Guatemala has endured decades of civil war, fourth world indigenous struggles and military juntas. While Costa Rica built it’s infrastructure and tourism sector Guatemala spent its money on war and internal calamity. Having one of the largest indigenous populations in Central America Guatemala has long struggled with it’s identity between the Mestizo and native populations. Aside from the natural beauty worthy of a National Geographic cover in any direction you look, it is the colorful people and history that make internships in Guatemala the ideal setting for a total cultural immersion experience.
Guatemala borders Mexico to the north, Belize to the east, and El Salvador and Honduras to the south. Chiapas, Mexico, across the northern border, is full of rural Mayan farming villages, rich Mayan ruins, and coffee farms, and this environment is mirrored in the western Highlands of Guatemala, where volcanoes dot the horizon and colorful indigenous markets are housed in village plazas. To the east the tropical climate of Belize flows over the border to Tikal, one of the most extensive Mayan ruins in the world, where monkeys swing from trees and pyramids replace volcanoes on this ancient skyline.
Further south along the Caribbean Coast is a rasta culture developed by a community of descendents of freed slaves. Spanish ruins from the colonial days rival Mayan ruins in their grandeur further west. Hippies seeking an alternative lifestyle are sprinkled from Panajachel to the tanangos (towns of the Western Highlands). In the center is Guate City, a big bustling Latin American city with all the industry and amenities of neighboring capitals.
Guatemala City is the political and commerce capital of Guatemala, most popular for community development internships.
Antigua is one of the most beautiful towns in Latin America. The cobblestone streets become works of art during Semana Santa, when locals paint beautiful pictures from flower petals for the procession of Christ. While the town may have more Spanish schools per capita than any place on earth, the city still has a local cultural life. Part of that centers around the village, indigenous population that travels to Antigua to work in the marketplace. This population accommodates many service projects including health internships and education programs. Many internships in Antigua are coupled with Spanish language classes too, since there are multiple language institutes located here.
Flores is a small town adjacent to the ruins of Tikal, near the Belize border. A long bus ride from the capital, Flores has a small but thriving eco-tourism industry. Tropical villagers in the region come to Flores for education and business.
Panajachel is a lakeside community in the Western Highlands. This is a regular stop on the backpackers route. The Mayan community sells their wares to tourists in the marketplace to maintain a stable income.
Internships in Guatemala
Interning in Guatemala provides interns with the chance to work in social welfare projects, health projects, micro finance placements, community development, education, business, and human rights. While most internships evolve around social development projects, there are still opportunities in Guatemala City for law, government, and business and marketing internships too.
Community Development placements include working within village community centers, working with women’s empowerment groups, and establishing micro finance schemes.
Healthcare internships are typically in the area of health education, but sometimes include actual practice in the field for interns with specific skills and extensive educational background.
Marketing and business internships exist in the capital, and sometimes in Antigua. Local NGOs also periodically offer internships focused on marketing, social media support, and website maintenance, which offer very practical work experience. Regardless of the type, business internships in Guatemala will no doubt provide opportunities to practice Spanish language skills and immerse in the local culture, while supporting meaningful projects.
Additional internship opportunities in Guatemala, though less common, include placements in archaeology, law, special education, agriculture, and hospitality.
Salary & Costs
The cost of living is very low in Guatemala. Homestays can run from $100 to $400 depending on room, location, and number of meals included. Local restaurants are affordable, and produce and other foods at local market places are cheap.
Cross country transportation is very low cost as well, but the recycled school buses in all their painted glory carry chickens, farmers, families, and luggage along with you, so it may not always be luxurious. Public transportation is often so packed that people stand in the aisle with no wiggle room, and still the drivers pick up more passengers and add them to external handholds of the bus.
Those who intern in Guatemala are almost always non-paid, though occasional paid teaching opportunities due exist within the international schools, but these require degrees and are not technically considered internships. Some interns have received nominal pay for TEFL jobs in Guatemala but similarly these are jobs not necessarily seen as internships.
Accommodation & Visas
Homestays are a very common housing option for those who intern in Guatemala. Many internships in Guatemala offer this style of housing with local families, although single rooms can be rented within homes and apartments in most cities. Long term internships will often include apartment accommodation, whereas short term programs are more likely to house interns in homestays. Homestays offer the added benefit of local cooking (including homemade tortillas and guacamole). They also provide a local network of support and connections to practice your Spanish language skills. Typically homestays reserve Sundays for their families, and guests are expected to do their own thing.
Visa requirements for interning in Guatemala vary based on your country of origin, find an embassy nearest to you to find out about requirements through GoAbroad’s Guatemalan Embassy Directory.
Benefits & Challenges
History. Guatemala is a beautiful country with an incredible pre and post colonial history. A more recent history of violence and civil war coupled with massive poverty have led to more violent crime than some of it’s Central American neighbors. However, while some incidents have occurred with foreign students and tourists, the volume of tourists and the presence of special tourist police make the crime risk smaller than the media may make you believe, so interning in Guatemala is still a safe option.
Landscape. From the rasta culture in the east to the black sand beaches in the west, from the pyramids at Iximche and Tikal to the towering volcanoes, like Volcan Agua and Pacayo, Guatemala provides a beautiful backdrop for internships abroad.
Climate. The climate of Guatemala is also extraordinary, particularly in the west. Sometimes referred to as “eternal spring” the climate is moderate, with short afternoon rainshowers in the rainy season. Never too hot never too cold.