Turquoise pools of Semuc Champey

A Peace Corps volunteer had just completed a trail building project in the Semuc Champey Natural Monument and invited friends and donors to the opening, during my last semester teaching in Guatemala, 2006. It was a five-hour drive, and Sarah, our host, promised the opening ceremonies would wait until we arrived. We made good time, despite road work, and found our lodging in the nearby village of Lanquin. The “hotel” was composed of a scattering of thatched roof huts up and down a very vertical hillside, at the top was the road, at bottom a fast-moving river. Quite the backpacker’s haven, the four of us women were by far the oldest guests in residence.

A group of contributors, workers, and project leaders converged at the orange and yellow visitor center to start the hike. Before setting off on the trail, Sarah discussed the project in Spanish and Q’eqchi, the indigenous language commonly spoken in the province of Alta Verapaz. The new segment of trail led to a mirador, or overlook, with numbered stations and an interpretive booklet describing plants, trees and environmental commentary, well written by Sarah. One can imagine the hours she must have spent investigating and wandering in this dense rainforest. One stop marked a little valley where birds were always singing, another noted the pure, clean forest air.

In a long line, we climbed high, muddy steps of rock, with occasional wooden boardwalk, ladders, or stairs over less passable paths for about an hour until we reached the mirador. My first breathtaking view of the terraced pools—they shone like jewels of jade, ringed with gold, way below us. A series of round basins, pouring downhill into each other, in limestone cliffs and bowls.


We continued down to connect to the main trail, and soon reached the pools. Always prepared (well, almost always), I had my swimsuit on under my clothes, and jumped in with a friend for a swim. The water was refreshingly cool, deep in spots, with natural limestone shelves to stand on by the edges. A perfect reward for a long strenuous hike!

Back at the hotel, we asked a worker about bringing our car inside the gate. His coworker, we were informed, would open the gate at 6:00pm. My watch said it was already 6:25pm. “Hora de Dios”, he clarified, God’s time. Not everyone accepted the country’s recent change to daylight savings time, especially in rural areas. The next morning, the trees were wrapped in wispy clouds as we rose and headed down to breakfast by the river, before our long drive back to the city.

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Published by rkrontheroad

Writer, photographer, traveler

45 thoughts on “Turquoise pools of Semuc Champey

  1. Another great write up. I had to Google Semuc Champeyas I ad never heard of this place. Those grass huts look interesting? Must have been quite an experience living in one. Great pic of you in the hammock, that is you?

    Have a great day.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I hadn’t heard of it before I spent time in the country. The huts were pretty rustic, but I don’t go for the high end hotels anywhere… you get more of the feel of a place in locally owned lodging like this. Yes that’s me. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Those waters look so pristine! Really goes to show that there’s a lot more to Guatemala than what Westerners know. You’re fortunate to have gotten the opportunity to visit such a place!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Such a beautiful description of the pools, Ruth. I also vividly remember that first moment of looking below to the pools – truly breathtaking.
    The other aspect that’s etched in my mind is the road down to Lanquín – what a ride!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Simone, glad to see you have been to Semuc Champey! An amazingly beautiful place. I’ve been along many of those remote, rural roads in Guatemala. Often in the back of a pick up truck. Thanks for visiting and your comment. I will check out your blog.


    1. It’s remote and not on any tourist track, Leighton. I’m always surprised when someone says they’ve been there, unless they are spending quite a bit of time in Guatemala. And, of course, they had just improved the trail and access (but not the road in) when I was there.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. The color of the pools reminds me of Hanging Lake, Ruth. Glad you were allowed to swim in them! I suppose few people make the difficult trek down to the water, so the pools remain relatively undisturbed.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What a fascinating adventure and the colour of the natural pools surrounded by the lush green forest is unlike anything I’ve seen before! I’d say it was worth enduring hours and hours of bumpy roads to get there. Thanks for sharing and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva xx

    Liked by 1 person

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