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Finally arriving in Lanquin, Semuc Champey’s slightly less beautiful neighbour, felt like uncovering the holy grail or discovering hidden treasure. Almost everybody that we had met on the road had told us about Semuc Champey. It was the highlight of our trip. The most beautiful place we’ve ever been to. AMAZING! With a journey through the picturesque countryside, candlelit caving, tubing and a huge 14m bridge jump before we even reached the main event, I could tell that this was going to be a day to remember.
The 9.5 hour journey we were quoted from Lake Atitlan quickly became 12.5 as we went further and further in to the forest and away from civilisation. Past valley after valley of green fields and trees, along bumpy dirt tracks and past people carrying what looked like a small village’s worth of wood on their head, we trundled across the Guatemalan countryside.
Despite the rave reviews, I realised that I didn’t really know a lot about the place, but I like surprises! After a day of chilling in/next to the Rio Lanquin river, we woke up early and hopped in the back of a pick up. Forget seat belts, this thing didn’t even have seats! This pickup truck was at no point intended to transport human beings, yet here we were clinging on to a metal bar to avoid crushing the Guatemalan family that were perched next to us as we bumped, jumped and flew along the rough dirt track. I loved it.
Green hills rolled as far as the eye could see. With bright green trees lining every inch of the road and bright blue skies above us, it felt like somebody had cranked up the saturation on my eyes. But they hadn’t, this place was real, and was one of the most beautiful spots we’d come across in Central America. And this was just the journey there!
Soon enough, we pulled up at the bottom of some steps, followed our guide to the top and had a candle thrust in to our hand. “We’re going caving” said our guide abruptly. He lit our candles and led us down in to a dark, wet cave with knee high water. It turns out that the candles were going to be our only source of light for the 1km trip in to the cave, and the 1km trip back out. Cool! It was dark in there, really, really dark. As we walked in, our guide smeared some kind of charcoal across our faces as is apparently tradition, and pointed in to the darkness “that way”.
Single file, we slowly moved forward clutching our candles. After a few meters, the floor of the cave started sloping down while the water that had previously barely covered our feet got deeper and deeper. Soon enough, none of us could touch the bottom! We swam forward, unsure of what lurked beneath the dark water in front of us, all the while trying to keep our candles above water.
We moved further and further in to the cave, pulling ourselves up a 10ft waterfall with a rope and sliding between rocks, at times unable to avoid our candles getting drenched and going out. Then we arrived at the pinnacle of the caving experience, cliff jumping in the pitch black. I thought it was a joke at first. Then our guide proceeded to ditch his candle, slide up some rocks until we could barely see him anymore, and leap out in to the darkness. We heard a splash and then a quiet “woo!”.
I wanted a go! I slid my candle between two rocks and clambered up the slippery slope. I couldn’t see how deep the water was, how big the pool was or even whether there were rocks surrounding it. I jumped. What an adrenaline rush you get as you leap out in to nothing! I hit the water and felt my feet touch the bottom. WOOOO!
Tubing and bridge jumping
We slipped, slid, swam and climbed out of the cave and down to the river. Next up was tubing! This was pretty tame in comparison to the caving, but fun nonetheless as we sank in to our rubber rings in the chilly green river water, and formed a huge chain. Then we let go, and floated. That was it. We just floated downstream for ten minutes or so, splashing each other and laughing. Eventually, we floated under a huge 14m high bridge with huge gaping holes in it, the wooden slats previously securing a safe passage to the other side had been stolen a few days earlier.
Anybody want to jump? What was it with this guide, wanting to jump off everything? We jumped. First Stevie decided, as he tends to, that he wanted to backflip off it. He obviously wasn’t serio… OK he did it, executing a perfect backflip. Then it was my turn, hauling myself over the metal railings specifically designed to prevent people like me from entering the water. It was high. It felt really high. I jumped, the green water rushing towards me as I picked up speed, trying to keep as straight as possible. SPLASH! Again, WOOOO! What a feeling, to look back up at everybody still standing on the bridge, they looked miles away!
The main event
OK, down to business now. That was all just the warm up to the reason we were here today: Semuc Champey, a natural water park in the heart of the Guatemalan countryside. We embarked on a short, steep hike up to El Mirador, the view point that provided us with our first view of the breathtaking Semuc Champey. A thin, aqua blue line dissecting the green trees down below us.
Over time, rocks have formed over the top of the river running through the valley, effectively meaning that for a few hundred meters, the river goes underground. What has formed on top is what brings people here: a completely separate mountain water source has created a natural wonder. Beautiful aqua blue limestone pools flow in to one another above the river with rocks creating slides for those lucky enough to visit it to slide down. This place wasn’t just incredible to look at, it was a lot of fun too!
We spent the next hour or so sliding, jumping, swimming and diving between the pools. It’s one of those places that you can’t quite believe is real.
Let me tell you, despite the huge build up and weeks of anticipation, there wasn’t a chance in hell that this place could ever send anybody away disappointed. I have now become one of those people that we met: this was one of the best days of our Central American trip! If you get the chance to go, GO!