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  • Go off the grid on a multi-day trek that takes you from the northwestern reaches of Guatemala’s majestic Cuchumatanes to the infamous Chixoy Dam – all while hearing personal accounts of Guatemala’s civil war from the people and places most affected by it.
  • Brush up on your Spanish with our partner, Escuela la Paz!
  • Hear the stories of communities affected by international mining companies.
  • Stare into the crater of one of Latin America’s most active volcanoes and get lazy on the waters of the Rio Cahabon on a two-day white water rafting and camping adventure!
Program Dates


July 16 – August 24



To Be Announced


Program Fee



Community Contribution



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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 and Spanish Lessons – Guatemala City, Antigua, and Xela
Following our arrival at the Guatemala City airport, our group will meet with the Guatemala director of the Canadian International Development Agency for a briefing on the country through the eyes of internationals. Moving on to Antigua, the historic colonial capital of Central America, we will orient ourselves to Guatemala’s cultural and geographic landscape. Our aim during the in-country orientation is to provide the opportunity to experience modern Mayan culture and open your eyes to the economic consequences of the pursuit of fair trade.


We’ll travel by chicken bus through the Western Highlands to the country’s second largest city, Quetzaltenango, popularly known as Xela (pronounced Shay-la), for five days of intensive language and culture learning. We will take Spanish classes (tailored to your experience level) and hear from local activists about socio-economic issues such as fair trade, labour policies, land reform, and mining. When night falls over the city, we’ll head to the clubs for a little salsa dancing!

Home is Where the Hub Is: Xela to Lago de Atitlan
In an epic 4-day adventure, we will hike from Xela to the Chico Mendes Reforestation Project, where we will spend two days planting trees and clearing invasive species. We will then follow in the footsteps of guerrilleros across the highlands and down into the mouth of a super volcano known as Lago Atitlan.


After descending into San Juan, we will arrive home at the OG Hub where we will spend the better part of a week learning and working on experimental projects, including the construction of ceramic water filters, homemade photovoltaics, water catchment systems, and sustainable food crops. In the community we will join local tourism initiative Rupalaj Kistalin to clear trails, visit artisanal cooperatives, and work with youth.

Trekking with Che! – Todos Santos to Nebaj to Tzibal
We will join Quetzaltrekkers and journey north to the colourful town of Todos Santos. After a brief orientation in one of Guatemala’s most war affected regions, we will set off on a week-long trek northwest across the majestic Cuchumatanes mountains to Nebaj and the Ixil Triangle, 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. We will then descend into the Rio Negro Valley – location of the Chixoy Dam and site of the infamous Rio Negro Massacre – where we will visit with the embattled communities that call it home.


In the incredibly isolated canton of Tzibal, we will work alongside host families implementing projects developed at the hub – specifically clay pot water filters. There is also an opportunity to contribute to the continuing construction of the organic community garden and composting toilets, which will surround the cancha and community centre – a collaborative project initiated by the community and our 2011 crew.

Get Lazy and Crazy on the Cahabon – Lanquin
We will then decompress in the backpackers paradise of Lanquin. 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 will all then venture out to the pristine waters and turquoise oasis that is Semuc Champey for some mellow self-reflection.


Following that, we will gear up and set off down the Rio Cahabon for two days of intense white water rafting and riverside camping. We will feel the rush of the class III, IV, and V rapid’s with local tourism and development initiative the Asociación de Turismo y Desarrollo Ecologico de Saquijá (ADETES) on a route rated one of the world’s ten best by Paddler Magazine!

All That Glitters Isn’t Nickel – El Estor
The Rio Cahabon will take us to the Polochic Valley where we will be met riverside by local activists Angelica, Maria, and Raul. They’ll escort us to the isolated communities of Lote Ocho and 8 de Agosto where we will hear about the 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. That evening we will continue out to Rio Dulce for a little decompression before ITT.

Independent Travel Time
A staple of all Operation Groundswell programs is Independent Travel Time (ITT). You can travel independently if you desire but everyone is urged to travel in pairs or small groups. During this time, you are not under the auspices of the organized program and are entirely responsible for yourself. Team members are given the emergency contact number of program leaders during ITT for any advice or safety concerns. This is the ideal time to learn more about your specific interests, whether it’s by volunteering, travelling, or just relaxing.

Disorientation – Monterrico
The group will reconvene for a program debrief known as ‘disorientation’ prior to flying home. This will likely take place on the beautiful black sand beaches of the Pacific coast. We will discuss our accomplishments, how we can stay in touch, and what future projects we can collaborate on before saying our tearful goodbyes at the airport.


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.
  • Swim in the natural turquoise waters of the limestone pools of Semuc Champey.


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. Being hosted by local families is an incredible way for the team to become integrated within the local community. Trusted homestay families have been pre-arranged by OG but Western comforts such as continuous electricity should not be assumed. Instead, cold-water bucket showers and cramped sleeping conditions should be embraced!

Meet Your Program Leaders

Mikel Iriarte

Mikel first began volunteering internationally in Peru, aged 18. Three years later he returned to lead teams of awesome backpackvists for Operation Groundswell. Although, the relationships and experiences Mikel has built in Peru lead him to refer to the country of llamas, Inkas and potatoes as his ‘spiritual homeland’, he is now testing his mettle (and his Spanish) running programs in Guatemala. Since finishing his degree Mikel has been meandering across the globe, volunteering and filming along the way. Now a year from home, Mikel is getting comfy on the Guatemalan chicken buses and getting busy planning this year’s programs.

Christine SandersonAfter getting to college, Christine realized that she had way too many interests, and way too many places to explore! She finally settled on double majors in music and Spanish, and double minors in peace studies and anthropology, but she couldn’t settle on a destination! While she’s traveled through much of Europe for various musical and linguistic studies, her true passion lies in Latin America. She’s explored from the southern tip of Patagonia up to the Atacama Desert while studying in Chile, excavated a religious temple of the pre-Colombian Tiwanaku culture in Peru, traveled through Costa Rica and worked for a non-profit in Nicaragua. When she’s not off on an adventure, you might find her teaching a dance class, telling silly stories, singing opera, or drinking lots of coffee.


The Way We See It

It took a trip all the way to Guatemala to realize that Guatemalans don’t even drink coffee. Well, Nescafe Instant doesn’t count as coffee in our minds. But it really is shocking that the country ranked 2nd in high-grade coffee production globally barely consumes the product itself. Such is the essence of the Guatemalan paradox: a coffee producer that doesn’t drink coffee, a natural landscape being pillaged by foreign mining companies for profit, and a predominantly indigenous population governed by a wealthy elite of white European ancestry.

Nestled in Central America, Guatemala has one of the most interesting, yet tragic histories. Home to the Mayan civilization, invaded by the Spanish and eventually ruled by successive dictatorships propped up by the United Fruit Company, Guatemala has had its fair share of political strife. A 30-year civil war helped create “liberation theology” but left many scars that remain to this day. In Guatemala, you will learn that being called “gringo” isn’t usually a bad thing, that eating fried chicken is a national obsession, that reggaeton is the greatest genre of music ever created, and that the term “chicken bus” doesn’t necessarily involve chickens but will involve far too many people in old school buses.

To travel to Guatemala is to challenge yourself physically and mentally – by climbing mountains and volcanoes and by meeting farmers who see the coffee and mining industries as the cause for their poverty. It is shocking, empowering, exciting, and challenging all in one beautiful country.

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