High School Abroad in Guatemala
Guatemala offers a variety of options to high schoolers interested in visiting this small Central American gem. Get an in-depth look at the country by participating in a Spanish immersion program, exploring the area on a teen travel tour, or volunteering during your time overseas. Both affordable and unique, this country is a great opportunity for adventurous students.
Spend time exploring Antigua, Guatemala's former capital, a popular destination boasting an impressive history, vibrant culture, and colonial charm. Or head to Chichicastenango, a small Guatemalan village known for its indigenous influences and preservation of traditional culture.
High school in Guatemala is best for students who like learning Spanish, history, volunteering, nature, wildlife conservation, the ocean, and the jungle.
Photo Credits: Rémi.
If you're interested in going overseas to Guatemala, you can choose from:
- A teen travel tour
- A Spanish immersion program
Teen Travel Tour
Teen travel tours in Guatemala allow students to learn Spanish, experience Guatemalan culture, and visit its nature reserves while exploring different corners of the country. Typically, a teen travel tour in Guatemala will focus on a theme like wildlife, environmental preservation, Spanish immersion, or adventure travel. Most are short-term and run during school holidays (winter, spring, and summer breaks).
Spanish Immersion Program
Spanish immersion programs will have high schoolers participating in intensive Spanish classes, lasting from a couple weeks to a few months. Most programs allow you to select the amount of hours you study per day and per week. Students have the opportunity to live with a host family and practice Spanish both in and outside of class.
Guatemala is one of the more accessible destinations for high schoolers to volunteer abroad or participate in a service learning program (which combines classroom education and volunteer projects). Some level of Spanish may be required. Often, volunteer projects will focus on an aspect of community development (e.g. building houses) or environmental preservation.
Planning Your Trip
UK, Australian, and United States citizens can stay in Guatemala for up to 90 days on a tourist visa. Canadian citizens can stay up to 30 days. High school students participating in travel programs are typically given assistance with visa applications.
Options for student housing differ based on the type of program a student selects. Homestays are common in both language immersion and volunteer-based teen travel programs. This is a wonderful option for high schoolers who wish to experience the Guatemalan culture firsthand and become part of a Guatemalan family. Teen travel tours usually provide students with shared hotel accommodation or hostel rooms from destination to destination.
If you’re traveling from North America to Guatemala, flights can cost as little as $400 to $600 USD, while those coming from Europe pay around $800.
Guatemala is inexpensive in comparison to Western European and North American countries. Students budgeting for transportation, nights out, food, and additional expenses should expect to spend about $15 USD a day.
Program costs in Guatemala vary based on type of housing, how much travel is included, length of stay, and included amenities. A week long Spanish immersion program can cost around $200 per week, while a teen travel tour can cost up to $6,750 for a month.
In many parts of Guatemala, it's typical to say hello to everyone you meet -- buenos días and buenos tardes will do nicely. Air kisses and handshakes are both used as a form of greeting, but people of the opposite sex should be wary of what the other person is comfortable with. Always ask for permission before taking photos of locals.
Packing for Guatemala is simple, as the weather is balmy year-round. The average temperature in the country is around 72 degrees Fahrenheit (22 degrees Celsius) with some humidity. The dry season is from November to April, and the rainy season from May to October. Be sure to pack:
- Breathable clothing
- A swimsuit
- Insect repellent
- A hat
- Waterproof jacket
- Solid walking shoes for outdoor adventures
- A 120V/60hz power and voltage converter
- Gifts for your homestay family
- Flashlight (in case of power outages)
Health & Safety
Traces of the Zika virus have been found in Guatemala. To learn more about Zika and how to avoid getting infected, read the Washington Post's article on Zika precautions.
Students are recommended to receive Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, typhoid, rabies, influenza, yellow fever, tetanus and diphtheria vaccinations before traveling to Guatemala. Healthcare facilities are better in larger cities, but there are sometimes shortages of medication and equipment.
There have been reports of the Zika virus being spread by mosquitos in Guatemala. High schoolers are encouraged to take proper precautions by using certified bug repellent, researching high-risk areas before traveling, and covering the skin.
Traveler’s diarrhea can occur, especially when travelers are new to Guatemala. Ensure your food is thoroughly cooked and only drink bottled water. Avoid ice, as it may be made from unclean water. Stay hydrated, take diarrhea medication, and see a health professional if symptoms don’t abate after a week.
Although your program will give you more details on safety, it's best to avoid the areas surrounding Guatemala’s border with Mexico. If you're in a crowded tourist destination, on a bus, or on a walking trail, keep your valuables close to you and be aware of your surroundings at all times. You may want to leave valuables home altogether, as items like jewelry, phones, and cameras can attract theft and scamming.
Women should be particularly cautious when traveling in Guatemala, particularly at night. Stay in larger groups and avoid dark areas.
Use modern, intracity buses with prepaid fairs whenever possible. Do not hail taxis on the street in Guatemala. Instead, use radio dispatched Taxi Amarillo or hotel taxis.
Be discreet when carrying or using cash. Be aware of card skimming at ATMS, and try not to use public ATMS whenever possible.
Avoid any local demonstrations as they can turn violent without warning. Be mindful and respect of local residents and traditions, as indigenous Guatemalans have been known to detain foreigners who have disrespected customs held sacred.