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Guatemala - on hold

Volunteering, Spanish lessons and Volcano Trek

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Discover Guatemala

Conservation, adventure and charm.

Join a team of leapers and head off to Guatemala - the new 'happening' destination in Central America. With a foot in both the Caribbean and Pacific Oceans, a string of majestic volcanoes running through its core, highlands, rainforests, glorious sandy beaches and the breath-taking crater Lake of Atitlan, we can see why…

Get on board with this road trip through Guatemala's highlights as you arrive in the historical city of Antigua to hike Acatenango volcano, learn spanish and enjoy local cooking lessons before heading off to beautiful Lake Atitlan where you can kayak on the lake and chill. Next up it's off North to the tropical jungle where you will experience the Mayan ruins of Tikal and Semuc Champey.

This destination is having its moment for the traveller looking for an 'off beat' destination full of cultural charm and intoxicating adventure, time to visit before the masses arrive.

A Guatemalan team road trip through the highlights of Antigua, Lake Atitlan and the Mayan ruins of Tical and Semuc Champey.


Program Itinerary

Your time will be split across Antigua, Lake Atitlan and Tikal.

The following is a sample itinerary.

Week 1

Acatenango Volcano and Antigua Volcano Trek and exploring

Welcome to Antigua

Just an hour from Guatemala City Airport, you’ll start and end the program with a few days in Antigua. The former capital of Guatemala, Antigua, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site – an immaculately preserved colonial city with cobbled streets and ringed by spectacular volcanoes.

Antigua is also the party town of Guatemala. Cool bars and cafes boasting craft beers and single origin coffees plus lots to enjoy outside the city such as day trips to visit Mayan villages around Lake Atitlan as well as the coffee plantations.

City Exploration

Here we’ve linked up with a wonderful organisation called Cambio/Nino’s de Guatemala (NDG). NDG run not for profit commercial enterprises across the world and put all the money into funding schools for kids in Guatemala who would otherwise lack adequate education.

To get you accliamatise pre-volcano climb you will spend a few days here, living with a local family, learning some spanish and exploring the sights, including visiting the Jade museum and walking around Antigua Old Town.

Reforestation

While here you will take part in vital reforestation efforts in Antigua replanting trees into the national parks to encourage new growth. You will work in your Leap team and work alongside the locals where you will make a real collaborative conservation effort here in beautiful Antigua. This reforestation project is called "Vivero de Cerro del Machen".

Before embarking on the big trek you will go on a tour of a coffee plantation and visit markets and shops to buy items for the volcano hike.

The Big Trek

Within the first week in Antigua, you will take time out to climb the Acatenago Volcano (3967m) or the Pacaya Volcano (whether dependent). The Pacaya Volcano is a slightly easier option but it is still spectacular and you get up close to molten lava. The Pacaya option is a one day trek so you would return back for the night at Adra hostel and have the next day off. The Acatenago however is an overnight hike with Tropico.

The trek up takes about 4.5 hours and be prepared – it’s steep, so 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 tree line into the volcanic area.

As you near base camp you’ll start to witness 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.

You’ll start the summit trek at 4 am the next morning, which involves a 1-hour trek to the top to catch sunrise. You then start the descent which will take about 3 hours.

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

When you return back from the volcano hike you will then be doing some Spanish lessons.

Accommodation

Adra Hostel in Antigua

2 man tents for the climb

Food

Meals included.

Weeks 2-3

Lake Atitlan Spanish + Lake Activities + Cooking

Hop on the chicken bus and head to your first stop called Iximche, here you will see the incredible Iximche Ruins. Iximche is the first capital of the state of Guatemala. After a picnic lunch and a guided tour of these impressive Mayan Ruins you will be hopping back on the bus and head to the lake. There will be a speedboat transfer to La Iguana Perdida, St Cruz.

You will be based here from days 8 to 20 and will be participating in a mixture of activities including:

Spanish Lessons

While here in Lake Atitlan you will get to brush up on your Spanish designed to help you interact with the local community.

Cooking Lessons

Guatemalan food is tasty, vibrant, fresh and delicious - learn from the locals and make some tasty recipes that you can impress friends and family with when you get back home.

Water Activities

Lake Atitlan offers so much to do while staying here. From kayaking, to paddle boarding and swimming, this is the best way to take in the stunning views of the volcanoes - a welcome break to chill out after trekking it!

On days 12 to 16 you will be going on an expedition to circumnavigate the lake by kayaking along with hiking around the lake. You will be sleeping in hostels in the villages of San Pedro, San Juan and Santiago. There will be many exciting activities that you will be doing from the Indians Nose hike, learning about the indigenous culture, seeing the inspiring arts and crafts, textiles and chocolate craft.

Accommodation

La Iguana Hostel - beautiful and right on the lake

Hostels in the villages of San Pedro, San Juan and Santiago

Food

Breakfast and Lunch provided.

Week 4

Semuc Champey + Tikal Road Trip

The next phase of the program is a 5 day road trip to Tikal where you will explore the local hotspots along the way.

Semuc Champey

Translated it means 'where the river hides under the Earth' - it is a natural monument with beautiful emerald green lagoons to swim in surrounded by lush green jungle. Whilst here you will be going on a half day tubing and also be visiting the Kam'ba caves.

Tikal

Tikal is a complex of Mayan Ruins deep in the rainforest in Guatemala possibly dating back to the 1st century.

It is located in Northern Guatemala's Petén Province within a large forest region often referred to as the Maya Forest, which extends into neighbouring Mexico and Belize.

Then you will get on an overnight bus and you’ll head back to Antigua for the last few days. Time to relax, shop for souvenirs and explore before jumping on a plane home.

Accommodation

Zephyr Lodge

Los Amigos Hostel

Adra Hostel

Food

Breakfast and Lunch included.

Program Details & Costs

We have our first trip planned to Guatemala in January 2022, with more dates to follow. For general enquiries please email info@theleap.co.uk


Options and costs

Get on board with our first trip of 2022 in January, more dates incoming. For more info email info@theleap.co.uk

Whats included?

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.

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.

Monday to Friday

Expect to busy with your projects 5 days per week for about 5 hours a day and some Saturday mornings.

Weekends

You’re welcome to stay and chill with the community, but volunteers usually prefer a change of scene. Most teams stick together at the weekends and your project leader will offer advice on where and what to do.

Backpacker Favourites

  • Boat trips through the Mangrove Forest.
  • Surf the big rollers up the beach from Monterrico.
  • Hike up the Tecuanburro (1,200m) Volcano.
  • 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.

Spanish tuition is thrown into the program to help you communicate with the local communities enabling you to have a full cultural immersion into indigenous Mayan life.

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

"One of my favorite memories from my trip to Costa Rica was the first time I released a baby turtle into the ocean"

I was immediately lucky because most baby turtles crawl out of their nests in the dead of night, so you don't get to enjoy the sight of seeing them walk to the water when it's so dark out.

When I saw my first baby turtle it was just before the sun went down, so it was still incredibly bright out! Watching all the babies push their little flippers against the sand as they fight to get to the water is something else. They are so excited to be alive! It's something so wonderfully inspiring that I will always remember.

- Madison

"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

"Five star all the way"

Incredible service, five star all the way, informative, professional and friendly, highly recommend, second daughter that has travelled with them

- Araminta

"We’re having an incredible time in Costa Rica "

I just want to quickly thank you very much for the amazing Leap trip. I honestly had the most unbelievable time and feel it is thanks to you for organising it, especially so last minute! I’ve been recommending it to all of my friends as I would do anything to do it all again. You were so kind and patient with both myself and Emma and we are truly grateful for all the help you gave us. We’re having an incredible time in Costa Rica at the moment and never want to leave!

- Clemmie

"I wish I could go back "

My experience in Ecuador was amazing. I have been home for two weeks and already want to go back to ecuador. My leader and my group was the best. Everyone instantly clicked and grew closer together everyday. All of the work was hard but we had fun while doing it. We brought speakers out to work with us so we had some music playing while we worked! I also liked the variety of work that we do in the communities. The adventure weeks were the best. Jumping off bridges, white water rafting, beaches, biking down volcanos, and so much more. You can't do anything better than that!

I wish I could go back now, with the same group, same leader, and do so many more things and make so many more memories. That trip is one I will never forget.

- Caroline Sides

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