Semuc Champey: “It’s the most beautiful place in Central America – maybe even the world,” an enthusiastic 18-year-old Canadian tells us.
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.
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.
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.
A series of gorgeous turquoise pools have dissolved into the bridge, each connected to the lower one by a cascade of short waterfalls.
Butterflies and hummingbirds dance among the flowers at the edge of the pools and cichlids sparkle in the clear water.
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.
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.