Guatemala's Center


Global Mark : 14.88    Top Five : No5

Ratings by criteria : 

Charm Scenery Culture Tradition Market Relax Fiesta 


 5 5 1 3 2 5 2 3 13.00

Ratings by backpackers :

Surveyed Liked  Comeback  Recommend  Range AVER.
20 100% 95%(19) 100% 11 to 20 16.75

Description :
A tiny village by a river, a huge cave and the local 'eighth wonder of the world'

Comments : This is the place to come to to say 'waow' and relax. But you won't be alone : it is popular with locals during WE and backpackers all year round...

What to do ? Tour the village in 5mn, focusing on the 400 years old church / Tube the river / Relax on a hammock / Visit a lighted cave (Q20) or fight your way in (free except if caught) / Relax a bit more / Bath in the river / Snorkel in search of fishes / Try to spot bats leaving the cave at dusk / Enjoy the view from your room / Talk with other backpackers by a fire /

What you may not like ? Not being on your own / The heat during the day (fortunately the river is nearby) / The dual entrance fees at the cave : foreigners, tourists or backpackers pay twice as much as the locals / The shy bats / The water pump noise at the cave / The slightly more expensive water (the cheapest at El Retiro : normal price of Q0.5 if not cold, Q1 otherwise) / The few mosquitoes / 

How long ? At least two days. 

Where to stay ?  

  • There are two acceptable hospedaje in the village (Divina Providencia and El Centro), both charging Q20 per person in OK rooms with an OK view and outside HW but they can not compete with the setting of the following. The only advantage is that they are now quite empty during the week as most backpackers are heading to :
  • El Retiro, 500m outside town on the way to Cahabon / Q20 per person. One isolated room for Q30 per person / No HW / Go there for the gorgeous setting by the river, the isolation, to relax on a hammock, to meet other backpackers in the evening by a fire and to tube the river down (free) / What you may not like : as it is busy, the owner may ask you to share your room (you may refuse) and it can be noisy as the walls are real basic.
  • There is also one hotel (El Recreo) but the rooms for Q25 are depressing and the other rooms overpriced for what you get. The swimming pool is disgusting and they do not even have hot water !


Backpacker's Tips :  Anonymous  (July 07)
« Much has changed at El Retiro since you've been there. They now have numerous Cabanas (up to 160Q per night), the same hammocks(20Q a night), onsite camping if you have your own gear. They also serve breakfast lunch, and a communal dinner(40-50Q). Their is internet service on site for 10Q per hour. They also have unlimited music downloads for 100Q. They arrange tours to Semuc Champey which includes a tour of the Las Marias caves by candlelight, and a river float (120Q).
Tubing the river is still there as are the campfires, and swimming. It is often full, so overflow guesthouses have developed. I stayed at Jorge's down the hill. 25Q per night for basic lodging, but sheets were the cleanest in Guatemala.
There is a comedor halfway between El Retiro and town near the school that serves schnitzel for 25Q. Quite delicious.
A couple of Guest houses have arisen on the road to Semuc Champey as additional options for the stay.
A group is now running rafting trips for $45US for a full day excursion. Also, if you continue walking down the road past El Retiro for a couple of hours, there is a waterfall to bask and swim in. Just ask people at the next village you come to and the will direct you.
There is now a minibus that goes to Semuc Champey for about 15-25Q (depends on the driver).
Getting out of Lanquin: El Retiro will arrange direct shuttles to GC, Antigua, Flores, and Rio Dulce. Numerous friends rode to Rio Dulce in the back of a pick up on pretty rough roads. Otherwise, the ride on minibus to Coban is 25Q.

Where to eat ? Most people are heading to Comedor Shalom. Indeed, this is the only one open after 7pm. The meal cost Q12 and can be either OK or tasteless. Better if available would be to share the dinner of El Retiro's owner (Q10) or organize a barbecue by the fire...

Others ? Nope ! No banks to change money (changing US$ cash is however OK with some locals) and no internet to send news. There is however a post office.

A cave visit ? If you wish to see the cave in good lightning conditions, it will cost you Q20 (locals pay only Q10). It is usually open until 4pm but there may be extensions if tourists keep showing. This is also a place where you can spot some of the very useful dustbins of Guatemala and those are free to use ! When the lights are switched off and the door locked, it remains possible to visit (just climb the wall) but you will need some courage, powerful lightning and a friend or two to go with (some parts will be dangerous in the dark). The cave then takes another dimension ! At dusk, you are also supposed to see millions of bats exiting their sleeping camps. We however waited until 7pm for two nights (well after the 6pm recommended time) and saw nothing ! The people on a tour who had waited three hours were certainly a bit pissed off by those impolite (or too shy) animals !  I learned the reason later on : to spot the bats, you need to wait inside of the cave ! 

Relaxation on the river ? Beside swimming, it is possible to tube or kayak. The tubes are free for El Retiro's guests and are a great way to relax, depending on the level of water. I was told the trip down from the cave would take 20mn. It took 1.5 hours, as the level of water was low. It was very relaxing on most parts but also a bit painful on the few 'rapids', when rocks were very much visible...

The eighth wonder of the world ? This is how locals refer to Semuc Champney, a series of pools and waterfalls, 10km from Lanquin. This is certainly exaggerated but it remains a great sight and a wonderful place to swim and relax. Getting there can be a problem outside of Lanquin's market day (Monday and Thursday) or WE but, with a little of patience or luck, you should not have to hire a Q125 pick-up... You could of course walk but be aware that the road is not flat and very hot (a few tienda along the nice way however). Walking from Semuc back to Lanquin is easier and can be done in less than 2 hours. Once there, you have to pay the Q20 entrance fee (same for the locals) and are greeted by a huge sign of all the things not to do. Everything is written in Spanish except the last recommendation : "don't leave anything of value unguarded". This is a sound advise and, considering that the idea is to swim, you should leave your important stuff at your GH anyway. You then walk a bit and, if normally constituted, should soon start smiling and say 'waow !'. It is recommended to show up early : at around 11am, tours are there ! Camping is very much possible (with hammock or tent) and free, even for a few days (you pay the entrance fee only once). This is of course the best way to appreciate the setting. You can buy snacks and liquids (Q1 for 0.5L of water) at the small tienda but there is no proper restaurant yet. Bringing a mosquitoes lotion or net is a good idea for a more enjoyable evening. If you crave for action or isolation, you could pass the pools and penetrate the forest to reach the rapids section (and see where the Rio Cahabon plunges furiously into the cavern). Continuing a bit more off the track, you will reach a more quiet section where it is possible to swim on your own (with caution as there are still a strong current). The tranquil pools by the waterfalls may be a safer bet... Another thrill (not tested, local guide recommended) would be to go behind the last waterfall to see the water emerging from below the rock. There are plenty of tiny fishes (throw any food and spot the fight !) so bringing a mask make sense. A few locals are paid to keep the place clean and this is quite a sight as well, although they usually deal more with dead leaves than dead can of coke (that they will throw somewhere else). 

 << Discover paradises

>> Great additional information about Lanquin and the Verapaz

Leaving ?
To Coban at 4,5,6,13:30 & 14:30, although the latest two aren't always working (if this is the case, you can hitch or join the tour that visit the cave in the late afternoon. It should cost Q10 and take 2.5 to 3 hours / East to Cahabon at 8,9,14:30,15:30 and 18. Q5. 1.5 hours. From there, the bus to El Estor leaves at 4am (Q15, 3.5 hours). Considering that Cahabon's people were reported to be aggressive toward foreigners, you may wish to hitch to Panzos ASAP. / North to Flores, you need first to take a bus to Pajal at 4,5,6 or 14 (Q3, 45mn). From there, go to Sebol (2.5 hours) and Raxruja (30mn). There are a few buses from Coban direct to Raxruja in the morning. Bus(es ?) from Coban to Sayaxche also follow this itinerary. / To Poptun in Peten, go to Pajal, then Fray Bartolomeo Las Casas. The bus from there to Poptun leaves at 3am so you may prefer to hitch...

The trip to Raxruja : SSSS / Right + Left / Q3 +18 / 45mn + 3 hours
Waking up naturally at the noises of the three or four excited roosters at 4am, I decided to take the 5am bus to Pajal, the crossroad to the North. The bus showed up at 5:25 but did not leave Lanquin's 'place' until 5:45. So if the roosters could be a little bit late...
We reached Pajal at 6:20. There is absolutely nothing to do there except to wait for another transport as this place is basically a crossroad with a tienda (or the contrary). Fortunately, the bus to Raxruja showed up half an hour later. It was quite full but most people got off at the small village of Canpul, as this was market day (Wed), at 7:25. 
The road up to Sebol was gorgeous (but narrow and therefore dangerous), with superb panoramas, mostly on the left side. We arrived there at 9:35. There are apparently no places to stay there and that is a pity because the river with the small waterfalls is inviting. This is not the case however of Raxruja that we reached half an hour later... 

See also the trip from Coban