TUCKED AWAY IN THE DENSELY forested mountains of Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, lies the pristine paradise of Semuc Champey, a series of turquoise and emerald-green pools, often described as the most beautiful place in Guatemala.
It's name derives from the local Maya Q'eqchi language, meaning "where the river hides underground". The literal translation of the Q'eqchi words, Xmuk-Cham-Pek, is hide-deep-stone. At Semuc Champey, the raging waters of the Cahabon River descend beneath a naturally-formed land bridge through a network of underwater caves. Atop, lays a series of limestone pools, fed from the cool spring waters of the mountains. The external water source of these pools means that Semuc Champey is always crystal clear, untouched by the seasonal changes of the Cahabon River. From above, it's hard to imagine the turbulent water rushing deep below the surface.
Virtually inaccessible to all but the heartiest four-wheel drive vehicles, the Semuc Champey natural monument boasts six stunning tiered turquoise pools, an extensive cave network complete with underground waterfalls, and breathtaking views.
The site is located far from any large settlement down rough, rock-strewn roads. However, the difficulty of getting to this unique natural landscape is rewarded many times over by the sights and experiences awaiting guests upon arrival. Visitors who opt to take the guided tour, which is recommended, will warm up with a rope swing leap into the river — optional, of course — before grabbing a candle and wading through a series of watery caves. The above-ground portion of the tour meanders through the forest before dropping guests at their final activity: a relaxing swim in the limestone pools.