The Ridiculous Adventure of Getting to Semuc Champney from Flores, Guatemala
I’d heard and read horror stories about the shuttle from Flores to Lanquin. “The worst experience of my life” and “A drive from hell” were common phrases but I didn’t actually think it was that bad. Maybe it was the local collectivo we’d been in a couple days before (28 people in 13 seats), or the general acceptance of the madness that is the Central American “Chicken Bus”. But getting the shuttle to Flores from Semuc Champney (Lanquin) wasn’t actually that much of an ordeal. Air-conditioning, comfy seats, beautiful views, albeit with some very windy roads at breakneck speeds. But a bit of preparation certainly helps to get you ready for this crazy journey. Make sure you don’t get ripped off and get the shuttle the day you want by following these easy tips.
How to get to Semuc Champney from Flores
The shuttle from Flores Island (by the I heart Peten sign) costs 130 Quetzals and takes around 9 hours. You can book through Hotel Los Amigos or online here (at an additional price). The shuttle leaves at 8am and gets into Lanquin at around 17:00 at the Centro De Salud Lanquin. Booking in advance is a good idea as they get super busy!
You can also take a public bus with several changes, cheaper but it’s more crowded and even longer. Quite frankly you’d have to be mad to take this option!
What’s it like?
The shuttle is a 20 seat minibus but there are also smaller minivans running the route. The seats are pretty comfy, air con essentially and expectedly dangerous driving. It was a bit hectic getting loaded on in Flores with everyone scrambling for a seat. It would be a lot easier if everyone just chilled the F* out, but understandably everyone is worried about overbooking and not getting a seat. Ironically the one guy who chilled at the back of the melee and didn’t rush got the front passenger seat with the best views, legroom and the only seat belt! Karma.
The first bit of excitement is a little ferry boat over a small river, you just stay in the bus and hope it doesn’t sink. No dramas.
There were two stops the first at a service station with snacks, a small bank window and toilets. The second stop in Coban was at McDonald’s, a welcome comfort for many of us, and also a big shopping center to grab last minute supplies. Each drive is well spaced out at about 3 hours each with two 45 minute breaks.
The last leg of the journey is the most windy and the only real section lacking tarmac. You are deep within a jungle in Guatemala after all. The views here are absolutely stunning over the mountains and local villages. So about 9 hours in total, not too shabby.
What to take
Plenty of snacks, good soundproof earphones (like these), water, lots of downloaded things to do/ listen to if you’re likely to get travel sick.
Take everything you need and enough cash to get by, see what things cost in more detail below. We got 2000 Quetzals out in Flores which was just enough to pay for accommodation, transport food and drinks and the tour for two of us. There’s not a lot going on in Lanquin, you don’t really need to leave the hostel as everything you want is there anyway.
Something to be aware of
Our hostel (El Retiro) sent us a message when we booked about people selling transportation when the bus arrives in Lanquin. These are scammers, after your cash with no intention of providing a shuttle. Always book through reputable hostels or websites. We also heard about this scam happening in Flores so book through hostels or online to be sure.
Where to stay in Lanquin
There are a few highly recommended places to stay in Lanquin. I’d heard about Utopia, a jungle lodge close to Semuc Champney, and Zephyr hostel as good options but we decided to stay at El Retiro. It’s super convenient, just a 5 minute walk from where the bus drops you off. They sort out all of your tours and shuttles and provide a friendly communal area where you can get to know fellow travellers. Meals are 50 Quetzals for buffet’s of various cuisines, nothing fancy but good honest food. Cuba Libres are just 10 Quetzals and breakfast is around 20 with options like eggs or pancakes with banana and Nutella (highly recommended). There’s a river to swim/ tube in, a sauna for some reason (the jungle isn’t hot enough?!), a pool table and games to play. Our only regret was not staying an extra night to make the most of the place.
The tour to Semuc Champney
The tour cost 185 Quetzals from our hostel (El Retiro) for the day 9-16:00. It includes bone crushing transport (more on that later), a swim in a waterfall, a rope swing, a candlelit hike into a cave via rope system and ladders, a guided hike to the Semuc Champney view point and time to swim in the pools. You can get lunch to go at the hostel or grab some hot chicken and rice from the locals there for just 50 Quetzals. You can also easily do it by yourself, the entrance to the Semuc Champney park is 50 Quetzals, you just have to sort out your own transport and pay for a guide for the K’an Ba Cave (60 Quetzals). The tour just takes the stress out and supports locals, it isn’t very expensive for a whole day.
So the transport. There’s no way to sugar coat it. I wondered if I shouldn’t talk about it in fear of putting you off, but I am nothing but honest. Ever see one of those trucks with the open barred backs that are supposed to be covered in tarp and filled with building supplies? Well here they are top of the range people carriers. You may think, well it’s what the locals use it can’t be that bad, and on paved roads it isn’t. But the problem comes when you go off road, in the mountains, on steep inclines, loaded up with wide eyed tourists. Like maybe take a pillow to soften the blows. I’m not joking. It’s 45 minutes of torture. Also wear sunscreen.
There are other options…
Now you can get taxi’s from town instead of doing the tour for just 25 Quetzals but you can only do the caves with a guide. The taxi’s or collectivos looked much the same as the tour transport, sometimes even more crowded. I did notice Greengos Hostel had an open top truck with padded seats in the back, so maybe doing the trip with them wouldn’t be a terrible idea if you’re particularly fond of not having multiple bruises.
The candlelit K’an Ba Cave tour
The caves are awesome. If you’ve already been to ATM caves in Belize it’s something similar but without hard hats or head torches! It does have the added danger of burning yourself with a candle while clambering over rocks. Ropes and ladders are in place through out to stop you drowning or falling off any large precipices. Is it safe? No. There’s no helicopter evacuation in Guatemala so be careful (see insurance below!). But it’s definitely a unique experience far out of the grasp of western health and safety laws that would shut the whole operation down in an instant. Isn’t that why we’re here?
Is the hike worth it?
Honestly, in a word, no. OK so the view is pretty epic and if you have a great camera go for it. An hour hike they told us. It’s steep rocky steps the whole way through humid jungle. Unless you’re a hiking nut I don’t think the view is worth it, particularly if you are wearing flip flops, water shoes or something equally useless for hiking (like us!). If you’ve brought a good camera you could get some great shots but it’s nothing compared to actually experiencing the pools. The other option is spending an extra two hours (yes they lied to us) in the pools which is the reason we spent nine hours on a bus to get here no?
Pure emerald green bliss. There are six pools in total with varying depths and beautiful waterfalls. Some even have little fish that give you a free pedicure. It makes it all worth it. Don’t walk too far up Cahabòn River though as at the top of the pool lies the entrance of the underground river responsible for this epic geological formation. People have slipped down never to be seen again. In true Guatemalan style there is a bit of yellow tape and a half awake guy with a whistle in an attempt to warn people of the danger. But it’s something worth mentioning before you go I feel! Nobody told us…
What to take
Waterproof shoes/ old trainers are a must for the caves and handy in the pools too. You can rent Crocs at the entrance to the caves for 30 Quetzals. Sunscreen, water, camera, hat, swimwear, snacks and a camera preferably in a waterproof bag! Hiking boots if you plan to hike.
Don’t forget travel insurance if your heading to Guatemala. World Nomads have some great policies that I would highly recommend.
And that’s it! Semuc Champney: An epic, hard to get to, harder to leave, little slice of paradise deep in the Guatemalan jungle. Only for the adventurous, you are sure to meet some interesting people along the way. Make sure to book your shuttle on to Antigua, or wherever you are heading next, early with your hostel or online as they get very busy.
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