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  • Experience a sunrise above the clouds on the summit of one of Central America’s highest peaks.
  • Go off the grid on a multi-day hike that takes you from the indigenous Ixil Triangle to the majestic Cuchumatanes – all while hearing personal accounts of Guatemala’s civil war from the people most affected by it.
  • See firsthand the impacts of international mining operations in the Polochic Valley and learn the ropes of human rights accompaniment.
  • Get lazy in the turquoise waters of Semuc Champey and go rafting down the Rio Cahabón!

Program Dates

July 14 – August 22
Applications Closed!

May 26 – July 4
Applications Closed!

Fees + Community Contribution

$3,135 + $750
$2,855 + $615

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Sample Itinerary

*This itinerary is based on our previous experience with the region. Programs change every year based on the needs of our partners. This should give you a sense of what our program may look like.

Orientation  – Guatemala City

We will begin our adventure in Guatemala’s big and bustling capital. Following arrivals at the La Aurora International Airport, we’ll get acclimatized to the sights, smells, sounds, and smiles of the region. We’ll explore the city’s historical centre, visiting the National Palace where 10,000 peaceful protesters recently forced the resignation (and arrest) of the President. We’ll also connect with Paulo from the organization HIJOS (Children of the Disappeared) to tour some of Guatemala’s politically-charged street art.

Language & Culture in the Highlands – Xela 

We’ll then travel by chicken bus through the Western Highlands to the city of Quetzaltenango, popularly known as Xela (pronounced Shay-la). Here in Guatemala’s ladino and indigenous metropolis, we’ll immerse ourselves with five days of intensive language and cultural learning. We’ll team up with Escuela La Paz for one-on-one Spanish lessons (tailored to your experience level) and work with local activists on a host of socio-economic issues. We’ll start by catching up with revolutionary-turned-reformer Willy and learn how Café La RED KAT and DESGUA are trying to create a “Guatemalan Dream” for local indigenous youth.

But no visit to the Xela Valley is complete without a climb of one of its iconic peaks! On our last day, we’ll set out at midnight and take on an epic hike of Volcán Santa Maria. It’ll be an unforgettable journey as we push ourselves physically to be rewarded with an incomparable sunrise above the clouds.

The Hub & Growing Change – San Juan La Laguna

After another journey via chicken bus, we’ll arrive in the lakeside town of San Juan La Laguna and settle into OG’s Guatemala Hub. The Hub is a physical embodiment of OG’s culture, philosophy, and mission. It is a place where solidarity is cultivated between participants and local partners through conversation and collaborative projects. We will spend our time working alongside different associations and experimenting with permaculture, medicinal plants, water catchment systems, and/or sustainable construction.

Trekking through History – Nebaj to Todos Santos

After our time at the Hub, we’ll journey north to the Ixil Triangle and the town of Nebaj. After a brief orientation in one of Guatemala’s most war-affected regions, we will set off on a three-day trek northwest across the majestic Cuchumatanes mountains to Todos Santos, passing war memorials and sacred Mayan sites. We will see the woven textile and agricultural economies unique to the area and commune with the region’s rural peoples and culture.

Community Constructions – Tzibal

In the incredibly isolated canton of Tzibal, we will work alongside host families constructing the Cancha, an innovative outdoor community centre, and its surrounding organic garden and composting facilities. Alternatively, we may also collaborate on the implementing of small-scale community-requested projects developed at the Hub.

Lazy & Crazy on the Cahabón – Lanquín

After some work, we’ll get some good R&R in the backpackers’ paradise of Lanquín. Those not unnerved by the sight of flying rodents will be awed by Guatemalan skies painted black by bats emerging from their daytime slumber! We’ll also be treated to a big buffet dinner at El Retiro to cap our day. The next day we’ll venture out to the pristine waters and turquoise oasis that is Semuc Champey to mellow self-reflection before some candle-lit spelunking and inner-tube river riding!

Following that, we will gear up and set off down the Rio Cahabón for a day of white-water rafting and riverside camping. We will paddle a jungle route rated one of the world’s best and collaborate with local tourism and development initiative, the Asociación de Turismo y Desarrollo Ecologico de Saquijá (ADETES).

Digging for Development, El Estor

The Rio Cahabón will take us to the Polochic Valley where we will be met riverside by local activist Angelica. She’ll escort us to the isolated communities of Lote Ocho and 8 de Agosto where we will hear about their continuing struggles against forced evictions, police/military harassment, and the detrimental effects of the nickel mining operations and African palm production taking place in the area.

Independent Travel Time

Our crew will also have Independent Travel Time (ITT) – a staple of all Operation Groundswell programs. You can travel independently if you desire but we encourage everyone to travel in pairs or small groups. ITT is the ideal time for you to learn more about your specific interests, volunteering, traveling, or just relaxing!

**Please note that you are not under the auspices of the organized program during ITT. Team members will be given the emergency contact number of program leaders during ITT for any advice.


Finally, we will reconvene in a cozy spot for our program debrief known as ‘disorientation’. Whether we’re chilling on coastal black sand beaches, or gazing out on Lake Amatitlan, we’ll use the time to share stories and take stock of one incredible adventure. We’ll discuss lessons learned and assess our impact as backpacktivists before preparing for the journey home. Then it’s off to the airport for some tearful goodbyes!

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What’s Included?

A comprehensive program itinerary and educational curriculum focused on the issues facing your specific region

Experienced and caring program leaders with you 24 hours a day

All lodging and accommodations throughout the program

Three local meals a day

All group tours, entrance fees, and excursions

All group transportation on the ground

Regular discussions and workshops to help you internalize and reflect on your experience

Support from OGHQ whenever you need it


Independent Travel Time is your opportunity to go out there and explore on your own terms!

  • Trek to the summit of Volcán Tajumulco, the highest point in Central America.
  • Explore the largest Mayan ruins at the world-famous site of Tikal.
  • Learn to scuba on the world’s second largest coral reef in Belize. 


With OG, you live like the locals.
Traveling as much as we do on the Guatemala program, there will be a number of different styles of accommodation. Whether it’s at a youth hostel in Antigua or under the stars on one of our many days of trekking, you can expect to be cooking together and learning to make tortillas with the team. In addition to guesthouses and camping, we will be staying with families in many different villages, which will allow us to delve into local culture. Cold bucket showers are common while continuous electricity can’t always be guaranteed – so come prepared! Though Western comforts should not be assumed, you can expect to better connect with locals and their culture. 

Meet Our Regional Director

Christine Sanderson

Christine fell in love with Latin America’s cultures, landscapes, and language as a teenager living in Chile and couldn’t get enough. She continued her southern adventures working on an archeological dig in Peru and establishing a community library and youth music program in rural Nicaragua, before finally diving head first into the land of beans & corn tortillas (a.k.a. Guatemala).  Since then, she’s led two seasons of OG programs and after hiking in the highlands, experiencing fast-paced local transit, and becoming addicted to Guatemalan coffee, there’s no turning back!  She’s now living and working at the Hub full time as Guatemala’s Regional Director.  When she’s not in the office you can find her playing with the Hub dogs, Luna & Cappu, climbing another volcano, or out practicing her salsa moves.

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