An Extended Stay in the Remote Lanquin, Guatemala

After visiting the magnificent ruins of Tikal it was time to move onward toward the city of Cobán.  We weren’t planning on making a stop in the city itself, but had our heading set on a very small and remote town northeast of Cobán called Lanquin.  We spent almost all day driving to get to Lanquin.  Before we arrived, we spent a good couple hours ascending to the tops of the jungle mountains before finally reaching a rough gravel road.  According to the GPS that was our road to get to Lanquin, but we were both apprehensive of the road conditions.  It was a rough long ride through the middle of nowhere as we descended back down through the mountainsides.  Finally at least an hour later after nothing but thick jungle we emerged over a small hilltop and started seeing signs for the Lanquin Caves, a few restaurants, and even a tiny village!  We made it to Lanquin!  The village in the middle of nowhere.

We started driving through town to look for our hostel when we were stopped by some locals all trying to get us to go visit and stay at various other places located in Lanquin.  For being so remote, the small village had pretty much everything it needed to tailor to travelers and vacationers.  There is even internet here, even if can be spotty and slow, so you can’t complain too much.  We finally arrived at our hostel called El Retiro where you can settle right in and stick around for a while, which we found out many had done so already.  After setting up in a small private cabin room, we headed right down to the restaurant/ bar area and decided to let loose for the night and party with the fellow travelers.  We turned un surprisingly early and both woke up the next day ready to hit up some local activities.

The next morning we had some coffee and breakfast.  Unfortunately we woke up too late to go on the Semuc Champey Cave tour, so we just hung out at the bar and checked some emails and such when we ran into Adrian again!  We met Adrian at the Finca Ixobel ranch and he followed us here!  It was great to see him again and we spent most of the day relaxing and catching up.  That evening we enjoyed one of El Retiro’s nightly buffet style dinners.  We drank modestly that night and then woke up the following day and decided we were going to go tubing!  There is a beautiful raging river that runs right alongside El Retiro and they let you loose with some inner tubes, two beers, and a guide to float down the river.

We all hopped in the back of a truck bed and were driven to the entrance of the Lanquin Caves, but instead of heading toward the cave itself, we all jumped onto our inner tubes into the river nearby.  We had an absolute blast floating down the river with our beers and the sun on our bellies.  Everyone was splashing about and we almost lost a few beers in the process.  We floated by the hostel and waved to everyone on shore and let them know they were missing out.  When we finally reached the end of the line we all got out and were able to climb a huge tree overhanging the river and jump from it.  It was so much fun.  The Guatemalans in this part know how to have a good time because jumping off trees into a raging river is what everyone should do every day.

When we got back to the hostel we found an old board game of Risk and set it up and played it all afternoon until dinner later that night.  The game was in Spanish and it was tough to figure out the official rules, but we managed to get it with a little help from the internet.  We had a great time trying to dominate the world for a while.  Dinner was of course delicious as always, then it was off to bed a little early so we could go on the Semuc Champey tour the next day.  We honestly had no idea what or where Semuc Champey was or what the tour entailed, but it seemed like the thing to do here in Lanquin so we decided we better go do it.

The following morning we woke up early and had some breakfast with Adrian and got ready to head off to Semuc Champey.  At 9am about 20 of us all piled into the back of a cattle truck (a few of us sat inside the cab too) and we were herded up and around the mountains on our way to Semuc Champey.  We passed many small huts and homes which laid on the outskirts of Lanquin.  The way the locals stared at us made us all feel like we were cows going to the slaughter with us crammed in the back of the truck bed.  It was definitely an experience.  The drive was windy and bumpy, but very beautiful.  My arms got a work out just from hanging onto the railings on the truck.

We finally arrived at Semuc Champey and at first there wasn’t much to see other than a wide raging river (I do not believe it was the same river that ran alongside El Retiro) and a small shack with a few younger Guatemalans hanging around. There was a small waterfall there which flowed into the river from a cave up above.  Our tour included a walk through the caves by candle light!  First things first, the guides had us all use some yellow twine to fasten our loose sandals to our feet around our ankles.  The rocks in the cave were fairly sharp and slippery and this ensured we wouldn’t lose our sandals.  Second order of business was the rope swing.  Oh man.

So when you think of a rope swing you probably think of a large rope suspended from a tree near a river or lake.  Well that’s true, except this rope swing was an actual swing.  Like a swing set swing with a seat and everything.  It was pretty well made and looked like tons of fun.  The guides told us if we wanted to swing into the river we could so most of the guys lined up to do it first.  The swing sat about 20 feet in from the shore and 20 feet high up on a platform.  It looked pretty intimidating, but when you swing you get pretty close down to the water before rocking back upward where you let go and land in the river.  It was so much fun watching everyone have a go at the swing.  I even worked up the courage to try it and I am so glad I did.  Apparently, according to everyone els,e I got the biggest air when I let go and got launched into the water!  It was terrifying, but so much fun!  Not bad for being afraid of heights.  Not everyone braved the swing and we of course made fun of the pansies who chickened out :)

After the swing we were all lead up some steep steps to the entrance of the cave.  We were all given a candle and the guides lit them for us as we all entered the cave.  We spent a good couple hours inside the cave by candle light (some of us brought our own torches or headlamps too.)  We had to crawl, climb, and swim our way deep into the cave until our path was broken by raging waters.  We managed to climb up waterfalls by rope and ladder and finally reach a deep pool which some brave souls jumped into from high up on a cave cliff wall.  When we couldn’t go any further, we all turned back and headed out to the entrance of the cave just in time for our candles to burn out.  It was so much fun.

After the caves we came back into the light of day and enjoyed some lunch before we all got some inner tubes and did a short tube ride along the river.  We were only on the water for about 10 minutes, it was nowhere near as awesome as the tubing we did near El Retiro, but it was still fun.  Then after tubing, we all started walking toward a large yellow bridge to head over to the pools of Semuc Champey, but first we stopped at the bridge.  One of the guides climbed up onto the railing of the bridge and yelled back at us “Bye bye!” and launched himself off the side of the bridge into the river below.  Then one by one a few brave souls followed suit from our group and jumped off the bridge!  I took one look at the height of the bridge and noped right away from that railing.  Steve took the plunge and said it was awesome and I should try it. Nope. Nope. Nooope.

After we jumped off the bridge, we all kept walking along the road for a few minutes before we reached the entrance to Semuc Champey.  We all signed into the guest book, our guides paid the rangers there, and we headed in.  Along the path, there was a sign to a mirador.  Our guides said we could hike up about 20 meters if we wanted to see the pools from above.  So we trekked on up the side of the mountain.  The hike was extremely steep with stairs built into the mountainside to help with the climb and with the jungle heat and humidity everyone was literally dripping with sweat at the top, but the climb was worth it.  The view was absolutely amazing.  Pictures can’t capture it, of course, but I managed to get a few shots to share.  On a side note, I did not bring my camera with me on this tour as I didn’t really know what to expect at all and thought we would be mostly in a cave the whole time (which we were.) But I did bring my camera phone and it did an OK job.  I also snagged some pictures from another traveler later that evening.

Absolutely gorgeous.  Nothing like sitting there at the top of the jungle with amazingly crystal clear pools of water resting almost secretly below and hearing howler monkeys in the distance with birds flying from the tree tops and the faint and approaching sound of thunder.

After enjoying the amazing view we climbed back down and continued on the original path a little ways to find the pools.  We all had a nice swim there in the refreshingly cool water until it started to rain.  The storm we could hear from above at the mirador was approaching fast and the guides all hustled us out of the water.  We probably could have stayed all day, but they wanted to make sure the truck could make it back before the rain got too bad.  So as it started to rain we all ran back to the truck, piled in like cows to the slaughter, and had a nice bumpy and wet ride back to El Retiro.  Once we returned we were all pretty chilled, one of the first times we had actually been cold in months.  El Retiro has a sauna.  Yep.  A freakin’ sauna.  You know where we ended up next!  Then some showers and some delicious dinner again before bed time.  We slept really well that night from our busy day of adventure.

Unfortunately for me, the adventure came with a price more than the Quetzales I had to cough up for the tour.  I caught a nasty flu the very next day and for the following week I was struck with fevers, coughing, and blocked sinuses.  We also happened to have some of the hottest days here in Lanquin (since we had arrived) on the days I had a fever.  That was fun.  I eventually got better though with lots of water, ibuprophen, and Plants vs Zombies on my phone while in bed.

We spent lots of time relaxing day to day at El Retiro and kept cool in the river.  I even took advantage of the river water with my fever, it really helped keep my body temperature down.  There is a river surf board attached to some rope which you can stand up on and “surf” the rapids, so Steve and Adrian spent some time one day trying to master the art of river surfing.

We also managed to make some furry friends here at El Retiro.  Meesh is the local cat who won’t pass up a chance to get a good belly rub in the sun or sneak some chicken off your plate at dinner.  Then there is Cheese, or Queso, who is the local stray dog who always sleeps by your feet when you are relaxing at the restaurant and follows you back to your cabin at night to make sure you get there safely.  Cheese is a good dog and I love his name!

We  ended up sticking around in Lanquin for quite some time (as I write this we are still here.)  I managed to land a deal with the owners of El Retiro to do a mural painting in one of the bathrooms in exchange for Steve and I to stay and eat for free while I painted.  So we are still here in Lanquin nearly two weeks later while I am working on the mural and Steve gets other things done.  He published a book on the Kindle, a collection of H.P. Lovecrafts published works and he is also spending time working on his own novel.  We read in our guide book that this place can be easy to stick around for a while, and they weren’t kidding :)  I’ll make an update later with pictures of the mural painting I am working on.

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  1. Marti Says:

    awesome awesome awesome!!!!!! Alix I didn’t know there was anything you were afraid of–what a great place to stay–what do they have to eat at the “buffet?” Is your flu all gone? Hey Steve is the sun bleaching out your hair color to make it lighter? The pics are great and can’t wait to see the mural! That pic of the cat looks like he/she is mad? Or just yawning? Love you both!!!!XOXOXOXO Does Lanquin stand for or mean something? xoxo

  2. Jody Kick Says:

    Alix, I would never have known you were afraid of heights after zip lining with you in the jungle ! You were not timid,you never made a peep and you looked like a pro.

    Sorry to hear you came down with the flu. I am so happy you are feeling better. Besides having too much fun, I knew there had to be another reason for the delay in fresh news from your blog.

    I wish I could have tubed in that raging river. It must have been a blast !

    The pictures are amazing, as usual,there are some terrific action shots of Steve. It is so great to see him looking so happy and healthy.

    I bought Steve’s book on Amazon as soon as I got his email. Too cool to see his illustration on the cover. I am patiently waiting for more chapters of Dream Eaters. Glad to hear he is working on it. I can’t wait to see pictures of the Mural you are working on. It is so cool to be able to leave a beautiful piece of Art behind for future travelers to enjoy ! Good going with the Barter. Have you added anything to your “CARART” yet ? It was so fun to see that up close and personal. I noticed that having shared such precious time away with you guys has truly inspired me. I am working on a rather large interesting Art project myself…. My Love to both of you always, XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXMOM

  3. Andrea Mischel Says:

    Hi Steve and Alix! We are here having Evan’s birthday and Father’s Day and Heather’s 8th grade “graduation” and we’re sitting here looking at all of your fantastic photos! Hope you guys are happy healthy and having a great time in Guatemala – we miss you – granpa says to say Hi – love, Andrea, Greg, Heather, Evan, Granpa, Alan, Gina and Ashley (and Jody of course)

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