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Guatemala Gap Year Program

Volunteering Road Trip

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Guatemala Volunteering Road Trip

Conservation, culture and explore

Guatemala – frankly it’s a winner. Spanning the centre of central America with a foot in both the Caribbean and Pacific seas, it has a string of majestic volcanoes running through its core, highlands, rainforests, the breath-taking lake of Atitclan, stunning architecture and an ancient culture which still resonates today. In fact it is the ancient Mayan culture here that puts this country on the map.

This program is best described as a challenging, cultural road trip – as you criss-cross the country to see its highlights, off-grid secrets before summiting a volcano and of course contributing to local co-operative projects.

So, all on board, this is what we have planned...

Best described as a challenging, cultural road trip, where you explore and contribute throughout your journey.


Guatemala's Program Itinerary

Your time will be split across Antigua, Lake Atitclan and Semuc Champey & Tikal.

The following is a sample itinerary.

Week 1

Antigua City and Acatenango Volcano Volcano Trek and exploring

Welcome to Antigua

You will fly into Guatemala City Airport and immediately be whisked away to the former capital of Antigua which is now a stunning UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Your first four days will be spent acclimatising whilst exploring the ancient architecture, markets, jade shops, hip cafes and trekking to the highest city point before rolling up your sleeves to help the Vivero de Cerro del Manchen with their reforestation project on the outskirts of the city.

Acatenango (3967m) Volcano Climb

By now you should be ready for your first program challenge which is to trek to the top of the famous Acatenango (3967m) Volcano.

The trek up takes about 4.5 hours and be prepared – it’s steep, go slowly. There will be plenty of rest breaks and the scenery is absolutely stunning, initially climbing through pasture, then into virgin rainforest and finally above the trees to the volcanic area.

As you near base camp you’ll start to see the active volcano called Fuego, which is about 850m away - erupting large plumes of ash and fire – absolutely stunning and sounding like thunder. Base camp is about an hour from the summit, here you go for a sunset walk to watch Fuego in all its glory, before having supper and camping for the night.

This climb will be tough due to altitude but it is absolutely stunning at the top so worth getting fit for.

Accommodation

Adra Hostel in Antigua

2 man tents for the climb

Food

2 meals a day in Antigua, all meals on the volcano trek.

Weeks 2-3

Iximche Ruins + Atitclan Lake Explore, culture + contribute

Your second phase will take you to the stunning Lake Atitclán and beyond. Here you will stay with our friends who run a groovy hostel called La Iguana Perdida, located in Santa Cruz on the north shore, reached by speed boat. This is one of the most beautiful places in Guatemala and perfect for combining adventure with down time and culture.

During these 2 weeks you will experience an interwoven mix of the following:

Iximche Ruins
The ruins are located in Tecpán, Chimaltenango, where the Mayans founded their last capital. Here you will see the remains of palaces, squares and Mayan ball games that in their time were decorated in a colorful way and were galas of the kingdom.

4 day Lake Expedition
‘Circumnavigation of the Lake’ by boat, kayak and trekking, staying in hostels in the villages of San Pedro, San Juan and San Marco. During this journey you will trek the ‘Indians Nose’ hike, explore chocolate plantations, get lost in textile markets and meet off grid indigenous cultures.

Spanish Lessons
These will have started in Antigua but during 4 of your days you will have time put aside for informal Spanish lessons so you can get to grips with the local language to help with the community interaction. These will be of course tailored to your current standard and before you visualise a class room – nothing like it – all very relaxed, focusing on conversation.

Culture and Volunteering
The local culture at the lake is fascinating and we’ve planned for you to experience a combination of cooking lessons and textile weaving with the local community for a full cultural interaction, interwoven with an environmental based project.

Accommodation

La Iguana Hostel - beautiful and right on the lake
Hostels in the villages of San Pedro, San Juan and Santiago

Food

2 meals a day, lunches or supper are extra to provide flexibility.

Week 4

Semuc Champey + Tikal Road Trip to Semuc Champey and Flores

The road trip continues...heading far and wide to see two of the main sites in Guatamala: Semuc Champey and the Mayan ruins of Tikal.

Semuc Champey
Nestled away in the densely forested mountains of Alta Verapaz. This is a backpacker favourite which many people fail to get to as it is so off the beaten track. Semuc is famous for the tubing experience down the Lanquín River where you navigate turquoise natural pools, caves, and waterfalls. It is absolutely stunning and the photos do not do it justice.

Flores and Tikal Ruins
Heading further north to reach the lake at Flores and the famous Mayan ruins tucked in the jungle at Tikal. Both simply stunning and worth the big journey. In Flores you will have a day to explore - kayak around the lake, throw yourself off the tarzan swing and visit the local animal sanctuary.

As for Tikal – the best time to see this is at sunrise – to see the ruins emerging in the dawn jungle light and listening to the dawn chorus. The history of this lost civialistion is fascinating and you will be led by local guides.

The last 2 days will spent getting back to Antigua for your final goodbye celebration, in time for your flight home, ending an amazing road trip across the heart of this country. Here you will travel on a luxury overnight bus – which is rather like a first class plane experience – space, reclining seat, food and water on tap.

Accommodation

Los Amigos hostel, Tikal
Zaphyr lodge, Semuc Champey

Food

2 meals a day, lunches or supper are extra to provide flexibility.

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Add on Independent Travel

Combine with Costa Rica and Mexico

What we are finding is that our teams never want to come home post program and choose to add on a phase of independent travel with their new found friends - certainly making the most of their gap year. We can easily support this through our Leap VIP travel resource which every leaper has access to.

Guatemala is perfectly placed to add on Mexico and/or Costa Rica - both great contrasts to Guatemala so creating a fulfilling and dynamic gap year experience. Please give us a shout and we can tell you more.

Guatemala's Details & Costs

So sorry we have put this on hold for now... Best alternatives are Cuba, Jamaica and Colombia.

Options and costs

Whats included?

Budget

Flights: £900 (depending on time of year and availability)

Spending Money: Approx. £100 per week

Social Life

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

Bigger Picture

Be part of the worldwide push to protect the turtles and preserve the mangroves.

Exploring

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

Spanish

Integral for getting the most out of the program as English is not Guatemala's first language.

A rolling itinerary

Expect to busy throughout the program but we promise there will be down time included into the 4 weeks!

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.

Watch our videos

Guatemala

Showing you around Antigua

"An amazing group of leapers"

Hi Milly,

I got home last week from 2 months in Costa Rica. I did the Adventure program and just wanted to send you a quick message to say thank you, I and everyone enjoyed it so so much. We were so lucky to have an amazing group of leapers, we all agreed that 24 was the perfect amount. It was enough to have a party and have a variety of people but not too big so we couldn’t get to know everyone really well. The trip set me up so well to travel independently with friends afterwards, in fact 18 of us all travelled together for a while after! I will defiantly be recommending the leap to friends.

Thank you for your speedy replies and always picking up the phone!

- Georgina Lound

"So reliable"

In one of the most complicated spaces in time, Milly and team stresslessly organised the trip to Costa Rica and Guatemala giving our son a wonderful opportunity and set of memories he would otherwise not have had. And when the regs changed again while they were out there the well oiled machine that is the Leap just reconfigured and continued!

I simply can't recommend them more highly!

- Henry

"This experience was life changing."

Although this is from a personal point of view, i wanted to share the great personal development this trip gave me. I believe travel and unknown/unusual environments affects and shapes any individual.

It altered my being in a way i find hard to articulate, it changes you and challenges you that no 9-5 working existence ever could.

- Olivia

"Easy Peasy with The Leap"

You guys always answered questions so fast! Zoe is outstanding!! Made travelling during a pandemic easy peasy

- Hanna

"Very professional service"

I am super impressed that The Leap have been in contact at the beginning of my daughters’ trip to tell me she had arrived arrived safely. Very professional service - thanks very much!

- Abi Crampton

"Quite an extraordinary responsibility"

Thank you, Milly. You've been an absolute star - quite an extraordinary responsibility and you're doing it admirably. Great friend of ours, has signed up for Namibia in March after hearing about Skye's adventures ahead...


- Katie Turnbull

"Thank you so much for giving my son life long friends and experiences"

My son has just got back from an amazing trip to Madagascar. The Leap were great in keeping in contact with emails, blogs and can call and get a speedy reply if you need to contact them, thank you so much for giving my son life long friends and experiences.
Many thanks to Milly from The Leap who was amazing.

- Nikki Field

"I can’t think of a better company"

Clementine has just finished her Costa Rican adventure with you and has absolutely loved it. She says it was fantastic from start to finish and the group couldn’t have asked for a better team looking after them led by Chris. The same applies to you too. You have been brilliant from the get-go and nothing seems to have daunted you – ever! Getting the children out there was no mean feat and your ability to switch the programme to Costa Rica from Cuba at such short notice was very impressive. The photo at the beginning was a great touch and you have been incredibly responsive to every query however small. Thank you both for everything, I can’t think of a better company to have used for Clementine’s trip.

- Tania ( mum )

"THANK YOU"

My Leaper is just having the BEST BEST BEST time. She was so anxious about going as it is the first time she has been abroad on her own. The lovely friends she has made and the fantastic team leaders that are there, combined with the incredible experiences that you are giving the team meant that worry very soon dissipated.

Everything sounds perfect, from the location of their "houses", the delicious food, the stimulating and varied activities, the fun evenings, in fact from dawn to dusk (and well beyond) is just so brilliant.

Thank you.

- Sara

"So clear and straightforward "

I’d just like to say how impressed I’ve been by all your amazing organisation, plans and communication. I know she’s mainly communicated with you herself, but it’s all been so clear and straightforward – so thank you. I know this must have been an incredibly difficult time for you and I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending The Leap to any prospective Gappies in future!

- Justine Barnes

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