To fully experience Semuc Champey, you need an adventurous spirit.
I’d heard a lot about the place from other teachers before 11 of us set off to stay at the National Monument. A natural limestone bridge over a rushing river forms turquoise blue pools of calm water over the top of the “bridge” and underground, a system of caves stretches nearly 11km. Semuc Champey is often described as one of the most beautiful places in Guatemala, and I was eager to experience it.
Friday morning, we took a tour through our hostel that, for roughly $25US included transportation to the park, lunch, a 1.5 hour tour of the caves, and a guide to see the pool and hike up to the lookout point.
Transportation was standing in the back of a pick-up truck. I first experienced this Guatemalan form of transportation in September, after rafting. I loved it then, and despite the fact that it’s certainly not the most secure of ways to travel, I will choose standing behind the cab of a pick-up any day over sitting up front.
Our first point of interest in Semuc Champey was the cave tour.
Now, I have taken a lot of cave tours before. I’ve held my own light, and I’ve gone swimming in caves, and jumped off cliffs into dark water in caves, and I’ve explored small caves with no guide to lead me.
But I have never taken a tour like this one.
For one thing, the lights we were given were nothing more than 18” wax candles. And then we waded into the waters of the cave…no life vests (except for our 3 non-swimmers), no helmets, no instruction about what we were about to experience. In some parts we found ourselves swimming, holding the candles above water-level. At one point we climbed a ladder loosely attached to the rock face and strapped together with electrical tape. I won’t lie…I didn’t feel 100% safe in parts of the tour. When we were given the chance to climb a 10ft waterfall with a knotted rope to aid or climb up the ladder next to it, I chose ladder without a second thought. Later though, when given the chance to climb up a rock face and jump from a height of maybe 15ft into a dark pool of water, I wavered. Originally I thought no, not worth it. The climb up looked precarious, and I do not have the grace of a rock climber. But as all my friends did it, I found myself changing my mind and making the climb. I did it. And no injuries as a result of the trek.
|Our whole group, right after the guides gave us tribal-looking face|
paint with candle soot.
Eventually, we emerged unscathed from the caves and moved to a giant swing strung out over the river. The first time I jumped off of it, I did a total belly flop. My stomach is bruised still, 3 days later. (Though I can’t be 100% sure whether those bruises are from the swing or the next day’s excitement…but more on that later.) I jumped a 2nd time as a redemption, and landed a bit more gracefully. Not much. But no belly flop.
From there, we moved to the rickety yellow bridge over the rushing water. You know the old saying, “Well, if everyone else were jumping off a bridge, would you too?” Seems applicable here. Carrie didn’t make the jump the last time she visited, so this time Carmen and I jumped with her at the same time. What a rush! It was the highest jump I’ve ever made. I would have psyched myself out looking down, so instead I looked over at Carmen and Carrie until we were ready to jump. And then we just…fell.
That time I tilted slightly as I fell and ended up landing on my right thigh. I’ve got the bruise to prove that, too.
|Preparing to jump!|
From there, we hiked up to the mirador (lookout point) for our first view of the turquoise pools.
Then it was a hike down so we could go and play in them. The sun graced us with its presence as we got there, making the chilly water much more enjoyable.
There was one more jump offered—from the edge of the pools down maybe 50ft to where the water rushed back out from under ground. It just looked like a way to die to me, so I opted out without a second thought, but 3 guys made the jump, as well as both our guides. They survived, so all was well.
Adventure spirit in tact, we returned victorious to the hostel for the night.