We have now realised that traveling in Central America is for most tourists also synonymous of adventure experience tourism. Everywhere it’s possible to see always an adventure tour, and while we managed to mainly skip it in Belize as adventurous tourism is not on top of our list, we did not avoid it so much in Guatemala. In Guatemala we started our travels in Tikal as we described in our last post, and after that we followed to a now common destination: the Semuc Champey experience.
After some hours of cosy van transport with some bumps, the occasional landslide, and 10 miles of dirt road that took us 45 minutes, we arrived to Lanquin. It’s a small Mayan village up in the mountains, with a weather very muddy and wet and even if it doesn’t have much to show at a first glance, it hides a pearl and an unforgettable experience.
We went with two Spanish friends we met before in our trip, when still in Belize, which made us an unlikely combination of two rival neighbours: Portugal and Spain. To smooth things up, Paula is from Galizia, in the North of Spain, that is probably the most Portuguese area of Spain, or at least we like to think that way. Sandra is from Madrid and together we had a great adventurous weekend.
Our lodging was quite rustic, a place called El Retiro, where we had some nice bungalows just by a fast muddy river called Cahabon. We had a family style eating area, with music every night to entertain the frequent young travellers, (yes we sometimes feel like old travellers) while waiting for the adventures the next day. There were several options for activities but the main attraction was the tour that included a cave experience, river tubbing and visiting the most notable natural attraction of the area: Semuc Champey.
The day started early and not in a very good note because I slipped while going for breakfast and broke my toe nail. Painful but not that bad, the problem was the full day splashing on the water, in fact very bacteriological water.
I put a band-aid around the finger, put on the aqua shoes and prayed for the best, which unfortunately didn’t work as I will explain later. After this small incident, we were in our way in the most exciting means of travelling around there: trying to stand up in the back of a pickup truck. Oh, wait! I was spared of the bumpy ride due to my injury, too bad for the others. 🙂 They had to endure a strenuous trip, holding the best they could not to fall into each other and not to break any bones.
First stop of the day, the Kan’Ba cave. When the guides don’t say anything beforehand, other than bring swimsuit because it’s going to be wet, well you don’t think much of it. We just thought: it’s a dark cave with running water, we’ll climb small rocky obstacles and have fun doing it all together. Wrong! It was all but easy, it wasn’t always fun and dark is an understatement.
We had candles and when possible head torches to illuminate our way deep into the cave, and we had to climb, slide, crutch, swim, dive, you name it. It’s hard, stressful and most of the time a team effort. The most surprising thing are the guides, kids having a lot of fun and not very well ready for what’s going on. The group is too big and big chunks of the way we did not have them around, which was not very reassuring.
Paula in the crossing of the waterfall had a small panic attack and opted to go back, which was understandable because looking at the waterfall we could not see a way to go forward. I almost lost my GoPro camera with the power of the falling water, but thankfully I managed to keep it with me allowing me to record some of these images and a great video of Sara doing a stunt. Luckily, I mean luckily everything went fine, except for Paula that had to go back, and we all felt a sense of accomplishment at the end. And yes if it was today we would do it again, so if you ever consider doing it and you are not claustrophobic, just go. A short video of our experience:
Before the day’s relaxing activity, we did a little of river tubbing, but it was so small and uneventful that we won’t bother you with it, let’s just skip to the nice part. Semuc Champey is a natural pool system, incredible not only for the bright blue colour of the water but also because a of an incredible natural phenomena, although not unique in the world (at least one more exists in the US): the roaring Cahabon river disappears under the limestone rocky plate, after hundreds of years of erosion, and the water we see and looks like a soft, mellow river is no more than a set of lagoons fed by rain water. The real river flows underneath just to exit on the other side. Incredible, right?
The water is turquoise, as it is pure rain water, it’s warm enough for a long bath and the waterfalls and natural environment makes the place really magic, one of those you imagine it exists in the after life, full of nymphs around. It was a glorious end of the day, we felt tired but happy, and if it wasn’t for my toe it would have been perfect. Semuc Champey is a little hidden gem, hard to reach but exciting enough for the setbacks of the journey. If you are travelling in the North of Guatemala and like some adventure don’t miss it.
PS – If you’re wondering about what happened to my toe, it did get infected and it took me a painful visit to the doctor and an army of antibiotics to fix it, but still worth it! 😀