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Guatemala and El Salvador

Road Trip + Turtles + Trekking

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Discover Guatemala & El Salvador

Road trip across the highlights...

Just so you know.. this part of Central America is officially the new 'happening' destination for the adventurous gap year traveller. Guatemala, for example is nestled between the Caribbean and Pacific Oceans, boasting majestic volcanos which have created highlands, steamy rainforests and the stunning creator lake of Atitlan, we can see why the flights are busy...

We have put together this 3 week adventure where you can join a team of leapers for a road trip to see three contrasting areas...starting in Guatemala's central core of volcanos and lakes, before exploring the surf heavy coast and contributing to turtles conservation and nipping over the boarder to the famous ‘El Imposible’ National Park in El Salvador, an area bursting with coffee plantations and natural wildlife.

If you are looking for an 'off beat' destination full of cultural charm and intoxicating adventure, you are heading in the right direction.

A short road trip which combines exploring, adventure and turtle conservation in the new hot spot of Central America.


Program Itinerary

Your time will include 3 contrasting areas to help encapsulate these stunning countries. You'll start inland to explore the volcanoes and lakes, before heading to the big surf beaches to help with the turtles and ending up in El Salvador's famous National park.

The following is a sample itinerary.

Overview

Guatemala

Welcome to Guatemala

Spanning the centre of central America with a foot in both the Caribbean and Pacific seas, it has a string of majestic volcanos running through its core, highlands, rainforests, glorious white sandy beaches and the breath-taking creator lake of Atitlan. All stunning.

Our aim is to take you on a road trip to discover the best of Guatemala before nipping over into El Salvador's famous national park.

Get ready to explore the amazing biodiversity and natural wonders on offer...


Week 1

Inland Adventure Antigua + Lago Atitlan + Acatenango Volcano

Let the road trip begin...

After arriving into Guatemala International Airport you’ll be met and taken up to Antigua for your first night, to sleep off the long plane journey. The next day you'll be taken on a walking tour of Antigua - a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to see the Mercado Artesanal, ruins of the old city and the Mirador viewing point – a chance to put eyes on the magnificent volcanoes that surround the city.

Lago Atitlan
The next day you'll head out to explore the Mayan villages along the shores of Lago Atitlan via a combination of bus and boat. Lago Atitlan is at the heart of Mayan culture and simply stunning, surrounded by three big volcanoes. Here we have arranged for you to take part in a traditional Mayan ceremony to give thanks and promote good health and wellbeing - welcome to the soul of Guatemala.

Acatenango Volcano
After an early morning drive to the village of Soledad and the base of the Acatenango trail you’ll start the overnight adventure to summit the Acatenango volcano, which towers above the landscape at nearly 4,000 meters, trust us - this is a bucket list moment.

You'll trek through 4 different micro climates to reach your base camp where you'll have a birds-eye-view of the nearby (and the very active!) Fuego volcano which has been erupting on and off since colonial times.

The next morning you’ll make the last 45-minute ascent to the summit to be greeted with breathtaking 3600 views of the Fuego volano, Antigua Valley and Guatemalan Highlands stretching all the way to Mexico.

You’ll get back to Antigua that evening for a well deserved shower and a beer! The next day you’ll jump on the chicken bus and head down to Monterrico for the next phase of the adventure.

Accommodation

Mix of hostels and camping on the volcano trek.

Food

Breakfast and lunch provided.
Dinner will be extra in one of the local restaurants.

Week 2

Monterrico Beach Turtles + Surfing + Boat Trips

Turtles and surf

Your next week will be based at the stunning coastal town of Monterrico, with its sandy beaches, and powerful surf. The town is a friendly and relaxed place fringed by the waters of the Canal de Chiquimulilla, which weave through a fantastic network of mangrove swamps. The atmosphere changes at weekends when party-geared visitors from the capital fill up the hotels, so get ready...

While here you will experience:

Sea Turtle Volunteering
Monterrico sits at the heart of the Biotopo Monterrico–Hawaii, a nature reserve that embraces a 20km-long beach, blessed slice of the Pacific coast and includes a vital turtle-nesting ground, abundant wetlands and the small villages of Monterrico and Hawaii.

During June to December huge numbers of sea turtles come ashore – generally during night time – to lay their eggs. As sale and consumption of turtle eggs is legal in Guatemala it is important we help to maintain a balance. You’ll do a 3 night patrol, working with the ‘ARCAS Sea Turtle & Wildlife’ sanctuary who last year incubated 80,000 sea turtle eggs in their nursery. You’ll also help with the hatching events.

Mangrove Forest Boat Trips
Monterrico is actually an island hemmed in by a lush Mangrove Forest bursting with wildlife and stunning scenery. You will go on an overnight boat trip to explore and get to know the mangrove. It’s a very beautiful area and feels a million miles away from the ocean which is actually less than 2 kms away. You'll have time to visit a local farmer who lives on a small island and processes salinated water to make salt and discover the various plants and wildlife that thrive here.

Surfing
Huge rollers crash onto the beaches of Monterrico, however a few kilometres up the coast is a perfect surfing spot for all levels. Here we have arranged for you to have a 3-hour surf session before helping the community with their weekly beach clean up.

Accommodation

El Delfin Hotel, a cool backpacker hostel right on the beach with hammocks, swimming pool and Wi-Fi!

Food

Breakfast and lunch provided.
Dinner is extra in the town or alternatively you can buy groceries from the market and cook at the hostel.

Overview

El Salvador

A hidden gem

Look south of Guatemala and you'll find the exotic country of El Salvador, a country offering colourful colonial Spanish towns, awe-inspiring national parks, coffee plantations clinging to mountainsides and world-class surfing on pristine dark-sand beaches.

‘El Imposible’ National Park, El Salvador's largest national park located in the coastal elevations of the Pacific Ocean in Ahuachapán is your primary destination.

The park boasts over 500 plant species, over 100 mammals 53 amphibians and reptiles, 285 birds and over 5,000 species of butterfly. El Impossible is the country's most important dry and tropical dry forest ecosysystem providing a home for the most diverse range of flora and fauna, all waiting to be explored.

The hiking is also heaven thanks to outstanding 360 views all the way from the Pacfic Ocean across to Guatemala.

Week 3

El Imposible National Park Adventure Rutas de las Flores + Playa El Tunco

Big views, stunning beaches

Here you will spend 5 days in the ‘El Imposible’ National Park, starting with 3 days in Juayúa, to explore the Rutas de las Flores and hike up the Santa Ana Volcano. Think cobbled streets, hot springs, stunning waterfalls, pine forests and dense jungle.

Traveling the La Ruta de las Flores is like walking through the story of El Salvador. It's a searingly beautiful series of villages, each with a mix of colonial architecture in indigenous tones. Those who like the good life can feast on local food, browse the crafts and discover why El Salvadoran coffee is renowned across the world.

The last 2 days will be spent on the Playa El Tunco – one of the most popular beach towns in El Salvador and the best surf spot in the country. The beach is named ‘The Pig’ because of its distinctive rock formation in the middle of the beach in the shape of a pig, of course!

Here you will explore the cobbled streets that cross the shore and find your way to nice restaurants where you can enjoy delicious dishes and typical food, popular bars, and cafés, and sip your favourite beverage while sitting on a comfortable rustic wooden stool.

Relax, kick back and reflect on your amazing adventure during the last few weeks.

Accommodation

Hostels along the way.

Food

Breakfast and lunch is included.
Dinner is extra in one of the local cafes.

Program Details & Costs

We have three departures to Guatemala throughout the year: January, April and September for 3 weeks where you can do everything described above. This program is perfect to combine with Costa Rica and Cuba as the flights are quick and esy and the program dates tie in. Or you can spend longer and include more volunteering by joining our Guatemala volunteering program.

Depart Jan, Apr & Sep

2019: 25 Jan, 25 Apr, 27 Sep

Costs

3 Weeks
1 week inland + 1 week coast + 1 week El Salvador
2018: £15482019: £1548

3 Weeks
1 week inland + 1 week coast + 1 week El Salvador
2019: £1548

Dates Don't Suit?

Don't worry - we can work around this, just get in touch and we'll chat through options more suited to you.

Social Life

Guaranteed. You will be part of a tight team of volunteers, who come from all over the world.

Turtle Conservation

Be part of the worldwide push to protect the turtles on the Pacific coast.

Exploring

Into Guatemala's center and neighbouring El Salvador for adventure and contrast.

Flexibility

Very easy to fit into your longer travel plans and easy to combine with Cuba and Costa Rica.

Weekends

Weekends will be free time. Your project leader will offer advice on where and what to do.

Backpacker Favourites

  • Bike trips
  • Whale and dolphin watching best times March to June.
  • Horse-ride along the beach.

Central America has recently come back in favour with the discerning gap year backpacker as they look for pastures less travelled. Pastures where there's adventure, history, culture and NGO's responsibly contributing to community and conservation issues. Guatemala delivers on all fronts and we have our team in place to pull it all together.

The Guatemala Team

Your Program co-ordinators will be Harold Gonzalez, who delivered our programs in Venezuela for many years, including leading adventure expeditions into the Gran Sabana and Orinoco Delta, with Grace Hilling, a graduate in Environmental Sciences who came from upstate New York to Monterrico two years ago. Grace has developed an exciting outreach program to involve local junior schools with the nearby ARCAS turtle and wildlife sanctuary.

From our beautiful island base of Monterrico with the Pacific Ocean on your doorstep, and mangrove forest giving way to a string of majestic volcanic mountains to the east, they have organised a program, which will show you the best of Guatemala - the adventurous side combined with the long term turtle conservation and community education in this tranquil corner of Guatemala.

A key part of our mission is to encourage local kids to participate in sea turtle and wildlife conservation - to appreciate what lies on their doorstep. It is still legal to sell and eat turtle eggs, so it's important to explain the bigger picture.


Leaper's Highlights

Have a read of what our current Leapers are doing around the world to get a flavour of Leap life...

Misaotra and veloma Madagascar Ellie Harland

10 weeks is no more than the blink of an eye in a lifetime of stories. It’s ephemeral and fleeting. It seems like an eternity that only lasts a minute. One day you’re a fresh-faced newbie arriving, the next you’re part of the furniture and know all the ropes all the while watching countless other volunteers come and go. It’s left me with cuts and bruises, a bag of sweaty clothing and a currency I can’t exchange, but without it I wouldn’t have these bizarre memories and newfound friends.

Don’t underestimate how fast time will fly, or how many people you will meet, take each day as it comes and make the most of it, come with an open mind and no expectations. Be ready to leave a western world, its comforts and its privileges. Here you will see children with no shoes and houses with no toilets, you’ll hike in humid forests and share a bathroom with 20 people, you’ll watch the sun set fire to the sky every evening and swim in the crystal waters, you’ll teach children the alphabet and help the locals build footpaths. Come to be involved and come to make a difference.

I have learned a lot from my time in Madagascar such as a tuk tuk beeping its horn at you is offering you a lift and the bucket you may find next to a toilet is used to collect water to help flush it, I’ve learned I float really well and I like pineapple and that the Fanta here is full of sugar. I’ve learned how to mix cement and sand to make concrete, how to scuba dive and how to hold a brief Malagasy conversation. We have all learned something valuable in our time, even if it’s just a bit of Northern Slang for all those who have never made it up as far as Durham.

I could not have wished for a better group of people to spend 10, 6 and 4 weeks with in Madagascar. I hope everyone enjoys their next adventure. Misaotra and veloma.

Day trips in Cusco and the final project begins Aela Morris

This week has been a bit of a mish-mash. On Monday and Tuesday, we went on tours around Cusco. One to an Inca archaeological site and some salt mines, and the other to Rainbow Mountain. Then, we packed up and took the bus for about an hour to arrive at the Tierra de Los Yaques project.

Our last stop of the day was a salt mine, which was very cool, and can only really be described with pictures.

Tuesday morning was a ridiculously early start (4 am) to leave on the bus to Rainbow Mountain. I was still a bit groggy when we started the hike around ten. Going up was… rough. It was about a 2 hour hike, and even though it was nowhere near as steep as Colca, the much higher altitude made it a tough hike. Sadly, the view is not that impressive from the first base you come to when you reach the end of the trail, you have to commit to walking up a bunch of stairs to the very top to actually see the rainbow effect.

I enjoyed both tours, though hopefully I'll have time to do some sight-seeing in the City itself on the next few weekends we are there.

We got quite a welcome when we arrived to our final project. A conch was blown and flower petals were thrown on us, before we were dressed in traditional Peruvian outfits and introduced to our hosts for the next 2 weeks.

We have only done about 2 days of work so far, but it has been interesting. We helped make the clay that they use for handicrafts, fed an entire shed full of guinea pigs (rip, probably) and prepared the land for planting in September.

Will we become expert farmers by the end of this? Probably not. Stay tuned.

Farming and Teaching in the Karina Community Aela Morris

This morning, breakfast was at 12:30. That's what happens when you leave teenagers to fend for themselves for food. Only joking! This morning, we decided to forego the cold hostel breakfast to make our own breakfast of eggs, toast, sausage, and bacon, which was a nice break from the more traditional Peruvian food that we have been eating during our time on the Karina project. We’ve now completed a week and a half of the project, and it's been a big learning experience. On the farm where we have been staying, they produce almost all of the food that they eat including potatoes and quinoa, which we have been helping to harvest, as it is currently Fall in Peru. Our other jobs on the farm have included taking the sheep up into the hills to graze and moving the livestock to their pens at night.

We also got the opportunity to do some teaching this week. I taught English to 12 and 13 year olds. The teaching has been a bit of a challenge as the school has no English curriculum or certified English teachers, but hopefully what we have been teaching them (basic conversation, parts of the body, and numbers) has been useful. I have also been able to practice my Spanish a lot, as well as learning some words in Aymara, which is an indigenous language spoken by many people there.

At night, we spend our time playing soccer and basketball with Will, our host family’s son. Soccer really is a universal language. You start kicking a ball around and suddenly a dozen people who speak all different languages are all doing the same thing together. And then we all run home because its stormed basically every night this week. Believe me, you have not heard thunder this loud in all your life. All in all, this week has been very physically challenging, but at the same time very rewarding. We have about 4 more days left in Karina and then it's on to Cusco.

Namibia week 1: Camera traps, hiking and tree babies Millie Edwards

Waking up to such an incredible view on day 2 and being briefed about the month ahead by our pretty cool hosts – Andrea and Red, definitely made the journey worthwhile and made us excited for the days to come. After a relaxing morning getting used to camp life, we headed off to set up some camera traps, to hopefully catch some leopard action with the help of none other than Chanel No.5. Finishing the day with sunset beers on ‘the saddle’ was the perfect ending to our introduction of the trip.

Day 3. What felt like a very early start we began our first game drive. The afternoon was a mystery with Red telling us we were receiving our ‘babies’, these were our very own trees which we will care for and attempt to grow during the next month. Imi G and Emily have called theirs Patrick and have treated him like one of the family.

On day 4 the manual labour kicked in. We made a new track by clearing rocks so the car can reach a new destination, which was oddly satisfying. George and Magnus got straight on it, heading up the demolition team.

Day 5 & 6. The two day canyon hike was upon us. After a few shade breaks, food stops and the birth of ‘Lucifer’ (George’s staff), we eventually came across our camp site for the night by the Orange River and without wasting any time we jumped straight into the river to cool down and cover ourselves in mud.

Today we began Permaculture across the camp and visited the local community in the afternoon. Football, Rugby, Netball and a lot of singing and dancing was involved and thoroughly enjoyed by everyone. The kids could run laps around all of us and most definitely dance better than our whole group put together.

With love,

Millie & the team

Settling into Madagascar Life Ellie Harland

Tomorrow is Wednesday which means it will shortly have been a week since many of us met for the first time either in Heathrow or Paris Airport. It’s quite a bizarre phenomenon to put faces to the names of relative strangers whom you have only met previously through a phone or computer screen – of course this was a little daunting for us all.

Then ensued the multi-flight to Madagascar where we found ourselves plunged into humidity and heat of 30 degrees when we touched down in our final destination.

We clambered into 2 mini buses while our drivers did a fantastic job of hoisting our bags onto the roof, some of which were particularly heavy. The bus ride was a sweaty one although we were preoccupied with taking in the surroundings of what would be our home for the next 10 weeks or so.

Thick forests lined the narrow, sometimes bumpy road from the airport to the port, young Malagasy children walked barefoot on the verge carrying school bags and battered vehicles beeped to indicate they were overtaking. We reached the port after stopping at an ATM in what I later learned was the town of Hell-Ville on Nosy Be, pronounced ‘Nosy Bay’.

We climbed aboard two boats and began a 45 minute journey to our new home, Camp on Nosy Komba. Our little island is 25km squared, covered in thick forest and is home to the residents of Angpangorina (Angpang) which we would visit on Friday for pizza, drinks and music.

Camp is fronted by Main House, an open common area with a thatched roof and wood and stone structures, it is furnished with hammocks, tables, benches and bean bags (which are my favourite) and is graced with a fantastic view of the sea and the land across from us.

I’m currently on Marine with Alex, Sophie, Ben, Hettie, Harry and Cressie with Arthur and Brinley ahead of us in our training while the rest of us establish the basic principles of diving. It has been an exciting first week settling in and breaking misconceptions of one another and I am intrigued to see what we will experience next.

Ex Head-Hunters and Mulu National Park Ellie Walton

After spending a few days in Kuching we’ve been able to explore further. To start of our few days we visited the cultural village of Mentu in Sarawak. Luckily the sun was shining for us so we were able to walk around at our leisure. We were introduced to several tribes and sub tribes, the names of which I struggle to remember due to their complicated pronunciations! One that stuck however, was the Iban tribe as that was the tribe of the recently visited village. Seth, our team leader and tour guide is from the “head hunting” tribe so we had previously learnt of how the Ibans would seek the heads of those who crossed them; they would cut their heads off and display them.

During our down time we thought we’d kick back with a few beers, we were lucky enough to catch karaoke night which definitely gave us a laugh or two… it was a good opportunity to hear some obscure Malaysian music, however we were unable to compete with the locals despite our exceptional rendition of Celine Dion!

After an evening filled with laughter, we flew over to Mulu National Park where we would embark on a new little adventure. From rides in the long boats along the river, to seeking out bats from the deer cave, we were constantly on the move exploring different parts of the exotic national park. We were luckily able to take a dip in the clear water cave pool after touring around caves and the local area, where all browsed amongst the homemade jewellery and gifts.

Once we caught the third plane of the day, we were ready, set and go for the next community project, after a leisurely few days. We look forward to teaching and building within a different community and shift in culture.

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