Peering into the darkness ahead of us, our guide handed us a candle each and ushered us forwards. We had been told to expect complete darkness as we explored the Semuc Champey caves by candlelight!
This was to be one of the most unusual adventures of all of our travels. Wearing our swimming costumes, we wandered into the Semuc Champey cave for an adventure we would never forget.
This experience was a far cry from our previous week enjoying the Semana Santa celebrations in Antigua! We had swapped navigating packed streets to the stillness of the Semuc Champey cave system!
Into the Semuc Champey Caves
Laura and I faced total darkness as we made our way gingerly forwards into the Semuc Champey caves.
The candles we held illuminated the huge stalagmites and stalactites around us, giving us a fleeting glimpse of our path ahead. To begin with, it was easy.
We tiptoed through ankle deep water as we negotiated the various obstacles en route. After a few minutes of tentative footsteps, the water quickly got deeper. It first reached our knees, then waists and then finally our necks!
Consequently, we held our candles high above us as we waded further into the darkness, it was an amazing experience!
And then it was time for the ledge.
I took one step further and suddenly there was no rock beneath me!
Instantly my hand shot up to keep the candle out of the water, and I began treading water with the other. Ahead of me, perhaps 15 metres or so was a rocky outcrop. With no other option but to swim, I carefully balanced the act of swimming with one hand in near darkness underground, whilst trying to keep a candle lit! Call this a holiday?
Navigating the Semuc Champey caves
During our time in the caving system, we had to ascend rickety and slippy wooden rope ladders, and crawl through narrow passageways. All around us was water, and all navigated whilst holding a lit candle!
For some people on our trip, it was too much to take, and they turned back to the entrance.
After 45 minutes, we reached a dead end. In front of us, there was a deep pool of water surrounded by steep, slimy cavernous walls. The pool was illuminated in front of us by strategically placed candles. Our guide scaled one of the walls, until he was about 15 feet above us. And then he jumped.
Most of us didn’t see him jump, but we heard the huge splash as he entered the pool in front of us.
Popping up to the surface, he casually asked “who’s next?”. Having seen the difficulty he had in scaling the near vertical walls around the pool, I declared myself out straight away. So too was every other member of our group, save for one brave/foolhardy soul who decided to attempt the jump.
After watching him struggle to reach the ledge above us, I thought how crazy this was.
We were 45 minutes from the entrance, with underground swimming to deal with and rope ladders to ascend and descend. What if he slipped and hurt himself? How would we get him out? Gladly, after some difficulty, he made it to the ledge and jumped into the pool. Mission accomplished, we could make our way out of the caves now.
The final Semuc Champey caves challenge
We followed the same route back, save for one minor change. Our final challenge was to drop ourselves through a small gap between two rocks where a waterfall poured down.
This was unexpected, and caused consternation among many members of our group.
When it came to my turn, I saw the challenge ahead. Essentially a small gap not much wider than my body was in front of me. A couple of metres below it I could see a pool of water, my (hopefully) final destination. Positioning myself over the gap, I lowered myself until I was hanging between the two rocks, my hands clinging to two outcrops protruding from them. And then I let go.
Before I knew it, I had slipped between the two sides of the gap, alongside the waterfall and was underwater in the pool below! Phew, I had made it. Laura followed after me without a fuss, nimbly slipping between the rocks and into the pool below as well!
We had made it!
All that was left was a short walk back to the entrance and the ceremonial blowing out of candles. In need of some relaxation after our adventure, we made our way along the river to the beautiful natural monument Semuc Champey!
The Semuc Champey caves are a really exciting adventure, but we did have some reservations having experienced it ourselves. We’d only reccomend doing it if you are a good swimmer, and not afraid of the dark and confined spaces. There were times on the tour where we felt uncertain about the activity, especially the final slip down the hole into the water. We didn’t feel pressure to do those things though.
Overall the caves are an adventurous and unique experience if you’re up to the task!
If navigating caves by candlelight isn’t your thing, then perhaps a Guatemala chocolate making experience might be more your thing!