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The Perfect Guide to Semuc Champey, Guatemala

15.5336° N, 89.9592° W

Wide view of Semuc Champey in Guatemala



The stunning Semuc Champey is a natural monument located in the middle of Guatemala. More specifically, the monument is about an hour outside of the nearest town of San Agustín Lanquín or just Lanquin (which is actually a Q'eqchi' Maya town and therefore you will hear a lot less Spanish spoken there). In fact, the name "Semuc Champey" comes from the Qʼeqchiʼ language (one of the 20+ Mayan dialects spoken in Guatemala) and means "where the river hides under the earth."

So what is Semuc Champey exactly? Well, it is a series of bright turquoise colored pools that actually sits on top of a natural limestone bridge. The nearby Cahabón River (which you can swim and tube in) goes underneath that bridge - hence the Maya Q'eqchi' name. Besides the pools, the monument and surrounding area also includes numerous caves (one of which you can explore by candlelight), waterfalls, a few hiking trails and a small visitor center and food hall.

I actually visited Semuc Champey on a bit of a whim. Originally, I had only planned on checking out Antigua and Lake Atitlan during my 2.5 weeks in Guatemala. But then I met a friend and they were going and I figured "why not?". So I booked an 8 hour bus ride and two nights at a surprisingly swanky jungle hostel, and started to get super excited about the upcoming adventure. And man did Semuc Champey deliver.

Below you will find information on all of the key areas in Semuc Champey, my exact travel itinerary, and everything else you'd need to know to have your own epic Semuc Champey adventure.


| What does it cost to visit Semuc Champey?

If you go with a tour, you can expect to pay around 200 - 250 quetzals (the Guatemalan currency). So roughly $25 - $32 USD for a full day. You can read my full outline of the tour below.

| Can you swim in Semuc Champey?

YES! And you definitely should. While the pools are a bit cold, they are super refreshing after a sweaty jungle hike.

| Is Semuc Champey safe?

I felt very safe there - both from a security standpoint and from an adventurer's standpoint (some people in my group thought the cave was a bit sketchy, but I thought it seemed totally safe).

\\ Top Things to Do at Semuc Champey

Besides getting those stunning photos of the famous turquoise pools, you also have the chance to explore a large waterlogged cave, go cliff jumping, hike up to the mirador and walk around the Semuc Champey National Monument.


Surprisingly, maybe my favorite part of the whole trip to Semuc Champey was the hike/swim in the nearby dark, water-filled caves. This adventure includes the opportunity to explore an unlit cave with only the help of a tall candle to light your way, as well as the chance to climb a few rope ladders (or a waterfall if you choose), swim through dark tunnels and go cliff jumping. Honestly, this whole 1.5 hour trip felt very much like a mix between Indiana Jones and Pirates of the Caribbean. I loved it.

💬INSIDER TIP: if you get claustrophobic or if you don't feel comfortable swimming in the dark, then this tour might not be for you. While I thought this was one of the coolest parts of the tour, I also understand it isn't for everyone.


For the best photos of the famous pools, you will want to make the steep trek up to the national monument's mirador (viewpoint). The hike up should take anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes and includes a whole lot of steps (pair that with the heat and humidity of the jungle and you will be dying for a refreshing dip in the pools afterward).

From the top, you can see the six pools in all of their glowing glory, as well as a better view of the surrounding jungle. I recommend bringing plenty of water with you and/or some cash so you can cool off with one of the always-sold fresh coconuts on your way down.


Very likely the one adventure you have been most excited about is the opportunity to actually swim in the famous turquoise pools. There are six different pools that are all combined via small waterfalls and ledges. You can easily walk between each pool, with the last one ending at the waterfall that you saw earlier in the day.

The water is chilly, but very refreshing (especially after the hot hike up to the mirador). Make sure to bring sunglasses and/or a hat because there is no shade once you are out in the water.

❔GOOD TO KNOW: I ended up wearing sandals into the water (my trusty Teva's to be exact), but I don't think you really need to. While I was worried about sharp rocks on the bottom of the pools, in truth, the ground is quite soft. If you want to swim around, I would ditch the shoes and go barefoot instead.

Turquoise jungle river in Guatemala

\\ Guided Tour of Semuc Champey | What to Expect

I would say the best way to experience Semuc Champey - especially if you want a pretty hassle-free adventure - is to go with a guided tour. I paid Q240 (~ $31 USD) for a full-day tour. This price included transportation to and from Semuc Champey (one hour each way), lunch, a guide and all entrance fees (including to the national monument).

A guided tour of Semuc Champey usually goes like this:

| Leave the hostel at around 8:30AM. Make sure to eat breakfast beforehand.

| Head out on a very bumpy hour ride to the entrance of Semuc Champey.

| Arrive in Semuc Champey and almost immediately drop your stuff off at the lockers and get ready to head into the caves

| Start the cave tour. Expect it to be quite dark and only lit by candles (including the one you have to carry the whole time). The tour is roughly 1.5 hours long and is an out and back. Along the way, you will have the opportunity to climb a small waterfall, cliff jump, and swim through some deeper sections.

| After the cave tour, you will head to the nearby waterfalls (a ~10 minute walk away). Here you can swim and partake in some more cliff jumping (~1 hour).

| After the waterfalls, it will be time for lunch. You will likely eat this near the large river. If you don't pay for the tour's lunch (Q40), you can also purchase food at one of the small food stalls (a plate lunch costs about Q60).