Mayan Roots



Mayan Roots

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  • Immerse yourself in Guatemalan culture and explore Mayan cosmology with the Chico Mendez Reforestation Project.
  • Get your hands dirty learning about coffee alongside local farmers on the side of an active volcano in Sacatepequez.
  • Follow in the footsteps of guerrilleros on a 2 ½-day trek through the remote forests of the highlands and see the sunrise from the mouth of a super volcano.

Fees + Community Contribution 


January 2 – 16 (15 days)

$1,785 + $190
$1,960 + $205

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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, Antigua
Location: Guatemala City, Antigua

We begin our Guatemalan adventure at the front doors of La Aurora International Airport, but quickly take our orientation to Antigua where Guatemala’s vibrant culture and breathtaking landscape collide. Amongst the iconic volcanoes and artisan markets, 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.

After a traditional breakfast of eggs, beans, and tortillas, we’ll dive right into a fun-filled exploration of culture and ecology with De La Gente, a sustainable agricultural cooperative based in nearby San Miguel Escobar. There we’ll join founding members Filiberto and Timoteo on the slopes of Volcán Agua where we will learn to pick, process, and roast coffee.

Highland Culture
Location: 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 see the confrontation of traditional and modern cultures close-up. We’ll start by joining revolutionary-turned-reformer Willy at Café La RED KAT for a delicious meal and insightful chat about the “Guatemalan Dream” and how it impacts local Mayan youth. We’ll meet some of their young chefs and even learn how to prepare a traditional dish or two!

The next day we’ll meet up with our partners at Escuela La Paz, a local Spanish school born out of the armed conflict. After getting some of the local language under our belts with a morning of either beginner, intermediate, or advanced group lessons, we’ll set you loose to scavenge through Xela’s markets. In the evening, we’ll learn about the traditional art of Mayan backstrap loom weaving with our friends at Y’abal Handicrafts, a Fair Trade Certified organization that works with marginalized communities of indigenous weavers outside of Xela.

Mayan Roots
Location: Pachaj

The next morning, we’ll jump into the back of pick-up trucks and take a short half hour journey to the town of Pachaj where we’ll join Armando and the Chico Mendes Reforestation Project. For three days we’ll live with local host families while learning about Mayan cosmology and how reforestation is being used to defend local culture and livelihoods. We’ll also get our hands dirty collecting seeds, clearing invasive species, and cultivating some of our own home-grown seedlings.

Old Paths, New Perspectives

In the morning, we’ll rise early to begin our 2½-day trek to Lago Atitlan with Nické and other members of Kuk Tours, a local guiding organization based out of Pachaj. After we say adios to Armando at the trailhead, we’ll start the trek with an ascent onto a highland plain called Alaska. From there we’ll follow in the footsteps of guerrilleros down through bamboo forests and into the town of Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan. We’ll sleep cozied together on the floor of a local family’s guest house and unwind in a real temascal (a traditional Mayan sauna)!

The next morning, with beans in our bellies, we’ll continue our trek along the spectacular Nahualá Valley. We’ll conquer the infamous Record Hill and cross the Payatza River 9 times. Finally, we’ll ascend into the small village of Santa Clara where a crackling fire and marshmallows await.

Growing Change
Location: Lago de Atitlan

In the wee hours, our team will wake and hike the last hour to our destination: the Mirador. With hot drinks in hand we’ll be treated to nature’s light show — a sunrise over Lago Atitlan. The theatrics kick off with colourful 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 San Juan La Laguna and Operation Groundswell’s Hub.

The Hub is the physical embodiment of OG’s culture, philosophy, and mission. It is a place where solidarity is cultivated between people and local partners through conversations and collaborative projects. For two days we’ll work with local partners on alternative agriculture projects. Past projects have included work on a permaculture culture spiral, getting our hands dirty in a medicinal plant garden, and planting cattails in the lake with the local fisherman’s organization.

On our last night, we’ll gather around a BBQ and bonfire for disorientation. This is a staple of every OG program; it’s a time kick back and reflect, discuss lessons learned, assess our impact, and prepare for the journey home.


Finally, on day 15, 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. Whether it’s a youth hostel in Antigua or a bamboo bungalow 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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