There are few places on this incredible planet of ours that truly live up to the title “breath-taking”. By this I mean places that actually, physically knock the breath out of your body in the most literal way possible. Semuc Champey, like the Grand Canyon or the Amazon River, is a complete freak of nature and is unrivalled in its uniqueness and beauty, but it is also much, much more than just a piece of eye candy. Semuch Champey is a whole body experience from the second you step past the entry booth until long after you’ve left (wait til DOMS sets in, you’ll know what I mean). However, don’t let the prospect of some physical exertion put you off! Semuc Champey is, in my opinion, the best place in the world and well worth the sweat it takes to experience it. There are a lot of different ways to enjoy Semuc Champey so take a peek at my advice and see how to make the most of your trip.
From the entry to the pools you’re going to undergo a bit of a trek. It takes about ten minutes but the heat of the jungle makes it feel like a lot longer. Once you’ve arrived at the first waterfall, the temptation to leap straight in is pretty strong but hold out. Take a couple of photos and carry on along the trail. Eventually you will arrive at the main swimming pools and then is your chance to dump your stuff in the lockers (make sure you bring your own padlock) and dive head first into the crystal clear water. I thoroughly recommend following the flow of the water and exploring as many of the pools as you can as you’ll find mini-waterfalls, jumping points and secret caves throughout them all. Nothing in the world will ever top this experience. Guaranteed.
El Mirador is the look out point at the very top of the mountains that surround Semuc Champey. The hike is tough and takes a good 45 minutes but the views are so completely and utterly worth it, you will instantly forget about your aching legs as your eyes are subjected to pleasure beyond compare. Once you get to the top there are a bunch of locals selling fruits, snacks and drinks so why not have a mini picnic or engulf a couple of bananas to top your energy up again? One word of warning, if you plan on doing the hike wear comfy shoes. DO NOT WEAR FLIP FLOPS. It will make the whole experience at least 208 times worse. Yes, I did it in flip flops and yes I nearly died in the process.
For those with a little spare cash, the guided tour is a fantastic way to take a look in the incredibly beautiful caves at the foot of the Semuc Champey site. Equipped with nothing more than a candle, you can explore the dark passageways and icy waters, the whole time knowing that you are in safe hands. This is an adrenalie rush so if you’re looking for a day of relaxing, then maybe give this one a miss. However, it is a once in a lifetime opportunity so think hard before you dismiss the idea.
Who doesn’t love jumping off the edge of a waterfall? Actually most people. But if you are among the minority who actually get their kicks from putting their life at risk (like me) then there are hella opportunities to do this here. Have a go on the swing which will carry you high into the air before you jump off and plunge into the pool below. The drop is a lot bigger than you expect and there’s not way to control your body once you’ve departed so expect a bruise or two to accompany your thrill of freefalling. There is also a 10m jump for the most intrepid idiots. Where ever you are in the park, there will always be a ledge for you to throw yourself off so if that’s your thing, happy days!
Getting to Semuc Champey is similar, I imagine, to getting to Mount Olympus, or Atlantis, or El Dorado. Given that it is one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions they have done NOTHING, and I really meant nothing, to make it easy to access. Prepare yourself for several kilometres of unpaved, mountainside road in a van or on the back of an open truck. This takes you as far as Lanquín, the nearest town. Once you’re there you’re then herded on to another open air truck and take down roads that make the last set of roads look like silk. The roads to Semuc Champey would be better described as rubble and you will feel every rock, bump and pothole as if it was being thrown at your spine. Once you’ve arrived at the park, unless you have a tour booked, you will have to fork out 50Q (which is about £5).
There are a fair few places you can stay near the site. If you want convenience I recommend Greengos. It’s a 300m walk from Semuc Champey, decent facilities, onsite restaurant and it has it’s own natural pool for warm evening dips. Alternatively you can stay at Zephyr Lodge, which is a little further away and a little more expensive but it has a more lively vibe and will offer you that little bit mroe comfort. There are other choices but these two are the most popular for a reason.