Volunteer Travel in Guatemala

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Are you curious about volunteer travel? Is a trip to Guatemala on your boomer to do list? Today, you can learn about both from Rebecca Wilks of Skyline Images.

Antigua, Guatemala

Carolee, one of my most philanthropic friends, nagged me for years before I agreed to go to Guatemala.

The ‘hook’ was to support the nonprofit Cooperative for Education (CoEd). As a member of a Rotary Club, I was impressed with the sustainable program design of CoEd’s textbook, computer center and reading programs as well as their commitment to education for rural students. While visiting the programs on CoEd’s semi-annual Project Tours, I was able to visit locations in Guatemala that tourists cannot normally reach — culturally rich places where the people primarily speak one of 21 distinct Mayan dialects and dress in regional clothing (the women in elaborately embroidered huipils.) But that was just the beginning.

Happy faces in Guatemala

On my first trip in 2007, I was blown away time and again during the experience. Guatemala is a strikingly beautiful place — a playground for a serious photographer. There are 29 volcanoes (3 active), the highest of which is nearly 14,000 feet in elevation. Lake Atitlan, consistently labeled one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, is surrounded by volcanoes and dotted with Mayan Villages.

Lake Atitlan

Antigua Guatemala, the historic territorial capital, is picturesque and irresistible. The city is known for cobblestone streets, brightly painted historic buildings and coffee plantations (Fincas) along the slopes of (perhaps you guessed) nearby volcanoes. City and coffee tours as well as zip-line jungle adventures and volcano hikes are popular diversions for boomer visitors.

Antigua is a common destination for Spanish language immersion schools. I’ve returned several times to my favorite, San Jose El Viejo, built among the ruins of one of Antigua’s over 50 churches (ranging from ruins to fully functional). The local joke is that a town with so many churches must be full of sinners.

The real attraction though, as I hinted above, is the Guatemalan people. I have had the great privilege to visit schools in remote villages as part of a CoEd Project Tour. The people of Guatemala are warm, generous and joyous — and a photographer’s dream. Each face, from the kids to the elders is compelling, and in brightly-colored Mayan clothing they, like Guatemala, are irresistible.

Carolee was right. Guatemala has it all.

Have you visited Guatemala? Or have you participated in a boomer volunteer travel program? Join the conversation at the My Itchy Travel Feet page on Facebook or send us an email with your comments or questions.

All photos courtesy Rebecca Wilkes

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