"The Gringo Retreat and Semuc Champey" Lanquín by Waxbag

Lanquín Travel Guide: 11 reviews and 24 photos

After spending the last four nights in four different hotels in three different countries it was time for some relaxation, and the beautiful backpacker resort of El Retiro outside the small town of Lanquín among the cool green mountains of central Guatemala was the perfect spot to recharge. Perched on the side of a hill looking over the river to the mountains beyond, our accommodation was in the loft of a wood and thatch hut that was reached only by a rickety ladder made by thick branches nailed together and a shower curtain that served as the door. Toilets were of the ecological variety requiring the ‘go’er’ to use separate holes for #1 and #2 with a big bucket of lime to pitch down the hole after #2. Toilet paper has its own bin. The communal showers were surprisingly good with one stall containing a heating element that took the edge of the cold water. Nearby were other huts and a large restaurant area with a bar, tables, hammocks, and a kitchen that put out incredibly good international food. Okay so ‘Resort’ maybe a stretch, but it was great. We had such high expectations of ourselves to travel hard this week and visit many places in Guatemala before returning to Antigua to commence our classes near the beginning of Holy Week. Coming here smashed those goals as it is too easy to relegate oneself to the hammock under the awning with a cold Gallo beer in hand watching the sun make its slow arching journey over the mountains.

Out of the four days at the ‘resort’ we did manage to do something. After a massive breakfast we stuffed ourselves into a local minivan and took the bumpy road 9kms to visit the ‘Water that flows under the earth’, or “Semuc Champey’ in the local Mayan language. After paying the park fee and passing the sign that thanked AmeriAid for donating a pile of money, we meandered over boardwalks that brought us alongside an extraordinary sight which would take some time to discover its full complexity. This area is completely covered in mountains of limestone. Limestone dissolves easily with the rains and over time leaves caves and other oddities like Semuc Champey. A river that contains an extraordinary volume of water, despite its narrowness, flows between two mountains before it takes a dramatic fall of about 50 feet through a narrow gorge. A natural spring comes down one of the mountains and spreads itself out thinly among the large trees and ferns of the forest and meets the river. All of the calcium minerals that the spring has dissolved through the mountain have constructed not only a natural bridge over the violent river but a series of deliciously cascading turquoise and emerald pools upon the bridge. The tranquil waters flow for 1000ft spilling from one to pool to the next until it reaches the end of the bridge and falls in thin curtains 80ft down to finally meet the river coming out of the furious darkness of the tunnel. A double-decker river is the best way to describe it. We explored all around the natural phenomenon carefully peeking above the raging waters that roared under the bridge aware of a story we were recently told about a priest that had lost his life after he fell backwards over the edge posing for a photo. It wasn’t until a month later that the river finally released his polish bones through the end of the tunnel (ten cuidado!). Seeking a less dangerous form of recreation, we swam in the cool waters of the many pools with a species of fish that likes to nibble the dead skin of your feet; a ticklish experience. After an incredible day exploring the place where the ‘Water runs under the earth’, we headed back to El Retiro and relegated ourselves once again to the hammock.

It’s a Jungle up there, Cara

When we arrived at El Retiro backpackers and were shown to our ‘loft’, the woman who had the private room below us asked, “Is it as wild up there as it looks?” Perhaps it was a foreshadowing of things to come. That night, I was awakened by a noise beside my bed. At first I thought it was the wind ruffling the palm fronds of our thatched roof which met the floor on all sides. But, it seemed to be repetitive so after several minutes I decided to check it out. I turned on the light but all I could see was a dark bulge moving back and forth on the other side of a thin green screen. Just as I was moving closer to get a better look, a huge black rat entered our room. He stood still for a few seconds as if stunned by the light then meandered under my bed, across the room, and behind more palm fronds in no particular hurry. I just watched it thinking, “Oh great, I’m never going to be able to sleep now.” I turned off the light, laid back down, covered myself completely with the sheet (head included), and somehow fell back to sleep. Not long afterward, I woke up again to the same noise and tried to ignore it but after a while I had to sit up again and investigate. I saw some movement along the fronds and a large black spot (way bigger that the first one) next to my bed. I turned on the light to see a big black and grey cat crouched down watching the moving bulge. I turned the light back off and thought about my options. I decided to let the cat stay in hopes she would catch the rat and I could sleep in peace. Exhausted, I fell back to sleep only to be woken up minutes later in horror by something landing right on my face and poking my eye (thank goodness my eyelids were closed)! Half asleep, I yelled out waking John (who had been oblivious to all of the previous happenings) sending him jolting out of his bed. John slapped the cat in the head with a pillow and the cat bolted out of the room and down the ladder. We went back to sleep. The pleased rat continued its pacing but I tuned it out and slept for a few more hours until 6am when the men with machetes started cutting the grass outside of our hut. The next morning I told the woman in the room below us, “Yes, it’s a jungle up there.”

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Lovely spot with friendly people and amazing little wonders
  • Cons:You may spend a lot more time here than you though. Plan wisely!
  • Last visit to Lanquín: Apr 2007
  • Intro Updated Aug 9, 2007
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Waxbag

“Home is Where You Hang Your Pack.”

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