We’d read that many regard Semuc Chamey as the most beautiful place in Guatemala, so it wasn’t really a difficult decision to head there.
As we sat in our Flores hostel we received an email from Chris and Rikki (our Australian friends who also found their way to Flores) saying their hotel was offering a shuttle to Lanquin for $150.00 Quetzales per person and was that a good price.
Now the eagle eyes of Sarah had spotted a company offering the same journey for a mere $75.00 Quetzales, so we offered to book for them when we booked for ourselves and the following morning saw us all pile into a van for the day long journey to Lanquin (the closest town to Semuc Champey).
The day was long, but we’d thankfully brought plenty of snacks and the journey was punctuated by several rest stops for both use of the bathroom and the opportunity for us to grab additional provisions.
It was a smooth ride, only broken by a river crossing on board a vehicle ferry, and the rapid deterioration of the road (into a rough and bumpy ride) for the last hour of the journey.
We’d also gotten very lucky in that there were only the four of us in the vehicle. We were therefore able to stretch out a lot more which made the whole journey much more comfortable!
Eventually we did arrive, Sarah and I having already booked a bed in a hostel called Zephyr. With nowhere else confirmed, Rikki and Chris opted to tag along (much to our pleasure) as the touts were out in force and we’d been offered a courtesy ride up to our lodgings!
A preliminary briefing followed once we’d arrived at the hostel, before we were shown to our dormitory bed, believe it or not, a double bed in a loft above the bunk beds!
To top it all off, out ‘dormitory’ bed also had the most stunning of views, taking in a lot of the valley above which the hostel sits.
The hostel itself did have a slightly unusual system, where all passports are collected on arrival, and the bar/kitchen is run solely off a tab system (something we’ve come to dislike and encountered a few times since).
This felt geared solely towards the benefit of the hostel operators, and tales of incorrect bills at the end of ones stay seem to be rife in this place. To that end we felt it prudent to keep our own running tally, which thankfully matched that which was produced at the end of our stay (it appears most discrepancies arise from those who have long and lengthy stays at the bar)!
Agree or not with the system, one thing that could not be faulted was the beauty of the location that had been chosen.
Almost straddling a ridge of some sorts, this place afforded stunning views in three directions, irrespective of the time of day…
Boozy nights and stunning valley views may be nice in theory, however they’re not why we came here.
Our primary purpose was Semuc Champey, so we signed up to a tour promptly, ready for an adventure on our second day.
A relatively early start saw us all piled into the back of a pickup truck, only to be advised that it was actually the wrong vehicle!
We promptly piled out, only to find ourselves climbing back into an almost identical vehicle and we were on our way. Okay, so the distance from Lanquin to Semuc Champey is roughly 11 kilometres, so how long would you imagine that would take?
I bet your first guess wasn’t close to an hour!!
When we finally got close to Semuc Champey, our first destination was not in fact the cascades, but a rather rough and tumble adventure in the nearby caves.
There was a touch of romance (or should that be stupid danger) attached to this endeavor, a feeling only exacerbated by the fact our only light was provided by a thin candle (which I possibly squeezed to death given its broken state when we eventually emerged).
There was much scrambling and the odd swim involved in this cave exploration and if we felt like there was danger on our journey through the Actun Tunichil Muknal caves in Belize (where we actually had headlamps and safety helmets), the risks involved here were far greater.
In fact back at our hostel, another guest already wore the wounds of a previous excursion, his bandaged brow testament to how easy one small mistake could prove problematic.
At the time however, as we climbed, scrambled and swam our way through the cave, none of these thoughts, or at best, only the occasional concern passed through our mind, the adrenaline and ultimate fun we were having winning out.
Still, when at the deepest point we could travel within the cave was reached, we did decline to jump from a decent height into a dark, unknown pool (you see, we value our neck and back and the prospect of a premature end to our trip was not thrilling).
When we eventually emerged from the cold cave, there was the opportunity for further water adventures, first on a rope swing that hung out over the river, then later a few hardy souls braved a leap off a rickety steel bridge into the fast flowing river below (Sarah and I, chilled from the icy cave waters, declined both of these challenges).
After lunching near a local eatery, it was eventually off to Semuc Champey for the final adventure of the day, so after another ride in the back of a truck, this one much shorter, we were ready to trek through the jungle to our ultimate goal.
Sarah and I wondered if we were perhaps a little crazy when we noticed we were the only two people still sporting flip-flops (everyone else by now had trainers on), however not to let that hold us back, we raced out of the blocks in the ascent to the elevated lookout point (in fact I was first to the top, having the opportunity to shoot some pictures unmolested, my only company half a dozen Guatemalan soldiers with automatic weapons).
It had been a muddied, slippery climb, however the views from this point were most definitely worth it.
The exertion also meant that we were well and truly read to get ourselves back in the water as well!
The descent (down a different path) was just as steep and often just as slippery, but eventually we were down at the pools below, ready to take a quick dip to cool off.
The most spectacular view of all however, was watching the river disappear in a rage, beneath the limestone pools (where it would re-emerge at the bottom of the pools).
Looking from above, it’s easy to see how this is yet another place for us to compare to Plitvice Lakes, however, as lovely as it was, it still really does pale in comparison (it really isn’t fair to compare, but impossible not to).
This aside, you cannot however deny that this place really was beautiful, the only disappointment being the lack of visible sun seeing Sarah get cold fairly quickly.
There was one cool surprise in the pools themselves. As we sat with our feet in the water, taking in the stunning views, little fish would come and nibble at the dead skin or any sores on our feet and legs!
Who needs to pay for such treatments in South-East Asia!
It may sound odd to anybody reading, and even to us on reflection, but at the conclusion of the days adventures, it certainly didn’t feel wrong at all for us to buy a few beers off some entrepreneurial kids (who were probably about 7 or 8 years old) for our truck ride back to the hostel.
Rikki, Chris as well as Poppy and Melissa (two English friends of ours) all moved on to Utila the following day, leaving us to feel a little empty (we’d all become great friends), so we spent a couple of additional, fairly uneventful days at the hostel planning our next move.
The monotony was broken by an evening of drama when we discovered Sarah’s phone had been stolen from beside our bed!
A night and morning of cursing and cussing was only diffused when the following morning, searching through our locker, the phone was located under our laptop charger…
We spent the remaining couple of days doing very little (internet at the hostel is below average), so it involved a lot of reading and catching up on the blog (offline), and also included a free nights accommodation as the hostel runs a pay 3, stay 4 deal.
A cheaper shuttle than that offered by the hostel was found in town, and we continued our journey with a 6am shuttle to Antigua…
* Our shuttle from Flores to Lanquin cost us only $75.00 Quetzales (cheaper than any rate offered by all of the hostels and hotels we investigated and in same cases, more than half price) for the 8 hour journey.
* Our double, loft dorm bed cost us $140.00 Quetzales per night (the single dorm beds are exactly half that, so it remains fair), with a stay for 3, get a 4th night free offer as well.