Volunteer in Guatemala
Community Building

Volunteer in Guatemala: An Introduction

Guatemala is one of the most historically significant countries in Central America. Guatemala was home to the Mayan Empire, which was one of the three great Pre-Columbian civilizations. The Mayan Empire was known for being the only Pre-Columbian civilization to have a fully developed written language. Also, they are known for their art, architecture, mathematical and astronomical calendar. The country is still scattered with Mayan ruins and the locals are very proud of their indigenous culture. Volunteer in Guatemala and you can see for yourself!

All the construction volunteering will be happening in Antigua, which is located about 45 minutes from the capital and closest airport, Guatemala City. It is calmer and safer than the capital and is a popular destination for tourists and locals alike. It is famous for its well preserved Spanish Baroque architecture. Antigua is also popular for its close proximity to main tourist destinations such as Lake Atitlan and Monterrico Beach.

Despite Antigua being a hub for travelers in Guatemala, the locals are sometimes without proper shelter and lack schools. When you volunteer in Guatemala you will primarily be working on new construction of schools and community buildings in or around Antigua.

Fun Fact:

The word “Guatemala” means “land of many trees.” In addition to their many forested areas, Guatemala has over 1,000 species of animal and over 8,000 species of plant. Click here to learn more about Guatemalan culture.

The Experience

Guatemala’s countryside is pristine. Pictured above is Lake Atitlán and the mountains and volcanos surrounding it. Scenes like this are common throughout Guatemala. The country is also lined with beaches on its Pacific Coast where locals and tourists alike come to surf, horseback ride, or simply soak up the sun.

Build Abroad provides all accommodations in Antigua for program participants. Living accommodations during the week will be with a host family. Accommodations will vary slightly, but hot water is available 24 hours a day at all our homestays. Some of our homestays will have wifi access, but for those that do not, you have free access to wifi at our volunteer offices.

Local Guatemalan food is provided two times a day for participants at home-stays. Corn and cornmeal are staples in Guatemala. A typical meal will comprise of these foods with refried black beans. Rice, eggs, and cheese are also very popular foods for the locals. Expect meals to also comprise of fresh fruit and vegetables. In addition to the food, coffee in Guatemala is considered some of the best in the world.

Aside from volunteering, you will have plenty of time to explore the surrounding area or even take weekend trips to nearby destinations such as lakes, volcanoes, and beaches.

“I enjoyed working on the construction site, and in fact would like to have had an even longer lasting effect on the project. It was my desire to not only assist in the construction while we were there, but to better equip and empower the people who work day in and day out on the construction project. ”

– Jordan L., Volunteer

A typical week for our volunteers

Volunteering takes place during the week, Monday through Friday. On your first day you will go through an orientation where you will be introduced to your in-country staff.

Typical Day:  Volunteers will have a morning or afternoon shift, which will last 2 to 4 hours. A typical morning schedule is as follows:

8:00 AM – Travel to job site to build after having breakfast with host family.
12:00 PM – Construction work usually ends and volunteers are free to explore Antigua.
7.00 PM – Dinner with your host family.

(Please note, this schedule can vary as projects take place in either the morning or evening.)

Program Costs

Length of Stay Program Cost
1 Week $625
2 Weeks $960
3 Weeks $1,260
4 Weeks $1,510
5 Weeks $1,710
6 Weeks $1,910
7 Weeks $2,100
2 Months $2,500
3 Months $3,500
4 Months $4,300
5 Months $5,100
6 Months $5,900

More About Guatemala

Sharing its borders with Mexico, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador, Guatemala is the most populous state in Central America, with a rich Mayan heritage. While the capital is bustling Guatemala City, nearby Antigua is a preferred base for most who choose to volunteer in Guatemala, with its atmospheric cobblestone streets lined with colonial architecture and surrounded by steaming volcanoes.

Top tourist destinations near Antigua

Antigua’s colonial center

Antigua served as the capital of the America’s Spanish Empire from the 16th to 18th centuries and although large areas were destroyed by an earthquake in 1743, the rebuilt city has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its grand colonial churches and government buildings are steeped in history, with a faded elegance that gives Antigua an undeniable charm. Wander through its cobblestone streets to see the grandiose Palace of the Captain Generals and the City Hall which stands proudly on the north side of the main plaza, as well as the elaborate Iglesia de la Merced.

Hill of the Cross

On the northern side of Antigua is the Hill of the Cross, or Cerro de la Cruz, reached along an easy 30-minute walk from the main plaza. As the name suggests, it’s marked by a cross and boasts sweeping panoramas of the historic city, together with unobstructed views of Volcan Agua behind. There are numerous shady areas to stop along the way, as well as stalls selling drinks and snacks at the summit.

Volcan Pacaya

Volcan Pacaya is the most famous volcano to climb near Antigua, with the start of the trail situated just over an hours’ drive from the city. It’s a one and a half hour trek to the crater rim where you can peer down into the volcano’s belly, with volcanic gasses and steam billowing from its center. Most opt to trek during the late afternoon and early evening to catch a glimpse of the lava glowing bright red in the night sky.

Volcan Acatenango

If you’re after a longer hike, then you can attempt the almost 4,000-meter summit of Volcan Acatenango. It’s the highest volcano in the region and offers spectacular views across the surrounding region, which make the 8-10 hour hike worth it. Many opt to camp out overnight, allowing you to witness the light show from neighboring Volcan Fuego which is one of the most active (and violent) volcanoes near Antigua.

Artisan workshops

Antigua has a strong artistic tradition and the city is dotted with studios and workshops where textiles, woodwork, jade and wrought iron products are all created by hand. Under the guidance of talented local artists and designers, you can learn to make handicrafts yourself as part of community-based workshops and take home your own creation. Or discover the secrets of the perfect brew at one of Antigua’s coffee farms where you will be guided step-by-step through the coffee-making process and meet the farmers who work the fields.

Guatemalan traditions

Guatemalan culture combines elements of its rich Mayan history and influences from Spanish colonizers, with dramatic contrasts between the more traditional villagers in the rural highlands and the city-dwelling mestizo population. Roman Catholicism brought by the Spanish has been fused with indigenous Maya beliefs throughout many of the rural regions, while Protestant Pentecostalism dominates in the urban centers. San Simon of Guatemala or Maximón is the revered local saint, always depicted in black with a bible in one hand and rosary in the other.

Guatemala’s Mayan people are renowned for their brightly-colored textiles, with each village boasting its own pattern which distinguishes it from the next. Marimba is considered the national instrument and played throughout the country, particularly during religious festivals, while the Garifuna people along the northeast Caribbean coast have their own distinct folk music traditions.

Football (soccer) is without a doubt the most popular sport in Guatemala, although the country is also a natural playground for white-water rafting, spelunking and volcano climbing.

Guatemalan cuisine

The Guatemalan diet shows influences from the ancient Mayan civilization in the use of maize, chilli and amaranth, together with black beans (frijoles) which are served at most meals. Typical Spanish dishes such as tamales, tortillas and enchiladas were introduced during Spanish rule, with stewed meats such as pepián and subanik popular throughout inland regions and spiced fish or tapado seafood soup with green plantain prevalent along the coast.

Grilled or fried beef known as bistec is widely popular, as is churrasco (charcoal-grilled meats) and chiles rellenos stuffed with meat and vegetables. There are reportedly hundreds of different varieties of tamales throughout the country which are wrapped in green maxan leaves and filled with meats, fruits and nuts, while chuchitos are a smaller variety wrapped in tuzas (dried corn husks) and often accompanied by tomato salsa and salty, white cheese.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, banana and coffee plantations were established across the country and Guatemala now produces some of the world’s best coffee. Sugarcane also became a successful crop in the lead up to World War II, while more recently Chinese cuisine has proved popular in the country and now most towns and cities have at least one Chinese restaurant.

Airlines which fly to Guatemala from Europe, North America and Australia

La Aurora International Airport in Guatemala City is the main entrance point to Guatemala and situated around 40-60 minutes drive from Antigua. American Airlines offers direct flights from Miami and Dallas/Fort Worth, while Delta has flights from Atlanta and Los Angeles. United Airlines has nonstop flights from Houston and Newark, with Spirit Airlines flying direct from Fort Lauderdale.

For those traveling from Europe, there are only direct flights from Madrid with Iberia and most choose to fly through the United States, Mexico City or Panama City. There are direct flights available from Panama with Copa Airlines and from Mexico with Interjet. Taca also flies from Mexico City and Cancun, as well as a number of US destinations.

If you’re flying from Australia to volunteer in Guatemala, then connections through Los Angeles with Qantas offer the most direct route.