Semuc Champey and the Kan'Ba Caves

Semuc Champey Travel Blog

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The river that we tubed down

What a day! We decided to go on the organised tour from our youth hostel to Semuc Champey and the Kan'Ba Caves, as everyone had been raving about it and said that it was a 'must'. So at 9am we set off for the journey there, thinking it would be a minibus taking us. It was, however, something that could no better be described than a glorified cattle truck which took us! We all had to stand in the back bit of the truck and hold onto these metal bars which kept us from falling out. We thought that this would just be taking us down to the village where a minibus would be waiting for us (as a 4x4 was better to get up to our hostel), but twenty minutes later we were still swaying about in the back! It was a serious body work out trying to keep upright, so by the time we arrived our bodies were already feeling very tired.

Rusty excited about something


We arrived and got ourselves sorted into our swimming stuff and trainers (a particularly good look, especially with my white socks) and we then went along the Cahabon river for a couple of minutes until we came to a little swing. There were about 20 of us in our group from the hostel, and we all had a go swinging out across the river for about 10m before we jumped off into the river. It was really good fun, but the river was pretty fast flowing so it was quite an effort to swim across to the side. Next we had our briefing for our visit to the caves, and were asked if any of us had any fears at all about it or any medical problems, as our guide said that he 'didn't want to leave everyone in there to bring someone out'. I was starting to get a bit nervous just listening to this, as I've never been particularly good with tight spaces especially in the dark (I'm sure James W will remember from the many times he locked me in the loo and turned the lights off), but I tried not to think about it.
The bridge that we jumped off


Just as this briefing ended I heard someone calling my name and looked up and saw Alex Khosla, who was just  about to go into the caves with a different group infront of us - was very strange! So we had a brief hello and said we'd see each other later. We all made our way to the entrance of the caves and were given a candle each, which they lit for us on the way in. It was really daunting wading through the water into the first bit of the caves, knowing that we wouldn´t be seeing sunlight again for another 2 hours! We were shown some bats in the outer cave, and then began to make our way away from the reassuring sunlight deeper into the caves. At first the water was about 1m deep which was fine, but after a few minutes we came to the first bit where we had to swim as it was too deep to pass by walking.
Sophie jumping off the bridge
So we had to swim one handed, with the other hand holding the candle above our heads to make sure that it didn´t go out! To make matters worse, there were sharp rocks just a few inches from our heads and the way had narrowed considerably. We then made our way up a ladder and through a gap that was probably only 1m wide into the next cave. The guide was really good, making sure everyone got through safely, holding our candles for us and placing our right and left foot one at a time in the right places so that we wouldn´t fall! The journey continued in this manner for another 40 minutes or so, with the caves all varying in sizes, from knee deep caverns where all 20 of us could stand comfortably, to pathways too deep to stand where we all had to hang off rocks to tiny little holes in the cave walls.
Rusty jumping off the bridge for the 2nd time (he asked me to add that)
I really wished that my mind would stop thinking in parts of it, as you could hear the water falling on the outside so clearly from behind the cave walls and I kept imaging huge surges of water rushing in and filling the cave.

I wasn´t the only one who wasn´t enjoying myself greatly. Rusty definitely wasn´t at his perkiest and told me to stop asking if he was ok! So I tried to distract him and pretend that I wasn´t scared either... but I definitely was. The worst bit was when we came up to an internal waterfall. We had to blow out our candles (although most of them had gone out from the spray) and make our way through a small gap in the rocks before holding a rope and going through the waterfall to a tiny cavern behind (about 2m x1m) before making our way up another ladder.

The beautiful views of Semuc Champey from the viewpoint
I was so scared when I went through the first time and couldn´t see anything that I went back out through the waterfall to be reassured that the path behind did lead somewhere! It was also getting quite cold by this point and you had to keep relighting your candle when it went out. There was a cliff jump at the end which was into some deep hole in the cave floor. I politely declined.. it´s bad enough jumping when you can see where you´re going let alone when its almost pitch black and you´re an hour away from sunlight.

The journey back, however, was much better, i think mostly because we knew how much there was left to go. The candle´s must have been made to almost the perfect length, as by the end mine was melting about 1 cm from my hand! I´m really glad that I did the caving, and I would recomend any one to do it.

It was definitely an experience.. but one that I´m not going to rush to reexperience.

Needless to say, it was so nice to be out in the sunshine. We walked up the river for a bit and then ´tubed´back down past the caves (basically sat and floated in a big rubber tyre) which was really nice and relaxing in the sunshine. I saw Alex again which was wierd as he was staying at the hostel where we got out of the river. We then walked back up and got our cameras before going to the bridge to jump off it into the river. The jump was apparantly 10m (although I chickened out slightly and went from the level just under the road, rather than climbing up onto the suspension! Rusty did it properly though..  twice!!

Our next stop was the Semuc Champey National Park, which was a 5'minute walk away.

The pools at Semuc Champey
Once inside the guide asked if we wanted to go up to the viewpoint for a spectacular view, and although the sign said that the ´very steep´ascent was 1h15 minutes away, he promised us that it was no longer than 20. He was right, but my goodness, was it a climb!! The view was worth it though, and we sat for a bit and ate our packed lunches from the hostel (wrapped up in banana leaves) before beginning our ascent to the beautiful pools for a well deserved dip! These were no less spectacular and the cold water was so welcoming after our rather strenous activities of the day.

We returned to the youth hostel in time for a quick shower before our Guatemalan buffet, which was, as before pretty good. We had decided that we wanted to do a canopy tour, but after discovering that this was not running, we decided to leave for Antigua the next day. Although the reception had closed by this time, so we were told to just turn up with our stuff at 8am the next morning and just see!!

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The river that we tubed down
The river that we tubed down
Rusty excited about something
Rusty excited about something
The bridge that we jumped off
The bridge that we jumped off
Sophie jumping off the bridge
Sophie jumping off the bridge
Rusty jumping off the bridge for t…
Rusty jumping off the bridge for …
The beautiful views of Semuc Champ…
The beautiful views of Semuc Cham…
The pools at Semuc Champey
The pools at Semuc Champey
Semuc Champey
photo by: jlchatham