in the small boat which transports us from San Marcos to Panajachel. From there the shuttle bus leaves which will take us to Lanquin in ten hours. When we arrive in Panajachel we meet Stef and Matthias and together we eat a quick breakfast before we hop into the bus.

It is a long but fun bus ride. We meet Linda, also Dutch, and play with the five of us games like ‘who is it’, churches bingo (self-invented game) and a music quiz. As we progress, the road becomes worse and very bumpy. It is almost five o’clock when we arrive at the MacDonalds in Coban. From here it is two hours to Laquin, but we first have an hour break. A number of Big Macs and fries later, we enter the bus again. It is now completely dark and it starts to rain slowly.

Raining in Lanquin

When we arrive in Lanquin at around 8 pm, it rains cats and dogs. Fortunately, our hotel pick-up, a big van is awaiting us. When we get out of the shuttle bus, we see the van is in real life a tuk-tuk, which is a way to small to fit four big Europeans and backpacks. The driver doesn’t know what to do and decides to try it anyway. Have you ever seen that movie of those clowns trying to fit into a tiny car? Well, that’s us! I’m halfway on the driver’s lap, and in the back Ries, Matthias and Stef are sitting on top of each other.

Slowly the tuk-tuk starts to move, and then after 500 meters, it stops again. The drivers tell us that we have to get off and so we escape the tiny tuktuk. After waiting for five minutes, a real van arrives, which brings us to the hostel. Once there, I have an argument with the receptionist (she wants me to hand in my passport for the next three days, I indicate that’s illegal to do), but I eventually cut my losses and a few minutes later we enter our room and lay down on our bed.

Curious to which hotels we dó recommend in Lanquin? Read all about them in our hotel guide for Guatemala!

Mating rituals in our hostel in Lanquin

But the evening is not over yet, after a lovely shower we walk towards the bar and order four Cuba libre’s (rum cola’s). Most of the other guests are already a few drinks ahead of us and are half-drunk trying to dance or hit on each other. There are also whole mating rituals in progress like as if we are watching a nature program. And so we end the evening, with the four of us playing cards, and in the meantime looking around as if we are anthropologists.

The caves of Semuc Champey

Our hotel is located just outside of the village Lanquin, but the reason we are here for is Semuc Champey. This is a nature reserve area which is known for its beautiful blue pools. Semuc Champey is an hour away, in the middle of the jungle. When we drive there, it starts to rain softly again, and that adds to the ‘rainforest feeling’ that prevails. Once we arrive at the parking lot, we are also reunited with Linda from the bus yesterday.

A cave tour in Semuc Champey

Today we have planned a cave tour, followed by a visit to the famous pools. When we arrive at the caves, we have to leave all of our stuff behind and change our shoes for Crocs. Hmm, I feel like I haven’t fully read into this activity. In the past, we have visited caves more often, but we never got wet. At most of splashing water from the boat, we were touring through the caves. Well, this is a different thing … as soon as we walk into the cave, we get a burning candle from our guide, a completely absurd gesture since we have to enter the water.

Yes, there is water in this cave, and the ‘fun’ of this cave tour is that you swim through the water, clamber and walk under waterfalls. This is not really my thing. It is cold, my candle constantly blows out, and I have to wade through dark water without seeing what is beneath me.

I am definitely not the only one who feels this, but apparently the most dramatic, witness the giggles from the rest of the group. Oh well, I can actually see the fun of it. Here we walk, shivering from the cold, without protecting helmets or flashlights with a guide who finds everything hilarious. Remember, those Thai guys in that cave … well, we are thinking about that too ;-).

The results after an hour and a half in the caves of Semuc Champey:

An hour and a half later, with only two scratches and a bulge above my eye (my head did not win from a rock wall), we walk out of the cave and I am relieved. We shiver a little and unfortunately see that it’s raining very hard now. The next activity on the schedule is a big swing with which you can jump into the river. It looks nice until Matthias jumps off the swing into the water and falls flat on his stomach. Completely red he stumbles out of the water. Later we hear that there is sometimes a crocodile in the river, everything is at your own risk.

The turquoise pools

It is finally time for the highlight, the turquoise pools that we have already seen on many beautiful pictures These pools are made of limestone and lie on top of an underground river. They fall into each other step by step which creates get small waterfalls between the different pools. Not only can you swim in the various pools, but you can also hike up to a viewing point from where you have an amazing view over them. And that image, that’s exactly what we came for.Semuc Champey Guatemala

It is a short walk, but on our way, our guide tells us that we won’t go to the viewpoint. Since it’s in fact completely covered in clouds and we won’t see anything from there. Really too bad, that’s what we came for! We, therefore, walk directly to the pools themselves, to take a swim. There are small fish in them, nibbling your toes and knees, which is a funny and weird feeling. And despite the grey weather, the environment with blue water surrounded by green plants is very beautiful. Nevertheless, it’s a bit disappointing and super cold so after an hour everyone is ready to go back to our hostel.

Just in time for happy hour, the four of us arrive there. We are going to take advantage of this and we will immediately order a few Cuba Libre’s, and that’s how we end our last night in Semuc Champey. Tomorrow we will travel to Flores, a small city from where we will go to the ancient Mayan temples in Tikal.

All you need to know about Semuc Champey

Useful information for when you visit Lanquin and Semuc Champey!

Where do you stay: in Lanquin or Semuc Champey?

Lanquin is a small village at about an hour’s drive from Semuc Champey. Here are most hostels located. We slept in hostel Zypher, just outside of Lanquin. Not recommended, the staff was unfriendly, the food not good and the prices high. It did have a nice pool and a beautiful view though.

The caves and pools are located in Semuc Champey. There are also some hostels here. The advantage of staying in Semuc Champey is that you can visit the pools before all tourists come. The disadvantage is that after you arrive in Lanquin, you will still have to travel for an hour.

We have not visited other ho(s)tels but heard good stories about Greengo’s (in Semuc Champey), and Utopia Eco Hotel. I recommend choosing a location based on your hostel. It does not matter that much (also in terms of transport costs).What did we spend in Guatemala?

How to travel to Lanquin:

Note: When you want to go to Semuc Champey you always travel to Lanquin, where you are dropped off by the shuttle bus. Lanquin is close by Semuc Champey. According to the travel agencies, this trip always takes a lot shorter than the actual travel time. For example, it was indicated that it would take 8 hours from Lake Atitlan, while in reality, we were travelling for 10 hours.

  • Lake Atitlan to Lanquin: 10 am (please note, don’t catch the bus from 2 pm from Lake Atitlan, it’s a scam)
  • Antigua to Lanquin: 6 hours
  • Guatemala City to Lanquin: 5 hours
  • Flores to Lanquin: 8 hours

You will be deposited in the middle of the village. Most ho(s)tels have a pickup service, so someone is waiting for you. If your bus is delayed, you will arrive late at night. It is then useful to inform your ho(s)tel, especially if it is outside Lanquin. There is a chance that they will not come to pick you up otherwise.

Click here for the ultimate Guatemala itinerary for a three-week trip in Guatemala!

Do you need a tour for Semuc Champey?

You don’t need a tour to visit Semuc Champey. When you only visit the pools and the viewpoint, you just pay the entrance fee and possibly transport.

We paid 170Q per person for our tour (after negotiation). This included transport, a guide and entrance. We booked this at the same local office where we also booked our bus tickets. You can book these tours both in your hostel and in Lanquin. Transport from Lanquin to Semuc Champey is about 20Q per person, entrance fee for the park is 50Q.

What to pack for Semuc Champey?

As little as possible! Water shoes/crocs are handy (and a must when you enter the caves) but also bring sports/hiking shoes. You can rent Crocs for Q25. You can also bring lunch, or buy it for 50Q in places (rice, vegetables and meat). Water and sunscreen are smart to bring, just like a bikini or swimming trunks a bath towel and possibly a GoPro / water camera.

That is all that you will need. Do not take too much with you, there are no lockable lockers.

Is Guatemala an expensive holiday destination? Read here all you need to know about a Guatemala budget, prices and costs of a trip in Guatemala!

Is Semuc Champey worth it?

No I don’t think Semuc Champey is worth it. This blog may sound very negative and normally I am very positive, but I think it’s important, to be honest. And if I’m very honest, I did not really think Semuc Champey was worth the hassle. You lose two days that you spend in the bus because of the location. Those two days I would rather have spent longer at Lake Atitlan or perhaps on one of the surf beaches.

In addition, I found the pools nice, but I certainly have seen much nicer thinks in Guatemala. Maybe it was also because we had bad weather and it would have been more fun with the sun. When we were here, it was not crowded in terms of tourists, but it still feels like this place is created for tourists only. And well, caves are not my thing at all, which also plays a roll in my dislike of Semuc Champey

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  1. by Dale on 23 March 2021  00:51 Reply

    I'm heading to Semuc Champey in a few days and I found your blog while reading up on it. I'm a bit nervous about the long shuttle ride (I'm coming from Xela so I think it's about 12 hours) and I really hope it ends up being worth it!

    • by Charlotte van de Sande on 24 March 2021  17:19 Reply

      Ooo I'm super curious about your experience! Don't forget, what had a big impact for us as well was the circumstance in which we had rain, people trying to scam us and more. So perhaps (I hope), you wil have an amazing experience! Hopefully the ride went well?
      Let us know!

      • by Dale on 29 March 2021  02:08 Reply

        Following up to say I really enjoyed myself! Of course, I had great weather and luckily no scams. I’m sorry you didn’t have ideal conditions when you came! But nonetheless thanks for the helpful article, it’s always good to hear the positives and negatives of a place before you go :)

        • by Charlotte van de Sande on 18 April 2021  09:31 Reply

          Dale! Ooo I am so happy to hear you had such a wonderful time at Semuc Champey! Exactly, we always try to be as honest and transparent as possible, and sometimes that does mean sharing the not so nice things. Enjoy the rest of your travels in Guatemala!

  2. by Michael Voronenko on 25 June 2021  17:17 Reply

    Thank you for the interesting article. I thought that Semuc Champey was spectacular. It really depends on expectations and your experience there. I do agree that it's overrun by backpackers looking to hook up, more than to learn and connect, who stay at places like Zephyr. However, if you take it with a grain of salt, and if you get sun instead of constant rain, then your experience can be very rewarding.

    • by Charlotte van de Sande on 13 July 2021  14:43 Reply

      Hi Michael!
      I am so happy that your experience was so different! As you say, with just a bit of different circumstances, it might have been so special. However sometimes having a less positive experience also teaches me to appreciate the other experiences even more!
      Kind regards,

  3. by Bequa Kynska groupie on 23 December 2021  22:27 Reply

    That place is ultra amazing!

  4. by Fred on 16 February 2022  07:48 Reply

    Hi, I am heading to Guatemala for 5 days in the end of Feb and trying to choose one destination between Semuc Champey and Tikal. I was leaning towards Semuc Champey, but now I am not so sure. Because of time constraints I cannot visit both. Could you provide short for and against arguments for both locations. Thank you!

    • by Charlotte van de Sande on 19 February 2022  10:28 Reply

      Hi Fred,
      Sorry but they are not comparable at all. Do read my artikel on Tikal as well. In the articles itself is written what is nice about the locations and is information which might help you decide what your personal preference is. A " for and against" list wouldn't do them justice and is so dependent on personal preferences.
      Kind regards,

  5. by Freddy Pineda on 17 March 2022  01:59 Reply

    This place is off the hook. You need to stop drinking and enjoy nature a bit more. I don't like caves but getting inside Lanquin was a different experience and as for Semuc Champey what a marvelous place in the middle of the jungle. Something different to see than in the States. I had a great time.

    • by Charlotte van de Sande on 18 March 2022  08:11 Reply

      First of all, I am very happy you had such a good time! However, I doubt if you red the article... Since I think you comment is a bit strange... I love nature, I don't live in the States and I think the whole party thing was exactly what I didn't like about Semuc Champey.. and so I didn't participate in that... But perhaps you mean something else?

  6. by Cormac on 13 July 2022  15:48 Reply

    Hi Charlotte,

    You are looking at this all wrong.

    Your journey to get there, should have placed you in a more Zen like relaxed state.

    The best journeys sometimes take the most hardship, for you to get there and then enjoy it.

    Never worry about bad circumstances and issues, they come and go. Enjoy life.

    I sometimes love for my Bike to Breakdown, Then I meet the most helpful strangers to assist in my bike recovery.

    Love, Live and Laugh. everything else is just noise!

    Cheers, Cormac

  7. by Brian on 29 December 2022  13:27 Reply

    Perhaps you should have stayed with us. We are only 350 meters from Semuc Champey, and the only non-party place around.
    You will love our famous treehouse.
    B'antiox Guesthouse Private Reserve and Sanctuary

  8. by Thijs on 3 June 2023  20:35 Reply

    Thank you for this advice, as me and my family want to go here this summer maybe still is look if there is nothing else better/

    • by Brian on 5 June 2023  08:23 Reply

      Hi there,

      Please take a look at us before you make a decision.
      We are B'antiox Guesthouse Private Reserve and Sanctuary-located just 350 meters from Semuc Champey. We are the only non-party hosts and Five Star rating on Airbnb in the area.

  9. by Brian on 5 June 2023  08:19 Reply

    Good morning.
    After replying to your page about Semuc Champey not worth it many months ago, I replied to you stating that you should have stayed with us at B'antiox Guesthouse which is 350 meters from Semuc Champey for a Five Star Experience.
    You replied to me quickly saying something like, "I should have".
    I want to thank you for your critique of Semuc because many of our guests have told us they read your piece and decided to look at us, and after reading about how we are the only non-party hosts and a Private Reserve and Sanctuary, decided to stay with us.
    If you are to ever come back, please come and visit and see why and how we are different from the other choices.
    B'antiox Guesthouse Private Reserve and Sanctuary

  10. by Michael on 9 July 2023  08:11 Reply

    To those who were hesitant about going to Semuc, I 1000% recommend it.

    I too was hesitant since I was in Guatemala during the rainy season in June. My wife and I only had a week of travel and we were not sure we’d have time to visit Semuc after doing Antigua, Tikal and the lake. So I did some research online and saw this blog about Semuc not being worth it but I absolutely disagree.

    I think one of the main factors that the blogger didn’t have a good time was the rain. Like the Germans say, there is not bad weather only bad clothing.. Second, I think they were affected by the 10hr bus ride. We rented a car and our drive from Panajachel to Lanquin was just 7hours. And the best part of the drive was that we get to see and discover the real rural Guatemala along the way.
    Once we arrived to Lanquin it did rain cats and dogs but we embraced it. We had proper clothing and the sound of rainfall at night in the jungle was magical. We made our way to Semuc the next day early on our own hitching a local bus that costs us 25Q. Didn’t take a guide and make our way there since it was pretty simple. Didn’t do any cave tours or none of that. Semuc alone was a beautiful and magical place even on a cloudy day with occasional showers.
    That said, if you were in Guatemala and had doubts about Semuc, don’t be. It’s one of the more beautiful places I’ve been to in this planet.

    • by Charlotte van de Sande on 10 July 2023  08:01 Reply

      Hi Michael,
      Thanks for your elaborate response. I am so happy that your experience was very different and thankful that you share your experience here so we can together give a full perspective on Semuc Champey.

      Haha I like your comment about the Germans, especially since being Dutch, we are very used to rain and bad weather. However, in this case clothing wasn't the problem (or solution). When the weather is bad, the pools really look way less beautiful then what you often see on the pictures of sunny days. Especially with clouds hanging low so you cannot see the pools from up high or have a good overview of them.

      But again, happy to have another perspective here and I hope others too will share their positive or less positive experiences!
      Kind regards,

  11. by Jen on 29 July 2023  17:52 Reply

    I just visited Semuc Champey and really enjoyed it, but we did a few things differently. 1) We stayed 3 nights so we had more time to relax and also two days to pick from for visiting Semuc Champey to get the best weather. 2) We didn’t visit the caves after reading so many descriptions like this! 3) Our shuttle looked way more comfortable than yours and got in at 5 pm, in the daylight. We’ve been booking all our transportation through Adrenalina tours and have been pretty happy with it. 4) We stayed in a really beautiful place outside of Lanquin. It’s called the Mountain Nest, it’s a bit of an adventure to get here but it’s been so nice! It’s not a hostel and not the cheapest option, but it made the trip here worth it. I know there are also some other places closer to Semuc Champey that are nice and more affordable.

    I think those differences really change the calculation of whether it’s worth it or not. I appreciate this post as it helped us figure out how we could plan a more enjoyable visit.

    • by Charlotte van de Sande on 31 July 2023  13:30 Reply

      Hi Jen,
      I am so happy to hear you really had a different experience!!! And indeed I thinks these four things made a huge difference indeed! Hopefully many other travelers read this and will have a good experience as well!
      Kind regards,

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