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  • Follow in the footsteps of guerrillas through the remote forests of the highlands and see the sunrise from the mouth of a super volcano at Lago Atitlan.
  • See firsthand the impacts of international mining operations in the Polochic Valley and learn the ropes of human rights accompaniment.
  • Go off the grid with Quetzaltrekkers 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.
  • Get lazy in the turquoise waters of Semuc Champey and go crazy rafting down the class III’s and IV’s of the Rio Cahabón!

Program Dates


July 8 – August 17


Program Fee + Community Contribution

$2,795 USD + $615 USD


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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 by bicycle, 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 will take one-on-one Spanish lessons (tailored to your experience level) and work with local activists on a host of socio-economic issues.


We’ll also meet revolutionary-turned-reformer, Willie, and learn how Café Red and DESGUA are trying to create a “Guatemalan dream”. We’ll work with EDELAC, a school for underprivileged youth in Las Rosas, and learn how urban farmers are responding to the country’s food crisis. But when night falls, we’ll get to experience another part of Guatemalan culture…salsa dancing!

Old Paths & New Perspectives – Pachaj

In an epic adventure, our team will set off by foot to the nearby community of Pachaj where we will join Armando and the Chico Mendez Reforestation Project. We will stay in its rustic bungalows while learning about Mayan cosmology and how reforestation is being used to defend local culture and livelihoods. We’ll get our hands dirty collecting seeds, clearing brush, preparing soil, and cultivating some of our own seedlings.


Then we’ll follow in the footsteps of guerillas, ascending ancient pine forests and crossing highland plains. We’ll conquer Record Hills, cross Payatza rivers, and experience the traditional temascal (Mayan sauna). Finally, we’ll descend into the mouth of a super volcano known as Lago Atitlan!

The Hub & Growing Change – San Juan La Laguna

In the lakeside town of San Juan La Laguna, we will settle into OG’s 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 with Che – Nebaj to Todos Santos

We’ll join Quetzaltrekkers, EDELAC’s social enterprise, and 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 week-long 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 route rated one of the world’s best by Paddler Magazine 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. That evening, we will continue out to Rio Dulce for a little decompression before ITT.

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.

Disorientation – Monterrico

We will reconvene on the black sand beaches of the Pacific coast for our program debrief known as ‘disorientation’. We’ll 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 Your Program Leaders

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.

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