Experiential education and community service in Guatemala
95% Rating
(19 Reviews)

Experiential education and community service in Guatemala

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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 that remain to this day.

To travel to Guatemala is to challenge yourself physically and mentally – by climbing mountains and volcanoes, and by meeting farmers who see the coffee and mining industries as the cause of their poverty. It is shocking, empowering, exciting, and challenging all in one beautiful country.

At Operation Groundswell, we explore all the far corners of this strangely-shaped country and immerse ourselves deeply in all its culture has to offer. We dive deep into the hard issues of indigenous rights, environmental sustainability, fair trade, and food justice in our various program offerings.

  • Get your hands dirty learning about coffee alongside local farmers on the side of an active volcano.
  • Deconstruct the myths and discover the realities of today’s global food system at origin.
  • Immerse yourself in modern Guatemalan culture and hear about its history from the descendants of the Maya.
  • Get an intimate look at Guatemala’s history speaking with former guerrillas who have traded their guns for farming tools.
  • Brush up on your Spanish in Xela with one-on-one language lessons with the certified school and social enterprise Escuela La Paz.
Guatemala City
Age Min.
Spring Break
Year Round
Small Group (1-15)
Host Family
Starting Price
Price Details
Our program fee includes all on-the-ground costs including a comprehensive program itinerary and educational curriculum focused on the issues facing your specific region, accommodations, meals, transportation, excursions, and two experienced program leaders with you 24 hours a day.

The program fee does not include flights, insurance, or personal expenses such as souvenirs. We also ask team members for a community contribution that goes directly to support our local in-country partners.

As a registered non-profit, we're committed to financial accessibility. Our Financial Needs Grant can cover 15-25% of your five- or six-week program fee and is available for anyone experiencing financial strain, including individuals from low-income households, students, and recent graduates.
Other Locations
San Juan La Laguna, Quetzaltenango, Lago Atitlan, Santa Anita La Union, San Miguel Ixtahuacán, Lanquin, Nebaj, Todos Santos

Questions & Answers

Program Reviews

based on 19 reviews
  • Impact 9
  • Support 9.7
  • Fun 9.2
  • Value 9.3
  • Safety 9.2
Showing 1 - 15 of 19
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Don't think twice, jump right in!

Most people would review trips with Operation Groundswell (or other volunteer abroad organizations) with phrases like "this changed my life!" or "unbelievably amazing, I had so much fun!" or "Wow, I learned so much! The food, the sights, the culture and the people were great, this was so all around awesome!", but truthfully, none of those standards would come close to expressing how phenomenal this trip was.

Operation Groundswell goes above and beyond to truly immerse participants, to teach us about cultural context for the nations we visit. They help us understand why people act and interact the way they do, teach us how to engage with relevant cultural issues in a sensitive and proactive way and ensure that the work we get to do is supporting locals rather than saving them. We got to meet real Guatemalan people and learn directly from them, while we contributed to their projects. They laughed at us while picking coffee beans because 'the gringos were so slow', they shared their homes with us and their kids helped us with our Spanish, they gave us a whole room in their tiny house in the mountains when we were behind schedule hiking and needed somewhere to stay. Guatemala is stunning, colourful and vibrant - as are its people. Their humour and strength in the face of many challenges is inspiring.

The OG Hub in Guatemala is a beautiful property and the program structure allowed us to spend time there to reflect at the end of our travels in a guided and mindful way, which differed from most other volunteer trips that are whirlwinds and send you home without making sure the message sinks in. I will never forget the compassion, dedication, patience and humility that I Iearned from this amazing program and I will incorporate the values of ethical travel from now on, anywhere I have the privilege to go. If you are considering this program, don't think twice. It may sounds cheesy, but it really is the experience of a lifetime.

A bit of advice, leave half of what you think you need at home: clothes, language, worries, and assumptions. But plan for twice the money (in quetzales!) and twice the friendship from not only the Guatemalans but your fellow travellers as well. OG crews will quickly feel like family and the country will quickly feel like home.

How can this program be improved?

A few things I would have liked to know beforehand:
- Bring a sleeping mat if you can fit it.
- Don't underestimate how important good hiking shoes are.
- Bring some casual, non-hiking or working-in-the-field clothes too.
- It's going to be dirty, there will be bugs, the toilets are going to smell, you may not even have access to a toilet for days. Don't expect the same standard of living as your home and don't act like you're better than the people and places you're travelling through. They may not like their smelly compost toilets any more than you do, but that doesn't give you the right to insult them. Embrace the experience and realize that these people have had to learn to live like this because of factors that are out of their control.

Yes, I recommend
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Adventure Time

I chose operational groundswell for it's safety and community impact. Traveling without purpose or learning about people whose country you are a foreigner in seems wrong to me. The organization was very supportive and took us through the steps from preparing to leave, safe in country travels, and what to do when you got back. I would totally travel with them again. Our program leaders were top notch as well as all the support staff. My favourite memories include connecting with people in our homestays and volunteer placements. I went looking to become more comfortable with travel and I succeeded in that with this other.

How can this program be improved?

I think it'll improve organically. The experience I had was awesome though.

Yes, I recommend
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First Time Backpacking

I absolutely love to travel, and I had always wanted to give Backpacking a try. I was really hesitant before making plans with OG because I had no experience backpacking prior to this trip. I decided to go for it, and all of my travel worries went away once i got connect led with the group leaders. I got the chance to Skype with them ahead of time where they let me know what to bring and what to expect on the trip (and there were a lot of things I wouldn't have thought about without them!).
Their staff was super helpful when it came to getting ready and while we were on the trip. I never once felt unsafe when I was with them.
They led me on so many fantastic adventures that I still talk about 3 years later! I mean, who else gets to say they've hiked a volcano?
The only downside I can think of was that our group wasn't very cohesive. That isn't on OG at all, though. It's just a part of traveling with a group. Even despite our many differences, OG trip leaders put a lot of effort into making sure we did fun group activities that met each person's needs.
I loved my trip, and I know you would too. I couldn't think of a better group of people to travel with!

Yes, I recommend

Exciting. Thought-provoking. Hilarious

Exciting: This was my first international experience. I wanted a program that was more than visiting popular tourism sites; I wanted a program that immersed you in a culture and forced you out of your comfort zone. OG did just that in a way that I always felt safe and supported.

Thought-provoking: Through scheduled discussions and impromptu chats on bus rides, OG opened my world to new questions I had never asked. Learning about others experiences and comparing those to my own makes me feel grateful for the opportunities I have had and inspired to give back.

Hilarious: Each memory is filled with laughs. From breaking out in song on bus rides to dancing around with pizza on our last night, my trip was filled with a unique and amazing group of individuals. Stories from this trip are my favorite to tell because I can't tell them without laughing and smiling.

Yes, I recommend
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Mayan Roots

I was not sure what to expect when I arrived in Guatemala, but before I knew it I was on my way to Antigua to start the adventure of a lifetime. The program leaders were very friendly and welcoming and made me feel more at ease while being in such an unfamiliar place. As a group we learned, we explored, we built friendships and grew as individuals. I learned about the complicated history of a country I knew nothing about from the various different people we visited. I explored the beautiful scenery and volcanoes on our trek, every nook and cranny of the cities I was let loose in and explored my ability to communicate despite not speaking the same language. Sharing all of these experiences with the other people in my group, really bonded us and I am looking forward to those friendships lasting a lifetime. Operation Groundswell really allowed me to grow as an individual and become a more confident traveller. I carry my experiences with me and I know that I have learned how to be a sustainable and globally aware traveller. This was such an incredible experience, more people should travel with OG!

Yes, I recommend

Life-Changing Experience

I took on the Mayan Roots Program in Guatemala with Operation Groundswell for two weeks during the month of July. From the moment I arrived to the moment I flew back home, we were constantly learning, moving, talking, performing, sharing, and experiencing. I felt like a blindfold had been removed from my eyes after talking to the locals and learning about the culture and diversity of the country alongside my mentors - whilst creating my own image of this beautiful country. OG really helped take me out of my comfort zone in a safe and supporting manner, teaching me lifelong skills of communication and teamwork. There is no doubt in my mind that I will return for another OG adventure, it's something that HAS to be experienced at least once, but will make you hungry for more.

Yes, I recommend
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Guatemala changed my life!

My time in Guatemala through Operation Groundswell remains the most influential and coolest thing I have done in my life! I would recommend it to anyone ready to get out of their comfort zone and have a life changing experience. I still to this day relate many of my thoughts and experiences in my career to the experience of being in Guatemala.

Operation Groundswell creates an authentic experience that is unlike any other.

Yes, I recommend

New Perspectives

I signed up for the program as a late twenties working professional, I was well travelled and open minded but secure in my sense of self / life. Therefore, I wasn't sure what I would get out of the trip if anything but I was absolutely blown away. I had conversations about things I thought I knew inside and out but discovered a whole new perspective, I was challenged to use my language skills (thanks Duolingo) which improved immensely while I was there. It was really interesting to see how the other people in the group reacted to situations as they were generally a lot younger than myself and had less life experience, observing their reactions helped me to see how each individual person's interpretation and memory of an experience are completely unique to them and it's helped me to interact better with my co-workers and kids I work with back home in Canada.

How can this program be improved?

Emphasize the importance of learning the language so as to maximize the learning potential.

Yes, I recommend
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Fair Trade in Guatemala - The Tales of a Newly Inspired Backpactivist

In 2017 I spent a large portion of my summer in Guatemala volunteering and learning with Operation Groundswell. The trip was filled with tons of laughs, new friendships, and of course, new knowledge. I went into the trip worried that the organization along with our program leaders might take themselves too seriously, but even though we covered some very serious topics such as the exploitation of coffee farmers in Central America, our leaders managed to keep a light-hearted tone and encourage fun involvement in all of our activities. Although we had our ups and downs, our leaders Pete and Aina handled every stressful situation with ease and ensured that all participants felt safe and as comfortable as possible. 10/10 would recommend!

How can this program be improved?

The trip could have been improved by better communicating expectations to participants before embarking on the trip. Some participants were not prepared for the type of lifestyle that comes with traveling to a foreign country where many of the comforts that we are used to don't exist.

Yes, I recommend
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Post- OG Blues

Traveling with Operation Groundswell was an invaluable experience that I owe a great deal of who I am today to. My trip to Guatemala showed me the true meaning of selfness, finding and cultivating lasting relationships and genuinely living everyday like it’s your last. I woke up everyday feeling fulfilled, loved and safe. I was excited to start each adventure even if that meant waking up at 3am to trek to the top of a mountain to watch the sunrise. The hardest part of the whole experience is coming home with the travler blues. I wish I could give everyone the gift of an OG trip! Thank you to OG, Ben & Mikel... I will never forget any of you!

How can this program be improved?

Can it even be improved? Don’t think so!!!

Yes, I recommend
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Worth every penny!

I was a participant on an OG Mayan Roots program in Guatemala during the summer of 2016 and it was by far the most immersive, educational, and overall best travel experience I have ever had. The program leaders, Christine and Nina, were highly knowledgable of the area, the language, and our partners. Throughout the trip, they provided us with the utmost support and were dedicated to their work. The partners we worked with over the course of the trip were so kind and welcoming. It was clear that OG has great working relationships with all of the groups they support and interact with. I would recommend any OG program to any person at any time. It is a phenomenal organization that I full-heartedly believe in.

How can this program be improved?

I don't know if this program could have been improved when I was on it.

Yes, I recommend
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The Best

This was a great way to see Guatemala and learn about the people. It is all mountains and it is so beautiful. We learned a lot about the Mayan people and heard personal stories from some survivors of the massacres. The backpacking trip was hard but rewarding. Come prepared to get rained on. We learned how to make tortillas, went to the marketplaces and tried cool fruits, and took lots of small buses. Our OG group was really close and we had a lot of fun through it all. It was a very impactful experience that I will never forget.

Yes, I recommend
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A week with OG in Guatemala: At Origin

Operation Groundswell provides an extremely unique experience wherein they give travelers insight into social/environmental issues specific to a country by working with different non-profit/advocacy groups who are trying to make the world a better place. They're also realistic with the experience they provide and don't create a facade of 'voluntourists' being able to make drastic impacts in short periods of time. Rather than solely focusing on the volunteering aspect, OG also incorporates workshops, tours, and discussions to create an educational experience that helps you to become aware of some of the issues the country facing.

For the At Origin trip, a large focus of the trip was on the importance of coffee production and how it affects the country both at the local and international level. We were given the opportunity to visit different coffee farms, observe the process of how coffee was made, and live with coffee farm families who gave insight in their day-to-day activities. If you only have a short time amount of time to travel and would still like experience something outside of the typical tourist experience, OG should definitely be put into consideration!

How can this program be improved?

Since this specific program has so many activities planned for such a small time frame, it was hard to fully take in the sites and experiences sometimes. The program also costs more than it would actually be if someone were to go to Guatemala themselves and explore the country for a week; however, that higher cost is paying for a well organized trip with an extremely unique experience.

Yes, I recommend
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The Biggest Regrets Are the Chances Not Taken

I'm the person who gets buyer's regret while I'm waiting in line to purchase something, so I hope you can believe me when I tell you that the price of this trip is minuscule compared to what I've gained from this 9 day program! OG's Guatemala Team and its' partners exhibit the most incredible amount of passion, diligence and perseverance for the causes they stand behind and the projects they have brought to life - and continue to inspire and motivate me every day. To know that I was able to help directly with some of these projects by getting my hands dirty - and also meeting, connecting with, and working along side the people who dedicate their lives to these projects - is an incredible feeling. Staying with local families and riding chicken buses allowed me to get up close and personal experiences that I wouldn't have gotten anywhere else. My mind was blown more than once on this trip, resulting in knowledge and confidence that I have since used to make conscientious decisions in my every day life. I found appreciation for the smallest things that we take for granted. I found humility in righteous causes. I found happiness in its purest form. OG has enriched and changed my life for the better. What will you find during your program?

How can this program be improved?

Honestly, I would not change my experience even a little bit. I, however, do wish I could relive my program over again.

Yes, I recommend
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Guatemala Reading Week

During my first year of University, I really did not know what to do for my reading week until I got an email from my schools International Office.

At first I was extremely hesitant to go on the trip due to the cost, being a student it is quite hard to cough up the money but in the end it was probably the best decision I made.

It was my first trip to South America, and first time independent traveling. It truly was an experience of a life time.

Not only was OG a great way to give back to local communities, it was an awesome way to meet people, learn about different culture and how life is lived when you are not handed all the luxuries of being in a developed country like Canada.

This trip was a good mix of volunteering, education and site seeing. We had great program leaders who helped immerse our group in the culture, made us feel safe at all times and truly added on to the experience.

I would 10/10 recommend going on an OG trip, currently I am looking for my next one!

How can this program be improved?

Cheaper costs

Yes, I recommend

About Operation Groundswell

Operation Groundswell is all about backpacking with a purpose. With ethical travel at the crux of our philosophy, Operation Groundswell designs financially accessible programs that tell a story, addressing key challenges unique to each region and...