Semuc Champey means “where the river hides under the earth” in a Mayan dialect. Here is the somewhat less mystic explanation of what it is: It is a natural limestone bridge covering the Cahabón river. On top, there is a series of turquoise shimmering pools filled with the clear water of the river. It is a natural monument of Guatemala, situated in the department of Alta Verapaz, east of Cobán.
To me that sounded pretty good. My school organizes weekend trips, and visiting Semuc Champey was one of them. Friday at noon, I hopped on one of the two minivans, along with 12 other students of the school. The drive was long. On our way, we passed through Guatemala City, where once again I got struck by the bad air quality in this city. We were all so glad once we left this “monster” city behind us, allowing us to breathe more easily.
The ride was long, and I was glad to see a signpost reading “Lanquín, 11 km”. Lanquín was the destination for the day. Well… That 11 kilometers took us more than an hour. Going down 800 m of altitude on a dirt road at night takes some time. We were glad when we made it to the Hostel in Lanquín, where we got dinner and a bed.
The next morning it was raining. Bad luck. The adventure level got cranked up a nudge when we were loaded on the back of a small pick-up truck like cattle. The road that we were about to take was not suited for our minivans. This final bit to the Semuc Champey national monument took us a little more than 30 mins, passing small villages where the life is really basic. As far as I could tell these towns had no electricity available. Along the way there was a big advertisement board, advertising latest technology CAT-scans, which I thought was kind of ironic. Too bad that I was not able to take a picture of that. After this adventurous ride which seemed to last forever we finally arrived at our destination. It was still raining. After dropping our luggage in the hostel (which only had electricity in the evening, powered by a generator), we went for a hike to finally see the pools. We hiked up to the view point, which was very steep and due to the rain also slippery. At the top, we didn’t see anything, the view was obscured by heavy fog. Just as we were about to leave, it cleared up a little bit, and we were able to catch a glimpse of the pools. Magnificent!
Going down was not any easier than climbing up, and I was glad when we reached the pools. I didn’t feel well at that point, shaky on my legs and I was freezing. I think it was a good decision to skip the swim in the pools. Instead, I went to explore the place from outside the water.
After lunch I felt better, and we visited the K’an-Ba caves just next to Semuc Champey. The way back to the end of the cave was a mix of walking on solid ground, walking through water, climbing over rocks, squeezing through narrow gaps and swimming, illuminated by candles that we brought along. A very interesting experience, but I was glad when I saw daylight again and I was without any scratches, bruises or cuts.
We capped off this adventurous afternoon by a short tubing tour on the Cahabón river. While we floated down on our inflatable rings, local kids tried to sell us beer and chocolate, even the fact that we didn’t have any money with us didn’t seem to bother them. We were told that we could always come back and pay them later. In any case we refused, the thought of a shower, dry and warm clothes and a roof over our head was stronger than beer and chocolate. In the meantime, they turned on the generator, and we had dinner, a drink or two, and played some games.
Early in the morning, at 6 o’clock to be more specific, the pick-up truck for the ride back was waiting for us. Nobody was looking forward to it, but I guess we had no choice. We were also a bit worried about the condition of the road, since the rain had not stopped until early in the morning. The truck handled this situation without any issues. In Lanquín, the comfy minivans were waiting for us. We immediately took off for Cobán, where we had a delicious brunch. We made a very short sightseeing tour in Cobán as well, visiting the market and the triangular main square with its monument, which I thought is somewhat out of place. Maybe it was also the bad weather, it was still raining. You can judge yourself. I think the view from the view point where we stopped was way more beautiful, even with a lot of clouds.
After another 5 hours in the minivan, we finally arrived in Antigua Guatemala, where the sun was illuminating the bright colorful colonial buildings. It was like coming home.