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I remember the first time I heard about a magical place called Semuc Champey. I was literally on the other side of the world, in an idyllic swimming hole in Laos, and a Scandinavian girl I’d met on the road was telling me about a place she’d been that was even more beautiful, even more pristine, even more extraordinary than any of the natural wonders we’d seen in Laos. I couldn’t imagine such a place existed. But, so many promised, in Guatemala, it did.

Semuc Champey, Guatemala

If you’ve ever been to Guatemala or considered going to Guatemala, it’s likely that you’ve heard fellow travelers rave about Semuc Champey. Heck, if you’ve been, you may have raved about it yourself. It’s the battle cry of backpackers across Central America: get thyself to Semuc Champey. I know many of you recommended I go there as well, and so I hope you won’t be offended when I tell you the following — a confession which may technically land me in traveler jail.

I thought Semuc Champey was the most overrated place I’ve ever been.

Lanquin, Guatemala

Zephyr Lodge, Guatemala

It all started with getting there. Along with two couples I’d met in Rio Dulce we squeezed into an un-airconditioned minibus and steeled ourselves for five hours bouncing over unpaved roads to Lanquin, the base camp for travelers seeking Semuc. Five hours turned to seven, and while the scenery and rural communities we passed were some of the most beautiful and fascinating I’d seen in Guatemala, it was hard to enjoy them as we one by one succumbed to motion sickness. Stopping at a gas station to refuel and catch our breath, we found no running water, and a sink covered in blood. It was, unfortunately, a bit of an omen for what was to come.

I’d heard high praise for , some travelers going as far as to call it their favorite lodging in all of Central America. They have a stay-three-nights-get-the-fourth-free deal, and I intended to take them up on it. Looking at the above two photos, it’s easy to understand why, right? Wrong. What those photos don’t show were the fact that the lodge was under heavy construction, ruling out the idea of relaxing by the pool or in a hammock during the day. And when I crawled into my dorm bunk that first night, I was met by a cockroach scurrying across my pillow — though the next morning the hostel was buzzing with the news that another girl had come back to find a tarantula on her bed, so I suppose I was actually lucky.

I don’t want to totally trash Zephyr — the open air showers were stunning, the food was good, the surrounding views were mind melting, and clearly plenty of people love it. Plus, it’s never really fair to judge a place when it’s under heavy renovation. But that said, they truly do have a cockroach infestation — one of the couple’s I’d traveled with told me they counted ten in their private room — and the dorms were similarly uncomfortably dirty and bug infested. They were also a far walk from the bathroom, and the only lockers available were in the distant lobby. I felt uneasy sleeping in an open-air, freestanding building with open windows and doors and was shocked that no bug nets were provided considering the open windows didn’t even have screens. Yes, it is the jungle, but I’ve stayed in plenty of lodging deep in the jungle — some with open walls, even! — where I still felt relaxed and safe. I hate to sound like a priss or be overdramatic, but I would have preferred to set myself on fire than spend another night in that dorm. Ha! Guys I’m kidding. Tooooooooootally kidding.

Anyway, with a day of sleeping in and relaxing by the pool firmly ruled out, I signed on for the main event — a day tour to Semuc Champey.

Semuc Champey Caves

Semuc Champey Caves

Our first stop was the privately owned Kan’va Caves. I’ve visited some spectacular caves around the world over the years and was looking forward to this one, especially when our guide handed each of us a candle and told us we’d have to swim with it to light our way!

We spent nearly two hours in the caves, wading through water-flooded caverns, swimming through narrow passages, and jumping off underground waterfalls. It was stunning, and parts of the tour were totally unique, however, it could have been done in half the time. Our little group of five from Rio Dulce hung near the back and quickly grew frustrated with how slowly we were moving in such an enormous group — there was a huge amount of simply standing around, candle in hand, waiting for the twenty people ahead of us to scramble through a narrow passageway.

Semuc Champey Caves

Semuc Champey Caves

Semuc Champey Caves

Semuc Champey Caves

Next, it was time to jump off things — one of my favorite hobbies. Still high from the cave cannonball I’d aced, I happily took my turn on the big river swing. Water levels were low though and so I skipped jumping from the nearby bridge. I hate turning down adventure but hearing the first jumpers say that they’d hit the bottom of the river bed definitely deterred the second lot of us!

Lanquin Rope Swings

Lanquin Rope Swings

Lanquin Rope Swings

Next, it was time for lunch. Seriously, I feel like if this is the only post someone were to read from me they’d think I was the whiniest whiny-pants who ever whined, but it’s kind of like we were being punked. Back at Zephyr Lodge, we’d puzzled over the lunch situation for the full day tour — the hostel encouraged us to pay for their overpriced and very mediocre packed lunch, and were evasive when we asked if food would be available for sale at Semuc. “Food vendors aren’t always there,” they said, and avoided eye . We decided to risk it, and I was so glad we had! The guides led us to a road side restaurant that was delicious and reasonably priced and looked very much like a permanent fixture that was indeed always there, and those that had paid for soggy sandwiches looked on bitterly.

So that was awkward. But nevermind — we were soon onto the main event, the turquoise pools of Semuc Champey. At the entrance we found, you guessed it, even more food vendors, this time selling bags of ripe fruits. I snagged a few, and off we went on the forty-five minute uphill slog to El Mirador.

Semuc Champey Photography

Semuc Champey, Guatemala

Semuc Champey, Guatemala

It was a tough uphill hike in steaming heat, but I loved the exercise. I also loved descending, and the first moment I dipped my toes in those cool waters below.

Semuc Champey, Guatemala

Semuc Champey, Guatemala

Semuc Champey, Guatemala

For shutterbugs, I’d recommend a tour that does these activities in reverse — the light was pretty much gone by the time we made it down to the pools, which made photography difficult. I’d rather have spent the morning at Semuc and the afternoon at the caves, like Adventurous Kate’s . (Interested in reading a completely different take on Semuc Champey? Check out her post.)

Lanquin_019

Semuc Champey, Guatemala

Relaxing in one of the pools at the end of the day, I confessed to the couple I’d been traveling with that Semuc Champey wasn’t what I hoped. They shrugged and said they felt the same. Semuc Champey is a lot of work to get to and to get from (I had an eight hour journey to Guatemala City still ahead), and we just didn’t feel like it paid off. I truly could not believe that this was the place I’d been hearing about for years.

When we originally planned to stay for four nights, we thought we’d take one day to do the Semuc tour, one day to relax at the lodge and explore town, and one day to take the hostel’s tubing and bat cave tours. Other travelers warned me the water was too low to make the tubing tour worthwhile and we all agreed we couldn’t really stand other night at Zephyr Lodge anyway. So we booked our tickets to leave first thing the next morning. And we didn’t look back.

Semuc Champey, Guatemala

Semuc Champey, Guatemala

So what led to me and my travel companions shrugging our shoulders? We did some musing on this very topic. Perhaps I was at the end of my trip and I just didn’t have the mental energy for the two days spent in motion-sickness inducing buses that it took to get to Lanquin. Perhaps I was unhinged by our lodging situation. Perhaps it all just seemed too commercial and crowded after having such an authentic and unexpected adventure in Rio Dulce. Perhaps I was too stressed about work to enjoy being forced off the grid. Perhaps my expectations were too high. Or, most likely, travel has just left my completely spoiled.

The awkward thing is that the more you travel, the harder you become to impress. Comparison is the thief of joy, they say, and the universal they has a pretty good point there. The first white sand beach you ever lay eyes on is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen and seared into your brain for the rest of your life; the hundredth, yeah, it’s nice, but the seventy-seventh had finer sand. Four years of constant travels and maybe I’ve seen too many gorgeous caves and waterfalls for my own good — I couldn’t I couldn’t help but compare Semuc Champey to the stunning Kuang Si Falls in Laos, or the Sagada Caves in the Philippines, and think how the magic I’d felt in those places was missing.

I don’t for a second take for granted how lucky I am to have these experiences — the good and the bad. The blessing in a little bit of apathy slipping in after a few years of travel is that when a place still manages to wow you, you know it’s something special — and you grab onto that moment with both hands.

Can you guys make me feel better by committing traveler heresy and telling me a place you guiltily thought was overhyped?

Practical Info

Where I stayed: Clearly I can’t recommend Zephyr, where I paid 70Q ($9) for a dorm. I did hear good things about Retiro Lodge and Utopia Lodge, which might be better bets.

One issue that probably won’t matter much to most travelers but was very stressful to me so I do want to mention it was the internet situation at Zephy. I knew there was no wifi, however I  imagined a setup similar to the one at Casa de la Iguana, where there was a bank of desktops guests could pay to use. Instead, there was just one teeny 10″ netbook in the middle of the bar that was on from 7am to 7pm and a long line of people each day eager to confirm flights, check email, and browse Facebook. I found this system incredibly stressful and anxiety over work definitely hampered my experience immediately. For many, this won’t be a concern, but there were definitely others at the lodge who were similarly frantic over flights, bills, etc. that they needed internet access to address.

Where I ate: I only ate at Zephyr and while quality is great, selection is limited. Outside food is banned.

How I got there: Private shuttles go to Antigua (stopping first in Guatemala City), Flores, and Rio Dulce. Other connections are available by chicken bus. Roads are windy and in many places unpaved. I paid 86Q ($11US) to get to Guatemala City from Lanquin, and 150Q ($20US) to get from Rio Dulce to Lanquin.

Bonus tip: There is no ATM in Lanquin and credit card payments incur an 8% fee. Bring cash!

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74 Comments...
  • Amanda
    August 9 2015

    This is one of the things I love about traveling, though – every traveler has a different experience. I remember reading Kate’s post about how much she LOVED Semuc, and I can appreciate your point of view, too.

    (I feel like maybe you would have liked it more if the accommodation had been better!)

    I don’t know if I would personally want to go through the ordeal of *getting* there, but I’m definitely the type of traveler who waits to pass judgment until I’ve seen something for myself!

    As always, love the honesty in this!
    Amanda recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 10 2015

      Even though it wasn’t my speed, I can totally see how other people love Semuc Champey! And yeah, the accommodation definitely had an impact. I’m pretty low-key about that kind of thing — I don’t mind a cockroach or two — but having one run across my bed as I crawled into it was definitely unnerving, as was the sound of jackhammers started at 8am. I suppose I am glad that I went and saw the place fro myself, otherwise I would have wondered! But I was SO OVER long bus rides by this point in my trip.

  • Leah
    August 9 2015

    I mean, I can’t say I gave it a fair chance really, but everybody but me seemed to looooooove Albania. I was pretty ambivalent about it from the get go and kept trying to figure out why I didn’t seem to be “getting it.” But Albania isn’t nearly as hyped up as some places so in the end I let go of my guilt pretty quickly. Also, who GAF? Glad you’re not afraid to admit when you just don’t like a place. It can’t all be amazing and life-changing. And I soo feel you on being hard to impress. I hate that I feel that way sometimes but it’s so true. (Ps- I think you mean heresy 😉 )
    Leah recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 10 2015

      Thanks for the catch! Edited 🙂 And yeah, it’s tough because people sometimes take it personally when you tell them you didn’t like a place that THEY found life-changing. But I try to be as objective as possible!

  • Camels & Chocolate
    August 9 2015

    This headline pretty much sums up how I felt about Guatemala as a whole! That said, I actually haven’t heard of Semuc Champey so I’m glad you did the dirty work (cockroaches and all! side note: Angie would flip out) for me =)
    Camels & Chocolate recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 10 2015

      Wow that’s nuts, I feel like everyone I met was raving about it! I guess it’s increased in popularity since you were there? And yes, I think this place would have sent Angie straight into a coma 🙂

  • Julie
    August 9 2015

    I am always the person (seriously always) who ends up being underwhelmed by ‘fill in the blank.’ I think it has to do with how much I build things up in anticipation (if you want a great vacation, take the one I have in my head of the next place I’m set to visit!). I’m not sure the best way to remedy this because I love anticipating the next thing on the agenda, but it just means that I am not frequently impressed or blown away by a place. Instead, best case, I’m pleased, or happily satisfied, or my expectations are met. Which is nice!
    Julie recently posted..

    • Camille
      August 9 2015

      I’m the exact same Julie!
      Camille recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 10 2015

      Yeah, I do think that poor Guatemala suffered from my over-anticipation. Whereas El Salvador I had no preconceived notions of, and then heaped a lot of love on. I agree though that it is a tough spot to be in — I LOVE planning and don’t want to stop day-dreaming about future trips just because I’m worried they won’t live up to the hype!

  • becky hutner
    August 9 2015

    If someone told me there was a place more beautiful than the natural wonders of Northern Laos, I would immediately whack it on my list too! And from the photos alone, Semuc does look pretty stunning. However, as we all know, looks are only part of the equation & if the vibe isn’t right, it can ruin the prettiest of spots!

    “Comparison is the thief of joy” is my favorite line in this piece. It can be applied to so many aspects of my life from the let down of visiting Chiang Mai immediately after Laos where everything looked so much less technicolor and the tours were so…organized! To planning my wedding & never being satisfied with anything because it invariably didn’t look as pretty as it did in the wedding blogs. To watching movies after I’d been through film school, launching into rants on total crowd pleasers, simultaneously feeling bad that I’d become a “film snob” but still unable to close my critical eye. The more we see and experience, the higher our standards get! But there is always, always the opportunity to be amazed and with time, those moments only become more sweet.
    becky hutner recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 10 2015

      Yup, I definitely feel it the most in travel but it does leak into all aspects of life. I can only imagine how stressful planning a wedding is in the Pinterest age (actually I can do more than imagine, as I still do design projects for weddings from time to time). Having also worked in the tourism industry a bit, sometimes when I’m on a tour I can’t help but be critical of the customer service or the logistics or whatever, and it affects my enjoyment. I’m so jealous of all the carefree bozos who are just loving it while I’m sitting there taking Tripadvisor notes, ha!

  • I really like your honesty! If you showed me just the photos I would have said it looked like the best trip ever but it’s nice to hear the ups and the downs of a place! Plus I feel like you are being pretty fair in your review, mentioned good and bad things about it.

    I know whenever I’m talking to someone that doesn’t travel a lot I worry about sounding ungrateful if I say that a certain so-called amazing place just didn’t wow me. I always feel crazy lucky to travel but also I’m still allowed to have an opinion! I know what you mean about the more places you travel the more discerning you become. You’re totally right though, because then when someplace really sweeps you off your feet you KNOW it’s amazing!
    Hannah @ Traveling Banana recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 10 2015

      I definitely do feel like I need to add in a disclaimer anytime I complain about ANYTHING, considering this is an overall very charmed life! But I try to remind myself it’s not the inconvenienclympics and everyone is allowed to be annoying sometimes 🙂

  • Camille
    August 9 2015

    I know exactly where you’re coming from, I’m disappointed by places a lot more often than I’d like to (or would care to admit)… Actually, it’s not even disappointment: sometimes, I just don’t have the strong reaction I expected to have, or that others expected me to have… and it does sometimes make me feel guilty or inadequate! I’m amazed and a little bit envious of people who get extremely enthusiastic about everything.

    That said, on this occasion it sounds like you had legit reasons to be underwhelmed by the experience – cockroaches can definitely taint your view of the world 😉
    Camille recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 10 2015

      This comment made me think about opening presents. I LOVE giving gifts and watching people open them but I hate being on the other side. I’m always afraid I’m not being effusive enough or acting enthusiastic enough. It really stresses me out, ha.

  • Fernanda
    August 9 2015

    Completely understandable! I feel underwhelmed a lot! Rio de Janeiro might be the most overrated place I have ever been to. In Europe I almost felt like every little old cobblestone street looked the same after some time. I do see the beauty but struggle to see the magic.luckily standing in the middle of the dioclesian palace in Split, Croatia, with live music watching kids dancing brought the magic back for me. I think it’s a mix of the places and our own state of mind, but hey I will keep chasing these magic moments as far as I can.

    • Meihoukai
      August 10 2015

      “I do see the beauty but struggle to see the magic.” Great line and sums up the sentiment of how I often feel! Perfect!

  • Yeah, I’m not sure where would be beautiful enough to negate a cockroach bedfellow. Yeuch!

    Comparison is the thief of joy, and so is expectation. I’m not sure that anywhere can live up to so much hype. Your imagination always does a better job!
    Francesca @ Cheskie’s Gap Life recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 10 2015

      I don’t mind them running across my floor (one, not multiple, ha), but in my actual bed? No thanks.

  • Kelly
    August 9 2015

    This was such an interesting read! I remember reading Kate’s post and thinking “holy cow, this place looks AMAZING.” Actually, to be honest, I STILL think it looks amazing, but I guess that’s what’s cool about travel and travel blogs–people can have totally different opinions about destinations and it really doesn’t matter! I’m sure so many people can relate to your point of view here, and same with Kate’s point of view. I think it all just depends on your expectations and the vibe you’re hoping to experience.
    Kelly recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 10 2015

      The photos do tell a beautiful story! 🙂 But they don’t really show the crowds or the frustrations or the cockroaches or indeed, the fifteen hours in windy minibuses. I sometimes do feel my photos are a bit deceiving when I’m trying to write about a place that underwhelmed me. I remember writing about one city and a friend I was there with said, “Yeah, this isn’t really fair though, these photos make it look so much nicer than it actually was.” Ha!

  • Breanna
    August 9 2015

    It’s been ages since I’ve commented. But you raised such an interesting point in this article I had to! While it is a tad whiny, I say this in the nicest way because god knows I sound that way from time to time. But the point about your first white sand beach is always the most memorable, I think that analogy can go for everything from food, to sex, to travel. I don’t necessarily mean memorable in a good way either. I won’t ever forget my first white sand beach. Was it the best ever? No. But in my mind it was the most amazing thing at the time. My first mountains I’ve seen in Banff were nothing short of spectacular. Now I know Switzerland, B.C., the Himalayas all boast phenomenal scenery but I know without seeing any of those that the Rockies around Banff hold that special magic of my first mountain experience. I know I haven’t commented lately but I do still enjoy very post you write.

    • Meihoukai
      August 10 2015

      Hey Breanna! 🙂 Yup, I do agree that analogy does apply to all aspects of life. It’s a big part of why I want to slow my travels down a bit more. I want time to soak them up, and let them sink in before I run off to the next thing…

  • Rick
    August 9 2015

    Good advice to measure the pleasure against the pain needed to obtain it.

    Chicken busses with children urinating in the aisle are hot, miserable, smelly and not worth the trip sometimes.

    I know that you and other travel bloggers try to see the positive everywhere to motivate and entertain their readers but the down and dirty truth is always appreciated:-)

    • Meihoukai
      August 10 2015

      Your first sentence is a great line. One of the things I loved about Central America was that the distances between my destinations were relatively short and I rarely suffered a long bus rides. The rides to and from Semuc Champey were the worst of my four months, and that definitely impacted my experience there. It had to be pretty great to make those rides worthwhile…

  • Neysha
    August 9 2015

    Interesting! I’m planning a trip back to Guatemala in the next year and I definitely want to visit Semuc Champey, just to see it for myself. Even from your post, I’m curious to get my own take of those beautiful lagoons! It’s nice to know what not to do, though. I wonder if there’s a way to have a more authentic experience, maybe by staying at less tourist centric accommodations. Not sure if that’s very smart to do in Guatemala, though.
    Neysha recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 10 2015

      There was one guesthouse actually right down in Semuc Champey, which my group agreed would be nice to stay at. The ride to and from Zephyr was almost an hour in the back of a pickup, and it would have been nice to just get that over with on the way in. Then you could just go without a tour to the pools and I’m sure take a much smaller and more intimate tour of the caves.

  • Britt
    August 10 2015

    Interesting as before this post I had read Adventurous Kate’s post which as you have said was completely different.

    It just goes to show that not every destination is for anybody and people will form their own opinions based on who they are (and you are right that includes where you have also been).

    It’s like even though all the blog posts I had read told me how terrible Ko Phi Phi was I actually really liked it because I was expecting it to be shit. I knew it wasn’t a paradise which is why I never felt disappointed and just loved the whole party scene!
    Britt recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 10 2015

      Based on who they are, where they’ve been, and even, I think, their individual experiences in that day. So many tiny variables could have shifted that might have had me raving instead of ranting! Example, had that cockroach scurried across my mattress moments before, I could have been blissfully unaware we were sharing a bed 🙂

  • Christina Soong
    August 10 2015

    I love the honesty in all of your posts Meihoukai! It’s hard to admit sometimes when you feel underwhelmed….especially after having such high hopes.
    Christina Soong recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 10 2015

      They say honesty is the best policy 🙂 Doubly true when it comes to blogging!

  • Janice Stringer
    August 10 2015

    Hi Meihoukai,
    I’d take authentic and unexpected over commercialised every time.
    Each trip teaches you a little bit more though I bet?
    🙂

    • Meihoukai
      August 11 2015

      Absolutely! In this case, that my tolerance for bus rides is waning all the time 🙂

  • Ashley
    August 10 2015

    The photos of Semuc Champey look so gorgeous, but I can completely understand why you didn’t enjoy it. I felt the exact same way about Ha Long Bay – the weather was horrible when I visited and I basically had the same experience when I took a tour of the caves there – it seemed so inauthentic and we spent the whole time standing in line and inching our way through because it was so crowded. I was so underwhelmed by Ha Long Bay I ended up staying only two nights instead of four. I hate feeling like a travel snob, and I feel guilty when I’m unimpressed by a place I know is really incredible, but it’s true that the places that manage to wow you after years of travel are definitely special!
    Ashley recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 11 2015

      The size of a tour group can have SUCH an impact. Feeling like you’re being herded is just not a nice feeling! I’m definitely going to be doing oodles of research when I eventually make it to Halong Bay.

  • Rekha Devarapalli
    August 10 2015

    Hi Meihoukai,

    I am not sure if you heard this from anyone else, but Maui was one such place for me. Given how much you love it, you might be very surprised to hear this. But if you acknowledge the role huge expectations and state of mind play during travel, you won’t feel as guilty about not liking a place as much while the rest of world goes crazy about it.

    Cheers,
    Rekha
    Rekha Devarapalli recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 11 2015

      I’m sorry to hear that Rekha! May I ask what happened? I adored Maui but I can definitely see how I could have had a much lesser experience. As you mention, it’s about so many factors, from expectations to weather to beyond!

  • Marni
    August 10 2015

    I love that you are willing and able to admit when you don’t like a place. Isn’t it sad we feel like we’ll be judged if we just don’t feel what everyone else does? Try not to beat yourself up too much if you don’t fall in love with the world in the exact same way someone else does… that’s one of the best things about travel. Even with all that, I have to say that picture after you make your statement about Semuc Champey being overrated is one of the most stunning scenic shots I have ever seen.

    • Meihoukai
      August 11 2015

      “Try not to beat yourself up too much if you don’t fall in love with the world in the exact same way someone else does.” So many amazing words of wisdom in this comment section, I could make myself a quote wall! 🙂 I love it, Marni — beautifully put.

  • Lisa
    August 11 2015

    For me it’s London. A lot of people I know think that it’s the most amazing city ever and say I should go another time to experience what they’re talking about, but I don’t know. I have been there twice already (adding up to one entire week in the city), and I just don’t feel it. Plus, there are so many other places I haven’t visited yet that I’d rather explore those.

    My friends probably think I’m crazy, but sometimes you just gotta admit to yourself that you don’t love a place the way you would want to, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

    • Meihoukai
      August 11 2015

      It took me until my third trip to London to really start to get a feel for it. I never though I’d say this after my first trip trips, but I kind of miss it and look forward to the fourth someday! I guess it takes a while to grow on you…

      • Lisa
        August 14 2015

        So third time’s a charm, heh? Who knows, one day I might give it another shot 🙂

  • Julia Nix
    August 11 2015

    Don’t feel bad to rant. You r right about this line ‘the more you travel, the harder you become impressed’. the same goes for me in everyday situation, especially at work. after a decade of travel community, i make friends easily but with people at work, u just can’t be too nice (or they’ll walk you over) i think you can agree that some people take kindess for weakness.

    • Meihoukai
      August 11 2015

      Don’t ever let that stop you from being kind, Julia 🙂 I’m sure you don’t!

  • Jill
    August 11 2015

    The Aran Islands in Ireland. So much hype but nobody mentions that you have to pay a lot to see anything (the island is so big, you can’t walk to the sites without missing the ferry). We had had an amazing and unique experience the day before so that may have added to the “meh” factor.

    • Meihoukai
      August 11 2015

      It’s that comparison out to get us again, Jill 🙂

  • Chris
    August 11 2015

    I’m going to have to agree with you on this one!

    Pretty place, and Zephyr hostel has so many things going for it… sadly it could all just be done a whole lot better.

    Never a fan of places where it is all run on a tab system, basically designed to get kids drunk and watch them run up tabs they simply don’t have the cash for (it seemed more geared for profit, than the best guest experience)!

    Not a fan of the no outside food thing… then there is (or at least was) the most pathetic Wi-Fi of a developed hostel in Central America!

    As for Semuc Champey, pretty, but no Plitvice Lakes in Croatia, or Kuang Si Falls in Laos!
    Chris recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 12 2015

      Yeah, I didn’t mind the tab system, but probably just because I wasn’t drinking — ha! But they obviously have given up on the wifi entirely, as they now are quite explicit about only having the one computer, which they turn on and off at their own chosen hours.

  • Katie
    August 12 2015

    I felt similarly about Semuc Champey. The pools are pretty and I had a fun day there but I have been to much more beautiful natural pools (Ohe’o Gulch pools on Maui come to mind) so I also think Semuc Champey is overrated. We stayed at one of the basic lodges within half hour walk to the pools and I am glad we did so we could go to the pools without having to take a day tour. The caves didn’t interest me at all.
    Katie recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 12 2015

      Ugh, so great to hear from someone else who was underwhelmed by it! I don’t feel so alone now 😉

  • Gemma
    August 13 2015

    I liked Semuc Champey, but visited within the first couple of months of my travels. I remember finding the cave tour rushed, I felt like we were constantly being hurried, and after the hike (which I could have done faster on my own, as I’m a keen hiker) we only had 45mins at the pools, which wasn’t enough to relax in them properly. I totally belly flopped off the swing, and one of the guys in my group hit rocks when he umped off the bridge, partly because the water was low and partly because he didn’t jump from the exact spot the guide did! It’s made me a complete wimp about jumping now, something I wasn’t great at anyway. I’m glad I went, but I wouldn’t rush back, although I loved Guatemala as a whole! 🙂
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    • Meihoukai
      August 14 2015

      We were also pretty rushed in the pools, but at that point the sun was gone and we were all getting a bit chilly anyway so it all worked out alright. Low water levels are definitely something to watch for there — had they been higher I might have enjoyed a day of tubing. Though I would have switched hostels 🙂

  • LC
    August 14 2015

    I’m with Lisa… I LIVE in London and yet, I find it a difficult city to warm to. Many of my fellow expats (and city dwellers alike) tell me I am mental as a consequence. I hope that’s not the case; I just do not think it is the place for me.

    I reckon the culprit is commonly over-hype. My Dad is always saying “Great expectations lead to great disappointments” and I couldn’t agree with that adage more!

    Thanks for sharing your experience with us all.
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    • Meihoukai
      August 14 2015

      Your dad is a wise man. I definitely see it over and over again in my own travels, the places I’m most hyped up to visit just have too much to live up to!

  • Leigh
    August 17 2015

    First, I love the “Practical Info” section – I don’t know if that’s a new addition, or if I just missed it in previous posts. (My logistical mind is always asking these questions! 🙂 )

    I have a seriously unhealthy fear of cockroaches that will probably keep me from experiencing some extraordinary places, but open air jungle huts will not be for me! I don’t think I could sleep after seeing one scurry across the bed!
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    • Meihoukai
      August 19 2015

      Hey Leigh! I try to add that section in as often as possible, I think I started doing it on my trip to Peru last year. I’m actually pretty chill with cockroaches on the floor and walls (thank you, Brooklyn!) but I draw the line at sharing a bed with them, ha.

  • Jennifer
    August 18 2015

    I always stay at Hostel El Portal when I’m at Semuc…it’s a five minute walk from the park gates, so you don’t have to rely on tours or hitching a ride to get you there and back. You can go early in the morning, when the pools aren’t crowded, and enjoy the sun and water. They let you re-enter the park same day if you keep your ticket, so you can head back to the hostel for lunch and return in the afternoon for more exploring.

    It’s my favorite place in Guate for sure, so I’m sorry you didn’t like it as much as you hoped!

    • Meihoukai
      August 19 2015

      That sounds awesome Jennifer… should have talked to you before I went 😉

      • Jennifer
        August 19 2015

        Well, if you ever come back, hopefully by that time we will have our permaculture education center / eco-hostel built in Lanquin and you can stay with us 🙂

  • anita
    November 2 2015

    Hi!
    Love your blog. I am traveling solo for the first time and am in Guate to do it! I have been debating going to Semuc because of how hard it is to get to, and it will take a week out of my two weeks of time… I’ve hiked and camped in Patagonia, so I feel like it would be super hard to top that as far as natural beauty. Plus, being alone for the first time has me a bit nervy.. and am thinking of skipping it until I’m either with someone, or more experienced as a solo traveler and Spanish speaker!

    • Meihoukai
      November 4 2015

      Personally, with that amount of time I would give it a miss! There are so many amazing sights to see in Guatemala — and many of them are a lot easier to get to than this!

  • Christian Estrada
    November 10 2015

    I remember that I went there like 7 years ago and spend 5 days in the lankin-semuc area, when the place was already know but no so over exposed like now. I got there by public transport (1st class bus to Coban, public van to lankin and pick up and walking to semuc), that travel took one day each way, but no so bad actually. Now i don’t remember the name of the place where i slept, but it wasn’t much more than a tropical hut with electricity. There where cockroaches, spiders and scorpions (I don’t really mind about it, because is the jungle, and they are not dangerous at all, but is kinda creepy I know). The place by itself is quite beautiful, the river so tumultuous at the upper part, and so calm and inviting at the lower part, many birds, monkeys and other animal spotting at the morning walks and the really calm when the visitants haven’t come yet. But as many things it lost a lot with the tourist hordes, I cannot imagine how is now after 10 years of advertising. That been said, I think that the real beauty of semuc and many of this kind of places is the way how you got there. A direct shuttle, a guided tour or and hostel organized visit kills the whole magic about it. This places is a prime example of the Guatemala natural beauty, and as a natural it has to come with some amount of discomfort (at least is why I think and appreciate), but this is not even the most beautiful example of this beauty in Guate, there is Candelaria caves, Las Conchas falls, Las Escobas falls, Lagartero river, Calaxpom caves, and a long etc of more beautiful but also more difficult to reach. The point is, please don’t expect too much of pre-organized packaged and rushed visits. This kind of rough beauty should be appreciated with time and in a more independent way. There is so many ways of travel, and of course not all of them are good for everyone. To finish: is not just the place that make a travel happily unforgettable, but the way you do it.

    • Meihoukai
      November 11 2015

      Very true, Christian. I don’t know if you saw my post about my adventures around Rio Dulce, but they were very much like what you describe here — spontaneous, independent, and via adventurous public transit. It was the highlight of Guatemala for me, and I suppose this was doomed to pale in comparison.

  • James Kelley
    December 9 2015

    Blasphemy! This was one of my absolute favorite places in Central America. The resorts or whatever might not be that great, but the beauty of the natural landscapes and water are undeniable.

    • Meihoukai
      December 10 2015

      Different strokes for different folks! I just couldn’t get jazzed up about Semuc Champey. I’m sure my terrible experiences at the lodge didn’t help, but I just couldn’t help compare it to other natural wonders that I enjoyed more, had a more authentic experience at, and spent a lot less time, money, and car sickness to get to.

  • Campbell
    February 1 2016

    Hi Meihoukai, my girlfriend and I went to Semuc in April, we have been traveling for a while (I have been on the road for most of the last 4 years) and we can be a bit critical sometimes, but I loved Semuc, for me the most beautiful single site (non-diving) in Central America. We are not big on tours, so we did not walk through a cave with a candle and missed some jumps, but did jump from the bridge a couple of times. We turned around and walked away when the owner of Greengo’s told us we can not take our own food in and walked to Hostal El Portal, where we had a great time, they had a similar policy, but did not in force it and charged us something for hot water to make noodles and coffee.
    A bit about our Guatemala trip, we spent $13.13 each per day and our average budget each was as follows:
    Total: GTQ 1619/$210 in 16 days
    Accommodation: GTQ 59/$7.60 per day
    Transport: GTQ 24/$3.12 per day
    Food: GTQ 27.50/$3.58 per day
    We are still in Latin America, now in Chile, Guatemala was our cheapest country in Central America and second in Latin America (Venezuela topped the list). You can see what we did, where we stayed and what we payed on our blog Stingy Nomads
    Safe Travels

    • Meihoukai
      February 6 2016

      Sounds like you guys had a great time! I was definitely running low on energy by the time I got to Semuc Champey but I’m sure tackling it independently would have been a very different experience. Happy trails!

  • Maria
    March 17 2016

    I wasn’t that impressed when visiting Halong bay either ? So, I guess I understand your feeling ha!
    I guess i found it pretty similar to krabi and around.
    Thanks for the POV!

    • Meihoukai
      March 21 2016

      I’m sure the crowds didn’t help either! I get it, Maria!

  • Menno
    May 20 2016

    What a great post about this lo Guatemala. The candle light cave tour is one of the highlights so far. The trip to Lanquin is a long sit though. Have you been to Cuba?

    • Meihoukai
      May 24 2016

      Not yet! I hope to — sooner rather than later!

  • Jenny
    November 30 2016

    No offense but you are nuts!!! 🙂 Semuc Champey was the most incredible experience of my life – my eyes have never seen anything so beautiful in my entire life. Yes the bus ride is the pits but if it was easy, everyone would be there. I went Sept. 2016 and three months later, I’m still stalking #semucchampey instragram tags to relive that experience. I highly recommend – stay at El Retiro lodge.
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    • Meihoukai
      December 5 2016

      Well, as I outlined in the post it was just the whole experience that was overwhelming to me. I’ve been blessed to see so many beautiful things in my travels, and for me the sum total wasn’t worth all the parts it took to get there. Tarantulas in the dorm can do that to a girl!