If you are heading north from Lake Atitlán you’ll be presented with a dilemma. You can either head straight north to Mexico’s Chiapas region or head north-east towards Belize through Guatemala. While Chiapas certainly belongs to highlights-of-the-trip category for many travellers, the other option wasn’t meant to be without its perks either.
Not being entirely sure about my decision to pick the latter option, I was later gifted with some of the best memories I’ve collected over the entire trip: the super-special day at Semuc Champey and a sunset in a jungle at a very Indiana Jones-like Tikal ruins. The words ‘magic moments’ push themselves to be used here and so they should be.
As I’ve mentioned here before, the distances covered in Guatemala could be rather painful, which presented me with an opportunity to break the trip from Atitlán to Flores in two. Such thing happens to every traveller who’s got time.
Most of the breaks could be all right but none of them was special for me until now. Semuc Champey was the best long-distance trip breaker ever, in fact it was much better than many main/major tourist destinations I’ve visited in over 7 months.
Semuc Champey or “where the river hides under the stones” in Q’eqchi, is a magical place near the town of Lanquín in Central Guatemala. It wasn’t easy to get here as the promised 7hrs trip took us nearly 9 hours but it was all well worth it. I was personally lucky to have picked El Retiro to stay at, a nice place with massive garden by the river, from which I’ve also booked the tour.
We all know that there are many super-special days in one’s life (I bloody hope there are) and the day I’ve spent at Semuc Champey belongs to that category without a doubt. I can go on with superlatives forever. It’s a perfect and stunning place that present a visitor with fun semi-adrenaline activities, such as exploring the cave with a candle light, in which one has to swim or jump through holes into darkness. It also comes with rope swings and opportunities to jump into the waterfall from quite high.
The tour will later take you to a view point with stunning views after which you can swim in a turquoise waters of Semuc Champey. Some tours also come with the after-activity, which is tubing down the river where the local kids will sell you a cold beer to make it all even better 😉 It’s basically one of those days one will never forget, a day at the end of which you are entirely happy 🙂 Thanks Semuc 🙂
It wasn’t easy to get to Semuc and it was even harder to get out of there. The alleged 8 hour journey to Flores is apparently never 8 hours. I’ve heard of 11 hour trips and so on. Before booking the shuttle, I had no idea that I will be part of an epic, record breaking 17 hour trip.
First we have faced a local school sport games 2 hour break, which was OK ‘cos we have waited next to a nice café. But when the already technically poor bus with horrible gearbox caught fire, creating 5+ hour break in the garage in the middle of nowhere was only fun for the local lads staring at two pretty gringas from OZ playing Limbo Stick.
Well, we did make it to Flores, a cute little town one can walk across in 10 minutes at about 1am. Like the whole Latin World, it comes with colourful buildings but I wouldn’t call them the prettiest I’ve seen. The architecture was however balanced by the fact that the whole town is a little island on a pretty lake so yep, Flores is nice and it could serve as a place to take a little break.
About two hours away from Flores, a visitor can explore some of the coolest Mayan ruins in the region. What makes them stand out to other ruins (there’s many) is the immense 57,600 hectares of the park itself that lies within a 2 112 940 hectares (21,1km2) Maya Biosphere Reserve protected area.
The jungle goes on forever and while you can’t see it in the distance – you can feel it as well as hear it. The life there, the silence, especially towards the end of a day, when colours begun to change was an unforgettable experience. Magic again 🙂
The site itself dates back as far as the 1 000 BC, however the major constructions were built at about 400–300 BC. Tikal‘s population peak is estimated to had been between 10 000 and 90 000 inhabitants, peaking at about 700 – 830 AD.
The city of Tikal has covered an area greater than 16km2, including about 3 000 structures. I’ve mentioned that it is reminiscent of Indiana Jones movies, it was however parts of Apocalypto that was filmed here.
How to get there + how much
- Panajachel (Lake Atitlán) – Lanquín: 190,-GTQ (€21,70) 8-11hrs
- Semuc Champey: day tour 185,-GTQ (€21,20) 8am – 5-6pm
- Lanquín – Flores: 110,-GTQ (€12,60) should be 8-11 hrs
- Tikal Tour: 85,-GTQ (€9,70) 2hrs + 150,-GTQ (€17,20) park entry + 100,-GTQ (€11,10) for the sunset extra time
- Lanquín: There appears to be several hostels in town. I was personally very happy with my choice: Retiro Lanquin. As I’ve mentioned above, it came with a huge garden and nice bar by the river. If I’ve picked private, I would have loved the place but the dorm was generously spacious and I was only there for two nights. If there were mosquito nets, there would be nothing to complain about.
- Flores: The major party hostel appeared to be Los Amigos Youth Hostel. I’ve however picked Hotel Aurora to have an option of no party. For $11,-USD per night with bathroom, it was the cheapest private room I could find. It was better than OK and I slept well. The room was spacious and the place had a great terrace. I guess that’s it’s an OK place to stay if you’re on a budget and want to sleep in a private.