Our long and arduous journey to Lanquin turned out to be completely worth it. Semuc Champey and the surrounding area is simply beautiful and we couldn’t have a had a more invigorating and relaxing time here, staying at the El Retiro Lodge.
The day in Semuc Champey itself started with a visit to the K’anba Caves. This area is primarily limestone and is a cavers paradise with thousands of unmapped miles of cave to explore: it just so happens that two main caves are open to the public. This first one is the “wet” cave, so aptly named because you get to crawl, climb, and even swim through them, all the while holding a candle. How do you swim with a candle? Very carefully!
I loved the experience inside the caves: it was rather unique and reminded me of the caves with glowworms I visited in New Zealand, except there you tubed the entire way through the cave on the water. Swimming through this cave made you feel like a first-time explorer, and the candles created a lovely ambiance such that I didn’t really even use my headlamp, even though I’d brought it. This kind of excursion would never be permitted back home because some of the access points and narrow footholds meant that one wrong step could result in serious injury. But this is Guatemala- and there are no liability waivers to sign here…yet.
After the cave splunk, our guide showed us a plant that the Maya used for cloth dye, and proceeded to mark our faces with the bright orange paint. It certainly made us look strange for the rest of the days pictures. We crossed the river to the National Park of Semuc Champey, which is essentially an area of pristine mountainous forest where the river cascades through a series of crystal clear and surprisingly warm emerald green pools. A stiff uphill climb took us first to the Mirador to snap some aerial shots. Later it was an afternoon’s agenda of basking in the sun, diving in the pools, whooshing over rock slides and enjoying the peace of the location.
Having said this, it was obvious that tourism at Semuc is growing rapidly: the lodge we were staying at was under construction for an entirely new wing of accommodation , and the “tour” to Lanquin is heavily advertised in Antigua and Lake Atitlan. I would suggest you come and visit before you are forced to share these pools with busloads of tourists. Because it just wouldn’t be the same.
The following day we relaxed at the lodge, took a longer tube ride down the river, and then decided to visit the “Dry” caves in Lanquin. I recommend visiting here in the early evening when you’ll have the opportunity to marvel at the thousands of bats emerging from the cave entrance, flying into the night sky in search for food. Just make sure they don’t fly into your hair.
When: March 9-11
Where: El Retiro Lodge, Lanquin
How: Shuttle bus from Antigua. There are shuttle from El Retiro to Rio Dulce, Lake Atitlan, and Flores.
Photos: You can see more photos from Semuc Champey here.