Semuc Champey

Located in central Guatemala in the department Alta Verapaz is the city of Cobán. While an interesting enough city in itself, it makes an even better base for some amazing day trips into the beautifully lush cloud forests of Alta Verapaz. These densely vegetated mountains provide some of the best wildlife, vegetation, and birdwatching Guatemala has to offer. They also provide the habitat for Guatemala´s elusive national bird, the quetzal. Alta Verapaz contains several national parks, including the Biotopo Mario Dary Rivera.

Referred to by many locals as the eighth wonder of the world, one of the most notable day trips is to Semuc Champey. Deep into the lush cloud forests, the Cahabon River roars through what some consider the most beautiful place in Guatemala. Semuc Champey is a natural limestone bridge over the river. Beautiful waterfalls are seen above the bridge as the river flows under the rock, and emerges 300 meters beyond, cascading down the mountain. The real beauty of this amazing site is above these falls: multiple terraces of lagoons, pools, and falls, with turquoise water, tranquil and serene. Make sure to bring your swimming suit, because this is one of the most amazing places you can swim! Following the example of my fearless (and somewhat crazy) guide, I jumped over waterfalls, off of cliffs, swam through pristine lagoons, and even climbed down the side of a waterfall into a beautiful cave.

It is hard to get to Semuc Champey without an organized tour, but many leave from Cobán, and offer day trips which include these lagoons, and also the caves of Lanquín, located at the source of the Lanquín River. Once a sacred sacrifice area to ancient Mayans, the alters are still used today in religious Mayan ceremonies. Tours venture deep into the lighted caves, which at times can be slippery. Our guide wanted to continue beyond the lighted area, which would involve some crawling, and the use of flashlights. Unfortunately, the majority of our group voted against this, but with the right group, flashlights, and an intrepid guide, this is certainly possible.

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