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.
Note: We didn’t have a waterproof camera to take pictures of the cave inside or outside. If you have pictures, or plan on visiting the caves, we would love to showcase your pictures on this post. Thank you!
Semuc Champey Caves
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.
A Candle Leads the Way
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.
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The cave was masked in darkness, and 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.
Swimming in a Cave
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.
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.
Budget Travel Tips
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.