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Guatemala

Conservation + Spanish + Culture

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Discover Guatemala

Majestic and glorious.

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 volcanos running through its core, highlands, rainforests, glorious sandy beaches and the breath-taking creator lake of Atitlan, we can see why…

Look north and you’ll find Mexico and next door El Salvador, home to the famous national park, ‘El Imposible’ bursting with coffee plantations and natural wildlife which we will nip over to.

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.

Venture to Guatemala to get stuck into a mix of turtle conservation and community development whilst exploring National Parks and Mayan rich sites.


Program Itinerary

Your time will be split between our base in the heart of the hip coastal town of Monterrico and the ARCAS turtle sanctuary, a few kilometres up the coast in Hawaii – interspersed with 2 adventure weeks – one which involves hiking in El Salvador's famous National park and the other learning about local Mayan culture and history in nearby Antigua and Lake Atitlan.

The following is a sample itinerary.

Wk 1

Antigua

Explore and Spanish

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 tourism center and party town of Guatemala. Cool bars and cafes boasting craft beers and single origin coffees plus lots to enjoy outside the city; adventure activities including trips to the picturesque Mayan villages around Lake Atitlan and day and overnight hikes to explore spectacular volcanoes.

Just an hour from Guatemala City Airport, you’ll start and end the program with a few days in Antigua. Here we’ve linked up with a wonderful organisation called Cambio/Nino’s de Guatemala (NDG). NDG run a '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.

You time in Antigua is all about getting to know Guatemalan culture and way of life. Every morning you’ll have Spanish lessons with our trained tutors and spend the afternoons exploring the city and getting involved in cultural activities. You’ll also have access to a ‘Social Enterprise Hub’ operated by NDG which provides full support and lots of ideas on how to spend your free time.

This is the perfect way to brush up on your Spanish before heading down to the coast. On your first Sunday you’ll head down to Monterrico to start the next phase of the adventure.

Accommodation

Homestays. You'll live with a local family, minumum two volunteers per family.

Food

3 meals a day cooked by your homestay family. Expect traditional food.

Overview

Biotopo Monterrico–Hawaii

Welcome to Monterrico, in the heart of the Biotopo Monterrico–Hawai

Landing in Guatemala City you will start your journey with a few days in Antigua before heading to the Pacific coast to reach the stunning, hip coastal town of Monterrico, with its black, volcanic sandy beaches and powerful surf, sitting in the heart of the Biotopo Monterrico–Hawaii, a nature reserve that embraces a 20km-long beach, home to turtle-nesting grounds, and wildlife rich wetlands.

Life here has a slow, tropical vibe, with rustic wooden-slat and thatched-roof architecture and awesome volcanoes that shimmer in the distance. During the week it's relatively quiet, but on weekends and holidays it explodes with visitors. It's a fun and beautiful place to be based.

Accommodation

El Delphin Hostel

Food

Breakfast and lunch only at the hostel. Dinner will be extra in one of the local cafes. Expect lots of local in international dishes on the menu.

Wks 2 - 6

Monterrico Beach Spanish + Conservation + Community

Spanish and Projects

You will spend 4 weeks here and quickly slip into a routine of Spanish lessons mixed with conservation and community projects.

Spanish Lessons
Designed to help you interact with the local community - optional and tailored to suit all levels.

Community Turtle and Beach Conservation
You will help the community with their "clean beach campaign" - motivating kids to pick up the plastic rubbish swept onto the shores and harming the turtles. You will also be the 'team on call' to help any turtle hatching or nesting activities on the local beaches.

Mangrove Conservation
The mangrove forest surrounding Monterrico is constantly battling against the polution from the sugar cane industry. Here you will help support this delicate eco-system by replanting damaged mangroves.

School Development and Swimming Lessons
In your first week you will identify a project, with the school director, which you will be able to complete from start to finish, it may be as simple as painting a classroom or upgrading a soccer pitch. Time out will be scheduled into the school day to give swimming lessons to the kids.

Accommodation

El Delphin Hostel

Food

Breakfast and lunch provided.

Week 7

Inland Adventure Antigua + Lago Atitclan + Acatenango Volcano.

Venture Inland

A little treat to head inland for a week to explore the stunning Lago Atitlan and summit Acatenango Volcano.

Starting with a ‘chicken bus’ ride up from Monterrico to spend the first day on a walking tour of Antigua, a UNESCO World Heritage Site to see the ruins of the old city and the Mirador viewing point.

Then 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, surrounded by three big volcanoes. Here you will take part in a traditional Mayan ceremony to give thanks and promote good health and wellbeing. Welcome to the soul of Guatemala, literally.

You’ll stay at Atitlan overnight and continuing exploring the next morning before heading back to Antigua to prepare for the next day’s overnight hike to summit the Acatenango Volcano which towers above the landscape at nearly 4,000 meters. Awesome.

Aside from providing panoramic views of the entire region, Acatenango gives hikers a birds-eye-view of nearby (and very active!) Fuego volcano which has been erupting on a near constant basis since colonial times. You’ll hike through four micro climates eventually setting up camp looking directly over Fuego in all its glory.

You’ll get back to Antigua that evening for a well deserved shower and a beer.

Accommodation

Hostels along the way.

Food

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

Wk 8 + 9

Hawaii Beach Turtle Conservation

Protect the Turtles on Hawaii Beach

Nipping back to Hawaii beach, a famous turtle breeding ground on the Pacific coast, just 20kms up from Monterrico.

Here you will help ARCAS - a wildlife rescue and conservation association who are protecting the Olive Ridley, Green and Leatherback sea turtles, who visit this intensive nesting beach at night to nest. Uniquely, in Guatemala it is still legal to collect and sell turtle eggs. However, ‘Parlameros’ as the fishermen are called are obliged to give 20% of their catch to ARCAS in return for a receipt that certifies that they are able to sell the remaining 80% of their catch.

This makes it especially important for our volunteers on night patrols to spot turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs and mark the nest before the Parlameros mark theirs! The relationship between the Parlameros and ARCAS is surprisingly friendly and cooperative however, and there are never conflicts regarding who spots and marks a nest first.

In season of hatching eggs

You will work between 6-10 hours per day and your jobs will include; maintenance of infrastructure and surroundings, beach cleaning, night patrols to look for nesting female turtles, transport of food and water, collection of data and releasing baby turtles into the ocean.

Out of season

You will focus on cleaning the nesting sites, mixing sand in preparation for new nests, hatchery preparation and construction and assisting with exhumations to help determine why certain nests did not hatch as anticipated.

You will also assist with other tasks at the wildlife rescue centre including attending to the needs of other animals including cleaning and feeding.

Accommodation

ARCAS's beach-side volunteer house – basic but does the job.

Food

3 meals a day will be provided.

Overview

El Salvador

A Hidden Gem

Look south of Guatemala and you'll find the exotic country of El Salvador, a hidden gem offering world-class surfing on empty, dark-sand beaches; coffee plantations clinging to the sides of volcanoes; colourful Spanish colonial towns; and sublime national parks.

Your primary destination is the implausibly named ‘El Imposible’ National Park; their largest national park located in the coastal elevations of the Pacific Ocean in Ahuachapán.

This protected area is the country’s most important natural, dry and tropical dry forest, ecosystem. It one of the last refuges for an incredibly diverse flora and fauna, including; 500 plant species, over 100 mammals, 53 amphibians and reptiles, 285 birds and over 5,000 species of butterflies.

It is also popular for hiking owing to the outstanding 360 panoramic views from volcanic mountain ranges all the way down to the Pacific Ocean, including views across to nearby Guatemala and Monterrico. Heaven.

Accommodation

Hostels along the way.

Food

Breakfast and lunch provided.

Wk 10

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

Big Views down to 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. Expect to find 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.

Program Details & Costs

We have three departures to Guatemala throughout the year: January, April and July for either 6 or 10 weeks. The most popular is the all singing and dancing 10 week option where you can “do it all” but of course you can go for less time to accommodate your dates and budget. Just get in touch to discuss your options.

Jan & Apr programs start on:

2019: 4 Jan, 4 Apr

2020: 7 Jan, 3 Apr

Costs

10 Weeks
5 weeks Monterrico + 3 week Turtles + El Salvador + Inland Tour
2019: £36952020: £3705

6 Weeks
4 weeks Monterrico + 1 week Turtles + El Salvador
2019: £23232020: £2333

Summer program starts on:

2019: 3 Jul

2020: 2 Jul

Costs

6 Weeks
4 weeks Monterrico + 1 week Turtles + El Salvador
2019: £23232020: £2333

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.

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

Weekends will generally include a ½ day volunteering activity with local kids but will otherwise be free. 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.

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