To travel to Parque Natural Semuc Champey, 150 kilometers inland from Rio Dulce, Jean and I opted for the circuitous public bus route with a four hour head start on the direct but seemingly overpriced tourist shuttle. It was a mistake. It took us almost 36 hours and, after the price of a hotel, cost us nearly double. It was painful to waste a day, the roads were in ruins, and the busses were uncomfortable and overcrowded. If the experience sailing to Guatemala argued for ad libbing, the busses to Semuc Champey were the counterpoint. So we took our punches, but arrived at our hostel unscathed. Nestled into a corner of the jungle formed by the junction of the park’s edge and the Rio Cahabon, the beautiful El Portal Hostel invited us to forget the stressful journey. With a refreshing sunset dip in the river, we obliged.
The next morning we awoke to birdsong and a hearty breakfast, and hiked into the park. Semuc Champey means, “where the river hides under the earth” in the indigenous language of Q’eqchi, which is still common in rural Guatemala. The park features a sequence of emerald pools trickling peacefully over an immense slab of rock. It looks placid, but it’s a facade. The muddy Rio Cahabon roars at either end, and passes unnoticed beneath the rocks. It was impressive, unique, and pretty, but we saw the whole park in two hours, which left us uncertain it had been worth the trouble. I might have spent a few days in the surrounding forest, but July first loomed, so we contented ourselves to leave early on the third day.
We took the shuttle.