The region’s prime attraction, and one of the most beautiful natural destinations in Guatemala, is Semuc Champey, a shallow staircase of sublime turquoise pools suspended on a natural limestone bridge. This idyllic spot sits at the base of a towering jungle-clad valley and makes a wonderful destination for a blissful day’s wallowing and swimming. Just a few years ago very few visitors made it to this remote part of Guatemala, but the secret is now definitely out, and the pools are very much a key stop on the backpacking trail between Tikal and the western highlands. That said, you can usually find a peaceful corner without too much difficulty.
If you walk a few hundred metres upstream via a slippery path you come to the river source that feeds Semuc: the fast-flowing Río Cahabón, the bulk of which plunges into a cavern, cutting under the pools in an aquatic frenzy before emerging again downstream. For a photo-perfect view of the whole scene, you can hike (and climb a little in sections) for twenty minutes up a slippery, vertiginous trail to a mirador high above the pools.
There are security guards at the site, but it’s best not to leave your belongings unattended. You’ll find a small café (reasonable meals are around US$5) and there are vendors selling drinks and snacks at the entrance.
While you can visit on your own, most travellers choose to visit Semuc as part of a tour, which avoids having to wait for infrequent public transport or tackling the terrible dirt access road.