Lanquin, Guatemala – Miracles of nature: River tunnel with spa and bat cave

The biggest chance for a Quetzal sighting is between 5 and 6 in the morning. That’s what we were told and so our clock rings at 4:30 am. But even the early morning hike doesn’t change our “Quetzallessness”. The bird remains secret. I open my wallet, and look there is a Quetzal.

Via Cobán we head to Lanquin. The road changes on the last 20 km from a curvy mountain road to an unexpectedly narrow gravel road. The following 10 km to Semuc Champey aren’t much worse, only even narrower. There are two concrete strips at especially steep parts. The suspension bridge with somewhat rotten appearing wood planks is sturdier than discernible at a first glance and completely Unimog-suitable.

Semuc Champey is a very special miracle of nature and one of the best ones in the country. The mighty river Rio Cahabón squeezes with enormous speed through a natural limestone bridge, from where it dashes forward 300 m later. A small tributary partially pours down onto the bridge. Crystal-clear water flows in little waterfalls over lush green rocks in turquoise-coloured pools at the right temperature. They receive their colour from calcium carbonate that’s washed out from the limestone. Walking trails, partially wood stairs, lead to the beginning and end of the water tunnel, to the magnificent pools and to a viewpoint above the site. Access costs 10 GTQ per car and 50 per person. For another 50 Quetzals pp, we would be allowed to camp, but we have different plans today.

One mile in front of Lanquin coming from Cobán a sign points to Grutas de Lanquin. Another tributary of Rio Cahabón shoots out of the cave system, which shall be 100 km long. It is possible to swim in the river. Some hundred meters of the cave can be visited. The high stone steps are covered with a soft soap-like layer and can be basically called dangerous. There might be more interesting and better developed caves in the world. The few light bulbs only sparsely illuminate the scenery. But there are huge cavities as well as big stalactites and stalagmites. Actually they aren’t the reason for visiting; it’s the cave-dwelling animals.

Every evening hundreds of thousands of bats fly from the narrow entrance hole to search for food. At around 5 pm the first animals leave the cave, the main stream starts between 6:30 and 7 pm. It is possible to watch the spectacle from outside of the cave, but the guards leave the light on until 7 o’clock today so that we can watch the mass departure from the inside. The bats are real flying artists. Their flight style has nothing to do with the lethargic movements of birds. They zoom past us by a hair’s breadth, piloted by their radar system dead on target. As the guard switches off the light the generator noise dies down as well. Here we get rid of another 10 GTQ for the vehicle and 30 pp. The guards offered us camping without being asked and it doesn’t cost extra.

Grutas de Lanquin: N 15°34’44.8’’ W 89°59’23.8’’
Semuc Champey: N 15°32’11.0’’ W 89°57’16.4’’ (there are two hotels with small parking lots in front of the bridge where camping might be possible)
In Lanquin at the end of town heading to Cahabón camping is possible at El Retiro Lodge, 25 GTQ pp, shuttle service to Semuc Champey available: N 15°34’52.4’’ W 89°58’32.1’’

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