Looking for travel tips and inspiration for your next trip to Guatemala? Or simply want a fun, travel-themed read? Here’s an excerpt from my travel journal about traveling to Semuc Champey, Guatemala.
Day 1 of Semuc Champey Trip
During our 8-hour drive to Semuc Champey, we stopped for lunch at Biotopo del Quetzal. This is a national park created with the intention of preserving the Quetzal’s habitat. We also took a short hike around the jungle before hopping in the car and finishing our drive. Sadly, we didn’t see any Resplendent Quetzals, but I wasn’t surprised because they are VERY endangered and shy! The weather was pretty drizzly when we arrived in Cobán, and our hotel was cold and full of baby cockroaches…
Day 2 in Semuc Champey Trip
We left our hotel in Cobán this morning and drove for 1.5 hours down a steep, winding road. It was actually pretty fun! We spent the next five and a half hours at a hotel just hanging out. The restaurant’s food wasn’t great, but it was right on the river with plenty of nice places to relax.
Our next ride, a rusty old pickup truck, arrived several hours late. We all pilled into the back of the pickup truck and began the long drive to our hotel in Semuc Champey. We struggled to hold on as the truck hurled over bumps in the windy road. We arrived in the dark (and a little bruised), but at least we didn’t miss dinner! After food (and drinks), I started dancing with a guy named Danny. He was a really good dancer! After a while I started to learn his various patterns, and when he would do one move I could predict the next five. He made me look like such a good dancer, and soon we were spinning all over the dance floor. It was SO much fun!
Day 3 of Semuc Champey Trip
After a quick breakfast, we headed out to see Semuc Champey. Although that’s the name that people use to refer to the general area, it technically refers to a specific place in the river. Here, the river cascades down a huge waterfall before going underground, and then it reappears further downstream via another waterfall. Above the underground river, there are small springs that fill pools of bright blue-green water.
First, we hiked up a steep trail with lots of stairs to a lookout point so that we could see Semuc Champey from above. It was beautiful! There were a LOT of stairs (steep stairs), so if you get winded easily I’d definitely recommend skipping the lookout!
Then we hiked back down and swam through all of the pools. Most were separated by a thin “wall” of limestone, but the last two pools were connected by a natural limestone waterslide. We all got to take turns going down the hard and bumpy “slide,” which was surprisingly fun!
Before leaving Semuc Champey, we swam through underground limestone caves in the pools. We had to go one-by-one with the guide, and there was only just enough space for my head to poke out of the water!
Next, we went back to the hotel for lunch, before heading out again for two more activities. The first adventure of the afternoon was exploring an awesome labyrinth of water-filled caves. It was quite dark inside the caves, so we each had to carry a candle. Sometimes the water was shallow enough for us to walk, but at other times the water was so deep that we had to swim with the candles in our mouths and pull ourselves along with ropes strung above the water.
Once while swimming, one of my shoes (that I’d bought for the occasion) slipped off my foot. Afraid of losing my new water shoes , I ducked under the surface to find my shoe. Of course, diving underwater put out my candle and it was very difficult to relight. I tried to continue without a light but slipped off the rock ledge and fell into the water! The whole group had to stop as I struggled relight my wet candle, but at least I didn’t fall in again!
At one place, the water was deep enough that we could climb up to a ledge partway up the wall and jump off into a deep pool of water.
The guide offered two exits from the labyrinth of caves; where we entered, or a “more fun” route.We opted for the “more fun” route, without knowing what it entailed. I went first, and the guide began to lower me down through the waterfall. I asked if I’d be able to touch the ground before he let go of me, and he answered “yes.”
This was definitely not true, but I blame the fact that Spanish is his second language (after Q’eqchi’, a Mayan language). Also, the waterfall was pretty loud! So, he started to lower me through the waterfall, and then suddenly let go. I fell through the waterfall, slipping through a narrow opening in the rock wall before plunging into a deep pool of water. I struggled back up to the surface, only to emerge directly under the waterfall! Again I was pushed under, but I managed to swim to safety by the cave wall.
After the caves, we went innertubing down the river back toward the hotel. Some young boys – not more than 10 years old – jumped in after us with innertubes and coolers of beer to sell. The whole thing was so cute and funny that we bought a couple to share, just for the experience!
To walk back to the hotel, we had to cross over a 35- or 40-foot-high bridge. Our guide told us that we should jump off of it, even though someone had died there two days before! We didn’t know that until afterward though, so it was still very fun.
The first time that I jumped, I unintentionally let my arms stick straight out. So essentially my arms did a “belly flop” from 40 feet up! It REALLY hurt, and my arms were covered in strange red and white splotches from the impact. I had time for one more jump before dinner, and it was much more successful!
Traveling in Guatemala
Want to know more about my travels in Guatemala? Click here to read about my excursion right before Semuc Champey, or keep your eyes out for next week’s post about another Guatemalan adventure. Or, you can click here to read about all of my travel trips and adventures in Latin America!
Happy Travels! XOXO Ann