[:en]We were supposed to arrive in lanquin at 7, but as we crossed the mountains we were delayed. A huge truck had fallen off of the one lane road, and a tow truck with an elaborate set of phillies was trying to haul it up. Our driver said, no worries, just 20 min…
3 hours later we were back on the road. We didn’t get to lanquin until midnight and were so hungry the driver actually woke up a cook to feed all of us. After finally getting food, we passed out in a hostel called el Retiro until the next morning. Oscar and I awoke to Luke knocking on our door at five to 9. “Hey guys! So, there’s a tour leaving at 9 for Semuc Champey…shall we go?”
We looked at each other, why not?
We jumped out of bed, hurriedly packed our bags and ran out the door. We were the last ones there, and had to squeeze onto the two trucks driving to the park. It was about a 45 min drive up and over the ridge, and then down into the valley.
We really had no expectations about what we were going to do or see in Semuc. I’m not a morning person, so I was barely rubbing the sleep out of my eyes when the car dropped us off. From the little we had read from the guide book, we gathered that, accordingly to lonely planet, Semuc Champey was supposed to be a beautiful, tranquil place. Beautiful it was, peaceful, most certainly not. It is amazing the things that you can do in Guatemala that would not be offered anywhere else in the world, and if they were they would be preceded by long forms of liability paperwork.
We walked a short way from the car towards the base of a waterfall where a cave yawned open, our first adventure of the day. The guide had us leave everything except our shoes and bathing suits in a locked bin outside, then lined us up, handing a lit candle to each person. They did a quick show of hands to make sure everyone from our group of 30-40 people could swim. Then, into the cave.
The first cavern had a small bit of water, just overlapping my ankles in places. As we progressed through the myriad of corridors, the water got deeper and deeper. In some place we could wade. Others we swam with our candle above our head, or climbed dangerously on a flimsy ladder up and over rocks.
At one point I was the first person behind the guide. We got to a waterfall, only 12-15 ft high, but with a fair amount of water power gushing from it. In his extremely limited English, the guide motioned for me to climb up. I looked at him and he handed me a rope secured somewhere at the top. I proceeded to haul myself up, blinded by the water forcing me down.
Further down the tunnels, we came to a taller, but very narrow circular cavern. This time, Oscar went first while our friends Luke and Martin and I looked on. He scaled a slippery rock about 15 ft high, than maneuvered along its side. At the urging of the guide, as we all held our breath, he jumped, plummeting to the cavern bellow. I have to say, though terrifying, it was so much fun.
The final crazy point of the caves was when we squeezed through a narrow, dark hole full of water, a natural “water slide.” Amazingly, we all survived, with beefing smiles to boot. My only main criticism was that the groups were far too big, they should have had half the people.
We stumbled out of the caves to the next spot, another surprise. A huge rope swing, about 30 ft high, anchored to the river bank and pulled back another 30 ft. The guide demonstrated, keeping his feet way up he still barely missed he concrete ground, and was flung out and up, high above the river. No one leapt to try it, so I said what the hell and jumped on.
Just as everyone was getting over the initial fear of huge swing and starting to have fun with it, they ushered us to the next spot, tubing. We jumped in and floated for about 10 min down the river.
After tubing we stopped for a lunch break. Don’t be fooled into buying a overpriced crappy sandwich from your hostel, they sold a huge lunch of large slabs of meat, rice and salad for 30-40 Q. On our way out we were flocked by children selling rounds of chocolate wrapped in foil that their mother made. I bought two for dessert and they were surprisingly good, plus it was extremely difficult to say no to the kids pathetically cute faces.
The next stop was bridge jumping from 30 ft up. After hearing the first guy slap the water with a bone brushing thwack, we decided we’d just watch this one. From the bridge the guide led us upwards to a lookout point at the top of one of the peeks. It was only about 35 min up but wear good shoes because it is not only up stairs the whole way, but very treacherous footing. From the top we could look over the famous land bridge, our destination on the way down. It is a massive stone arch that spams the river with water running underneath it. A small amount of water is diverted on top of it and carved out the stone to form mirror like, turquoise pools. Here we spent the rest of the afternoon swimming and sliding on the rocks in between the pools. Just as the peacefulness was starting to sink in, our guide took us to one last spot. He led us underneath part of the land bridge, with only 3-5 inches of air. We had to crane our necks and angle our noses and mouths upwards to get air. At one point we had to duck underneath, Luke was in front of me and he got stuck underneath, not quite sure where to put his head. After thrashing for a second, Oscar grabbed his head and moved it upward towards air. Not bad, just when we were relaxing Guatemala struck back and kept things lively.
When we finally got back to the trucks, we were tired and happy. It was five o’clock. And I have to say that was one if the best, most epic days we have had on the trip. Even better the whole 9-5 tour with transport included was only $19 US, or 150 Q. It was definitely the best $19 I ever spent, and an absolute must see for Guatemala. If nothing else, you’ll come back with great stories to tell, that’s IF you make it back after all. 🙂

-Lodging: El Retiro Lodge
-Kitchen: No
-Cost:~$19USD (150Q) for a private room
-Date: November 2014
-Rating: 5/5
-Review: An eco-lodge with plenty of chill out spaces and a lively bar/restaurant. They also have a river pool with a jumping board. Rooms are clean and they help you organize tours/connections and anything you need.