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Outdoor Recreation in Lanquín, Guatemala

Lanquín and its caves, along with the turquoise pools of Semuc Champey, are quickly becoming requisite stops for travelers making their way through Guatemala. Recreational opportunities abound, and you may find yourself spending more time here than you had originally planned. Whether it’s exploring caves, white-water rafting, river tubing, or swimming that suits your fancy, you’ll find plenty to see and do in these parts.

From Cobán, a paved road diverts northeast through coffee and cardamom plantations to El Pajal Junction, where there is a turnoff for a dirt road that twists and turns for another 12 kilometers to the small town of Lanquín. Lanquín is home to some interesting caves and has some comfortable accommodations to use as a base for exploring the nearby countryside.

Along the road to Lanquin. Photo © Al Argueta.
Along the road to Lanquin. Photo © Al Argueta.

Lanquín Caves National Park

The Lanquín Caves National Park (8am-6pm daily, $4) lie one kilometer northwest of town. They are several kilometers long, though only a small part is open to visitors. Although there are diesel generator-powered lights, these sometimes fail, so bring a flashlight and good shoes for navigating the slippery, guano-laden surfaces inside. The entire cave system has yet to be fully explored or mapped, so don’t wander too far into the cavern’s core. There are some interesting stalactites to be found here.

Another highlight of a visit to these caves is the thousands of bats flying out from the cavern at dusk. The Río Lanquín also flows out of this cave and forms a turquoise ribbon meandering through the surrounding jungle. It’s perfect for a refreshing swim.

Rafting the Río Cahabón

In addition to the caves, Lanquín serves as a departure point for white-water rafting trips down the Class III-IV Río Cahabón. Maya Expeditions (tel. 2366-9950) pioneered white-water rafting in Guatemala starting in 1987 and was named one of the “Top 20 Eco-Outfitters in the World” by Condé Nast Traveler. The outfit takes groups to both the upper and lower gorges as day trips ($115/155), but it also has various options for 3-to 6-day adventures ($210-678). The complete six-day adventure begins in Guatemala City and includes stops at the Quetzal Biotope, Cobán, Lanquín, Semuc Champey, and the Candelaria caves in addition to rafting both the upper and lower gorges of the Cahabón. A newer option is Rafting Guatemala (tel. 5069-3518), offering 12-kilometer and 19-kilometer river trips on the Río Cahabón ($35/45). Both trips end in the village of Tamax. They work with a four-person minimum. It’s a community tourism initiative based in the village of Saquijá that employs local guides.

A Class IV rapid on the Rio Cahabon. Photo © Al Argueta.
A Class IV rapid on the Rio Cahabon. Photo © Al Argueta.

Both outfitters provide basics such as food, transport, and equipment.

Where to Stay and Eat

One of the hippest backpacker hotels in all of Central America lies 500 meters along the road from Lanquín toward the village of Cahabón. El Retiro (tel. 3225-9251, $4-46) offers a variety of accommodations for all budgets in a splendid setting beside the Río Lanquín. The new suites are tastefully decorated with private baths and electric hot-water heater ($46 d with a/c). There are hammocks out front for taking in the wonderful vistas toward the river and surrounding hillsides. A bed in one of the four-person dormitories costs $7. Rooms with shared bath are also available, and range $13-20 for a double. You can camp here or sleep in a hammock for $4. The palapa-style bar plays great music and is lined with rope-swing bar seats. The restaurant’s creative lunch menu includes tuna melts, chiles rellenos, and Thai eggplant curry, with dinner being a nightly communal buffet experience. The lodge can arrange a variety of activities for you, including inner tubing on the river for $7 (includes beer and guide), transport to Semuc Champey, and white-water rafting.

Also in this neck of the woods is wonderful Zephyr Lodge (tel. 5168-2441, $10 pp in dorm-33 d). The beautiful lodge is housed in several thatched-roof structures and has a fun, feel-good atmosphere along with some amazing views of the surrounding countryside. Shared-bath dorm rooms start at $10 per person but there are also rooms with private bathroom and a deck overlooking the splendid scenery. There’s great food, including delicious pizza made in a wood-fired oven, and a well-stocked bar. Tours include Semuc Champey, the Lanquín caves, river tubing, and a zipline. A swimming pool overlooking the grand landscape rounds out the lodge’s list of wonderful amenities.

On the other end of town as you come in to Lanquín from the El Pajal Junction is Hotel El Recreo (tel. 7823-4069, $20-31), with rooms in a wooden main house or in an adjacent concrete structure. The main house has a lower-level section with shared-bath rooms for $20 (d). The lighting is fluorescent. Nicer rooms with private bath are $31 (d). This lodge is usually empty unless there’s a tour group in town. There’s a restaurant here, too.

Other options for food include Comedor Shalom, near the Hotel Rabin Itzam, with set-menu lunches and dinners comprised of mostly meat and rice dishes for around $2.

El Muro Lanquín (tel. 5413-6442 or 4904-0671, $3 pp in hammock, $6 pp in dorm, $20 d in private room) is a lively hostel that is well located in the heart of town. The restaurant/bar here is a good place to grab a drink or a bite to eat and there’s a nice open-air terrace for taking in the natural surroundings.

Cuevas de K’an Ba

Along the road from Lanquín to Semuc Champey, in the vicinity of Posada Las Marías (tel. 4068-3399), you’ll find these rather interesting caves on the lodge’s private property. There are wonderful opportunities for exploring the Cuevas de K’an Ba by floating through on inner tubes ($5 for hotel guests, $7.50 for nonguests). You’ll see several formations and underground waterfalls before emerging onto the clear, turquoise waters of the Río Cahabón. The trek through the caves involves climbing waterfalls with the aid of a rope or ladder and jumping into pools in virtual darkness. It’s not for the faint of heart. El Retiro and Zephyr Lodge also organize trips to the caves.

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