By , October 20, 2011 8:16 am
While many Guatemalans we have talked to have not had the opportunity (re: money) to travel their own country, those that had all told us that Semuc Champey is the most beautiful spot in the country.  And I think they're right.

Semuc Champey is only eleven kilometres outside of the town of Lanquin, but it takes about 45 minutes in the back of a pick-up to get there.  The ride is incredibly rough and bumpy, but we proved that even a bottle of champagne (for Ashley's champagne birthday celebration) can handle it... almost.  The champagne blew its own cork after chilling for an hour in our hostel's fridge and half of it hit the floor. We bought a tour to Semuc Champey from Coban.  We paid 300 Q (about $37 CAD) per person, which included transportation from Coban to Semuc Champey, one night's accommodation at a pretty nice hostel, all entrance fees, and tour guides.  We costed it out, and this is about the same as all the individual pieces. The tour started with a sweaty half hour hike up to a mirador (or lookout).  From there you can see the attraction that Semuc Champey is famous for... a natural limestone bridge over Rio Cahabón, with a series of stepped pools of cool, flowing river water.

From there, we carefully descended the slippery path to a spot where we could hop into the pools for a swim.  With the instruction of our guide, we jumped, dove, and slid down into a series of refreshing cool water pools.

At one point, the guide had us sit down on the limestone, cross our arms in front of our chests, and slide down 10 or 15 ft as if the waterfall were a water slide.  Unfortunately, my typical clumsy ways got the better of me and I banged my elbow so hard that my entire arm went numb.  Which isn't the best feeling when you drop into water that's deeper than your head.

  Ashley's elbow post-Semuc Champey

I wasn't about to let a silly accident spoil my time though, and loved every minute in the pools.

Hidden in the depth of the pools, there were fish that apparently love to nibble toes and feet.  Having a fish nip at your heels is a bizarre sensation... one that isn't particularly pleasant.  I understand that in some parts of the world, people pay money for this kind of "fish pedicure", but I can't understand why. We eventually climbed back up the waterfalls and steps of the pools to return to our stuff.

After ordering lunch at our hostel, we grabbed some tubes for a nice, relaxing 20 minute float down the river. On the walk back to lunch, our guide climbed up on the guard rail of the bridge and started joking about jumping off.  We all thought he was kidding/crazy as we considered the water flowing by about 40 feet below him.  But then he jumped and did a swan dive into the river.  Everyone kind of stared at each other in shock, until he quickly swam to the shore, ran back up to us, and asked who's next.  After that, it was every man for himself.  All but one of the guys in the group took turns jumping in.  Not to be outdone, I stepped up as the first female to do it.  Once I climbed out onto the rail, I realized I may have bit off more than I could chew so to speak, but there was no turning back.  I rallied up the courage and jumped.  About half way down, I realized I was still falling.  It was a great sensation to plunge into the river (and more importantly, to resurface).  I would say it was even better than the time I went bungy jumping in New Zealand.

The bridge Mike and I jumped off

After a much needed meal, we walked about 5 minutes to the Grutas K'anba, a water cave system.  We got a new set of guides who passed out candles to everyone in the group.  For nearly two hours, those candles were the only things between us and total darkness.  It's important to note that the caves are filled with water, and at many spots in the tour, the water is deeper than your head.  We'd have to swim with one hand, while struggling to keep both our heads and the lit candles above the surface.  At a couple points, the guides grabbed the candles we had babied so carefully and blew them all out... sending us swinging on a rope through a waterfall, or dropping through a small opening into deep pool in complete darkness. The day we spent at Semuc Champey was worth every penny that we paid (and then some) .  There was enough going on that it could have easily filled two or even three days, or like us, you could cram it all into one.  If you're planning a trip through Guatemala, this is definitely a must-see location!

You can see more photos from stunning Semuc Champey in our photo gallery.

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