Day 46: Lanquin, Guatemala
Semuc Champey sealed the deal.
I’ve only been in Guatemala a week and I’ve decided it’s one of the world’s most underrated countries. I’m not entirely easy to please; sure I loved Mexico but I also hated Belize. I had no expectations for Guatemala. But its rolling green hills and generous people have made me regret that I only allocated two weeks to travel here.
The entire country isn’t worthy of adoration. Guatemala City is dangerous. Antigua is rather sanitized for the Spanish school crowd. Tourism has changed it with scores of restaurants selling expensive pizza and pasta that win over the international traveler. But I can forgive a country for one or two bad cities when its generosity extends to some of the most beautiful landscapes I have seen.
Lanquin is a very small village that has become a tourist destination because of it’s proximity to Semuc Champey. It’s a popular backpacker destination, but it offers more than a night’s stay for a day trip to Semuc Champey.
The town itself is incredibly friendly. The influx of tourism appears to be welcomed but hasn’t diluted the village with tourist restaurants and stores. For breakfast you can still walk up the hill to get an inexpensive desayuno tipico. Just make sure you know how to ask for it in Spanish as no English is spoken.
I chose to stay at El Retiro Lodge over the other hostel in the village because it is owned by Guatemalans. The hostel supports 20 families that are trying to build tourism responsibly. Located on the river, there is also a restaurant, which seems a bit pricey. But the profits go toward building a library in the village as none exists and most of the locals have no access to books.
Despite the desire to spend all day in a hammock, there are many things to occupy your time. On a cave tour our guide caught a spider and a bat for us to see. To his surprise, as the bat moved we saw that it was carrying a hairless baby bat that was barely two inches long.
The tour ended with us sitting in darkness at the mouth of the cave. We waited for a swarm of bats to exit for the night. As we sat in the dark we could hear the eerie sound of thousands of wings flying over our heads. I silently hoped that sonar really worked and none would fly into my face.
The most impressive sight of all is Semuc Champey. If you are going to Guatemala you must see this site. It won’t be the same in 5 years as more tourists discover it. The site is slightly developed, as an official park. It has an entrance fee of $6 which pays for the upkeep, staff who patrol the grounds and the trails that have been created to help navigate the grounds.
I haven’t seen The Beach and I can’t remember Blue Lagoon, but it was one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. I could write dozens of cheesy lines about spending the day in pools of aquamarine water and basking in its unspoiled splendor. But it wouldn’t begin to describe its beauty.
It was one of the few times that the reality actually lived up to the legend.