“And on your left ladies and gentlemen, you will see a sheer drop of 60ft into dense forest, where nobody thought it would be a good idea to put up a crash barrier. And on your right you will see an over-sized lorry trying to overtake us”.
As one half of us struggles with vertigo and the other struggles for balance on stairs, the descent into Lanquin on a serpentine single-track road carved onto the side of a mountain was terrifying. However, it is a trip that the majority of backpackers in Guatemala will undertake (or endure) to visit one of the country's hot-spots – Semuc Champey.
3 hours from Guatemala's fourth largest city – Coban – Lanquin is a highland town living in the clouds. With lush, verdant and dewy landscapes, wherein strong indigenous communities continue to reside alongside wandering livestock, it feels odd that it is also home to one of Guatemala's foremost 'party hostels' and convoys of shuttle buses.
Most venture here solely to dip a toe into the idyllic rockpools of Semuc Champey, discounting what can be discovered independently in the surrounding area. Certainly, if marketed differently, this town could be known as a stepping-off point for excellent hiking and treks.
Flowing from the Rio Cahabon, and set into a magnificent natural limestone bridge are a set of stepped perfect natural pools, of hues from emerald green to flawless turquoise. Although arguably a relatively remote attraction to get to, the natural beauty of this nationally protected site is understandably high on the hit list of most backpackers.
how to get to lanquin
From Coban, various local buses depart from mercado la terminal, Calle 3, between first and second avenidas, Zona 4. Journey time of 2.5 – 3 hours, 25 GTQ per person.
A number of travellers arrive in Lanquin from other cities on Guatemala's main backpacker route - Flores, Antigua, Livingston/Rio Dulce. Given the sheer distance, if travelling from any of these places, a shuttle is advisable.
If you're on a very tight timetable in Guatemala and focussing only on the aforementioned main tourist destinations, be aware that a trip to Lanquin will actually take up at least 3 days of your itinerary (two days travel to/from, one day for Semuc Champey). If travelling in rainy season, then you may want to make a judgement call as S.C is definitely not as enjoyable in colder temperatures.
how to get to semuc champey
Although hostels offer day-trips there, those on a tighter budget will find it very easy to reach S.C independently, either on public transport or by foot. The main reason to justify travelling with a hostel is probably for the tour guide who can guide you through the levels of Semuc and outline the best (and safest) jumping off points.
You have two options: From the main 'crossroads' in town, there will be a few pick-up trucks for you to hop on the back of, and enjoy a bumpy ride there. This is quite a fun experience, particularly if you are used to more pampered modes of transport. Costs may vary, but expect to pay a minimum of 15 GTQ per person each way.
For your return, there will usually be pick-ups at the entrance. If in a rush, or it's getting near the end of the day, it is often also possible to get a ride with a tour group, but it will cost a few GTQ more.
An alternative method for the more adventurous is to hike the 10kms from Lanquin. Thankfully, this is a safe and well sign-posted route, which opens up to some marvellous vistas and takes you through friendly, remote communities. Although at peak dry-season this may be too arduous a walk (there are quite a few inclines), it really is a spectacular ramble.