If you have a heart for travel and a passion for volunteering, why not give back to the country where the first chocolate bar was invented? Not only is Guatemala home this key ingredient of any delicious dessert, it is also home to many unique ecosystems, making it Central America’s biodiversity hotspot. Volunteering in Guatemala will give you the chance to enjoy and help preserve the nation’s fragile environmental resources. When you’re finished saving the planet, you could stop by the Chichicastenango (say that five times fast!) or spend your evening browsing through Guatemala’s most vibrant shopping center filled with handmade goods. Vamonos!
Despite being the most populated country in Central America, Guatemala is still a developing country with a long road ahead, so they need all the helping hands they can get to reach their goals; the less time they spend on developing their infrastructure, the more time they’ll have for chocolate creation! Antigua and Guatemala City are two of the most popular destinations to volunteer in Guatemala, and both locations are in need of individuals to assist in environmental, health, and education placements.
Antigua is a small city surrounded by volcanoes in Southern Guatemala, known for its Spanish baroque-style architecture and mass amounts of colonial church ruins. It is the perfect place for a set of curious eyes to wander and explore. Although Antigua is a growing tourist attraction, due to its close proximity to Guatemala City, it is deemed much safer and calmer than the latter. Out of all the cities in Guatemala, Antigua has the largest amount of volunteer opportunities, from teaching children how to speak English to putting those geometry skills into use and teaching kids how to complete tricky geometrical proofs; who knew high school math would be handy afterall?
Guatemala City, the capital of Guatemala, is known as the country’s political, cultural, and commercial hub. Even though the buildings and architecture still have a traditional colonial style, modern buildings with a more fresh, sleek style, are starting to emerge within Guatemala City’s skyline. Guatemala city is Guatemala’s most popular tourist destination, with many foreigners coming to visit the traditional and well-preserved Mayan culture and artifacts in museos located throughout the city. Those who are interested in the more historical side of the city will have the opportunity to volunteer with children and spend time learning the depths of Mayan culture and history as part of their volunteering in Guatemala.
Volunteer Programs in Guatemala
Since Guatemala is still a developing country, volunteers are needed in all fields, but especially in the areas of health, education, and animal welfare. Volunteering in Guatemala is a good fit for those who aren’t afraid to dive deep into Latin America’s chilling and shaky (what do you think destroyed three of Guatemala’s capitals?) historical past while getting their hands dirty in meaningful projects.
The rural areas of Guatemala have a particularly desperate need for volunteers in the realms of healthcare and medicine. Guatemalans who reside in poorer areas do not have efficient or easy access to the health care services they need, and therefore depend on volunteers with a mind for medicine and a heart for health equality. As a healthcare volunteer in Guatemala, you can get hands-on experience working with small local clinics, as well as with local doctors and nurses to provide check-ups.
Volunteers who want to work with children can also spend time with kids with physical or mental disabilities, doing things like arts and crafts workshops or taking them on outings to local parks. Most of all, children in Guatemala need volunteers to give them the attention and quality time that they deserve, but may otherwise not receive.
Remember all those hours you spent sitting in Spanish classes, wondering how and when all of those conjugations and subjunctives are going to come into use? Well, now’s your time to shine and show off your Español, and English. Volunteering in Guatemala to help teach English to locals will open the door to future opportunities for them, potentially building a career in teaching, business, or tourism. As a teaching volunteer in Guatemala, you’ll likely help set up workshops, assist local teachers, and organize educational games and activities on daily basis. Another perk of volunteering in Guatemala as a teacher is that some programs will accept volunteers without any teaching certification or experience; que agradable!
Life isn’t so ruff when you get to work with lovable, cuddly, four-legged beauties! Unfortunately, cats and dogs in Guatemalan culture aren’t seen as lovable pets, which leads to a lot of neglect and mistreatment. But don’t worry, their dog days will soon be over, because as an animal welfare volunteer in Guatemala, you will be able to spend quality time with local animals, playing, bathing, assisting with medical treatment, and providing basic obedience training. Honestly, the hardest part of volunteering with animals in Guatemala will be having the willpower to resist smuggling one of these cute animals into your suitcase!
Costs & Affordability
Be prepared to drop a lot of Guatemalan Quetzals at Chichicastenango (now try saying that six times fast), because the cost of living in Guatemala is extremely affordable. Local goods and restaurants are pretty cheap, but try to stray away from tourist traps, especially in Guatemala City. Essentially, tourist attractions, such as La Aurora Zoo and Tikal, are pricier than local activities, so be sure to plan a good mix of both during your volunteering in Guatemala.
In most cases, you will be provided with accommodations and many other amenities, such as excursions, food, housing, training, and medical services, through your volunteer program in Guatemala, all of which will usually be included in program costs. Some volunteer programs in Guatemala may also include a week or two of Spanish lessons, depending on the type of volunteering you choose to do (talk about a throwback to high school!).
Accommodation & Visas
Preparing to volunteer abroad in Guatemala for a long period of time is already a stressful enough process for many people, without even considering where you will lay your head at night. Luckily, most volunteer programs in Guatemala provide pre-arranged accommodation for all volunteers. In most cases, volunteers live in homestays with a local host family. Living with a host family includes many benefits that other accommodation options do not. Not only will homestays give you further exposure to the complex and intriguing Guatemalan culture, but it will also give you a chance to perfect your Español. Fine tuning your Spanish will be extremely beneficial for any volunteer work in Guatemala, because it will provide you with more opportunities to work and interact directly with locals.
For those who are planning on volunteering abroad in Guatemala for less than 90 days, a visa is not required; however, for travels that exceed the 90 day period, a visa is essential. Acquiring a visa is a process, of course, but won’t cause too much difficulty if you prepare the required documents ahead of time. For more information on how to apply for a visa, please refer to GoAbroad's Guatemalan Embassy Directory.
Benefits & Challenges
Volunteering in Guatemala comes with an array of benefits that will surely make you want to share your travels with all of your Twitter followers. However, as with any foreign country, there are a few precautions you should consider before embarking on your journey as a volunteer in Guatemala.
There are quite a few natural disaster precautions individuals should be aware of before volunteering in Guatemala. Between November and June, frequent forest fires occur, especially in the Peten area. Guatemala is also seismic zone, which means earthquakes can and do occur often. Luckily, earthquakes are no new ordeal for locals and authorities, so be sure to follow proper instructions in the event of an earthquake.
The climate in Guatemala is just how baby bear likes his porridge: not too hot and not too cold. Year-round temperatures tend to be in the 70s, and even though there is a rainy season from May to November, the rain usually only occurs in the afternoon. Therefore, be sure to pack your sun hat and umbrella because you’ll want to enjoy the beautiful Guatemalan weather as often as you could.
Ready to help keep this paradise alive? Now that you’ve read all about what volunteering in Guatemala has to offer, it’s time to do something about it! Pack your snorkeling gear to swim with the sea turtles and help clean the beaches and start perfecting your Español verbos because Guatemala is in need of your willingness to lend a helping hand and kind heart!