Young travelers pile in the back of trucks in the little village of Lanquin, Guatemala. The trucks are headed to Semuc Champey (pronounced Seh-mook sham-pay) to one of few lodging options in the center of the National Park.
The ride from the village to Las Marias hostel descends treacherous hills through jaw dropping scenery. Sharp cliff faces and rolling mountains create a valley of dense jungle.
A turquoise river cuts the valley floor. Photographers find inspiration in the limitless number of flowers, trees, wildlife and hidden jungle lagoons. Locals will say that the scenery rivals China. It is hard to argue.
Lodging is cheap (although limited) and the accommodations comfortable. Shared dormitories and private rooms are available. The power is shut off at 10 PM so being prepared with flashlights is handy. Las Marias has a friendly staff and a family style meal every evening. People from all over the world find camaraderie in the common area playing games and music, sharing meals and telling stories.
Perhaps the most unique and remarkably beautiful characteristic of Semuc Champey is the natural limestone bridge over the Cahabòn River. It is 300 meters in length and atop it has formed brilliant blue pools perfect for swimming and snorkeling. From the mirador –or lookout- near the top of a nearby hill one can see the bridge and pools from an aerial perspective.
Nature lovers find no shortage of activities including hiking, swimming, and exploring. Cave tours can be arranged at the hostel. Touring the caves involves some hiking and some swimming, and perhaps swimming with one arm while holding a lit candle in the air. There may be a little waterfall repelling and leaping from large stones in to dark water and perhaps a little rope swinging. Tough shoes are a must. The cave tour ends with a lazy tube ride down the river.
Transport to Lanquin can be arranged from any nearby city in Guatemala. Private vans are comfortable, quick and a reliable method of travel.
Semuc Champey is arguably one the most peaceful and downright gorgeous places on this precious planet. It is a must see for young travelers in Central America. It takes some effort to get there but the reward is well worth it.