Fair Trade

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Fair Trade

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  • Deconstruct the myths and discover the realities of fair trade while cultivating coffee alongside farmers in Sacatepéquez.
  • Brush up on your Spanish in Xela through language lessons with the certified school and social enterprise of Escuela La Paz.
  • Immerse yourself in Guatemalan history and culture while living with a community of ex-guerrillas-turned-coffee-farmers in Santa Anita.
  • Follow in the footsteps of guerrillas on a multi-day trek through the remote forests of the highlands while working with indigenous weaving communities.


40-DAY ↑

Fees + Community Contribution

$3,240 USD + $720 USD
$3,375 CAD + $750 CAD

Program Dates

May 25 – July 3, 2018

July 13 – August 21, 2018

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 & Coffee 101, Antigua

We begin our Guatemalan adventure at the front doors of La Aurora International Airport but quickly take our orientation to Antigua. In the country’s colonial capital, 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.

We’ll also kickstart our understanding of “fair trade” with a visit to San Miguel Escobar and our friends at De La Gente (DLG). On the side of incredible Volcán Agua, we’ll work alongside local campesinos like Freddie and Filiberto learning to pick, process, and roast our coffee.

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 Spanish lessons at Escuela La Paz and work with Y’abal Handicrafts to understand the role fair trade plays in indigenous weaving communities. When night falls, we’ll learn about another part of Guatemalan culture… salsa dancing!

Trekking with Textiles, Xela to Lago Atitlan

Our group will then join Quetzaltrekkers and Y’abal for a trek and innovative service project in the indigenous weaving communities of Pacutama and Chuicutama. After a morning hike up into the clouds of the highlands, we’ll have the chance to work with the women artisans who create Y’abal’s beautiful handicrafts on a community-requested project.

After two days of work and intercultural exchange in these remote highland villages, the team will continue on their trek for an additional 2½. On this challenging hike, 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 supervolcano known as Lago Atitlan!

Growing Change, Lago Atitlan

Our trek will end in San Juan La Laguna at the door of Operation Groundswell’s Guatemala 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.

We will spend the better part of this week learning and working on experimental projects with organizations sharing the collective space at the Hub. Current partners include Xe KuKu Abbaj, a cooperative from San Juan that manages a medicinal plant garden, and Alma de Colores, a social inclusion organization that works with and finds meaningful jobs for adults with disabilities. In the community, we will learn from resident organic coffee cooperative La Voz and visit artisanal weaving and painting cooperatives.

The Coffee Revolution, Santa Anita La Union

Our team will journey to the community of Santa Anita La Union where we will work with a coffee cooperative run by former civil war combatants. These guerrillas-turned-farmers perceive coffee differently: it is not just an exportable commodity but also a symbol of revolutionary solidarity.

Living with another team member in a host family’s home, you’ll have the opportunity to hear their stories about the war and gain a better understanding about the life of a rural coffee farmer in Guatemala. We’ll spend our days collaborating side by side with our host families out in the fields. We may also work on other community development projects, such as the construction of the community’s new beneficio or mill where their coffee will be washed, depulped, fermented, dried, and sorted.

Lazy & Crazy in Lanquín

After a tough two-day bus journey, we’ll get to decompress 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 all be treated to a big buffet dinner at El Retiro to cap off the day.

The next day we’ll venture out to the pristine waters and turquoise oasis that is Semuc Champey to mellow in self-reflection before some candle-lit spelunking and inner-tube river riding!

Independent Travel Time

A staple of all Operation Groundswell programs is Independent Travel Time (ITT). You can travel independently if you desire, but we encourage everyone to travel in pairs or small groups. This is the ideal time to learn more about your specific interests, volunteering, travelling, or just relaxing. Guatemala and the rest of Central America are just bursting with gems! From the black sand beaches of Monterrico to the diving paradise of Belize, there’s no shortage of things to do here!

**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.


Finally, we will reconvene in a cozy spot for our program debrief known as ‘disorientation’. Whether we’re chilling on coastal black sand beaches or gazing out on Lake Amatitlan, we’ll use the time to 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 Our Regional Director

After running programs on three continents in as many summers, Bobby returned to his OG roots in Guatemala to manage the Hub as Regional Director. Throughout his travels he has found himself standing on top of an active volcano in Ecuador, watching the sun set across the Salt Flats of Bolivia, and working barefoot in the rice paddies of Cambodia. But nothing tops the smell of the pine forests back home in New England. When he’s not brainstorming new projects and animals to bring to the Hub, you’ll probably find him doing handstands.

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