The Juice is Worth the Squeeze in Semuc Champey

The road to Semuc Champey from Rio Dulce Guatemala
Sometimes it's the arrival, not the journey that's important - truck blocks the road on our way to Semuc Champey.

Every now and then certain situations arise that make me question this life of travel. In this particular instance, it was a hellish seven-hour drive in the back of a stuffy shuttle bus from Rio Dulce to Lanquin, Guatemala.

As if roadside construction, massive potholes and tropical climate weren’t enough, my beautiful co-pilot came down with a terrible stomachache half way through the voyage. The bad news was that we had to pull over four different times so she could throw up. The good news was a few stray dogs cleaned up the mess shortly there after.

When will I stop putting myself through these grueling bus rides and third-world adventures?

We arrived at El Retiro Lodge in Lanquin just before 9pm, where we negotiated for a room and passed out as soon we could regain our equilibrium from the ride in.

Luckily for us, the morning sun brought new light to the voyage. There’s something about waking up in the jungle with hammocks all around you that instantly brightens the mood. Thatch roofed cottages on stilts scattered across the El Retiro Lodge property, and a raging river that ran past the on-site restaurant/bar provided the background music.

Semuc Champey - El Retiro Lodge - Lanquin Guatemala
The cabins at El Retiro Lodge in Lanquin, Guatemala

Other than a quick trip into the small town of Lanquin to change some money, we stayed at El Retiro for most of the day, with a mission to test out every hammock possible. Other than a few short-lived “swimming” battles against the river’s powerful current, it was a day filled with a whole lot of nothing. Just what the doctor ordered.

Breakfast along the river at El Retiro Lodge in Lanquin, Guatemala
A very refreshing breakfast along the river at El Retiro Lodge in Lanquin, Guatemala

The next day we decided to get off our butts and join a crew heading towards Semuc Champey for a more adventurous approach to jungle life.

It was a 40-minute ride in the back of an old pick-up truck to get to Semuc Champey from Lanquin, but once we arrived, it quickly faded from our memory.

The Semuc Champey Crew
The Semuc Champey Adventure Crew (USA, Norway, Australia and UK represented)

The first adventure was an hour-long exploration through the Kamba caves that lie deep within the surrounding mountains. Let me start off by saying that this “tour” would be completely illegal in the United States. Aside from the bumps and bruises you receive on your knees, shins and feet from navigating through the jagged rocks that hide underwater and within the darkness, your guide puts you through a series of physical challenges with only a candle and some made up hand signals.

Semuc Champey - Kamba Cave Tour
You want us to go where?

We climbed up waterfalls, jumped off cliffs into narrow pools and maneuvered through small underwater passages. It was definitely one of the most dangerous and awesome things I’ve done in a long time… and that was just part one of Semuc Champey.

Semuc Champey - Kamba Cave Tour
Maneuvering through a small tunnel before climbing up a waterfall with a candle in my mouth

Next, we surfaced and made our way up the river to enjoy a nice tube ride down the Cahabón River that runs through Semuc Champey. It gave us time to let our heart rates come back to normal as we admired the incredible turquoise water.

Semuc Champey - Giant Swing
Before tubing, we stopped for a few rounds on a giant swing into the river.

From there, we geared up and set out on an hour-long hike up to the mirador overlooking the unbelievable Semuc Champey. The main attraction is a series of stepped, turquoise pools that are surrounded by thick green jungle and scream to be cannonballed. For lack of a better description, it’s a f*#!n’ oasis!

Semuc Champey - Guatemala
The incredible view of Semuc Champey from the mirador

Without wasting any time, we devoured our lunch and made the hike back down the mountain and straight into the ridiculously beautiful pools below. I don’t usually do this, but the half hour grace period between eating and swimming was waived for this occasion. I couldn’t control myself.

Semuc Champey - Guatemala
Diving into the pristine pools of Semuc Champey

We swam, we slid, we jumped from one pool to the next, and we even let the little fish eat the dead skin off of our toes. Semuc Champey is nature’s greatest water park.

Semuc Champey - Guatemala
The best water park I have ever been to.

After two hours of paradise, we made our waterlogged bodies back to the pick-up truck and returned to Lanquin and El Retiro Lodge for a well-deserved hammock reunion.

As I lay there, watching the sun go down over the rolling green mountains and reflecting on the amazing day we just had, I caught myself laughing at the thought of ever wanting to give up this life of travel.

El Retiro Lodge in Lanquin Guatemala after Semuc Champey Tour
Reflecting on a beautiful day at Semuc Champey from a hammock in the jungle of Guatemala

The juice was definitely worth the squeeze in Semuc Champey.

My name is Gareth Leonard, a Marketing Director turned World Traveler with a passion for slow, meaningful travel. I have been traveling the world full-time for the past 9+ years and document it all on Instagram and YouTube. Come join me!


  1. Wow. Those pools look insane. I would love to get the Charlotte Hotel Pool Party crew together at this place. Peace, Love, & Hammocks, my friend.

    1. Thanks Ashley! That feeling happens very often while traveling through Latin America, but somehow, everything always ends up with me wanting more. It’s an addiction.

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