How to Visit Semuc Champey Without A Tour?

Semuc Champey was without a doubt one of the most beautiful places we visited. Not only were the absurdly turquoise natural pools on the river impressive, but also the whole area and our accommodation in the eco-hotel Utopia. If you want to go there on your own, we have collected all the important information on how to do it in this article.

What is Semuc Champey?

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Let’s begin by addressing the most important question: What exactly is Semuc Champey, and why is there so much fuss about it? Get ready for the beautiful jungle, several levels of natural pools with turquoise clear water, and breathtaking views.

Semuc Champey is one of those places that look just as amazing in reality as they do in the photo – maybe even a little better!

What is special about Semuc Champey is that unlike other places, such as the popular Agua Azul waterfall in Mexico, Semuc Champey has beautiful clear water all year round. It doesn’t matter if you will arrive in the dry or rainy season. This is because the pools themselves are not part of the river.

Semuc Champey means something like “where the river hides under the earth'” in the local language. There is a natural limestone bridge over the river Cahabon that was formed thousands of years ago from shells and fossils. The water that flows through the pools is a clear river that comes from the mountains to the main river.
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Can I Visit Semuc Champey without a Tour?

Yes! One of the biggest highlights of Semuc Champey is that you don’t have to pay for a tour or a guide and you can visit yourself without any problems. Depending on where you stay, it may be necessary to arrange transportation to the pools, we will explain that in a moment.

In case you’d like to join a tour, you can easily book one in Lanquin, or you can arrange a guide in advance, for example with GetYourGuide.

Note: The prices in the article are given in Guatemalan quetzals (10 Q = €1.2) 

walk to semuc champey guatemala

Things to do in Semuc Champey

The main attraction is undoubtedly the pools themselves. If you have more time, we definitely recommend going on a sunny day, when the whole thing is even more magical, as the water gets its turquoise color.

In addition to swimming in the pools, you can also visit the caves, take a look at the waterfall, stretch your legs on the way to the lookout, and finally tube on the river back to your hostel.

Pools and a Viewpoint of Semuc Champey

It would be a sin to go to Guatemala and not swim in the bright turquoise water of the Semuc Champey natural pools. Access is from the right bank, as is the viewpoint. We recommend coming in the morning right at the opening (at 8 a.m.), enjoying the pools first, and then going to the lookout. Most tours do the opposite and often don’t start until around nine. So you have the chance (just like us) to enjoy the water for a while in peace.

You pay 50 quetzals (≈€6) for entry and can enjoy the pools all day and have a packed lunch at the picnic tables. There are lockers right next to the pools where you can hide your valuables. They are free of charge, but you need your own lock.

Cave at Semuc Champey

You’ll find the caves on the other side of the river from the entrance to the pools, and there is a separate entrance fee. If you want to visit them, do it before or after visiting the pools – once you leave the park, you’ll have to pay the entrance fee again.

The caves are full of water, you can only get in with a guide and the entrance fee is 60 quetzals (≈€7). The tour takes about an hour and you will swim rather than walk. So take a swimsuit and shoes that can get wet and won’t float away. There are ropes in the cave that you can hold on to, and you get a candle in your hand. No worries, you can relight it with a torch when you extinguish it.

Waterfall at Semuc Champey

Although the water in the pools is not part of the Cahabón River, it eventually flows into it. A short walk behind the caves you will find a waterfall and see the whole principle clearly. There is an entrance fee of 20 quetzals (≈€2.5), but if you visit the caves, the fee for the waterfall is already included in the price.

River Tubing the Cahabon River

From Semuc Champey, you can ride on tubes further down the river Cahabon. They picked up our things from the hostel at Semuc Champey and we went down the river back to the hostel. Thanks to that, we didn’t need to worry about what we take or not with us.

Tubing arranged directly at the Utopia hostel cost us 20 quetzals (≈€2.5) per person. If we had gone with the guys from the caves, we would have paid only 10 quetzals in addition to the entrance fee to the cave. I’m not sure how would it work with our valuables though.

tubing semuc champey

Is Semuc Champey worth a visit?

Definitely yes! Semuc Champey is one of the main highlights of our trip to Guatemala and we often talk about going back (the beautiful hostel we stayed in plays a big role in this plan).

If you have less time, definitely visit the pools and the viewpoint above. The caves were also a great experience for us, and the waterfall takes just a few minutes. The only thing we’d probably skip was the tubing. To be honest, it was quite boring most of the time, the faster part was over in a few minutes and we had to bypass what seemed like the most interesting part.

How Much Time Is Needed to Visit Semuc Champey?

We spent two days around the pools. It was cloudy the first day, so we only went to the caves, had a look at the waterfall, and then relaxed by the river while we waited for the rest of the party to ride down the river back to the hostel.

The next day we returned early in the morning and enjoyed the pools in beautiful weather. If you have time, we recommend this option. You can enjoy everything in peace and you have a better chance that the weather will be good for the swim. Which also means the color you know from the photos – so be flexible and go to the pools the minute the sun is out.

However, if you are pressed for time, Semuc Champey can be done in a day. Which with the trip, whether you’re going from Antigua or Flores, means three days. Therefore, consider skipping something else and enjoying Semuc to the fullest.

How To Get to Semuc Champey

You can find Semuc Champey in the middle of Guatemala, near the town of Lanquin. Getting to Lanquin from almost anywhere in Guatemala is not difficult, it just takes time, as the roads look exactly as you would imagine them in the Guatemalan jungle.

You basically have three options:

  • Chicken Bus
  • Tourist bus/shuttle
  • Your own car/taxi

Since we didn’t have that much time for the trip, we immediately gave up on the Chicken Bus. It would take at least 12 hours to drive from Flores, where we were visiting Tikal, and we probably wouldn’t make it in one day. That’s why we took the tourist shuttle.

Tourist shuttle from Flores to Semuc Champey

The journey from Flores to Semuc Champey, respectively to Lanquin, took about 9 hours. From there, we continued for another 40 minutes in a 4×4 vehicle with a guy from the hostel.

Shuttles are either vans or smaller buses without toilets. But the driver stopped at gas stations several times along the way + we had about an hour-long break in the town of Cobán for lunch.

You can easily book a bus directly in Flores, either at one of the local agencies, directly on the street (I would be careful there), or at a hostel. We booked our shuttle directly at the Los Amigos hostel where we were staying in Flores. The trip cost us 230 quetzals (≈€27). Of course, you can also book online in advance, but that is more expensive.

How To Get from Lanquin to Semuc Champey

You can stay either in the town or directly in the jungle, in one of the eco-hotels. The journey from the city to the falls takes at least 45 minutes by car, so you will need to arrange a ride.

If you stay in Lanquin, transportation from the town to Semuc Champey is offered by most accommodations, you just need to arrange that on the spot. They will often take you for free or for a small fee.

When you stay in the jungle, you can usually walk to the waterfalls from your accommodation. They offered a free ride from our accommodation, but we preferred to enjoy the half-hour walk. Be sure to ask your hotel if it is safe to walk.

guatemala without a tour

Accommodation at Semuc Champey

As I already mentioned, you can stay either in the town of Lanquin or directly in the jungle. We certainly recommend the second option, as you will enjoy the place for the entire duration of your stay, not only when visiting the pools.

We stayed in the eco-hostel Utopia, which we 100% recommend. Depending on your budget, you can choose from different levels of accommodation, from a simple room with a shared bathroom to a luxurious bungalow hidden among cocoa trees. Prices range from $25 to $80 per room/bungalow.

If you want to work remotely and need internet, be sure to check out Greengo’s Hostel as well. A bed in a dorm costs about $18, the hostel is only a 10-minute walk from Semuc Champey and boasts solar energy and, above all, high-speed Internet for meetings, etc. We worked from Utopia as well, but it might be a bit challenging if you need a super stable connection.

The Ch’i Bocol Community Hostel, which is just across the river from Utopia, is also popular. It seems to have a similarly relaxed atmosphere, and you can stay in a private cabin (about $50 a night) or a four-bed dorm (for $10 a bed).

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Eco Utopia Hostel Semuc Champey

There are many accommodation options around Semuc Champey. But none will be as perfect as Eco Hostel Utopia. We only came for the weekend but changed plans about five minutes after we arrived (and found out we could work from here throughout the week.

Utopia is only about a 30-minute walk from Semuc Champey. A wonderful vibe, excellent vegetarian food (vegan is not the least problem), homemade desserts from their own cocoa, and wonderful views await you here. They also have a natural gym and a yoga terrace, where you can either take part in a guided lesson or practice on your own.

Tip: If you stay at least 7 days, they offer a long-term price for an all-inclusive stay, which includes food, drinks, and an endless amount of desserts!

Of course, they will be happy to take you on a tour to pools, caves, or tubing – which you can easily do even without a tour as well. But we recommend not to skip their cocoa tour. You’ll learn everything about the whole process in their small cocoa farm, and finally make your own chocolates.

The internet connection wasn’t that great and it might drop out for a couple of hours (it happened once during our week). After all, you are in the jungle. But we managed to work here for a week, including a few unavoidable meetings.

Semuc Champey and Malaria

Finally, we have a few more notes related to malaria in Guatemala. When we planned an overland trip from San Cristobal, Mexico to the city of Antigua, Guatemala, in which we explored Palenque, crossed the border from Mexico to Guatemala, and visited Tikal and Semuc Champey, friends warned us about the risk of malaria in the area around Semuc Champey.

Tip: You can find out what the current situation is on the official WHO website or from your doctor.

It is good to be aware that antimalarials can have several unpleasant side effects. In addition to the classics such as headache or nausea, it can be arrhythmia, sleep or breathing problems, liver or kidney issues, anxiety, hormonal changes (especially in women), or even vision impairment. It depends on the specific type of antimalarial, but most of the side effects are not that unique.

We only describe our personal experience and do not advise anyone to take or not to take antimalarials. At that time, we decided to try to find antimalarials, today we would probably not. You do you. Ideally, ask your doctor or go to a travel medicine center for advice. And use common sense, of course.

Anyway, we got the pills in Mexico City. I don’t remember how much it was, but nothing terrible compared to European prices. The pills are not over the counter, you need to have a prescription. Therefore, we had to find a pharmacy in Mexico City that had a doctor on site (which is not unusual). In the end, we got a little confused; the doctor thought we had left our prescription from the Czech Republic at home, so he eventually prescribed what we needed. 

Whether you go to Semuc Champey on your own or with a guide, you will definitely enjoy the trip. This natural wonder is 100% worth the long trip and, especially if you go out on your own, you’ll spend next to nothing. Let us know how you enjoyed the trip!

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