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

Experiential education and community service in Guatemala

Backpacking with a Purpose: Apply by November 22!
If you're into cultural exchange, meaningful community service, and off-the-beaten path adventure, apply by November 22nd to secure an interview for your first-choice program!

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.
Locations
North America » Guatemala » Antigua
North America » Guatemala » Guatemala City
North America » Guatemala » Xela
North America » Guatemala
Length
1-2 Weeks
2-4 Weeks
1-3 Months
Language
English
Timeframe
Spring Break
Summer
Winter
Year Round
Housing
Guesthouse
Host Family
Hostel
Tent
Starting Price
$1,100.00
Currency
USD
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

  • Impact
    91%
  • Support
    96%
  • Fun
    92%
  • Value
    94%
  • Safety
    93%

Program Reviews (16)

Maddie
Female

Exciting. Thought-provoking. Hilarious

9/10

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.

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Sydney
Female
21 years old
Toronto
Queen's University

Mayan Roots

10/10

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!

Ramona
Female

Life-Changing Experience

9/10

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.

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Jillian
Female
25 years old
Athens, Georgia
Pennsylvania State University

Guatemala changed my life!

10/10

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.

Laura
Female

New Perspectives

10/10

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.

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Darcy
Male
22 years old
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
University of Alberta

Fair Trade in Guatemala - The Tales of a Newly Inspired Backpactivist

9/10

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.

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Ariana
Female
21 years old
Canada
University of Toronto

Post- OG Blues

10/10

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!!!

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Anne

Worth every penny!

10/10

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.

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Victoria
Female
19 years old
Connecticut, USA
Belmont University

The Best

10/10

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.

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Martin
Male
24 years old
San Diego, CA
University of San Diego

A week with OG in Guatemala: At Origin

9/10

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.

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Amanda
Female
23 years old
Toronto, Ontario
Other

The Biggest Regrets Are the Chances Not Taken

10/10

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.

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Eric
Male
22 years old
Toronto, ON
University of Waterloo

Guatemala Reading Week

9/10

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

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Emma
Female
25 years old
Providence, RI
Roger Williams University

Most Educational Week of my Life

10/10

I went to Guatemala with high expectations. Our itinerary sounded amazing. What I didn't expect was that the nooks and crannies between the activities on the itinerary was where the real experience happened. I rode in a tuk-tuk for 30 minutes listening to Total Eclipse of the Heart and Time After Time on a continuous loop-- the driver's special mix tape for tourists. I had a good bm on top of a volcano-- still one of my proudest moments. I made new connections with incredible people. I learned that I couldn't get rid of my anxiety by facing my fears, but it also couldn't stop me from seizing amazing opportunities. I gained confidence in my own abilities as a traveler, which inspired me in my international excursions since. Most of all, I learned that people, regardless of language, lifestyle, and location are all just as complexly human as I am. As obvious as this statement seems, it took traveling to a completely different part of the world for me to fully understand it. I grew up more in that week than I did during the rest of my college career. If everyone participated in a trip like this, I truly believe the world would be a better place.

How can this program be improved?

I would have enjoyed seeing more of Guate, in addition to the more rural places we visited. Essentially, this boils down to a wish that I could have been there longer.

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Megan
Female
25 years old
Nanaimo, British Columbia

Comfortably uncomfortable

9/10

You definitely get comfortable with being uncomfortable while meeting the most incredible people as you journey across this country.

It is a great program with approachable and knowledgable staff and there is so much to learn in such a short period of time that you feel like you have been there forever but also for no time at all.

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Thomas
Male
24 years old
Toronto, Ontario

Life Changing

9/10

Don't expect to sleep in the lap of luxury on this trip. But if you want to meet good people, see extraordinary places, and expand your mind beyond what you every though possible, then go on this trip.

PS: If you have the option to hike Santiaguito, do it.

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wonderer
Female
24 years old
Georgetown, Ontario
Other

Balance abroad

9/10

This program was a wild ride with ups and downs and loops and turns, and just like a ride you wanted it to continue after it was finished. The days and weeks are well balanced out with activities and educational experiences that range from hiking volcanos to working with women's co-operatives. We got to live with the locals and see the land through our own eyes not just how a tourist company wants you to see it. We learned to create our own opinions and thoughts on issues and diversity that the country is facing. We took those opinions and thoughts and focused on something constructive that we could help with. There were many hard days emotionally and physically but as hard as those day were there was an equal if not greater day to counter it.

How can this program be improved?

Honestly this program was fantastic it had a great balance of volunteering, adventure, learning experiences, excitement and I met amazing people there's not much more I could ask for except for maybe an endless summer.

About The Provider

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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 community we work with, told from diverse local perspectives.

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