No matter what time of year, there are always a plethora of activities in Guatemala to keep you entertained. Surfing, hiking, fishing, rafting, volcano climbing, shopping, and more – you can find it all in this bite-sized Central American country.
Volunteering and Employment
There are plenty of volunteering opportunities in Guatemala. While you may need to do some advanced planning, volunteering is a great way to personally experience the country and get to know its people and culture. Volunteering opportunities, if available, are listed at the end of each section. Keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list! Do some legwork, and you may find an even better opportunity than what is listed here.
Volunteers should do some serious research and reflection before committing to a project. Realistically, it is hard to be a productive, valuable volunteer in Guatemala without speaking at least a little Spanish. Voluntourism is a growing trend around the world, and Guatemala is no exception. Other things to think about are the project’s sustainability, whether or not you have the skills to make a difference, if your money could be used better in some other way. For example, building a school may seem like a great way to make a difference, and it usually is. However, do you have construction experience? Wouldn’t it make more sense to hire a Guatemalan to build the school, thus creating a new job?
This is not to say that first-rate volunteering opportunities are not available – among others, EntreMundos in Xela places skilled volunteers in positions that meet their skills and the needs of local communities. However, numerous abandoned school classrooms, composting latrines used as storage sheds, and forgotten chicken coops throughout Guatemala are clear signs that not all volunteer gigs have an impact. The point is to put in the extra time to find a rewarding opportunity for both Guatemala and yourself.
Many foreigners find work in Guatemala as English teachers or employees in bars or hostels in very touristy areas. Formal employment is highly competitive, so unless you’re a citizen or a development worker you should not move to Guatemala to look for work.
Many visitors to Guatemala use their trip as an opportunity to brush up on their Spanish at unbeatable costs. The diversity and quality of schools, in addition to the neutral, singsong Spanish spoken here, makes Guatemala a great place for anyone to aprender español. Many of these schools offer the opportunity to fully immerse yourself by living and sharing meals with a local host family. The best places to study are in Antigua, Xela, or around Lake Atitlán, though more remote language institutes are constantly opening their doors. Spanish schools, if present, are listed near the end of each destination’s section in the travel guide.
When looking for a quality Spanish school, there is more to think about than price. If you are willing to make the trip to Guatemala, you probably want to avoid the cheapest schools, which often employ sub-par, inexperienced teachers. For one week (20 hours of study), plus room and board, quality schools will charge $150-200. In addition, make your teacher considers your motivation and reasons for learning Spanish and is willing to tailor lesson plans to your needs. For example, medical students will want to learn a completely different set of vocabulary than general learners. Some Spanish schools partner with local NGOs to provide students with the chance to volunteer in vulnerable communities.
With at least 28 volcanoes (it depends on what is classified as a volcano as opposed to a large volcanic hill), four of them active, Guatemala is a paradise for the vertically inclined. The majority are possible to summit, and the views from the top are always worth the hike. Unfortunately, armed robberies are common; a group of tourists all carrying expensive cameras make for a nice haul. Our travel guide will give you advice on how to stay safe while scaling some peaks, and which ones to avoid altogether. The following are the volcanoes found in Guatemala: Acatenango, Agua, Almolonga, Atitlán, Chingo, Cerro Santiago, Cerro de Oro, Chicabal, Chiquimula Volcanic Field, Coxóm, Cuilapa-Barbarena, Fuego, Ipala, Ixtepeque, Jumaytepeque, Moyuta, Pacaya, Quetzaltepeque, San Pedro, Santa María, Santo Tomás, Siete Orejas, Suchitán, Tacaná, Tahual, Tajumulco, Tecuamburro, and Tolimán.