Volunteer in Guatemala
At a glance…
- Available year-round - 11 meaningful project options
- Projects based in and around the colonial city of Antigua and Sipacate
- Accommodation in local homestays or a dormitory-style volunteer house
- Between 20 and 50 volunteers start in Guatemala each month
- Program fees include airport pick-up, orientation, accommodation, breakfasts, dinners and 24/7 in-country support
- Program fees from $310 for 1 week
- Affordable Spanish Language lessons available
- Most affordable fees - as the world leader in affordable volunteer travel, we’re able to keep our fees low by partnering with a local organization in Guatemala to support meaningful community projects and local employment.
- Superior support - your experienced IVHQ Program Manager, teamed with our local team in Guatemala will ensure you feel supported every step of the way - from planning to volunteering.
- Responsible projects - we’re dedicated to ensuring that our projects are responsibly run and have sustainable positive impacts that are supporting local needs.
- Online training - as soon as you register on an IVHQ program, you will gain access to our interactive volunteer training to ensure you’re well prepared for your program.
- Safety-first - volunteer safety is a top priority for IVHQ and we have clear standards for risk management on each program. You can feel confident that you are placed with trustworthy institutions, organizations and families that have been screened by our local teams.
- New friendships - as an IVHQer, you’ll always be in the company of friendly locals and like-minded volunteer travelers who will quickly become your life-long friends.
- Epic weekend adventures - you’ll have your weekends free to explore Guatemala with your new-found friends.
The IVHQ Guatemala volunteer program has volunteer placements located in the colonial city of Antigua and surrounding towns and villages. Antigua is located approximately 30 minutes out of Guatemala City. The Turtle Conservation project is based in Sipacate, on the Pacific coast of Guatemala.
Volunteer programs begin every Monday. Volunteers can choose to volunteer for periods ranging from 1 week to 24 weeks.
Animal Care/Animal Rights
Culturally speaking, animals are not looked upon as integral members of the family in Latin America, as they are in more developed countries. Unfortunately, this often leads to animals being neglected or abandoned in the streets or rural areas, where their chances of becoming injured or ill are very high. In Guatemala, there is a high demand for volunteer assistance in a range of animal-focused placements, including a dog and cat shelter, a veterinary clinic and an exotic animal refuge, populated by crocodiles, snakes, lizards and turtles. We recommend stating a preference for the type of placement you wish to work in, but we cannot guarantee preferences as volunteers are ultimately placed where their help is most needed. Tasks you may be asked to help with include cleaning cages, bathing or brushing the animals, helping with obedience training and veterinary care, walking and playing with the animals, or constructing small, functional structures at the animal care facilities.
Construction and Renovation
Construction projects are focused on home-building, school and orphanage renovation, as well as building playground and bathroom facilities. A local foreman provides guidance and training to volunteers while they work alongside other volunteers and local families. Volunteers should come ready to work hard, as they will be laying brick, doing carpentry, painting, laying tile, and landscaping/gardening. Volunteers are not required to have experience with construction work, but a reasonable level of fitness and strong dedication to the work at hand will go a long way to ensure they get the most out of their volunteer project. Please note, the Construction and Renovation project has an extra cost of US$65 per week for supervision, materials and the logistics involved in this project. This amount will be included in the Program Fee quoted to you by IVHQ when you apply.
Turtle Conservation volunteers work alongside a government organization on the Pacific coast of Guatemala to assist with sea turtle protection and sustainable egg protection programs. Volunteer roles vary according to the time of year, but general work includes beach patrols, relocating eggs to hatcheries to protect them from predators, building hatcheries, releasing hatchlings, beach cleaning and beach reforestation. The project is located in a rural area and volunteers will stay in a dormitory style hostel or with a host family. Living conditions are basic and volunteers must come prepared to work hard and get dirty. Volunteers arrive into Antigua and receive their orientation there, making their way to Sipacate in a provided shuttle on Tuesday morning; returning back to Antigua on the final Friday of their program. Please note, the Turtle Conservation project required participation for a minimum of 2 weeks and has an extra cost of US$65 per week for supervision, materials and the logistics involved in the project. This amount will be included in the Program Fee quoted to you by IVHQ when you apply.
The Guatemala Eco-Agriculture Conservation project is based in a coffee farming community located at the base of the Guatemalan highlands, just outside of Antigua. The coffee co-operative that volunteers work with, was set up with the help of a non-profit organization that focuses on economic development and sustainable agriculture in Guatemala. The farmers all work between one and seven acres of land that they own. All coffee is organic, shade grown, hand processed and sun dried. As a volunteer alongside these farmers, you will provide support and participate in every step of the coffee growing, harvesting, and marketing process. This includes working in the nursery, coffee picking, weeding, planting shade trees, and even roasting packaging of the final product for local and international sales. The high coffee harvesting season is from December until early March, but there is plenty of work to do all year round. In addition to the coffee co-operative, volunteers may also be involved with local agriculture and reforestation efforts. The farmers in this co-operative are also in the process of building a school for their community and some volunteers may be asked to help the farmers with the construction work on the school. Please note, the Eco-Agriculture project has an extra cost of US$65 per week for supervision, materials and the logistics involved in this project. This amount will be included in the Program Fee quoted to you by IVHQ when you apply.
The rural areas of Guatemala contrast sharply with those in large cities, especially with respect to medical care. Volunteers working on the medical project can get hands on experience working with local doctors and nurses in small local clinics for the poor, providing check-ups and basic medical care in poor communities and at orphanages. It is important that Medical volunteers have realistic expectations with regard to the activities in which they will get involved. Pre-medical students, first year or second year medical and nursing students can participate in the following areas within the clinic and hospital placements: taking weight, height, blood pressure, heart rate and temperature, making beds, cleaning, talking with patients, preparing materials and sterilizing equipment. Third and fourth year medical and nursing students, as well as medical professionals, can also participate in the following areas: cleaning wounds, giving injections and sutures, working in consult rooms and specialized departments, assisting doctors taking physicals and histories, giving vaccinations, taking records, drawing blood samples, providing basic assistance with physiotherapy. Volunteers should understand that their level of independence within their volunteer work will always be determined by their level of training, demonstrated expertise, Spanish level, age, personality, program duration and ability to take initiative. Please note, the Medical project has an extra cost of US$65 per week for supervision, materials and the logistics involved in this project. This amount will be included in the Program Fee quoted to you by IVHQ when you apply.
The Childcare project in Guatemala provides individual attention and assistance to children from poor homes and communities. Many children at the projects we work with are affected by poor home life, little to no schooling and alcohol or drug abuse among their families. Volunteers will work in schools, daycare centers, and orphanages. Work varies but generally consists of providing individual attention, playing with children, organizing games and activities, educating children regarding hygiene and assisting with homework. Volunteers play an important role in working alongside local staff to improve the educational, emotional, and hygiene conditions of the children.
The ability to speak English gives Guatemalans a genuine opportunity to find work and build a career in tourism, business, or teaching. Volunteers play an integral part in providing free English lessons to adults and children so they can learn English. Volunteers work in a variety of settings, including English learning programs for the poor, public schools, community centers and public libraries. Work varies but generally consists of teaching small groups of children, providing tutoring local students, setting up workshops, assisting local teachers and organizing educational games and activities. Volunteers can also participate in cleaning and fixing up the teaching areas as well as fundraising, and collecting donations of books and other educational materials. Please note, volunteers do not need to be a qualified or experienced teacher but may need to plan and deliver an entire class as a primary teacher to small group of students. As volunteers work with the support of IVHQ’s local team and placement staff, they do not need to be qualified or experienced teachers to participate. Our local team provide Teaching English volunteers with an ESL (English as a Second Language) “crash course” and educational materials to help get you started. To prepare before you depart,
Working with the Elderly
Elderly care placements in Guatemala place volunteers at nursing homes and senior centres in and around La Antigua. The focus of these projects is to help create a compassionate and friendly atmosphere for the elderly. In the communities where we work, elderly people are from very low-income families and now late in life they rely on local service organizations even for their basic needs. Unfortunately, most of these organizations are extremely underfunded and international volunteers are a great source of manpower and support for these organizations and communities. Volunteers provide one-on-one attention, basic healthcare, and socialize with senior citizens. Volunteers also organize recreational activities, medicine distribution, and meal preparation. Some volunteers have even created exercise programs, song and dance activities, and arts and crafts projects.
Special Needs Care
Compassionate volunteers looking to make a real difference can join our Special Needs Care project in Guatemala. Volunteers work in homes and clinics for mentally and physically disabled children and babies. Volunteers assist with the personal care of the children, providing specialized attention and helping with physical therapy, feeding, clothing, bathing, and organizing crafts and games for playtime. The range of disabilities found amongst the children is wide, so volunteers must come prepared to help with both basic life functions and engaging the children in imaginative games.
Spanish Service Learning Course
Students from around the world have an opportunity to gain university credit while volunteering in Guatemala through the Spanish Service Learning Course (SPAN203SL), which is accredited by California State University, Monterey Bay. The purpose of the Spanish Service Learning Course is to foster a sense of civic responsibility and community, to expose students to local culture and language, and to create an opportunity for students to broaden their global perspective and identity. For further details, see our Spanish Service Learning Course page.
Students attend 5 guided reflections, write a daily journal and then complete a final reflection paper. The Spanish Service Learning Course and optional language lessons are offered in conjunction with the volunteer work and can all be included in your daily schedule as an IVHQ volunteer. The workshops and written assignments are conducted in English, however the remainder of the course and the entire volunteer experience offer total Spanish immersion. Volunteers choose their work from a range of options including: Teaching English, Childcare, Special Needs Care, Animal Care, Construction and Renovation, Eco-Agriculture and Medical and arranging the course accreditation is done through your IVHQ Program Manager and the local team in Guatemala after you have registered. When applying online, please apply for the Spanish Service Learning Course project and indicate your volunteer work preference in the ‘Comments’ section of your application.
The course fee is US$880 and is paid directly to IVHQ’s local team to cover all aspects of the course and accreditation. This course fee is in addition to the IVHQ Registration Fee and the Program Fee which volunteers pay to cover the volunteer section of the course requirements. Volunteers can join the Spanish Service Learning Course any time of year and it requires a minimum duration of 4 weeks. Attendance for the whole duration is mandatory.
The Guatemala Holiday Experience project is held during the weeks of Christmas and New Years and provides the opportunity to participate in a variety of different projects and activities in the local community. The project was designed by our local team as an alternative to the standard projects which have frequent public holiday closures over the Christmas and New Years period. Volunteers on the Holiday Experience project assist in a range of tasks, such as working with underprivileged children, coordinating holiday parties for underprivileged children and elderly, working in an animal shelter and working on a sustainable coffee farm. On the major holidays that fall during this period, volunteers have the day off to explore La Antigua and the surrounding areas, which is a beautiful and unique experience during the festive season. Please note, in 2017, this project is only available to volunteers who begin the weeks of 25th December and 1st January. The Holiday Experience project requires an extra cost of US$75 per week for supervision, materials and the logistics involved in this project which will be included in the program fee quoted to you by IVHQ when you apply. Volunteers who continue on the program beyond these weeks will resume on a standard volunteer project of their choice.
Orientation is done by our Guatemalan team at their office in Antigua. Orientation begins on Monday morning and covers everything you need to know for your volunteer program in Guatemala – Introduction to Guatemala, Guatemalan Customs, Language Training Details, Rules and Expectations, Safety, Travel Opportunities in Guatemala, Introduction to your Project and Placement. The orientation will also give you a chance to meet other volunteers and swap contact details for weekend travel and socializing. Once your orientation is complete, you will be transported to your home-stay or volunteer house and introduced to the relevant hosts. Volunteers on the Lake Conservation will be transported to their conservation site on the first Tuesday of their program.
First Day: On your first day of volunteering, you will be escorted to your placement by a local coordinator and introduced to the placement staff you will be working with.
Weekdays: Volunteers will have a morning or afternoon shift, which will last around 2 to 4 hours. A typical afternoon schedule is as follows:
12.00 PM - Lunch at a local restaurant
1.00 PM - Volunteer leaves home and travels to the project. The volunteer joins with the local staff. You will be given a duty roster and a plan for your work. Work and hours is dependent on the project and location that the volunteer is participating on.
4.00 PM - Work at the placement usually ends. Volunteers are free to travel home, go sight seeing or do some shopping.
7.00 PM - Dinner with the host family.
Please note, this schedule can vary as projects take place in either the morning or evening. If a volunteer is taking Spanish language lessons, he/she will usually volunteer for half the day and spend the other half (3 to 4) hours taking Spanish language lessons.
Volunteers are accommodated alongside other volunteers in either a homestay with a local family or a dormitory-style volunteer house. Living is comfortable in both the volunteer house and home-stays and all accommodation has electricity, running water and western bathrooms. Low pressure showers should be expected and the water is not always heated. Bedrooms are comprised of single beds and bunk beds with bedding provided. You can expect to share a room with two to six other volunteers, but in some homestays volunteers get their own rooms.
Volunteers are provided breakfast and dinner at their accommodation. Breakfast typically consists of bread or tortillas, spreads, fruit and eggs accompanied with tea or coffee. Dinner commonly consists of meat, beans, starches and vegetables. Lunches are not provided to Antigua-based volunteers as they are typically away from their accommodation mid-day. We recommend budgeting between US$3 and $6 per day to purchase lunch at local restaurants recommended by the local staff. When you apply for the program, please be sure to notify us of any special dietary requirements so we can make arrangements for you. Tap water in Guatemala is not potable and drinking water is not provided for you in your accommodation, however bottled water is easy to purchase and inexpensive throughout Guatemala. Tap water can be used for showers and brushing your teeth.
“I certainly felt I was making a difference and helping the nurses and doctors out with such a large patient load in one clinic and with an understaffed problem in the other. My favorite moment was after washing a little girl’s feet and hands as a part of the healthy kids program at the clinic, she jumped up gave me a huge hug and said she loved me. It was very touching. It was an excellent learning experience and very rewarding.” - Leah Pagnozzi (Medical Volunteer in Guatemala)
During the weekends, volunteers have spare time and usually just relax or take the opportunity to explore other parts of Antigua and other areas in Guatemala. Long weekends can be taken to travel further afield to destinations, such as Tikal, Belize, Mexico, El Salvador and Honduras. Sunday is a religious day of rest and most places (stores, restaurants) are closed on Sundays, as most Guatemalans devote the day to spending time with their family. If you wish, you can accompany your host family to their local church, as a Latin American church service is unique and special experience for many volunteers.
See our Guatemala Travel and Tours page for more volunteer travel options in Guatemala!
|Currency||Guatemalan Quetzal (GTQ)|
Weather and climate: Guatemala has a range of micro climates and the high altitude of Guatemala City results in a subtropical highland climate (Köppen Cwb) in this region. There aren’t distinct seasons in Guatemala and the temperature is typically mild year round. Temperatures range from 22°C to 28°C (72°F to 82°F) during the day, and 12°C to 17°C (54°F to 63°F) at night. The country attracts winds and rain during the months of May to October with the hottest month being April.
Volunteers need to be 18 years or over to participate, unless volunteering with a parent or guardian. All volunteers are required to have adequate volunteer travel insurance and provide a criminal background check to IVHQ’s local team on arrival in Guatemala. Additional requirements apply for Medical volunteers, please read the project description below.
Fluency in Spanish is not a prerequisite for the IVHQ Guatemala volunteer program, however on certain projects, such as Teaching English and Medical, volunteer work will be restricted with limited Spanish language ability. We recommend that volunteers take advantage of the very affordable language lessons offered exclusively to IVHQ volunteers by our local partner in Guatemala. Past volunteers feel that taking these lessons helped immensely with day-to-day volunteer work and communicating with local people. Volunteers interested in taking Spanish lessons can arrange these directly with the local staff once in Guatemala.
Free Interactive Volunteer Training - All volunteers are encouraged to complete our interactive pre-departure training, which is available exclusively to registered IVHQ volunteers. The training is designed to build an understanding of important aspects that need to be considered before embarking on an IVHQ program. It helps volunteers to prepare in the right way by providing advice on what it takes to be a safe, responsible and valuable volunteer. Try a sample of the training here.
VOLUNTEER LANGUAGE LESSONS
Fluency in Spanish is not a prerequisite for the IVHQ Guatemala program, however on certain projects, such as Teaching and Healthcare, volunteer work will be restricted with limited language ability. We recommend that volunteers take advantage of the very affordable language lessons offered exclusively to IVHQ volunteers by our partner staff in Guatemala. Past volunteers feel that taking these lessons help immensely with day-to-day volunteer work and communicating with local people. Volunteers interested in taking Spanish lessons can arrange these directly with the local staff once in Guatemala at the program orientation. The language lessons are tailored to each volunteer’s current level of Spanish and classes run from Monday through to Friday. The cost is very affordable and offered exclusively to IVHQ volunteers.
2-Hour Small Group Classes: US$50 per week
1-Hour Private Classes: US$55 per week
VOLUNTEER EXTRA ACTIVITIES - SURF IN EL SALVADOR
If you would like to compliment your volunteer experience in Guatemala with a 5-day/4-night trip to the coast of El Salvador for an incredible surf school experience, you can arrange this directly with our local staff once you arrive in Antigua! After spending the weekend in Antigua, you will head to El Salvador on Monday morning and arrive in time for your first one-on-one surf lesson. While staying at a local boutique hotel complete with a pool, hammocks and ocean views, you will enjoy three meals and 2 hours of personal surf instruction per day. Spend your free time on the beach, body boarding, enjoying the hotel facilities or exploring nearby caves. The local beaches have great nightlife with music and dancing! The cost is US$590 and includes the following:
Transport to and from the beach in El Salvador
9 hours of one-on-one surf instruction
4 nights at a hotel
13 meals at the hotel dining facility (vegetarian options available)
3 additional nights with your host family in Antigua
VOLUNTEER EXTRA ACTIVITIES - MINI ADVENTURE IN GUATEMALA
Be sure to see all the must-see sites in Guatemala while you are in-country - the Mini Adventure combines the major hot spots in Guatemala into a one-week excursion that can be added at the beginning or end of your volunteer program. You will be accompanied by a certified, bilingual tour guide for each trip, using Antigua as your home base between tours. The 6-day program compliments your volunteer experience, without the stress of trip planning! If you would like to add a Mini Adventure to your trip, you can arrange this directly with our local staff once you are in Antigua. The cost is US$995 and includes the following:
Pacaya Volcano hike
3 days/2 nights on the beach in El Salvador (surf lessons included)
2 days/1 night in Tikal (return airfare to Tikal included)