KanBa River Caves of Guatemala

| by Aracely | 6 Comments » | Adventures, Central America, Guatemala

Guatemala Caves

KanBa Caves courtesy of semucchampey.com

Like our visit to Semuc Champey, we had no idea what we were getting into prior to leaving for our tour.  This point is echoed throughout most of our Guatemalan journeys.  The KanBa Caves are only a short walk from the metal bridge that spans Cahabón River.

After paying the entrance fee to the owner of the caves and the Inn Posada Las Marias, you meet the guide for the adventure.  The guides are provided by the cave’s administration and you don’t have a choice.  Each guide has a good understanding of the caves structure and hidden surface.  This is important when you find yourself swimming in a cave with the potential to kick hidden rocks lurking below.

Each person is provided a single white candle about 4 inches long.  Next, you are led up steep steps into the large opening of the cave.  We entered the cave at ankle deep water and paused to light our primitive flashlights, or candles.  The water came from our ankles, to our knees, to our waist and eventually to our chest.  We all held our candles high in a sad attempt to further brighten our way.

Semuc Champey

View of Semuc Champey from Mirador

The cave was masked in darkness, an exuded a creepy feeling of the unknown.  We continued to walk through the cave with varying water levels.  Occasionally our guide warned us to be careful not to bang our legs on the submerged rocks that rose up from the cave floor, but inevitably we did.

Our guide explained, “You must swim now, make sure you don’t extinguish your candle.”  “Huh,” we thought to ourselves.  You could see everyone in the group make eye contact with each other in an attempt to justify our own personal shock.  I’m not a good swimmer.  Okay, I’m not a swimmer at all and I sure can’t swim with one hand in the air.  Jason was close behind me and suggested I hold onto his neck while resting on his back.  My job became to hold the two candles in one hand while circled around his neck with the other arm.  Jason then swam with both hands, frog style across the dark pool.  Many people had wet their candles during the swim, but we all helped each other ignite them before continuing.

Hostels in Semuc Champey

Reception and Restaurant of El Portal Hostal

As if we were in a small mine, different levels of the cave were connected by ladders made of thin metal pipes held together with thick bands of rubber and black electrical tape.  We had to climb these ladders, which in our minds would be a legal nightmare in the States, but I guess that is truly one of the advantages to adventures in Central America.  Narrow tunnels led to different chambers in the cave, some with still pools of water and others with rushing water falls.   The cave’s walls were decorated with stalactite and stalagmite formations.  We even had the option to climb up a waterfall and jump off a short cliff.  Yes, all this inside the cave and far away from daylight.   Jason went for it.  I on the other hand, was particularly shy and nervous in the darkness of that cave and watched in disbelief as Jason trusted his life with our guide.  He was the only one to make the jump.

The guide makes the journey fun with several surprises that we won’t disclose here.  One bit of advice is to bring a glow stick to wear around your neck.  We wish we did.  We also don’t suggest this tour for those that aren’t physically fit, since some of the ladder climbing is a bit confined and difficult.

Natural Wonder of Semuc Champey

Relaxing in Pools Semuc Champey

For Budget Travelers

Guatemala is one of the cheapest countries in Latin America, so just being there is saving money.  There is no way to avoid hiring a guide for the caves, nor would you want to.  For the more adventurous there are 2 hour, 4 hour, and 8 hour private high risk tours available in the caves, but pray it doesn’t rain.  The El Portal Hostal located at the rivers edge in Semuc Champey is a wonderful base hostel for exploring all that Semuc Champey has to offer.  If you plan to spend a few days there, choose to stay down by the river.  The hostal may be slightly more expensive, but you won’t have to pay for transportation in and out of the valley back up to Lanquin every time you want to visit.  The lodging by the river is much more connected with nature and Lanquin is not much of town anyway.  Larger and more expensive caves can be found in Lanquin, as well as whitewater rafting.

Click to see more PHOTOS of Semuc Champey or watch our HD Travel Video.

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Tags: accommodation, blogsherpa, caves, Central America, Guatemala, Semuc Champey, transportation, travel, Travel Videos

Written by Aracely

Co-founder of TwoBackpackers.com. Aracely has been traveling, writing and taking photos since 2009, when she departed on his first year long travel backpacking journey. When she isn't seeking new adventures, Aracely is usually building Excel models as a financial analyst professional. Visit my website

6 Responses to “KanBa River Caves of Guatemala”

  1. Kyle says:

    I’m a little bit jealous of this one. We heard over and over that Semuc Champey was the most beautiful part of Guatemala, but we didn’t make it there. Based on this, it looks like we may have to head back and see it. :) Thanks!
    .-= Kyle´s last blog ..Get Your Fingers Away from my Bum-hole! =-.

    • Jason says:

      Kyle, it was the most beautiful places in all of Central America… as long as didn’t recently rain. We had friends that visited after a big storm and they were shocked when they saw our video, and how clear the water was. But, it’s definitely worth visiting if in Guatemala.

  2. Sofia - As We Travel says:

    Sounds like an awesome adventure! Good to know it’s so cheap there, seems like an amazing place as well!

  3. Melvin says:

    Sounds like you had another great adventure! We had a similar tour in Khao Sok National Park (Thailand). These kind of tours are great! But I must admit… quite brave of you, if you are not a good swimmer. I also think back on your boat tour.
    I guess there wasn’t a chance to film it, right?
    .-= Melvin´s last blog ..10 interesting sights of the district La Candelaria in Bogotá, Colombia =-.

  4. Andreas says:

    hey both of you are a great inspiration for me ..im going to do all around the world backpacking trip that is the way i want to live my live free..without money just with my backpack ..but until i finish college..i hope i can meet u guys somewhere . The best things of life are free..

    • Aracely says:

      Good luck with your travels Andreas. I’m glad we have been an inspiration. We love to hear stories of others deciding to explore the world. Keep in touch. Our journal page and map page is always update so you can follow where we are traveling.

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