Semuc Champey is one of the most beautiful natural wonders in Guatemala. This incredible series of turquoise pools is set across a natural limestone bridge, hidden among dense jungle 12km southeast of Lanquín. You can work your way from the top of the rocky staircase to the bottom, bathing in the shallow pools fed by the Río Cahabón. Alternatively, head upstream and hike the slippery trail to the mirador for views across the whole of Parque Nacional Semuc Champey.
Semuc Champney's remote location kept this scenic pocket of Guatemala off the tourist path for many years. Today it’s a well-known stop on the tourist trail between Tikal and the western highlands. No longer Guatemala’s best-kept secret, Semuc Champey still manages to maintain its allure despite its popularity – you can usually find a tranquil corner fairly easily.
The pools are strung along a natural rocky bridge at the base of a valley in Parque Nacional Semuc Champey, 12km from the Q’eqchi’ village of Lanquín in the centre of Guatemala. It’s a great spot for a day’s swimming and relaxing among nature.
Most visitors stay either in Coban, Lanquín or Semuc for a couple of nights, which allows enough time not just for the pools but also for Grutas de Lanquín – an impressive cave system from where the Río Lanquín emerges. Here you can go tubing down the emerald ribbon of water during the day or head to the riverbank at dusk to see thousands of flitting bats fly out of the caves to feed.
You can make your own way to the pools in a hire car or via shuttle bus from Antigua (two daily; 8hr) or Cobán (three daily; 2hr) to Lanquín – the jump-off point for the pools. The mountain town of Cobán is also a popular stopover en route to Semuc from Guatemala City (4hr 30min bus journey), due to its proximity to a vast network of stalactite caverns, freshwater swimming spots and subterranean rivers. To see the pools as part of a wider trip to Guatemala get in touch with us here at Rough Guides. We've partnered with a trusted local company in Guatemala who can plan a fully personalised itinerary taking in all the sites you want to see.
You can visit Semuc on your own, particularly if you pick a guesthouse close by, although most travellers choose to join a tour to avoid relying on infrequent public transport. Tours of Semuc Champey often include a visit to the bat-filled Kan’ba Caves, which are accessible with a guide only (not to be confused with Lanquín caves); some incorporate waterfall-climbing or cliff-jumping into a pool in near darkness.
Guatemala has one of the most pleasant climates in the world, with year-round warm days and mild evenings across much of the country. Some travellers avoid the rainy season – roughly from May to October – although the rain is usually confined to late afternoon downpours even at the height of the season (September and October). Peak tourist season runs between December and March, and again in July and August when the prime attractions are flooded with visitors. Try to visit in low season to avoid the crowds and higher hotel prices.
There is accommodation both in Lanquín and Cobán, as well as guesthouses dotted along the road between the two towns.
In Cobán, Park Hotel is comfortable and picturesque. There's a swimming pool, landscaped gardens and even a working watermill. The charming Casa Q’eqchi’ is one of the latest additions to the accommodation scene in Cobán. This intimate family-run guesthouse is home to just three double rooms and one suite with lovely cosy interiors – all exposed stone, hand-carved wooden furniture and local textiles.
Zephyr Lodge is the best of the bunch in Lanquín, just north of the town centre and with scenic views over the Lanquín river valley and Verapaz hills.
Top image: Semuc Champey © Galyna Andrushko/Shutterstock