Lands & Livelihoods

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Lands & Livelihoods

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  • Immerse yourself in modern Guatemalan culture and hear about its history from the descendants of the Maya.
  • Get your hands dirty for some defensive reforestation in Quetzaltenango with Chico Mendez.
  • Cultivate coffee alongside real campesinos on the side of an active volcano.
  • Challenge yourself on 2 ½ day trek across the Guatemalan highlands and see the sunrise from the mouth of a super volcano at Lago Atitlan.

Program Dates

February 18 – 26
Applications Closed!

March 18 – 26
Applications Closed!

Fees + Community Contribution 

$1,130 + $95
$1,255 + $105

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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.

Location: Guatemala City, Antigua
Accommodations: Earth Lodge

We begin our Guatemalan adventure at the front doors of La Aurora International Airport but quickly take our orientation to Antigua where our group will acclimatize to the sights, smells, sounds, and smiles of the region. We’ll explore the cobblestone streets of Central America’s historical colonial capital and orient ourselves to the country’s cultural and geographic landscape. Get ready to experience modern Mayan culture and relish in its delectable delights!

Coffee & Culture
Location: San Miguel Escobar
Accommodations: Hostal Antigueño

On our first full day we’ll dive right into explorations of Guatemala’s third largest export and a crop most often harvested by Mayan campesinos: coffee! We’ll head out to nearby San Miguel Escobar to explore the coffee chain from seed to shelf with De La Gente, a sustainable agricultural cooperative. We will join founding members Filiberto and Timoteo on the slopes of Volcán Agua where we will learn to pick, process, and roast our coffee. We’ll then sit down with our hosts to share a traditional Guatemalan meal.

Brewing Justice
Location: Xela, Quetzaltenango
Accommodations: Hostal N’oj

After chicken busing through the highlands, we’ll make a pit stop in the indigenous and ladino metropolis of Xela. We’ll join revolutionary-turned-reformer Willie at Café La Red Kat for a delicious meal and an insightful chat about the challenges facing Mayan youth. In the afternoon we’ll scavenge local markets before jumping into pickup trucks and driving through the mountain air to our homestays in Pachaj.

Growing Resistance
Location: Pachaj, Quetzaltenango
Accommodations: Homestays

After waking up to a traditional breakfast of beans and tortillas with our host families, we’ll join Armando and the Chico Mendez Reforestation Project. While getting our hands dirty planting trees, we’ll learn about the role of defensive reforestation and see how culture & ecology collide in this community of Quiche Maya.

Trekking & Temascals
Location: Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan
Accommodations: Guesthouse

We will say adios to Armando and set off with Kuk Tours on our 2.5-day trek to Lago Atitlan. Beginning with an ascent onto a highland plain called Alaska, we will follow in footsteps of guerrilleros through alpine forests and bamboo thickets. We’ll end the day in the town of Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan where we’ll stay in Doña Faustina’s guest house and experience a real temascal, or traditional Mayan sauna.

The next morning, we’ll continue our trek along the spectacular Nahualá Valley. We’ll conquer the infamous Record Hill and cross the Payatza River nine times. Finally, we’ll ascend into the small village of Xiprian and snuggle into the warm home of Don Pedro where bamboo mats, a crackling fire, and marshmallows await.

Home is Where the Hub Is
Location: Lago Atitlan
Accommodations: Tents at the Hub

In the wee hours, our team will wake and hike the last hour to our destination: the Mirador. With hot drinks and oats in hand, we’ll be treated to nature’s light show, a sunrise over Lago Atitlan. The theatrics kick-off with colorful rays creeping up from behind the distant volcanoes of the Antigua Valley before illuminating Atitlan’s own three iconic peaks and finally the lake itself. We’ll then descend down the famous Indian Nose Trail to Operation Groundswell’s Hub in San Juan.

The Hub is a physical embodiment of OG’s culture, philosophy, and mission. It is a place where solidarity is cultivated in and between people through conversations and collaborative projects. It is also a site where OG can test and develop new ways to create positive impact alongside our participants and our local partners. We will use our time to participate in a collective permaculture project that mixes Mayan Cosmovision with alternative and sustainable farming methods.

Location: Lago Atitlan
Accommodations: Tents at the Hub

After a whirlwind week, we’ll spend Day 8 resting our tired legs, refreshing in magical waters, and reflecting on our awesome adventure. We will discuss lessons learned, assess our impact, and prepare for the journey home.

Location: Guatemala City

Finally on day 9, with hearts full of memories, we will return to Guatemala City where our group will say adios and adelante!

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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


With OG, you live like the locals.
With OG, you live like the locals. Whether it’s a youth hostel in Antigua or a roomy tent on the shores of Lago Atitlan, we will be sleeping and eating as a team in ways that reflect a backpacker’s ethos. Grassroots travel and homestays will allow us to immerse in the local culture but living as the locals do sometimes means living without some of the comforts we’re accustomed to. Cold bucket showers are common while continuous electricity can’t always be guaranteed – so come prepared! Be ready to share the wonderful simplicity of life in rural Guatemalan communities.

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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