There are many things you get warned about when travelling to Latin America – pick pockets, kidnapping, drugs, sleazy men, Tex Mex. But failing breaks as your minibus careers around the dirt road on the side of a mountain, so that the bus driver has to roll the bus to stop it falling off the edge of a cliff…not in the Lonely Planet guide.
Luckily this wasn’t my reality, but was for my fellow travellers who had convoyed with us from Flores to the tiny Guatemalan town of Lanquin, aka gateway to heaven on earth. Luckily no one was seriously injured, though a broken collarbone effectively ended one dutch fella’s Guatemalan dreams.
Whilst not providing much excitement itself besides a rapidly flowing river, the town of Lanquin will be your home while you plan one of the many adventures at your finger tips, or choose to just bliss out on the natural beauty of the Guatemalan jungle.
Of the range of hostels in the town, I’d been recommended two in particular – El Retiro and Zephyr Lodge, the former being the quieter, riverside option, while the latter is most certainly a party hostel, and a good one at that.
The sensible Sally in me chose the quieter hostel, but then I of course spent most my time making use of the drink specials and infinity pool at Zephyr. Which would not have been so bad except that they were not close and there is definitely no public transport in Lanquin (definitely not conducive when walking home come the morn).
Choosing between the chilled and party hostel was a struggle I continually faced during my time away – on the surface I was a mature 30-year-old woman who likes a good night sleep…deep down I’m still an extroverted introvert who likes to be a part of the action and boogie til dawn. It’s a conundrum really.
Initially I’d only booked two nights here, but as soon as I arrived I was instantly in love with the landscape and the jungle vibe that emanated out of every part of this tiny town. So as soon as my friends Joe and Lizzy, who I’d most happily met in Oaxaca, arrived we both organised our Semuc Champey adventure AND added another night to our booking. That night we dined by dim candlelight, to the sound of frogs chirping, awaiting the adventures that tomorrow would bring.
Most tours will take you on the same journey around Semuc Champey, so don’t stress too much on who you decide to go with, your hostel or accommodation should be more than fine.
The thrills start as soon as you step on to the back of the ute that acts as both your transport and a heart-starter, as they squish you (and a couple of locals on the way) into the back tray and whip you down the windy mountain roads. Can attest to blue knuckles and hands permanently formed in grip position.
You’d be mistaken if you thought that the river at which you get dropped off at for the cave exploration was the limestone pools themselves; its aquamarine hue is almost startling. But this is just a taster of what’s to come.
Stripped down into the very becoming combination of bathers and sneakers, each group member is gifted a candle, which will be your light source as you tiptoe, scramble, swim and splash your way through the pitch black caves. While I can be a little bit of a nervous Nelly when it comes to activities with injury potential, this was the perfect mix of tummy butterflies and just enough water dumped on ones head to qualify for the Ice Bucket Challenge.
Thrill seekers can then test their digestive tracks with the rope swing or the bridge jump. I somewhat winded myself with a over-exerted dismount from the rope swing, and it was unfortunately (well not for me) too shallow to jump from the suspension bridge.
With a quick dip and lunch over, we began the rather arduous trek up the viewpoint, not an easy feat in the 35 degree weather but totally and completely worth it.
Mouth no longer aghast, we trotted like kids at Christmas down to the glorious limestone pools to soak away our troubles for the afternoon (jokes, we’re on holidays, there are no troubles!)
The next two days were spent working our way through the menu at Zephyr Lodge, playing dare Jenga, working on hammock divets, observing fellow Aussies with their BYO beer bong, and shocking the hangovers out of our systems with icy dips in the river.
*Note on Zephyr Lodge – they’re not the nicest of operators and even if you buy food and drinks from the bar they won’t let you swim in their pool But the hostel is super social and I met a bunch of awesome travellers who I bumped into time and time again along the well-beaten backpacker path.
Fun quota just about reached, it was time to get city cultural again before we got a little too in touch with nature.
Do/See: Semuc Champey – Limestone baths, viewpoint and caves
Tubing down the river – note of advice, don’t drink the water!
Eat/Drink: Zephyr Lodge
In Lanquin town there are also a number of small local restaurants
Stay: Zephyr Lodge