Semuc Champey

Useful Information

Semuc Champey, Guatemala. Public Domain.
Location: Monumento Natural Semuc Champey (Semuc Champey Natural Monument).
11 km from Lanquín, at the Río Cahabón.
(15.533645, -89.959193)
Open: All year daily 6-18
Fee: Adults Q20/US$ 2.60, Parking Q5/US$ 0.65.
Classification: KarstSinter Terraces
Light: n/a
Dimension: River cave: L=240 m. A=380 m asl.
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Address: Natural Monument Semuc Champey, Lanqúin
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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1993 a team of cavers led by Steve Knutson explores the cave.


Semuc Champey, Guatemala. Public Domain.

Semuc Champey is a paradise of pools and waterfalls, which is a famous tourist spot. People come here for bathing without knowing much about the geology. But the geology is almost as spectacular as its bathing fun.

The travertine pools are the result of carbon rich water from karst springs, similar to other pools on earth like Plitvice lakes in Croatia. The water emerges, looses carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and the dissolved limestone is deposited. Because of flowing water and waves the limestone is deposited only on the rims, which makes them grow continually. Today the pools a Semuc Champey are generally about one metre deep, some even deeper. The blue colour is primarily an effect of the high amount of limestone and not a sign of low pollution.

However, at Semuc Champey something special happened. The growing travertine terraces cover the wild and water rich Río Cahabón. Originally the water of the pools was a tributary of Río Cahabón, but the growing tufa deposits covered the river, which flows in a gorge at this point. The gorge is rather narrow and Río Cahabón a dangerous torrent. The travertine covers the river for about 340 m, forming a dangerous river cave. At least two tourists have died in this cave, after they fell into Río Cahabón upstream and were dragged into the cave and drowned. Only one of them reappeared at the other side.

In 1993 the summer was dry and the river very low, so it was possible to explore a part of the cave. A team of cavers led by Steve Knutson entered from the downstream end and made it to within 50 meters of the upstream entrance. This is normally not possible, and even with low water it was very dangerous.

The best way to get a good view of the pools is from the "El Mirador" viewpoint. It is located northwest of the pools on the hill. A trail leads up through dense rainforest.

10 km south of Lanquín, is a liquid paradise. A 60 m long limestone bridge spanning the Cahbón gorge. The bridge is covered in stepped, clear blue and green pools of water that span the length and breadth of it. All the pools can be swum in with little hot flows pouring into some of them. Upstream you can see the water being channelled under the bridge, as it thunders through, it is a spectacular sight. At its roomy exit you can climb down from the bridge and get a closer look at the cascade.

It is possible to camp here for as long as you like, once you have paid the entrance fee. There are toilets and cooking areas.

Text by Tony Oldham (2004). With kind permission.