Paradise pools

Semuc Champey: “It’s the most beautiful place in Central America – maybe even the world,” an enthusiastic 18-year-old Canadian tells us.

Panorama of Semuc Champey
A tiny hummingbird looks for nesting material in the thatch of our cabin

So, we make the 9-hour journey across the rippling highlands into the heart of Guatemala, to Semuc Champey. In the last 20 minutes, we transfer to a 4WD and delve deep into the valley over rough and bumpy terrain.

The steel bridge over the river
Cacao tree

We stay in cabins owned by local Q’ekchi Mayans, whose language is a staccato of syllables that click with consonants. We learn a few words, to practice with the continually laughing, giggling women or the big-eyed little girls, who come around selling “choc-o-lat-e” every day. We watch them making the chocolate: picking big cacao off the trees around our cabin, crushing it in a mortar and adding crystals of sugar. It tastes like sweetened cocoa, which is what it is, I spose.

At the forest mirador high above Semuc Champey
The series of pools are set in a limestone bridge above the River Cahabón

In the morning, we walk a few metres down a jungle path to find the big attraction. Its a truly beautiful limestone bridge that buries the fast flowing River Cahabón, which then re-emerges 300 metres downstream.

The river upstream
Where the river plunges 300 metres down under the limestone bridge

A series of gorgeous turquoise pools have dissolved into the bridge, each connected to the lower one by a cascade of short waterfalls.

Mountain streams feed the pools
Nick dives in
The water is incredibly clear

Butterflies and hummingbirds dance among the flowers at the edge of the pools and cichlids sparkle in the clear water.

Tetras fish sparkle in the water and nibble our mosquito bites
The waterfalls are slippery and make perfect slides
I make it in eventually

We swim and explore the prettiness, joined every couple of hours by tour groups that visit and leave. Three armed policemen patrol past, taking photos of the bikini-clad girls and lingering unnecessarily.

The river reemerges under the limestone pools
Hummingbirds flit between the trees

All too soon, the sun passes beyond our narrow valley and the pools become chilly. We stroll back slowly, sucking at ripe mangoes and collecting our fill of views.

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