Experiential education & community service in Guatemala

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About

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.

Highlights
  • 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.

Questions & Answers

Reviews

96%
based on 25 reviews
  • Impact 8.8
  • Support 9.6
  • Fun 9.2
  • Value 9.2
  • Safety 9.2
Showing 1 - 15 of 25
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Olivia
10/10

Guatemala at origin

This program was my first time really going abroad (besides a few trips to Canada). It taught me how to be a conscious traveler, and engage in the communities I interact with through my travels. It was such a great first experience to teach me how to travel well. I really appreciate the fact that OG has ongoing & substainable partnerships in the countries they go to. Seeing that allowed me to value that kind of partnership in any service I engage in. Overall, my short trip was engaging, educational & inspiring. The trip was very fun as well. It fell over New Years and we rang the year in on a permaculture farm overlooking lake atilan, it was incredible!

How can this program be improved?
I should have signed up for a long program, 8 days was too short!! :)
Yes, I recommend
Ramona
10/10

Once in a lifetime experience

This was my first trip with OG back in July of 2017, lasting for 2.5 weeks. Words do not do justice to how amazing and experiential this program was, making wonderful and deep friendships along the way and creating an impact with the locals that has changed my travel mindset today. We got out hands dirty and volunteered for reforestation with local organizations, met with political activists and learned more about the struggled the people of Guatemala face today politically, as well as enjoying nights bon firing, dancing, eating diverse foods, and just creating memories that'll leave you hungry for more. I highly recommend this to anyone who wants to backpack remote parts of the world and gain something from it as well!

How can this program be improved?
n/a
Yes, I recommend
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Eliza
8/10

Challenging but WORTH IT

My six weeks in Guatemala were definitely a challenge. Not only because you spend SIX NON STOP WEEKS with the same people (kinda tricky for an introverted person), but also because the experiences themselves were stretching. Living in isolated rural villages, facing a fear of water and going white water rafting, trekking three days over the mountains with an injured knee, climbing a volcano right after getting the stomach flu, shopping in a local market with a language barrier ... I could go on. Every day was challenging in a new way, and I GREW more than I thought I could! I became more courageous, more trusting, and more open as a person.

How can this program be improved?
Being clear about the physical strain from the outset. I may have picked a different program that was less physically demanding had I known how HARD that three day trek was going to be on my knees. I'm still recovering a year later!
Yes, I recommend
Default avatar
Maeselle
10/10

Operation Groundswell- Guatemala

This trip was one of the most memorable trips I have ever been on. I learned a lot about the history of Guatemala, and experienced aspects of the country that I wouldn't have been able to as a normal vacationer such as staying with Guatemalan families, working with the locals, and eating local foods. Within my group, I made really great friends, and felt that the trip leaders were really invested in what they were doing, and in inspiring us to be more curious about the culture and more conscientious of our travel experience. I would love to do another trip with Operation Groundswell.

How can this program be improved?
Overall, I think this was a successful travel experience.
Yes, I recommend
Karli
10/10

Oh Gee am I glad I travelled with OG!

I absolutely LOVED my trip with OG in Spring 2017- Mayan Roots. Had an absolute blast and became instant friends with the entire group. Our leaders were awesome and it was so nice having one of our Program Leaders actually be someone from Guatemala who could not only give us good tips on the cities but also provided some amazing and personal insight on the theme of our trip. Love the values of the company and that participants are able to choose where the community contribution goes at the end. Homestays are definitely interesting when your Spanish is mediocre, but an incredible experience nonetheless. The Hub is AMAZING! So happy I got to experience such a beautiful country with some amazing, inspiring people! Would 10000% recommend Guatemala and OG time and time again!

Yes, I recommend
Hana
10/10

Amazing and life-changing trip

I went on this trip with Operation Groundswell (OG) this past December (December 2017)! I loved every moment of this trip. I thoroughly enjoyed all of the days planned by the OG team and I loved meeting their members at their Guatemala Hub. I love getting to meet new people from all over the world as well! My favorite experience was climbing volcanoes with the group and then relaxing in the hot springs :) Overall, I recommend this trip to anyone looking to travel and meet new friends!

Yes, I recommend
woman in nature
Emily
10/10

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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Chelsea
10/10

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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Katie
9/10

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
Maddie
9/10

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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Sydney
10/10

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
Ramona
9/10

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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Jillian
10/10

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
Laura
10/10

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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Darcy
9/10

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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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...