While talking with a few people at our hostel in Flores, we learned about an idyllic river-side place to stay in the small mountain village of Lanquin. Originally, we had planned to head south for the city of Coban, but quickly changed our minds and decided to shoot for the El Retiro Lodge we had been recommended. We called the night before, but were deeply disappointed to hear that they were booked and didn’t have room for us. Still, we decided to head for Lanquin without reservations to visit the caves, waterfalls, and rivers of nearby Semuc Champey.
After a six hour ride through increasingly mountainous terrain, our van pulled off onto a steep, dirt road and we descended for another hour through a number of switchbacks into a beautiful green valley. The van stopped near the center of town, where we were met by a number of hotel and hostel hawkers, eager to get our business. Since we had heard that El Retiro was booked, we scouted out the kid roping in passengers for our backup option. Unfortunately, he told us they were booked too. Starting to get a little worried about being in a small mountain village without accommodations, we decided to start walking and see if we could find something on our own. About five minutes later, a pickup truck carrying a few of our tripmates from Flores came around the bend and the driver asked if we’d like a ride to El Retiro. With nothing to lose, we decided to hop in the back and check if room was now available for us.
Miraculously, there was room for us. For $15/night, we got a wonderful little cabana with balcony and hammock, overlooking the gorgeous mountains surrounding us and just a few steps from the refreshingly cold river. After only a couple minutes unwinding in this tranquil setting, we decided this would be a great place to rest our heels for a few days.
The next day, we booked an all-day tour to the big attraction in this area, Semuc Champey. This natural land bridge was formed by a river pushing its way under a large, rocky area, leaving many interesting caves and small pools and waterfalls behind.
Our day started with an intense tour of the caves, which required swimming through them holding a candle with one hand, climbing up slippery ladders around ledges and internal waterfalls, and squeezing through tiny passages; this was definitely not one for claustrophobics. We’re sure everyone else on the tour was envious of our headlamps and underwater video camera – we were so happy we brought them along! After two hours of exploring just a small bit of these caves (our guide told us they stretch for 11km past the point we turned around), we were tired, slightly injured, and frankly, feeling lucky to be alive. There were some hair-raising moments in those caves, and it’s scary to think of what could have happened in such a remote place.
Ready for something a little more relaxing, we launched ourselves into the river on a giant rope swing and rested our weary bodies for a bit, tubing down the river.
After lunch, we climbed to the scenic overlook, catching sight of the brilliant pools and waterfalls we would be enjoying next.
Finally, we spent the last half of the day seeing both sides of the land bridge – where the water comes rushing in and out – and jumping between the natural crystal blue pools and waterfalls above.
In the end, we were so grateful we listened to our fellow travelers advice, remained flexible, and took a chance by straying from our original plans.
You can see more pictures from Semuc Champey and Lanquin in our photo gallery.