Exploring Semuc Champey and Kam’Ba by candlelight

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After an 8 hour – way too cozy – van ride from Antigua to Lanquín we arrived to the center of town where about 20 local accommodation coyotes (local guys who try to push or pull you into the hostel or hotel where they can earn a commission per guest) tried to pull us out of the van. Since my new travel buddy Jolanda and I had booked some nights at the Zephyr Lodge we started looking for one of the coyote guys saying Zephyr who could tell us which truck would bring us to our lodge. We left the luggage in the Zephyr truck and walked to the lodge in a 10-minute uphill walk since the seats were already all taken. A good exercise after 8 hours of sitting down in the van listening to the world cup football game (we won 5-1!) and trying to sleep for the rest of the ride.

We expected a tranquil serene place, but literally arrived getting the tequila shots poured over my friends back-pack and finding many drunk people shouting at the Zephyer bar. I decided not to spend the night at the dorm because of all the partying going on (I don’t want to be waken up by others having sex underneath my bunkbed…) and ended up happily sharing the private room of my friend.

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The next morning

It was time to prepare my little day-pack for the trip to Semuc Champey and the nearby caves.

Okay, all set for the pools and the mysterious caves of which I still did not have a clear idea of what we were going to inside of them.

It did know that it was going to be amazing; every single person I met along the road was super enthusiastic about Semuc Champey.

Bridge jumping

Me and my friend Jolanda got picked up by the local guide Eddy at the Zephyr lodge in Lanquín for the Semuc Champey tour at 8:30. We had to stand in the back of a truck with other tourists for about thirty minutes before we reached the caves. It was too crowded to enter the caves immediately so our guide Eddy decided to walk to the river first and do some bridge jumping. Jumping what? Yes, bridges! It was about 10 meters high and all the local kids were ready to see the Gringos jump into their river.

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Off I went…!

Made it!

I made it!

After the refreshing and exciting jump we walked to another part of the river where you could jump from a tree-swing. I did not really like the way you could get strangled with the ropes of the swing so I decided not to do this jump, but I was still very much pleased with my high bridge jump and everything that was about to come…

We dropped our day-packs at a storage place with a lock and were told to come in our bathing suits, wearing water shoes if you brought any, for our next mission: exploring the Kam’Ba caves.

Watch out for that Stalactite!

We entered the cave with no clue what was going to happen. I walked behind our guide Eddy who asked me to pass along lightened candles to the rest of the group. Apparently it was going to be pretty dark.

With a candle to navigate and my GoPro in one hand while my other hand was free to be able to grab the rocks or the wall in case I’d slip I followed the guide into the cave and its darkness.

Stalactites were everywhere as well as many stalagmites which could hurt our feet while swimming through the pools of the cave. Eddy would let me know where to mind my head.
If you are doubting: Yes. We had to swim. It was truly like an underwater river with many obstacles we had to avoid hurting our legs on.

Then, out of nothing, there was a metal staircase. One to climb up onto a huge rock and another one to climb down off. We had then reached a waterfall! How can mother nature create all these amazing things? Just imagine this. A waterfall inside a cave where you can swim through with a bat passing your sight occasionally. Pretty cool right?

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Salta!

We got to what seemed to be the end of the cave tunnel, which was still filled with a whole lot of water. I then noticed a giant rock.

Vas a saltar?

guide Eddy asked me.

Well, yeah sure! Of course I will jump. I promised myself that anywhere I see a possibility of a somewhat safe jump that I should do it. So, I climbed up the massive rock and waited for instructions while my friend held my GoPro and tried to film my jump (which did not work because it was way to dark!).

“Just jump towards the right, not against this rock” Eddy told me as he pointed to a big stalactite hanging there close to my head.

Okay, sounds doable, so there we go.

I jumped, did not scream, but I do swear my feet touched the somewhat soft ground of the somehow deep enough cave pool I had to jump into. “Whoo-hoo!” I shouted and with a funny, yet good feeling I waited to see the rest of the people jump of the cave’s inside cliff.

It was time to light the candle again and walk back to where we came from. About 900 meters of swimming were awaiting us before we would reach the cave entrance again.

Thanks for not being claustrophobic!

Another exciting thing was awaiting us on our way back. Apparently we took a different tunnel on the way back and we had to pass a slide. The thing was: I had no idea where the slide leaded to as I could not see the end of it. As Eddy tried to place my hands in a way I could not hurt myself I laughed and actually did fell down the slide until I reached a pool. I could not see the exit, I just saw water so I got anxious for 3 seconds until I realized that there was a sign of candlelight on the right. I swam towards the light and found my dear o dear oxygen. The others who went before me were already waiting and once everyone was there we needed another ten minutes to swim through the cave and reach the exit.

Natural, beautiful pools with water slides

After the caves we had lunch at a local pick-nick place for about half an hour. We soon continued our exciting day to Semuc Champey; the place we actually came here for.

We started with a rather tough hike up to the view point. Our legs had done a few extra working hours on the previous hikes that week so it was a little bit challenging. Especially since it was the rainy season and it was all very slippery. The view was totally worth it though.

After the hike up and down we got to the “posas” where we were allowed to enter the pools. Our guide showed us where to jump and where to slide into the next pool. It was beautiful. In the last pool we found tiny fish trying to nibble our toes. Not that they could actually hurt us, but like the fish spa fish, they scared a lot of the tourists with their “pinches”. I just thought it was hilarious to see everyone jumping from left to right by those itsy, bitsy, tiny, little fishies 🙂

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The view from the Semuc Champey viewpoint

Once we got back to the Zephyr lodge me and my friend were exhausted but after a hot shower we still managed to hang out at the bar area till 12 with our bottles of water and a more than deserved glass of red wine. While the Australian guys, who joined us on the tour today and had a hangover in the morning and kept on drinking during the tour, tried to scare me by placing a rhinoceros beetle on my shoulder I smiled and that was the last adventurous part of my day. Time for bed since my shuttle to Flores was leaving early in the morning. Alarm time set at 6 am… Again. I might just add a day to my stay in Flores to be able to just sleep a bit longer and chill out during the day.

 

Details & information

Company Semuc Champey & Kam’Ba Cave Tour
Cost: GQ $190 (lunch not included)
Note: The tour should cost no more than 190 Quetzales, which I booked at the Zephyr Lodge. Over there you can ask for a lunch sandwich for only GQ $25 packed inside a tropical banana leaf.

This tour, and then I especially mean the cave part of it, is something you would not be able to do back in Europe or in the States. It was far from safe and a bit risky for many bruises and cuts due to the rocks, but perhaps that is also why it is so appealing. It is a true adventure pulling you out of the comfort zone and if you do dare to enter the cave, you will feel a Indiana Jones or Tomb Raider clapping his or her hands for you once you get out of Kam’Ba.

You should only enter the caves with a guide. So, do-not-go-alone!

The Semuc Champey pools on the other hand are safe enough to visit on your own.

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What to bring

Let me see, what did I need… I started with a bikini, then water shoes for the caves and a bottle of water. Ask your hostel or lodge to prepare you a lunch. I got a nice egg salad sandwich (GQ $25) from the Zephyr lodge, but if you prefer you can also get a local lunch from the ladies cooking beef and vegetables with tortillas at the local pick-nick place for 40 Quetzals.

Also, think about bringing an old bikini or swimsuit instead of a rather new one since you will slide down the rocks at the Semuc Champey pool slides, which might stain your new bathing suit.

You might want to bring a pair of sneaker or perhaps even hiking shoes for the muddy stones and stairs at the Semuc Champey viewing point. I did the 45 minutes hike up with bare feet as well as the 30 minute hike back down.
By the way. The hike is pretty much intermediate, but for me personally (being Dutch and not having mountains back home to practice at) it did feel like quite advanced 😉

Ah yes, also bring your GoPro or any other waterproof camera if you have one!

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Ever since I left my home country I felt at home at any other place I went to. I enjoy getting to know more cultures by talking to strangers and hearing their philosophy about life. Speaking with gestures when you can not find a shared language, finding places only the locals go to and learn about their customs and values. Hanging out with local people makes me happy. The experience of every new place is a step out of your comfort zone where I like to wander around until it feels like a second home.
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