Around 175 miles (280 km) from Lake Atitlán, the turquoise pools of Semuc Champey are arguably Guatemala’s second most famous natural wonder.
Although it isn’t that far on paper, the journey from Panajachel on Lake Atitlán to Lanquín in the Central Highlands takes at least 10 hours on a good day—not taking into account the boat trip to Panajachel (depending on where you stay on the lake) or the hour-long drive from Lanquín to Semuc Champey.
The easiest way to get from Panajachel to Semuc Champey is to drive. You can either take a private car with a driver, hop on a tourist shuttle to Lanquín, rent a car, or join a tour like this 10-day Guatemalan Culture & Outdoor trip. There are no local buses.
If you’re staying in San Marcos or San Pedro on Lake Atitlán then you can either take a private transfer or rental car directly to Lanquín/Semuc Champey or jump on a boat to Panajachel to catch a shuttle there. The shuttles all leave early in the morning so you will have to jump on a boat at sunrise or stay the night in Panajachel beforehand.
To break up the drive—and avoid having to brave the terrible road from Lanquín out to Semuc Champey after an already long journey—a lot of people choose to stay in the nearby town of Lanquín and take a day trip to visit the pools and caves instead.
By Private Transfer
Duration: 10+ hrs
Wherever you are staying on Lake Atitlán, the easiest way to get out to Semuc Champey is to take a private transfer. If you are staying in San Marcos or San Pedro then your driver will be able to pick you up there, or you can make your own way to Panajachel and meet your private car at the ferry dock.
From there, you will hit the road and drive up through the mountains all the way to Lanquín, with a few stops to rest your legs en-route. If you are staying in Semuc Champey itself you will need to schedule your departure so you have enough time to drive the last 45-minutes or so from Lanquín before it gets dark (if possible).
By Shared Shuttle
Duration: 10.5+ hrs
The only shuttles that leave from Lake Atitlán to Semuc Champey depart from the ferry dock at Panajachel early in the morning. You will need to make your own way to Panajachel at least 30 minutes before the departure time. Luckily, the lanchas (little ferry boats) start at sunrise, otherwise, you will need to spend a night in Pana first.
From Panajachel, the journey out to Lanquín takes around 10 hours. You will be dropped at the bus station. Most hotels in Lanquín and Semuc Champey will come and pick you up if you have booked in advance.
By Rental Car
Duration: 10+ hrs
The drive through the Central Highlands from Lake Atitlán to Semuc Champey is probably one of the most beautiful drives in Guatemala, even if the road conditions do leave a lot to be desired. You can even swing by Chichicastenango and check out Central America’s largest market!
All you need to rent a car in Guatemala is an international driver’s license and a credit card, although it definitely helps to be confident in handling Guatemalan traffic and crazy mountain roads!
It can be trickier to rent a car in Lake Atitlán than it would be to rent a car in Antigua or Guatemala City, especially considering wherever you rent a car from in Guatemala is normally where you have to return it to. However, if you already have a car or you’re planning to head back to the lake after then driving yourself is a great way to explore the beautiful Alta Verapaz region!
Just make sure you factor in time to check out all the scenic viewpoints en route and plan on arriving in with plenty of time before dark because the hairpin bends on the final descent into Lanquín can be pretty scary, even at daytime!