Our friends with whom my husband and I were traveling, had originally visited the Alta Vera Paz region in the early 1990s. In those days, they were looking for new areas to take tourists. That particular trip was an incredible adventure because they did it in a two-wheel-drive car that had numerous mechanical problems and had to be pushed up every hill/mountain from the Flores, Guatemala to Coban, and back.
It was the first time they had been back to Coban since that time. On their first visit to the Caves on Lanquin, they camped in the camping area that has now been formalized by the river. However, on that particular evening, they did have a peaceful night's rest, as the then military government made a sweep of the area in advance of a visit by the then military dictator/president. On that night so many years ago, they listened to the sounds of machine gun fire from inside the caves and prayed and hid from the military. Now, over 10 years later, they were returning with us to these sites . . . in a time of peace and better roads.
The road from Coban to Lanquin is mostly a one-lane dirt road with pull-outs. The road is currently in the process of being improved to a paved two-lane road. The government is up for election and road improvements are a way for them to lobby for the votes of the local Achi Maya. It took us 3 hours to get to Lanquin Caves from Coban with stops for construction. It took a total of 4 hours to get to Semuc Champey (including our stop for breakfast) on the way in. It only took us 2.5 hours from Semuc Champey back to Coban (no construction stops on the road).
Lanquin Caves are large, with a beautiful river running into its mouth. The caves are slippery--I would recommend wearing water socks if you plan on going any further than the main room. It is lighted inside.
Our next stop was Semuc Champey. Coban is at an elevation of about 4,500 feet--to get to Semuc Champey, you drive through the mountains and down, and down, and down, and down, and down some more. The mountains are like looking at sleeping dragons and where the road construction was exposing the rock--it looked like the toes of a dragon. Along the sides of the road and up the steep sides of the mountains were field after field of maize, coffee, and cardamon.
Semuc Champey is the place where our friend's car could not get back up the hill those long 11-12 years ago and they were stranded there for 4 days before a truck offered to tow them up and out to the village of Lanquin. On this trip we had their newer 4-wheel-drive Mitsubishi truck and had no problems, as much of the road is now paved. If you don't have your own vehicle, hitching a ride works. We loaded the back of the truck with four backpackers on our way out back to Lanquin.
This natural wonder is where the Rio Cahabon runs into a cave underground, but creates a tremendous amount of back pressure to create a beautiful turquoise series of pools above. If you're looking for a romantic place to have a picnic and swim in fabulous water, this is it.
Remember to wear either rafting sandals or water socks! To get to the pools, you must cross a lot of slippery rock - rafting sandals or water socks will give you gripping power!
Actually, I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.