Doing a Semuc Champey tour is a popular option when it comes to exploring the magnificent Natural Monument Semuc Champey (Monumental Natural Semuc Champey) in Guatemala. But, we think a Semuc Champey tour is unnecessary, particularly if your Semuc Champey hotel or hostel is located close to the national park. You can save those dollars and simply walk to Semuc Champey independently to explore the national park at your own pace.
By far the highlight of visiting Semuc Champey is seeing the naturally formed limestone bridge and turquoise pools from the Mirador (viewpoint). The lookout provides a sensational view of Semuc Champey and is an unforgettable experience in its own right. The other major highlight would be exploring the upper pools and swimming in the middle and lower pools. It’s an absolute joy to float around in the crystal clear waters of the natural pools.
All this can be enjoyed by walking to Semuc Champey and following the straightforward loop trail. So, there’s no need to do one of the Semuc Champey tours, because hiking and swimming in the national park are all that’s required to have an amazing time.
Visiting Natural Monument Semuc Champey Without a Tour
Sure, as well as the national park, organised tours take you to the Semuc Champey Caves (K’an Ba Cave) and river tubing. This could be a solid option if you’re keen on exploring more of the area around Semuc Champey and want to meet other travellers. Really, we’re not trying to be the fun police. Go for it, if it sounds too good to pass up.
It’s just that, by taking a tour, you’ll spend less time in the national park. You probably won’t do the entire hiking trail and you may even have a rushed swim. So, it’s better to explore independently to maximise your time at Natural Monument Semuc Champey, which will guarantee an even better experience!
Don’t worry, in this guide, we won’t continue to bad mouth the Semuc Champey tours! I mean, we’ve already done that. Instead, we’ll just recommend how to spend a glorious day hiking and swimming there. While we’re at it, we’ll provide some useful information like a little history, how to get to Semuc Champey, what hostel or hotel to stay at and where to head in Guatemala afterwards.
Table of Contents
Natural Monument Semuc Champey Hiking Preview
- Type: Loop
- Distance: 2.3km
- Time: 1 hour (then 3–4 hours exploring/swimming)
- Accumulated elevation gain: 219m
- Difficulty: Easy
- Trailhead: Natural Monument Semuc Champey Entrance
Semuc Champey Guatemala Map
The hiking trail looping around Semuc Champey is very short and simple to follow. So, you won’t need Semuc Champey coordinates, GPS directions, or anything like that. But, just so you know what you’re getting yourself into, check out this interactive trail map and an illustrated map found at the entrance of the Semuc Champey National Park.
FYI – the interactive map linked above doesn’t include the walk from your Semuc Champey hostel required to reach the national park independently. Depending on your hostel, the walk there could be between 100 metres to 3.8km one-way.
Natural Monument Semuc Champey History and Location
Just a little history to help set the scene. Semuc Champey is located in the department of Alta Verapaz in Guatemala, near the Q’eqchi Maya town of Lanquin. It was actually the indigenous Maya Q’eqchi communities that named this natural attraction ‘Semuc Champey’, which in Spanish, means ‘the river that hides in the mountain’.
Our Recommended Natural Monument Semuc Champey Day Trip
The plan is to get to Natural Monument Semuc Champey for opening at 8am. This will help you enjoy this outstanding national park without the crowds, which tend to rock up in their tour groups around 10am (damn, I was meant to stop tour bashing!) The hiking track looping around the national park is quite narrow. So, it’s a good idea to smash out the hike nice and early, without the need to constantly weave and dodge other visitors.
Depending on where you’re staying will determine what time you need to scoff down breakfast and start walking to the national park. We stayed at Aruma Eco-Hostal, which is a little further away from the park than the other hostels. So, we left around 7:30am and walked 3.5km to reach the entrance of Semuc Champey National Park.
Having arrived for opening, Beck and I were the first ones through the door! The entrance fee is Q50 ($6.50USD). It meant we were temporarily the only visitors hiking in Natural Monument Semuc Champey.
Semuc Champey Mirador
From the entrance, a flat rocky trail quickly leads you to an intersection; left ascending to the iconic mirador, and right, to the pools. If you’re there early like us, head to the mirador first, so you can enjoy the views without a crowded platform.
Another reason to head to the mirador early is to catch sight of the majestic pools before the sun hits them. With the sun shining on the limestone cliffs and jungle forest beside it, the shaded pools ooze a sensational turquoise colour, which is surprisingly dulled by the sunlight.
Although, when sunlight hits, it does penetrate the water, revealing more of the epic rocks underneath and showing how clear the water is. Indeed, when half the pools are sun-lit and the other half still shaded, you’ll get a fantastic comparison.
At the mirador, there are two platforms. Make sure to have your photographer or tripod, on the higher platform, shooting down towards the larger platform and pools. This means you can capture the glorious pools and yourself standing in the corner of the platform.
Semuc Champey National Park Trail
To continue the walk, briefly retrace your steps, head right and begin to descend to the upper pools. There’s no need to speed hike here. Take it slow and easy to soak up the stunning jungle. You’ll see friendly locals on the outskirts of the national park boundaries selling fruit and drinks. Immersed deep in the jungle, the thought of eating mango was quite tempting!
The track quickly winds down, leading you to the upper pools. You can’t swim here, but feel free to take your time and explore this section on foot, walking over the rock pools. We noticed many of the tour groups quickly passed this section. So, the upper pools should be quiet even during the day.
Further down the stream, are the largest and deepest pools. This is a great place to swim. Make sure to bring your own padlock, so you can use the lockers.
Even after walking to the mirador and back down, the pools were fairly quiet, at around 9:30am. But, by 10am, as to be expected, the pools were beginning to crowd with the arrival of tour groups. You’ll notice many people wearing aqua shoes, which is a good shout. But, Beck and I managed fine, walking timidly and slowly on the slippery rock shelves barefoot.
Swimming at Semuc Champey
The Semuc Champey pools are an ideal place to cool off. Although the views from the mirador are unbeatable, swimming in the pools really helps you appreciate their beauty even more. Bronze-coloured rocks and glimmering turquoise pools are organized by naturally carved platforms.
Semuc Champey is a truly spectacular place, one of the most serene locations we’ve ever visited. By going independently, you can sit back and relax, as the Semuc Champey tours rush from pool to pool, to continue with their busy day. Alright, I admit it, the tour bashing will not stop!
After a swim, continue your walk by following the direction of the stream towards the lower level of the pools. With a higher drop in rock platform, there are gorgeous cascades streaming over it. Definitely, around this level are the most impressive cascades and waterfalls. This should definitely be swim location #2! There’s even a naturally carved slide down the rocks into the lower pools!
Once you’ve enjoyed another swim, it’s time for lunch. Make sure to pack food and water so you can enjoy the views even longer. After midday, the tour groups will start heading off to the caves, which means the pools will be quiet and relaxing once more. Did someone say swim #3?
After you’ve finished admiring the incredible Monument Natural Semuc Champey, it’s time to finish the walk! Rejoining the track from these pools, you’ll briefly ascend before the trail flattens and passes the initial intersection. From here, the trail guides you back to the entrance.
Semuc Champey Day Trip Recap
By following our guide, you’re guaranteed to have an awesome time exploring Semuc Champey National Park independently. Trekking to the Mirador and then swimming in the pools is more than enough to enjoy this area of incredible beauty. Even if you’ve spent many years travelling, hiking and doing backpacking trips, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more impressive lookout than the one at the Semuc Champey Mirador.
Monument Natural Semuc Champey Tours
We get it, you want to do a tour despite our outcry. We understand, I mean, why make the hella long journey to Lanquin (see how to get to Semuc Champey below), if you’re not willing to experience the top things to do in Semuc Champey.
Most Semuc Champey hostels and hotels offer the same tour, which goes to the Semuc Champey National Park, K’an Ba Cave and river tubing. It’s much easier to organise a tour when you arrive, with the going rate being Q200 ($26USD). But, if you’re willing to spend a bit more to have a tour lined up before you go, we recommend this Semuc Champey tour.
How To Get To Monument Natural Semuc Champey
Personally, we opted for the 9 hour shuttle service that took us from Flores down to Lanquin. We organised the transfer through Los Amigos Hostel for Q225 ($30USD). Chicken buses from Flores to Lanquin will be cheaper, but the journey will take much longer!
Otherwise, if you’re venturing up to Semuc Champey, you should do so from Guatemala City. A shuttle service will take around 7.5 hours and is the much more convenient option, compared with a chicken bus, which may take 12–15 hours! But, it depends on how tight your budget is!
Getting from Lanquin to Semuc Champey: From Lanquin, you’ll take a pick-up truck, down a very bumpy road (the one that leads to the national park), to arrive at your hostel. This transfer service is for free and is provided by all the Semuc Champey hostels. FYI – most hostels will also provide a free shuttle back to Lanquin once your adventure in Semuc Champey is complete.
Where to Go in Guatemala After Semuc Champey
Most tourists following the gringo trail north will head to Flores to see the famous Tikal Ruins.
Travellers going south, will either head to Guatemala City, Antigua or Lake Atitlan from Lanquin. These are all good options and places we visited (except Guatemala City) and enjoyed.
But, it’s also possible to head southwest to Xela (Quetzaltenango), where you’ll find amazing volcano hikes. Xela is a bit more off the beaten track, but we highly recommend it and rate it as our favourite base in Guatemala for hiking.
Where To Stay In Semuc Champey
Given Semuc Champey is located in the jungle, you’ll have limited accommodation options. But, there are some popular Semuc Champey hostels and hotels that we can recommend.
Semuc Champey Hotels
Don’t let the names of the Semuc Champey hotels fool you. Other than Utopia Eco Hostal, which doesn’t offer dorm rooms, Greengo’s, El Portal De Champey and Aruma Eco-Hostal all offer private room and dorm room options.
Utopia Eco Hotel
Utopia Eco Hotel is a favourite among travellers looking to avoid hostel dorm rooms. The highly-rated eco-hotel has a lovely garden, terrace, in-house vegetarian restaurant and free Wifi. If you’re planning on visiting Semuc Champey independently, you’ve got a 3.6km walk to the national park from the hotel.
Many of the travellers we met in Semuc Champey stayed at Greengo’s Hotel. At Greengo’s, both private rooms and shared dorms are on offer. Although, it sounded to have more of a hostel party vibe, than a hotel vibe.
The facilities at Greengo’s are excellent, with a pool, garden, bar, shared lounge and Wifi available on-site. Better yet, Greengo’s is only a 900m walk to Semuc Champey, making it a great location to explore the national park independently.
El Portal De Champey
Similar to the other Semuc Champey hotels, El Portal De Champey has an on-site restaurant, a bar and shared lounge. The blokes at reception are really friendly and they boast a 24-hour front desk. Most importantly, El Portal De Champey has the best location.
The hotel is literally around the corner from the entrance of the national park. So, with such a short walk to arrive at the entrance, there’s really no excuse to indulge in a Semuc Champey tour!
Semuc Champey Hostels
We stayed at Aruma Eco-Hostal for two nights. Other than some rowdy locals drinking at the restaurant/bar during the first night, the hostel was practically deserted. We think there are a few reasons for this. It’s one of the furthest hostels from the national park. Secondly, this hostel isn’t as well known as the others. Plus, it’s possibly the only Semuc Champey hostel or hotel without Wifi.
On the flip side, we really enjoyed how quiet and tranquil it was (once the rowdy locals left). Plus, the hostel is more of a genuine jungle stay, without the on-site tech, so it’s a nice place to get offline and reconnect with nature. Plus, the facilities were decent; although, don’t expect a hot shower.
One other drawback from staying at Aruma Eco-Hostal, was that they didn’t cover the return pick-up truck journey back to Lanquin. In comparison, most other Semuc Champey hostels and hotels cover both the trip in and out of Semuc Champey. At least, it didn’t break the bank, costing Q25/each ($3.25USD).
Where to stay in Lanquin
It is possible to stay in Lanquin and visit Monument Natural Semuc Champey from there, by walking or taking the pick-up truck. But, we recommend staying in Semuc Champey, as it means you’re much closer to the national park. This makes it much easier to get there early so you can explore before it gets too crowded.
Five Hiking Gear Essentials For Semuc Champey
These are our five hiking gear essentials for Semuc Champey. For a more comprehensive hiking gear list, check out our 66 Travel Accessories That You Must Travel With. Otherwise, for a general summary of everything you’d need for a trip, visit our Ultimate Packing Checklist.
- Merrell Moab Mid Gore-Tex Hiking Boots: these hiking boots are super comfortable and lightweight.
- The North Face Venture Jacket: a fantastic windproof/waterproof jacket.
- Osprey Skarab 30L Day Backpack: a great backpack for hiking, which has plenty of space to store your gear.
- The North Face TKA Glacier Fleece Jacket: an excellent warmth:weight ratio fleece jacket that’ll help keep you warm.
- Columbia Convertible Trousers: a value for money pair of water-resistant convertible trousers.
- Is Semuc Champey safe? Yes, we walked 3.5km from our hostel to Semuc Champey without any problems. Although, when we were leaving the national park, we were warned that locals from Lanquin were about and that they may try and rob tourists. But, we never felt threatened nor did anything untoward occur. But, of course, safety situations are always evolving, so talk to other travellers and locals to find out the latest.
- Best time to visit: Between December and April is a great time to visit as it’s the dry season in Guatemala. The rainy season is from May to October, so most travellers will avoid visiting at this time. But, heading to Semuc Champey during rainy season will be quieter so that’s definitely a positive for visiting that time of year.
- Take supplies with you to Semuc Champey: Other than hotel/hostel restaurants and street food/stalls, there are just a handful of small corner stores in Semuc Champey. Be prepared, and buy whatever supplies you need before heading into the jungle.
Semuc Champey is one of the most serene places we’ve ever visited and is a must for any Central America itinerary. So, the question remains – will you visit independently or with a tour group? Let us know in the comments below.