Lanquin and Semuc Champay
– Guatemala’s most amazing natural wonder
We had spent the morning 2 days earlier – fairly stress free – getting back from Xocomil Water Park and then arriving back for our last 2 nights once again in our favourite room in Yellow House Hostel in Antigua.
Saturday morning was hectic with finding a box at the supermarket, and packing our fabrics we had bought in Lake Atitlan to send back to Australia. It was a much easier process that Bolivia (in fact I have a separate blog about that you will enjoy reading that involved sniffer dogs, and police appointments!). Once the box was weighed, the lady had a look through the contents, and then we were sent to buy brown paper to wrap the box in.
Now a tip for those doing this is to write the delivery address directly on the box first. The brown paper took about a roll of packaging tape to piece together, so it worried me about it ripping off on the journey or getting wet, as it was also thin. An internal label as well as the address on the brown paper might have been a safe option. The postage price for airmail was also half of what we paid n Ecuador, so Guatemala is a good place to post from with fuss free requirements, and not even a passport check.
We then went out for a farewell dinner with our friends Marina and her two lovely boys. My son has really bonded with her son, and they were great mates, and in fact, he even had a sleep-over at their house. So world travel has all sorts of fun things to do for kids when you make friends. We also went to a dinosaur exhibition with them previously and Marina helped me to set up my new web-site for this blog. So a big thanks to them! That night we enjoyed crepes for one last time at our favourite place – Luna de Meil. The kids then enjoyed running around the church park.
The next morning we finally we said our last good-bye to Antigua. We do hope to return, and really loved it.
We had booked a mini-van that collected us from the hostel after breakfast. The road was pretty windy and my son felt really ill. Several others looked like they had motion sickness. The driver finally stopped for a late lunch at a hotel, and I barely was able to eat two spoonfuls of my pumpkin soup, as some-one had slipped with the pepper, and my mouth was on fire. The good thing with mini-vans is you often get to talk to other travellers who have been where you are going, and in our case we were able to glean some fabulous tips as we shared lunch. Soon after my son was enjoying a well earned sleep.
We finally turned down a bumpy road and the 11 km took about 1 hour. Arriving in Lanquin reminded me of a small country town in Australia. Run down and with local teenagers swarming to help.
The good thing was that the guys came and carried our bags and took us to the hostel. Then he shot off. No tip. Just bring nice – now that is rare when you travel!
El Muro is a new hostel opened this year, and the owners Max and Ann really work hard and it is a great price too, so ideal for the budget long-term traveller like me.
On arrival we were given cool iced water, and sat and chatted. The good thing is they have 2 sons, so within a minute the boys all sat together with their tablets and shared games. I was then free to set up the room – our home for the next 3 days. It was down quite a steep lot of stairs, so once again I was amazed that there was a great guy to carry the bags for me. It was a simple room, but had an en-suite, towels and a lovely hot shower and chambrais denim Ralph Lauren sheets which I eyed off!
The place is all about relaxing, so we sat along the bar and talked with other guests and had a great dinner that Ann cooked up, and they even opened a top bottle of Merlot.
Next day we went to Semuc Champay.
Now for this you need to be prepared. Beach Feet/Wet shoes, camera, towel, jacket, flashlight, bug spray, sunscreen, water, snacks and camera are a few basics to pack in you day bag.
Make no mistake – it is a REALLY rough ride. Firstly it takes about 45 minutes to get up to a hostel near Semuc Champay where we collected more guests, and had a quick bathroom break. Then it is about another 15 minutes to the river.
A local girl sells home-made chocolates. Mayan chocolate is rich and dark, and meant to be really good for you, and is delightful if you should buy it thinly rolled with coconut. This was just what she was selling, and quite the little business lady, with no discount on bulk buying! We ended up buying four, and could have bought more.
Most went off to do the caves, but I have heard a few horror stories, so decided I didn’t want the dark to scare Explorason, and we hung around the river and waterfall with a few others that didn’t go either. Trust me the water is cold!
We enjoyed lazing around in the hammock for a while too.
Once they finished, they then used the swing to ‘fly’ into the river.
Then it was our turn. Only our hostel tour had a bonus. Tubing down the river. The guide was great and took my son. It was a short journey and quite tranquil, but it was still a lot of fun, and I had a bit of a hard time paddling one handed back to the shore, whilst holding the camera.
Next was jumping off the bridge suicidal style. We did neither, but watched as some guy hurt himself on both events and came out with a swollen and red and purple arm and back where he thumped the water as if he had fallen on pavement.
Back in the truck, we then cross over a very ‘B’ grade bridge, complete with a few missing planks, but provided a good wobble.
We arrive at the car park for the climb to the mirador. Firstly we buy lunch. These locals have pretty good business set up. There is a choice of BBQ meats, cold potatoes, salads and rice. The broccoli salad was fabulous, but the serves are overall quite small.
There were heaps of howler monkeys in the trees, so we enjoyed watching them with their babies on their backs. It is also about now you need to make sure you have your water out, and your bug spray on.
To get into the national park, you need to complete a form, and in the end there was so many we were just waved through.
The climb is quite steep to the mirador, and the mosquitoes are pretty full on, and we were right at the back of the pack, so it was difficult to stop and put more clothes on, and the bug spray we needed. I also needed to stop for water. I was the oldest on the hike, and 2 ladies had turned back that were younger than me, so I didn’t mind if I was slow, as long as I got there in the end.
When we finally reached the top, the view is just amazing. The water colour with the limestone shelf shows colours of aqua, green, and azure. Our guide gives us a lesson as to how the river flows deep under the limestone shelf of Shemuc Champay, and that the water flows up through the shelf, and there can even be some warmer pools.
We then hike down, but once again we are left behind and a couple of times we were not too sure of which was we should go. Apparently there was a guide at the back behind us, but we didn’t see him.
When we arrived at the pools, there were lockers to put our things, but I had accidentally left the towel in the back of the truck. Oh well. My camera is waterproof, so we set off to enjoy the pools.
First off is seeing where the river flows under the limestone pools.
This in itself is pretty interesting, and it is a deep, fast and fairly furious water that I think would suck you in to your death. Not sure if anyone has survived the tunnel underneath?
We then get to swim. Tiny fish all swim around. I didn’t stop long enough to have them nibble at my toes for a photo, but others did!
We used rock slides as slippery dips, and jumped in to various pools. It was really full on.
Somewhere in it all, I twisted my knee.
Somewhere in it all, the camera decided it didn’t want to be a waterproof camera, and water came in behind the lens, and in the back viewer.
I was so exhilarated that it all paled into insignificance as I hobbled out. We drip dried and wandered back to the truck.
As we drove off we suddenly realized a French Canadian man had been left behind so we drove back for him. Apparently he had been called and ignore the group and wandered off for more photos. We waited a good 20 minutes until they found him, and he had no idea how he had been nearly left behind, or the inconvenience he caused. It was a classic line when my did finally hop on the truck and my son said “What were you thinking Tom, going off like that?. Everyone knows you never leave the group!” I felt like I was hearing my own voice, and the rest of the group laughed!
Finally arriving back after an hour long bumpy road, I jumped into a lovely hot shower. Oh it was nice! I headed up for a glass of red wine, and dinner, and a lovely guy brought me some menthol cream for my twisted knee.
I was absolutely stuffed! Bed came early, and the next day was just a rest day.
We enjoyed learning about how the cocoa pods are ripe, and tasting the raw beans inside.
We visited the bat caves in the evening, which are close to the town of Lanquin. I have no great photos as the camera was still drying out. It was amazing as the bats flew out in their thousands, darting around us. There was a smart guy telling us bats were blind, but we came back and the kids and I Googled that bats actually can see, but use thermal heat like a radar to avoid hitting things. Education really does come alive for children when you take them to see things, not just read about them. We carefully walked back in the dark with our flashlights. This area is really, really slippery, dangerous and the path is not fenced off. It runs right by a raging river. So we took a lot of small and careful steps getting back.
My photos are terrible as there was water still in the camera.
Back a the hostel we met up with others that had not done a tour but had made their own way to both Semuc Champey and also to the bat caves. They hadn’t even seen any bats. Sometimes it pays to get a guide, and I must say the tours with the hostel are better that a lot of the local hostels. We found ours to be less expensive and to include more things (like the tubing), and we went for longer.
Hostel or Hotel Name: El Muro
Location: Calle principal de Lanquin, Lanquin 16011, Guatemala
Telephone: Max Gonzalez
Date stayed: November 2014
Breakfast: Not included but can be purchased at the bar.
Bar: A great bar is available and prices are good
Kitchen: Breakfast and dinner are available and the price is great. No communal kitchen is available
Wi-fi: Wi-fi is available at the bar
Child friendly: Yes
Review: If you are looking for a budget hostel with great tours, you can’t go past El Muro. Ann and Max will make sure you have a great time – tell them I sent you too!