Semuc Champey, Guatemala – long bus trip for a waterfall, is it worth it? 2

A long, uncomfortable ride in, and a long, uncomfortable ride out. That’s what is required to reach Semuc Champey in central Guatemala. I’m talking about twelve hours crammed in the back of small buses, and standing in the tray of trucks, passing through bandit territory, and skirting narrow ravines regularly ripped apart by landslides. That’s to get in from Lago de Atitlan in the south. Expect about eleven hours of similar conditions to get out again, if you’re headed for Flores in the north.

Lookout view of Semuc Champey, Guatemala

Lookout view of Semuc Champey. Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

But once you are there, it’s all worth it. Semuc Champey is a freak of nature. A river on top of a river. A jungle paradise.




Utopia jungle lodge, Semuc Champey, Guatemala

The common room of ‘Utopia’ jungle lodge. Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

Semuc Champey

Take a day off to relax in one of the basic but splendidly situated jungle lodges that have sprung up in recent years. A day off is definitely in order after the effort required to reach Semuc Champey. And what a waste, to spend all that time transiting here, only to do a quick tour, and head straight out again.

Stay an extra day. You won’t regret it.

Peanut headed bug, Semuc Champey, Guatemala

Peanut headed bug. Photo credit: Benjamin White

Semuc Champey is popular with tourists, but it is even more popular with bugs and beetles. Take some time to check out the quirky insects that land in your lap from time to time. Such as the Peanut-headed Bug – yes, that’s its real name – in the picture above.

Lookout view of Semuc Champey, Guatemala

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

On your second day take a walk to the geological oddity that is Semuc Champey (which is on the tentative list for UNESCO World Heritage status). You can do the excursion on your own, but tourists aren’t viewed particularly favourably by some members of the nearby villages, and there are abundant tales of hold ups by men with machetes.

Take a guided tour. It helps support the local community, and the guide will be able to lead you to parts of Semuc Champey you might otherwise miss.

What is Semuc Champey?

The Cahabón River, Semuc Champey, Guatemala

The Cahabón River just before diving underground. Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

The Cahabón River, chocolate brown in colour for the most part, dives underground at Semuc Champey, forming a 300 metre long natural bridge. Calcium rich spring water, seeping out of the neighbouring mountains, trickles and flows across the natural bridge, forming turquoise blue pools, and fossilising any trees that fall into the water.

Swimming in the pools of Semuc Champey, Guatemala

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit

The turquoise blue waters are great to look at, and even nicer to swim in.

Semuc Champey is touted as the most beautiful place in Guatemala. It’s a pain to get to, but certainly worth the effort.

Practical information and how to reach Semuc Champey:

Semuc Champey is located in a remote part of Central Guatemala. Private shuttles connect to Lago de Atitlan (trip time = 12 hours), and Flores (trip time = 11 hours). More transport info here.

More on Guatemala:

Guatemala City – colonial capital that offers tourists… fresh goat’s milk?

Lago de Atitlan – rain, cloud, lightning at El Mirador de la Nariz del Indio

Tikal – Mayan ruins and… the Millennium Falcon?

My favourite waterfalls:

Iguazu Falls, Brazil – not the tallest, nor the strongest, but still #1

Jinbar Waterfall, Simien Mountains, Ethiopia – lammergeyers and bullet-less guns

Gullfoss, Iceland – Golden Falls saved thanks to Sigríður Tómasdóttir

More on Central America:

Costa Rica:

Cahuita NP – toucans, agoutis, capuchins, howlers, and idyllic beaches 

Tenorio Volcano NP – how blue is Río Celeste in the wet season?

El Salvador:

Joya de Ceren – preserved beneath metres of ash, just like Pompeii

San Salvador – worth a visit?


Macaw Mountain – toucans, toucanets, aracaris, and… macaws

Lago de Yojoa – dangerous? no! sleepy, serene, safe? yes!

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