Wherever you are coming from, reaching the natural limestone pools of Semuc Champey involves a long road trip, as it is lost in the center of Guatemala close to Lanquin. In our case, coming from Flores, close to Tikal and El Mirador, it is an official 8.5-hour bus ride, meaning 11.5 hours while converted to the local Guatemalan time management system.
We eventually arrive in the village of Lanquin, where we squeeze ourselves in the back of a pick up trucks which is loading as many passengers as possible. It sets off on roller-coaster-like dirt-roads for 30 minutes to cover the last 9 kilometers to our accommodation by Semuc Champey.
The lush forests are long gone along the road, and local farmers are taking care of their lands: bananas, chilly peppers, vegetable gardens… The Maya Q’eqchi’ people are poor and hard working: while men are working the fields on steep mountain slopes, women are cooking by their improvised food stalls by the side of the road. Not overly friendly at first, a “¡hola!” and a smile are enough to get a grin and an enthusiast response.
The mountainous landscape is superb: green mountain ridges resembling the back line of a dragon contrast with the perfectly blue sky, with the winding emerald river in the background.
Arriving at the park entrance the next morning, we head to the view point of El Mirador. It already sounds like it will be a steep one. Indeed, the trail resembles a giant staircase made of wood and carved natural stones. In the shade of the forest, we are gaining elevation, step by step. Local kids are offering us to buy some local chocolates, water or fruits. El Mirador is getting closer, and well worth the climb: a wooden platform overviews the turquoise-blue to emerald-green limestone pools, 400 meters below. The river flows from one pool to the next in small waterfalls. The gorge is stunning and already inviting us to jump in to cool down!
The way down to the pools is also sporty. The dinosaur-like screams of the howler monkeys passing from branches to branches resonate against the cliffs. About 700 meters further, the waterfalls can be heard and soon we find ourselves arriving at the highest pool. We spend our day jumping, diving, and sliding from rocks into the water making our way up and down the pools. While warming up in the sun, we wonder at the limestone cliffs covered in lush vegetation on each side of the river. We smile at the sight of the locals giving their best shots at a swimming attempt and are amused by teenage boys showing off their jumping skills to impress a few girls who are quietly bathing and taking selfies.
During this Christmas holiday, it was nice to see Guatemalan families having fun in these stunning pools, and even if the park was crowded, the sight remains superb. Tubing back to our accommodation in the Cahabón River and passing some challenging rapids, we are reminded of the reality of the country: beyond the photogenic Semuc Champey, we recognize some of the villagers who after a tough day in the fields have to wash their clothes and themselves in the river as they lack running water at home.
Marcella & Claire