Nestled in the mountains in south/central Guatemala is the tiny town of Lanquin. Getting to Lanquin from the Antigua/Guatemala City area requires a 7-ish hour shuttle ride up windy and bumpy roads. If you start from Lake Atitlan like we did then add another 3.5 hours stuffed into a sweltering hot van too small for the number of passengers who purchased tickets. We left San Pedro on the shores of Lake Atitlan at 8 am and arrived at our hostel at 10:30 pm. And it was raining. Hard. Not the best travel day ever. So why the long journey? Why do backpackers make this trek to a place with no major stores or bus stations? Two words: Semuc Champey.
Seumc Champey deserves its own post (read here), and while this is EASILY the coolest thing to do in Lanquin (and possibly Guatemala) there are a couple other activities we enjoyed (or watched other people enjoy) during our three days in the beautiful mountain town.
- Visit the caves
We love caves. We always visit caves if there are caves to visit. These caves are not particularly spectacular as far as formations go, but we got to see tons of bats fly out of the entrance at dusk and we explored via flashlights on non-existent paths, scrambling over rocks in a way that WOULD NOT pass safety regulations in the United States. We also saw giant cave spiders and altars where locals who worship Mayan deities perform animal sacrifice. So… still pretty damn cool. Unless you are afraid of bats or darkness or giant cave spiders or the scorched bones of dead animals.
- Float down the river
Because of all the rain the river was super full and we ended up chickening out on the river tubing and stayed at the hostel drinking beer and reading instead. Some people we had met on our Semuc tour did go tubing and they had a really good time floating and drinking and splashing about.
- Hang out at El Retiro
There are a couple of hostel options in Lanquin and we really debated which one to stay at (the websites make them all look AMAZING), but in the end we opted for El Retiro in hopes of finding a more laid back vibe (aka, no all-night parties). The hostel is located slightly outside of town and has tons of different types of rooms (private, semi-private, loft, dorm etc.). The grounds are beautiful and there is a restaurant serving a small breakfast and lunch menu, and a fixed dinner each night.
Unfortunately we did not book a room ahead of time and all that was available were two beds in the giant round room dorm. This was our first dorm experience and we were shocked with how well we slept in the very full, very large (like 20 beds) room. I think we got super lucky to have such respectful dorm mates our first time out.
We spent a vast majority of our three days in Lanquin just chilling at El Retiro, eating the delicious, although slightly overpriced, food, playing cards, reading and talking with other travelers. Ironically I had absolutly no photos of El Retiro, but their website has some great shots showing how beautiful it is.
Because of how long it takes to reach Lanquin we wanted to stick around for a few days to make our stay “worth it”. Semuc Champey itself was more than enough reason to make the trek, but I am glad we stayed a little longer because it gave us a chance to meet a lot of really cool people and gather and share a lot of tips from backpackers traveling in the opposite direction as us.
Dollars and Sense
Shuttle from San Pedro la Laguna to Lanquin (via Antigua): 160Q
Dorm at El Retiro: 50Q/person (large dorm)
Breakfast and lunch at El Retiro: Q15-Q40
All you can eat dinner buffet at El Retiro (fixed price and fixed menu, which changes daily): Q60 (less for vegetarians)
Cave tour: Q70
River tubing: Q50
TIP: If you are traveling in high season (we were there in January) you really should book ahead. We got really lucky that there were beds available, but all the rooms were booked for all three days we were there.
TIP: Bring cash. There are no ATMs in Lanquin.
TIP: The internet at El Retiro is terrible. Don’t count on being able to stay connected.