…Who knew it would be in the middle of Guatemala?!
We arrived at the Utopia Eco Lodge, a hotel on the river about 11 km outside of Lanquín. It seemed like a whole different world from the Zephyr. The river (same one) ran right below the lodge. The dorms were open air, and with limited electricity, the stairs, bathrooms and communal areas were all lit by candles. With limited light, the place is dead quiet by 10 pm. We knew it was the perfect place to spend the rest of our time in the area.
We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the grounds around. We swam in the beautiful river and walked around some of the trails. After lunch, we rented some inner tubes and hiked up the river bank from the lodge about 15 minutes and floated down through some rapids to just below the lodge. The run was so much fun and so refreshing that we did it once more before we had to turn in the tubes. Afternoon backgammon on the deck followed, which I think I won, the sun was starting to sink closer and closer to the mountains. We decided to take the opportunity of such a beautiful time of day and walk around in the hills surrounding our hotel.
We enjoyed the gorgeous view of the sun sinking over the mountains. We found some kind of seed pod that we cracked open to find gorgeous red seeds inside. If you squeezed the seeds in between your fingers, a vibrant orange-red dye covered your hands. When I asked a local who was passing by, he told me that seed pod plants are grown for the purpose of dyes. Pretty cool.
Continuing down the road, we passed small houses, typically small, tin-roofed buildings with laundry hanging outside; some even had satellite dishes on the roof. Many families had chickens, pigs and dogs running around in the area outside their homes. Not after long, we reached a roadblock. There was a tom turkey strutting his stuff in the middle of the road, proving difficult to get passed. It was quite an incredible sight, and when we stopped to watch and figure out how we could get around him, a gaggle of local children crowded around, watching us in amazement. At last, we got around to turkey, and I felt quite triumphant. One little girl ran up and tugged at my skirt after we’d started down the path, which made me jump. All the other kids thought it was hilarious, and took turns running up behind us and tugging at my skirt. It was too cute.
As the sun continued to drop, we headed back to the lodge (the turkey didn’t cause a road block this time). We enjoyed dinner with all the other guests, chatting about different travel experiences and recommendations. Things shut down early at Utopia and I think I drifted off to the sound of the river around 9:30.
The next day we headed out on our big adventure. Semuc Champey (meaning where the river dives under the earth in the Mayan language) was the reason we came to this part of Guatemala. It was highly recommended to us by a friend and we had read many different accounts raving about it. This slice of paradise is created when the river dives underneath of a limestone ‘bridge’ spanning from bank to bank. The bridge holds water that runs down from the surrounding mountains, creating these beautiful swimming pools.
It wasn’t far from where we were staying, so we walked there the next morning. The first thing we did upon arriving was hike up to the Mirador, the viewpoint from which you could look down on the pools formed in the limestone bridge. It was already super hot and humid, so we were glad that the hike up there was very shady. After climbing up many semi-grueling flights of stairs (I lost count), we finally arrived at the Mirador, and the view was worth every step we had taken to get there. Even the pictures don’t quite do it justice.
After enjoying the view, we headed down to enjoy the rest of the day playing in the pools. We checked out the spot where the river dove underneath the earth, a frothing, dangerous looking rapid. We jumped into one of the deeper pools and spent the rest of the afternoon swimming from pool to pool, sliding down small waterfalls between pools, and lounging on the rocks between pools, letting the sun warm our stomachs and feeling the cool water run down our backs. We tried as best we could to soak in the place that we had traveled so far to see.
When we were finished swimming and lazing around, we went to see where the river emerges and the limestone bridge ends. Although off the main path and somewhat hidden, we were glad we sought it out. It was a spectacular waterfall overlooking a large pool where all the water seemed to come to a stop before it dove down into a nasty looking rapid.
As we hiked back home I considered how odd it was that we’d spent at least a combined total of 24 hours traveling to Lanquín specifically to see Semuc Champey, yet we’d only spent maybe 6 or 7 hours enjoying the place. It seemed a bit odd, but I was content with our time there and would definitely consider all those hours of travel worth it for one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. If you ever travel to Guatemala, don’t miss out on this natural wonder.