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  • Jen Bloss

The Practical Stuff You Should Know Before Visiting Semuc Champey

Updated: Aug 28, 2023

Because every other blog will tell you what to do, but someone's got to tell you what you need to know
View of a turquoise river between mountains in Semuc Champey, Guatemala
Semuc Champey

Hello friends! After a long hiatus, Abroad with God is back! I know we’re all itching to travel again during this “living with the pandemic” phase of life. While the pandemic is certainly not over, we are definitely in a place where we can do our best to mitigate risk and get out exploring the world again. Due to covid, work, and starting grad school, my first trip abroad since 2019 was this to Croatia this past October! That was epic and will be written about in the future, but now I find myself in Guatemala with much to tell! I am here to do my MPH practicum, but I am also doing my best to find time to explore one of my favorite countries.

Have you heard of Semuc Champey?

It is one of Guatemala’s great natural gems: stunningly beautiful limestone pools of water with crystal clear blue water. Semuc Champey is actually a bridge of limestone rock and a river actually runs underneath it! This natural wonder is often missed because it is NOT easy to get to- it is very far from the typical tourist track of Antigua and Lake Atitlan. In fact, this is my 4th trip to Guatemala and my first time at Semuc Champey! Prior to my trip last weekend, I spent some time googling in order to answer my logistical questions about visiting this national monument. And while I found some useful tidbits and some great stories on blogs, I didn’t find out what I wanted to know. You don’t need to read another narrative about tours and the caves- but you *might* want to know what the bathroom situation is going to be like. Or where to put your stuff. Do you hike with your swimming gear? What about lunch? Do you really need to wear shoes on the mirador hike? I can’t be the only one who had those questions racing through my mind- which makes packing for the day really tough. So I’m going to tell you all of the practical stuff you want to know before visiting Semuc Champey.

close up aerial view of Semuc Champey Guatemala
Close up aerial view of Semuc Champey

A quick run down- where is Semuc Champey?

Semuc Champey is in the town of Lanquin, Guatemala. It is both far and relatively undeveloped, about 2 hours from the city of Coban. Lanquin is over 6 hours from Antigua and 7.5 hours from Lake Atitlan, for reference. Lanquin is not a typical tourist town. It has dirt roads that are only accessible by 4×4 vehicles and has a serious lack of restaurants and shops that tourists typically look for/would feel comfortable in. The town itself is around 40 mins from Semuc Champey- again, only accessible by 4×4 vehicle on seriously questionable roads. Accommodations can be found on AirBnB and though, and there are quite a few party hostels. Glamping is an option as well, which I’ve heard is great. My friends and I opted to stay at Utopia Eco Hotel in a cabin, and it was beautiful! Many accommodations are NOT actually in the town of Lanquin, but they may have options to pick you up in a truck from the center of town. And a heads up: if you have serious motion sickness, you may struggle with the journey. You will be ROCKED.

Okay, I’m in Lanquin. Now what?

The easiest and most common option is to sign up for a day tour to Semuc Champey itself. You have additional tour options to choose from, like tubing down the Cahabón river or swimming through dark caves with nothing but a candle. But you don’t have to be on a tour to go to Semuc Champey, and I had plenty of fun without one! I was with some Guatemalan friends that had a truck and had visited before, but as long as you can get a ride to and from the park, you definitely do NOT need a guide. And FYI, the entrance fee is 50Q for foreigners.

There are two main things to do in Semuc Champey: hike to the mirador and swim in the pools.

The hike to the mirador is a MUST MUST MUST do! Not only will it take you to the famous viewing platform with an epic overhead view of Semuc Champey in its entirety (hello, IG pics), it’s also just so freaking cool and beautiful. But it must be hiked in real shoes. After the hike, you go swimming in those azure pools of beauty. The hike to the mirador starts at the beginning of the park and ends at the pools, and it makes sense to hike first and swim second. It’s also just generally hiked in the direction of: Go up the mountain, see the beauty, come down the mountain, and swim.

The mirador hike- what’s that like?

The sign for the mirador hike says it is 500m long and projected to take about 30 mins long. My group took 40 minutes, but we took it at a casual pace with lots of breaks. It feels like you’re hiking through the jungle where a hidden civilization once stood. It is awesome. Dare I say that I may have enjoyed the hike more than the swim? I’m more of a woodsy girl than a water girl, I suppose. However, I must warn you that this is not a casual stroll. It is all STAIRS. Mud stairs and wooden staircases, some of which are very straight up and very straight down. If you are reasonably fit, you will be fine, but I thought you should be warned.  The path, aside from being stairlicious, has lots of roots and is muddy and slippery and rocky. You need shoes. Do not hike this in sandals– most especially not the type of flip-flop you’d wear in the shower (I’m looking at you, minimalist backpacker). 

staircase in the jungle guatemala
2 girls hiking in jungle
stone stairs in the jungle
semuc champey mirador hike sign
jungle in guatemala
hiking path

There are multiple rest areas to stop and take breaks- some of which have local women selling mangoes, oranges, and coconuts for refreshment. I learned that ground-up pumpkin seeds are often eaten on oranges here! I’d consume the fruit at your own risk, but the coconut seemed pretty safe- they just chop off the top with a machete once you buy it, and you pick the straw out of a package. I survived my coconut refreshment with no ill effects.

A reward for your sweat- the mirador!

Once you get to the top, you will find the mirador, a wooden platform that you’ve undoubtedly seen in everyone’s Instagram pics. It has an incredible bird’s-eye view of Semuc Champey and the terraced turquoise pools nestled between impressive green mountains. It’s awesome- worth every stair you just climbed! However, you won’t be the only one there. If you’re unlucky enough to time your arrival with that of a tour group, you may need to wait your turn to get photos. However, when I went, everyone was quite considerate of everyone else’s desire to have photos and took turns in the best spot.

girl at semuc champey mirador

The famous mirador!

group of people waiting to take pictures at semuc champey mirador

You might not be alone, so be courteous to others!

Got your pics? Head on down to the pools!

After the mirador, you head down towards the pools in a different direction than you hiked up. There are fewer stairs on this side, but one very steep ladder to descend, which was easiest to do facing inwards towards the staircase and stepping down backward (it was nearly vertical). This trail winds another 30 minutes or so, and finally ends at the first set of pools!

view of semuc champey pool through trees

A glimpse of the pools and waterfalls through the trees

Here you will find wooden lockers and changing rooms. But NO bathrooms.

Bring your own lock! I think you can also rent one there, but I’m not sure. You can swim here for a bit, and then continue down the wooden plank path another 5 minutes or so to the next set of pools. I personally think that set #2 (from this direction) is far more beautiful. You can swim here too! But there are no lockers, changing rooms, or bathrooms directly next to these pools.

lockers ta semuc champey

Changing area with lockers

wooden planks in jungle

The path between pools

About 3 more minutes down the path, past the second set of pools, there are more changing rooms and BATHROOMS.

If you skipped the mirador hike and headed straight towards the pools, these would be the first you encounter.

Let’s talk about the pools.

How cold is the water? Somewhat cold- but not a crazy shock. And it doesn’t feel cold about 30 seconds after getting in. How deep is it? Some parts were much deeper than my height, but none seemed cavernous. Important things to note: there are lots of rocks in the water, and these rocks are easy to bump into and covered in moss. They are VERY slippery and easy to hit your foot on. I would recommend wearing water shoes or hiking sandals in the water. Also, the pools close at 4 pm, and you will be told to leave (nicely) by workers.

tree next to blue natural pool
waterfall at semuc champey

After you’ve had your fill of swimming and hiking, you can change in one of the changing rooms and walk back to the entrance along another beautiful (flat) path. We saw a lot of monkeys on thIs stretch- at least 6 of them playing in the trees! The walk back takes around 15 minutes.

Your day at Semuc Champey will likely go in this order:

Hike up, take pics, come down and see pools #1, then pools #2, then walk back out. It’s a nice little loop.


You need shoes, you need swim gear- but what do you carry with you and where do you put things? And what about lunch?

My recommendation is to wear normal clothes and sturdy shoes into the park. You should carry your towel/swimsuit/sandals and all of your other gear in a backpack. You will hike with this because the lockers are not located anywhere near the hike. Once you finish the hike, then change into your swimming gear and lock up the rest.

Bring all of the water and snacks you’d want, because there is really nothing in the park. Despite this being a large tourist attraction, there is relatively little in the way of amenities here. There is a gas station before entering Lanquin that you could pick up some basic snacks at (what I did), or some hotels/hostels may be able to provide a packed lunch. Inside Semuc Champey, there are NO options for buying food or water. However, right outside of the entrance to the park is a grilling area with some vendors selling grilled meats, salad, rice, etc. They can package it up for you, if you want to take it with you. There will also be some very persistent children selling chocolates to you. VERY persistent.

diving into pool at semuc champey

So, what is the bathroom situation?

There is a bathroom just outside of the entrance to the park. USE THIS BATHROOM before entering. If you’re going to hike to the mirador, you may not see another bathroom until you leave! The first rule of traveling (which I broke and regretted): when there is a bathroom available, use it! Consider bringing some toilet paper in case the bathrooms are out, and also hand wipes/sanitizer because the soap could be MIA too.

But what about all of the other activities at Semuc Champey? Should I do them?

I did not do the cave tour, nor tubing, nor anything else and I’m quite happy with that decision! I loved the hike and enjoyed swimming in the crystal clear blue pools, and that’s just what I was hoping for. We were there for about 4 hours, and that was just the right amount of time for me- I’m not the type that could lay on the beach or hang at the pool all day, so I would certainly not want to swim for 3 hours, no matter how beautiful the water is. We actually spent more time on the hike than in the water. But that is a choice only you can make for yourself!

semuc champey, guatemala

I hope that this guide answers some of those logistical questions you may have about visiting Semuc Champey. If you are prepared for the journey to get there and back, I highly recommend adding it to your Guatemala itinerary! And if you’re interested in learning more about Guatemala travel, check out my other posts here!

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