Lanquín is a small town situated at the end of a long, bumpy road on the edge of the Central Highlands in Guatemala. It was another full day of travel on a shuttle bus to get there from Flores, and we both felt drained (not to mention starving) when we stepped down off the bus into the narrow street in the town centre. We were then immediately set upon by what felt like hundreds of local men waving placards and shouting, “Gringos! You need a room? We have dorms! Private rooms! AC! Hot showers! Where are you going? Do you have reservations? Dorms! Cheapest in Lanquín!” We had been warned about these guys by the owner of our hostel in Flores, who told us to avoid engaging with them at all costs and instead mark a few hostels on a map and make our way to them on our own – which we then attempted to do, but trying to retrieve our bags and move away from the throng of people while men were getting all up in our faces shouting “Dorms! Private rooms!” was not an easy task.
Fortunately the first hostel we decided to try was only a little way up the street, and once we had finally managed to extricate ourselves from the bus we made a beeline straight for it. When we walked into El Muro Pub and Hostel, flustered and huffing and tangled in bag straps, we were immediately struck by the incredible view. There were steps leading down to what appeared to be the hostel common area, with hammocks strewn about amongst a few wooden picnic tables, and all of it overlooked a beautiful panoramic view of the jungle. Already it felt so different from Flores, with its small cobbled streets and alleyways.
We decided to stay in one of the dorms for 50 quetzales (around £5) each per night, which was the cheapest price for dorm beds that we found in the town. As Lanquín is the main jumping off point for backpackers and tourists visiting Semuc Champey, the prices there are a bit more expensive than other places in Guatemala – but we definitely got lucky with El Muro. Despite being the cheapest hostel we found the dorm was clean, comfortable and spacious – though the corrugated iron roof amplified the sound of the daily tropical thunderstorms and rain showers! The common area has a bar that does cheap happy hour drinks and serves delicious home cooked food, which we were very grateful for the next day when we arrived back from Semuc Champey completely exhausted and couldn’t even contemplate venturing into the town for dinner!
Our first night however, we did head out into the town in search of food and came across a small restaurant just down the road that had very inviting food smells wafting from the doorway, so we decided to give it a try. When we sat down a waitress came over and proceeded to tell us that they had no written menus, before launching into a lengthy tirade of rapid Spanish and wildly unhelpful hand gestures that went far beyond either of our levels of comprehension. We both gaped at her for what felt like several minutes before she came to the end of her spiel, looking at us both expectantly. I seized upon the one word I managed to pick out from her speech:
“Pollo, por favor,” I said, with as much confidence as I could muster for someone who has just realised the woeful inadequacy of their Spanish skills.
This was apparently not enough detail, as the waitress then shot out a few more questions and hand gestures. Fortunately this time Dan picked out the word “burrito”, and with that we managed to order two chicken burritos and a couple of sodas.
The next day we got up early to venture out to Semuc Champey. An awe-inspiring natural monument, Semuc Champey consists of a natural 300m limestone bridge, underneath which flows the Cahabón River. Several beautiful blue natural pools have formed on the top of the bridge, which have become a popular swimming spot.
The easiest way to travel the 10km between Lanquín and Semuc Champey is by pickup truck – locals in the town take tourists between the two places for around 25 quetzales/£2.50 per person. However, we had read a few blogs that recommended walking the route instead as you get to take in all the amazing views of the jungle on the way – so ignoring the shouts from the pickup truck drivers in the streets, we donned our hiking boots and set off. The first hour was pretty tough as it was basically all uphill, but afterwards the path meandered slowly downwards through the jungle, and being able to admire the beauty of the nature all around us made the hike so worth it.
When we got to Semuc Champey we put our stuff in a locker and immediately made our way down to the pools. The water is the most stunning shade of pale blue and is blissfully cool and refreshing – especially after a hot and dusty 2 and a half hour hike! We lounged around in the water for a while before we decided to attempt the hike up to the mirador, or lookout point, that is a 700m climb up the mountain. I’m not going to lie – this bit was a serious challenge, particularly because the path was incredibly slippery due to the rainfall the night before, and this combined with the fact that we passed several precarious looking drops right next to the narrow pathway meant that I lost my cool quite a few times. But when we finally staggered onto the wooden decking of the mirador, all the panic faded away. We have never seen a view like it, and despite the fact that we were both sweaty, dishevelled, covered in mud and, in my case, a bit mentally unhinged, we could not be more glad that we had made the trip.
But then of course, we had to get back down the mountain…