After spending plenty of time in cities in Guatemala, Cel and I were ready for a bit of nature, preferably including warm temps and heat. We left Antigua and headed north in a shuttle, destination: Lanquin and Semuc Champey. The 8 hour journey was relatively painful, stuck in the back of a 12 seater van that was full, charging around windy roads as the temperature outside and inside soared. The last 45 mins took us down a ‘road’ that was relatively dubious with sheer cliff faces and regular pot holes which, with us sitting in the back on the suspension, allowed me to hit my head on the roof a couple of times. In the end we arrived at Zephyr Lodge safely, first port of call: a seat, beer and view.
Lanquin and Zephyr Lodge
Lanquin is the place to head to if you want to experience Semuc Champey. It’s a tiny town set into a hillside in the middle of Guatemala, it’s got a few hotels and lodges but no ATM. We’d been recommended Zephyr Lodge by Kelly, a friend in London, it was meant to be an experience just to stay there. We quickly worked out why: it’s built on the crest of a hill that looks out over green farmland, a river, limestone cliffs and the jungle. We spent plenty of time sitting on the deck with a beer reading books and checking out the view. Another ‘must mention’ are the showers….strange I know…but it has to be the best view I’ve ever had while showering. It’s an open shower, from the waist up that looks out over the hillside with not even a window to obstruct the view, add to this a decent amount of pressure in the water and you pretty much have a top 5 shower in the world!
Zephyr are able to organise all sorts of trips, one of which is a tubing trip down the nearby river. We’d reunited with the Kiwis, Julia and Alice, from Lake Atitlan, so along with their Aussie mates, we jumped in tubes and floated down the river with beers in hand. The guy working at the hostel took us down the river and supplied us with fresh beer when we were out – it was so good to get into cool water and chill in the middle of nowhere. We capped it off with a jump out of a tree into the river at the end, outstanding afternoon. The lodge, despite it’s relatively poor service and organisation is a must do in Guatemala, if only they could get it run a bit better it would make a world class experience.
Semuc Champey Big Day Out
Semuc Champey, the real reason why we’d come to Lanquin. The setting: middle of a the Guatemalan jungle with a good sized river cutting through the jungle, now place a set of emerald freshwater pools on top of the river, with cascading limestone waterfalls – you have Semuc Champey. It sounds a little crazy, but literally the strong flow river disappears underground for about 200m, while on top a set of swimming pools flow up from a spring in the ground, not sure exactly how it works but neither Cel or I were too worried because it was magic.
The big day out started with a 45 min trip standing up in the back of a ute as we rolled down bumpy roads to Semuc. We met another kiwi couple, Brook and Kathy, on the ute, so the normal game of ‘do you know’ ensued. The first stop was a set of caves which had a stream / river running through them, we were to head into the caves, jump, slide and climb our way around. I’m not normally a big fan of caves, they’re just dark holes that aren’t that interesting, but this was pretty good fun, particularly when Cel and I jumped from a rock in the pitch black into a pool below. A couple of hours in the caves were enough, there had been enough toe smashing on rocks as I tried to swim through, Cel, quite smartly, wore shoes so her toes did not suffer the same butchering on rocks!
Next up was a bridge jumping session. The river we were jumping into was pretty swollen from a storm the night before, but Rafael, our guide, assured us it would be fine – we just needed to be able to swim through the current to the bank on the other side. Cel leapt of the bridge before me attempting to show me up and prove he superiority in ‘extreme sports’. She was one of only two girls to make the jump so I was a proud fiancé. To try and get one up on the Yank students on the trip, I took the jump last and climbed up onto the bridge support struts to get a higher jump – successfully staying on my feet and making the jump, it was more points to the kiwis.
The afternoon was spent in the Semuc Champey reserve. We earned our swim, first climbing uphill in 28 degree heat for 20 mins to get a good view of the pools and river below. It was worth it, but sweat was pouring from every orifice so we made a quick descent to hit the pools. At the top of the pools you’re able to get a view of the river as it heads it’s way underground, we compared it to the Huka Falls, it flows at a ridiculous rate with a huge amount of water. Once we were done at the top, Rafael took us down through the 8 or so levels of pools. A very cool experience, sliding down rocks into pools below, jumping off the top of waterfalls and even swimming under a waterfall and into a small cave. It’s got to be one of the more beautiful, relaxing and exciting things to do in Guatemala. Sitting in a pool looking up at limestone cliffs surrounded by jungle is definitely something we will remember and recommend to anyone we meet.
A few beers with Brook and Kathy at Zephyr, a BBQ for dinner and we were pretty much convinced of our best day yet in Guatemala. We were off to bed and then up early to make the trip even further north, where it was going to get even hotter, to Flores and the ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal.