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GuatbannerGuatemala Winter Break





  • Experience Mayan culture by living and working collaboratively on a community-based development project with indigenous families.
  • Go off the grid on a journey up into the remote village of Rio Negro, site of the infamous Rio Negro Massacre of the early 1980s.
  • Visit notorious Pavon Prison and the mass grave of “desaparecidos” (the disappeared) and learn about the ongoing fight for justice that still continues decades after Guatemala’s civil war.
  • Immerse yourself in the history, culture and language in Guate—the bustling capital city that may prove overwhelming to some, but is undeniably the country’s real cultural heart.
  • Raft and camp on the shores of the Lanquin and Cahabon Rivers, swim in the natural turquoise pools of Semuc Champey and explore the nearby Kamba caves!

PROGRAM FEE: 1399 (includes 100 community contribution)


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 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, 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, both physically by climbing mountains and volcanoes, and mentally, 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.

View of the volcanos at Lago Atitlan Fooling around in Guatemala Operation Groundswell's hub Weaving with indigenous families



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 Guatemala City or under the stars on one of our many days of trekking, you can expect to be cooking together and learning how 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. Get ready for some cold-water bucket showers and cramped sleeping conditions!



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

Just click the headers to read more!


 Arrive in Guatemala City or Guate. This vibrant capital city is perfect for an OG-style orientation. We waste no time getting right into the sights, sounds, smells and smiles of the country. In between culture talks, adventures into local markets and a crash course in Spanish, we will visit to the Canadian Embassy, the notorious Pavon Prison and tour the mass grave of “desaparecidos” located within the city’s limits. A debrief on the state of the nation from embassy officials contrasted with meeting political prisoners is an important start to getting different perspectives on the country!


 From Guate the team will head north on a mission into the remote flood plain of the Chixoy Hydroelectric Dam. Our journey to the embattled community of Rio Negro is overland and by boat, as the village is only accessible by using the river below.

The community has faced nearly 40 years repression at the hands of their own government and a multinational company that built the dam. The height of injustice culminated in 1982 with the massacre of almost 200 community members.  The infamous Rio Negro Massacre is still a living memory for many of the villagers.

We will stay in a community guesthouse, built as local tourism initiative, and work with our newest partners, Coopertino, and the local community on one of three small capacity-building projects initiated by Rio Negro:

  • Community dock project – Renovating the floating dock is Rio Negro’s only link to the mainland and source of income.
  • Potable water initiative – The isolated community requires a safe and ready source of water, which can only be secured with the installation of additional pumping, plumbing, and filtering equipment.
  • Renovating the community vivero – The community garden and greenhouse requires renovation while the surrounding hills require reforestation.

Outside of our projects, we’ll hike up the ridge line to visit the site there and get a view of the entire floodplain, as well as explore the beauty of the Cuchumatame foothills. We leave the community as we came out: by river, or hiking up to the city of Rabanal!


 No OG program is complete without a proper disorientation. To wind down our program, we’ll travel to Lanquin, site of naturally beautiful Semuc Champey. Camping under the stars, we will get chance to hike up the cascading pools, explore the caves by candlelight and reflect on our time in Guatemala.


 We then return where the whole journey began in Guatemala City. The adventure may have whizzed by, but those memories and friendships will last a lifetime. We’ll share some teary goodbyes, hugs, and fly home.


Get ready to spend six weeks with some of the raddest people on earth…we’re not even exaggerating! Just click on their name to read more about them. 


Lindsey Berk - Backpacking with a Purpose“Life is meant to be spent, not saved.” Sure, she may have lifted this quote from the side of a Wicked Van depot in Australia, but Miami-born Lindsey has adapted it as her life mantra. After seven stifling years in corporate America, Lindsey escaped the cubicles of New York City and found herself nestled in the vines of Mendoza’s wine country as a harvest intern. Skipping her original ticket home, Lindsey toured Andean South America, allowing the breathtaking scenery and dramatic landscapes to alter her outlook. She scored another life-changing role at Peruvian disaster relief organization Pisco Sin Fronteras (an OG partner), where she spent six months as volunteer and Project Manager. It was this leadership experience that convinced Lindsey to not go back to her former lifestyle and to keep on trucking. Her next truck stop was As Green As It Gets, in Antigua, Guatemala where she was able to combine her old life skills with her new life passions kicking up a storm in their marketing and sales department before heading back down to Peru to lead the OG Mind and Body programs this summer. Now after more than two years after leaving NYC, she has not looked back and is psyched to lead other backpackers around the lands that changed her life.


Matthew Orchard - Backpacking with a PurposeAll the way from down under, Matt grew up in Australia and always knew that come adulthood, he would be off to explore the world. After arriving in Buenos Aires in September 2010, on his 21st birthday, he just hasn’t stopped. While bushwhacking through South America, Matt stumbled across the disaster relief organization Pisco Sin Fronteras in Peru, where OG was also working. It was there that he took on the role as Environmental Coordinator and realized the impact a traveler could have on a local community simply though good communication and teamwork. From Pisco, he continued his search for the next altruistic adventure and landed at As Green As It Gets, an NGO based outside of Antigua, Guatemala, that works with coffee farmers and the local community to develop sustainable agriculture practices and appropriate technology initiatives. Matt jumped at the opportunity to join the OG team in their quest for providing a sustainable and culturally significant experience for young travelers on the Peru Mind and Body programs. Now with two OG Peru programs under his utility belt, Matt is super pumped about returning to Guatemala and the land of coffee and avocados!

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