Now Accepting Applications!

We’re building a community of “backpacktivists” that are socially, environmentally, and politically aware of their impact in the communities they travel to and live in. We work with our local partners on community-requested projects to uncover the intricacies of each place we go to.

To explore Guatemala is to explore extremes. From black beaches to highland forests, from tropical jungles to volcanic peaks, the landscape strains the imagination. But it goes beyond geography. We’ll go from coast to coast exploring the paradox of how malnutrition can grow in a land of lush and fertile farmland. We’ll discover how histories of violence have informed present day resistance. This is a journey you just shouldn’t miss.

Now Accepting Applications!

[currency_change default=”USD”]

2019 Fees + Community Contribution

[currency_amount cad=”$3,750 CAD + $750 CAD” usd=”$3,400 USD + $675 USD”]

July 12 – August 20, 2019
  • Experience a sunrise above the clouds on the summit of one of Central America’s highest peaks.
  • Go off the grid on a multi-day hike that takes you from the indigenous Ixil Triangle to the majestic Cuchumatanes – all while hearing personal accounts of Guatemala’s civil war from the people most affected by it.
  • See firsthand the impacts of international mining operations in the Polochic Valley and learn the ropes of human rights accompaniment.
  • Get lazy in the turquoise waters of Semuc Champey and go rafting down the Rio Cahabón!
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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  – Guatemala City

We will begin our adventure in Guatemala’s big and bustling capital of Guatemala City! Following arrivals at La Aurora International Airport, we’ll get acclimatized to the sights, smells, sounds, and smiles of the region. We’ll explore the city’s historical centre, visiting the National Palace where 10,000 peaceful protesters recently forced the resignation (and arrest) of the President. We’ll also connect with Casa de La Memoria to learn about Guatemala’s continued struggle for justice and reconciliation after years of conflict.

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’ll team up with Escuela La Paz for Spanish lessons and learn about incredible local initiatives such as EDELAC or “School of the Street”, an elementary school that works in the underserved neighbourhood of Las Rosas.

But no visit to the Xela Valley is complete without a climb of one of its iconic peaks! On our last day, we’ll set out at midnight and take on an epic hike of Volcán Santa Maria. It’ll be an unforgettable journey as we push ourselves physically to be rewarded with an incomparable sunrise above the clouds!

The Hub & Growing Change – San Juan La Laguna

After another journey via chicken bus, we’ll arrive in the lakeside town of San Juan La Laguna and settle into OG’s Guatemala Hub. The Hub is a physical embodiment of OG’s culture, philosophy, and mission. It is a place where solidarity is cultivated between participants and local partners through conversation and collaborative projects. We will spend our time working alongside different associations and experimenting with permaculture, medicinal plants, water catchment systems, and/or sustainable construction.

Trekking through History – Nebaj to Todos Santos

After our time at the Hub, we’ll journey north to the Ixil Triangle and the town of Nebaj. After a brief orientation in one of Guatemala’s most war-affected regions, we will set off on a three-day trek northwest across the majestic Cuchumatanes mountains to Todos Santos, passing war memorials and sacred Mayan sites. We will see the woven textile and agricultural economies unique to the area and commune with the region’s rural peoples and culture.

Community Constructions – Tzibal

In the incredibly isolated canton of Tzibal, we’ll be living with local families and working alongside the community constructing the Cancha, an innovative outdoor community centre, and its surrounding organic garden and composting facilities. Alternatively, we may also collaborate on implementing small-scale community-requested projects developed at the Hub.

Lazy & Crazy in Lanquín

After some work, we’ll get some good R&R 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 also be treated to a big buffet dinner at El Retiro to cap our 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!

Following that, we will gear up and set off down the Rio Cahabón for a day of white-water rafting. We will paddle a jungle route that’s been rated one of the world’s best! After our adrenaline rush, we’ll take a step back to collaborate with local tourism and development initiative Asociación de Turismo y Desarrollo Ecologico de Saquijá (ADETES).

Digging for Development – El Estor

The Rio Cahabón will take us to the Polochic Valley where we will be met riverside by local activist Angelica. She’ll escort us to the isolated communities of Lote Ocho and 8 de Agosto where we will hear about their continuing struggles against forced evictions, police/military harassment, and the detrimental effects of the nickel mining operations and African palm production taking place in the area.

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 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

Ana was born in San Jose, Costa Rica and has since travelled whenever possible in pursuit of her passion for education, development, and nature! She has worked as an English teacher in public and private schools in Costa Rica, and volunteered in Quijingue, Bahia (Brazil) on community development projects. After completing her Masters in Translation, she worked with Peace Corps, Costa Rica until returning to the world of NGOs as a Program Coordinator in Riobamba, Ecuador. Now, she’s super excited to be part of the OG family and looking forward to establishing new partnerships, working with and training awesome program leaders, and designing more amazing programs in Latin America!

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