Tucked below the ancient Mayan city of Tikal is Guatemala’s former capital Antigua, a city guarded by towering volcanoes and bustling with the spirit that has kept it alive through attacks by Mother Nature. Antigua holds onto some of the last vestiges of ancient Guatemalan life, with centuries-old architectural decay still creating the framework within which the city lives and thrives. By volunteering in Antigua, you have the opportunity to enrich local community life through schools, hospitals, organic farms, and other community centers — all while finding ancient treasure and modern gems. Volunteer in Antigua and kickstart your year of adventure!
Popular Ways to Volunteer in Antigua
Latin America has always bestowed upon its visitors a journey of discovery, but perhaps none is so great as the journey of discovering yourself in the context of giving. By volunteering abroad in Antigua, you’ll not only be soaking up a culture that has mastered the art of perseverance, you’ll be contributing to its continuity by providing lasting solutions to day-to-day problems.
Popular causes/projects in Antigua. Anyone who has visited Guatemala knows how good their coffee is. But do you know how it’s made? Antigua is the nearest city to dozens of organic farms, most of which grow and process the in-demand bean, and all of which need help and are eager to introduce you to the centuries-old process of bringing bean to brew. Whether you’re planting seeds, weeding, harvesting, or even roasting and packaging, you’ll know you’re a player in feeding the world’s caffeine addiction.
If indoor work is more your speed, schools in Antigua are in constant need for volunteer teachers. You can tutor students independently or work as a teacher’s assistant, coordinate after-school activities, and even work in administrative offices. Minimum stays are one week, but there’s no limit to how long you can stay. As you’ll be required to speak English in class, only a basic level of Spanish will be needed to help you get by.
Another great option is social work. This can include anything from caring for children in community centers with different degrees of malnutrition, working with mentally and/or physically handicapped children, to assisting the elderly. If you have a high enough level of Spanish you may be asked to work in hospitals and tend to disadvantaged children and adults. So many people need personal care and attention, and you’ll find that giving yours will touch your life just as much as theirs.
Duration. Consider volunteering abroad for a greater length of time than simply a week or two. While you can get a considerable amount of work done in a short amount of time, you will set yourself up for more long-term success if you are willing to dedicate a month or more to a given cause or project. Summer volunteer programs in Guatemala or popular, but we definitely recommend staying for three months minimum.
Life in Antigua for Volunteers
With its leafy plazas, cobblestone streets, vibrant markets, and exceptionally affordable cost of living, many visitors to Antigua end up staying much longer than planned. The city is just an hour away from the current capital, and it’s also pretty close to many of Guatemala’s other highlights, so it’s the perfect place to slow down and relax or pack in the adventure.
The city is small; you can walk from one end to the other in under ten minutes, but there is certainly enough to keep you occupied in your free time. Parque Central is the main plaza of the city, and the real intersection between locals and tourists. Reminiscent of Cusco’s Plaza de Armas, the plaza is flanked by cafés, colonial architecture, and market stalls with tantalizing smells.
Also, be sure to check out the often dilapidated religious structures dotted inconspicuously throughout the city. You might think a building with a collapsed roof is no longer functional, but it’s in these very spots where you’ll hear the chimes of a service being given. There are several museums that paint Antigua’s history for you, including a Chocolate Museum that is not only enticing to look at, but also offers hands-on classes so you can come away with your own piece of chocolatey goodness.
Just outside the city are any number of volcanoes you can hike, but if that chocolate has you hankering for a s’more, you can actually climb the active Pacaya and roast your own marshmallows in the heat emitted by the rocks at the top of the crater.
GoAbroad Insider Tips
One of the perks of volunteering in Guatemala is that you will never lack a good meal. Even if you’re running late for your bus, or are otherwise caught up in the rush of things and don’t have time for a sit-down meal, the street food scene has your back! Way before hipsters were duking it out to find the best unsung food truck in town, Guatemalan street vendors were popping up with their smoky barbecued corn on the cobs, their spicy, meaty chile rellenos, and those drenched-in-syrup buñuelos that make you wonder how you ever ate a donut without it.
Adequately nourished, you can then explore the Mayan ruins, ride horses, swim and snorkel off the coast, or even zip-line through the canopies of the nearby jungles. The climate is temperate year round, so unlike destinations with more varied conditions, this land of eternal spring can be enjoyed throughout the year.
As with any place that draws in tourists, there are some pickpockets in the most populated spots. Just have your wits about you; don’t go off on your own in areas you’re not familiar with, and don’t carry valuables when you’re out and about. Guatemala is a very accessible and welcoming country, so the dauntingness of embassy warnings, economic hardships, and quite honestly, bewildering range of things to see and do, is no cause for worry.
If you’re looking to change your life, think about making a change in someone else’s. Antigua is a place practiced in making the best of what it has— whether that be chocolate or coffee from a single bean, or keeping a heritage alive and vibrant amidst decay— and there is no better spirit in which to volunteer. Take the leap and volunteer in Antigua today.
Feeling loco-inspired? Read our entire guide on volunteering in Guatemala.