Finding Paradise in Semuc Champey, Guatemala

Semuc Champey

How often do we “go in blind”? That is to say, approach a new experience with a limited knowledge, and therefore free from expectations.

Being prepared has its advantages, certainly, but perhaps in the deep need to know exactly where we are going all the times, we undervalue going with the flow, experimentation, and creating our own path.

One of the things I love about traveling is while yes, it’s easy to over prepare (I’m talking about those pre-packaged, non-negotiable itineraries to avoid), it’s also equally as easy to not overly pre-pare. To just show up and be open to the world of possibilities.

This is what happened in Semuc Champey, Guatemala.

A long, cold, and tortuous bus ride from a small town outside of Tikal National Park in Northern Guatemala eventually brought to a small town in the south called Lanquin.

Lanquin would become home for just a few but memorable nights. My friend and I came here for the purpose of visiting Semuc Champey – a place I had never heard of before stepping foot in Guatemala.

Semuc Champey is a hidden gem, buried in the beautiful secluded countryside of a country far from the minds of the average American tourist, who prefer destinations such as Hawaii or an all-inclusive resort in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. I thank them, because for this very reason, the grandeur of Semuc Champey still remains relatively unknown and uncrowded.

Before we spent a day in Semuc Champey, we took full advantage of the present moment, and the opportunity to “just be” on the outskirts of Guatemala, far from our respective homelands of San Diego, California and Vancouver, Canada.

After we arrived at our lodge, and dropped our bags off in our room, we went straight to the wood burning sauna on the river.

sauna on the river in Lanquin Guatemala near Semuc Champey

This sauna was hot, efficient in its’ output – 20 minutes in the sauna and I was done. In true California fashion, I could tolerate the heat, I could sit and bask in the warmth for as long as it served me, but didn’t crave it like my Canadian friend who spent upwards of an hour and a half in there before she had enough.

By the time she got out, I presumed she sweat out a couple pounds while I leisurely bounced back and forth between taking a dip in the cold river and reading in the adjacent hammock.

Travel isn’t just about sightseeing, checking the boxes of places to be, things to see, and activities to do.

The time and freedom to unwind while traveling is crucial for our existence. And this sauna in remote Guatemala to me, this is so much better than a chain hotel pool or all-inclusive resort.

Wi-Fi was limited here, the lodge only had it turned on a few hours in the middle of the day when most people were out exploring Semuc Champey.

Some guessed it was to conserve energy and cost, or to encourage people to talk to those around them instead of staring idling at the news, email or social media. I believed that if they had the Wi-Fi on in the morning or evening when everyone was there, it would be so weighted down with people using it that no one would be able to connect anyways, the signal and infrastructure just isn’t strong enough in areas this remote.

We sat down for a family dinner; all guests are invited to attend happy-hour and a buffet style dinner around a handful of long banquet tables – optimal for conversing with new people, especially sans Wi-Fi.

Around those long tables, we talked about what we did that day, what we’ve done, where we’ve been and where we’re going. We exchanged ideas, perceptions, and values with strangers, some turn into friends, and some turn into family.

View of the river from the long communal dining tables in lanquin guatemala near semuc champey

View of the river from the long communal dining tables in lanquin guatemala near semuc champey

A few days of leisurely swimming, walking the grounds, reading or napping in hammocks, we decided to discover Semuc Champey.

Semuc Champey is a natural bridge, a series of tiered pools and waterfalls over the Cahabón River, the same river our lodge is on.

The pools are said to be from thermal springs, varying in temperature from cold to hot, although to me they all felt on the cooler side to me – which was perfect after a pretty difficult uphill hike in the hot Guatemalan climate.

Semuc Champey Guatemala pools

To get here from Lanquin, you’ll hop in the back of someone’s truck who is making a living giving rides to travelers.

In the back of the truck, standing with a dozen other strangers, you’re given a joyride through the Guatemalan wilderness on narrow, unpaved roads, waving at other trucks carrying passengers of both travelers and locals going about their day.

The trucks are equipped with handrails at shoulder height, allowing you to hold on for life as you stand and move towards your destination.

Inside the truck, we bounced gleefully over the unpaved road, or ducking branches from the wild, every growing, countryside, reminding me of the part of the Indiana Jones ride where you quickly duck beneath a massive boulder, sure to squash you.

At that moment, I questioned every spending money at Disneyland again; this was so much better.

It’s true what they say, it’s about the journey, not just the destination.

This truck ride and our lodge are as integral to my Semuc Champey experience as spending the day in Semuc Champey hiking in the dense forest, swimming in the clear water, sliding down the slippery rocks between the cascading pools, exploring an impressive cave armed with only a single long white candle to illuminate the path.

Semuc Champey water
Semuc Champey pools
Semuc Champey Guatemala water through trees
Semuc Champey monkey
Semuc Champey river dining terrace

After hours of playing, and an injury from one of the natural waterslides (mine!), we set back for Lanquin – happy, exhausted, hearts full.

Out of a shower, we joined that evening’s guests around the large banquet tables to swap stories.

Next: Unexpected Canyoneering in Akchour, Morocco


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