Motorbiking at Sea Turtle Conservation in Guatemala

I rode on the back of a motorbike in Guatemala this past summer.

Don’t try that at home. Or anywhere abroad!

I wasn’t exactly hitchhiking. But I WAS walking on the side of the road — going from the small town of Hawaii back to beach town of Monterrico, Guatemala.

I had just visited our sea turtle conservation project with ARCAS in Hawaii, Guatemala on June 16, 2017.

A nice guy (pictured above) stopped and asked if I wanted a ride. I hopped right on the motorbike and away we went.

15 minutes later we arrived in Monterrico and I got off the bike. I thanked him and offered to pay him something. He politely declined. How about a cool drink or lunch? Again, no gracias.

He did agree to let me take his photo — for posterity. Then we went our separate ways.

Lake Atitlán: Best Beach You Haven’t Heard of Yet

Lake Atitlán in Guatemala was named the “Best Beach You Haven’t Heard of Yet” by in 2015:

The best under-the-radar beach does not find itself alongside an ocean, but the most beautiful lake in the world. Situated in the highlands of Guatemala, Lake Atitlán is Central America’s deepest lake. “Nestled in the valley of 3 volcanoes (one of them still active), you’ll not only take in peaceful volcanic views, but also absorb the vibrant pink, yellow and blue colors of the surrounding vegetation,” says Sara Gilliam. “In fact, Atitlán is Mayan for ‘where the rainbow gets its colors.’”

Why do we care about Atitlán? Well, it’s one of the regular weekend excursions for our participants on our Volunteering Program in Guatemala.

Gabriela Sagastume and Andres Ranero posted a travel diary video Lake Atitlan in 2016. They show drone footage of Hacienda Real in Tecpan and San Antonio Palopo in Solola. They also show the lovely towns of Santa Catarina Palopo and Panajachel.

ABC News explains further the appeal of Lake Atitlan:

Lake Atitlán isn’t an ocean beach, but as it’s name suggests, on a lake. Lake Atitlán is the country’s deepest lake, in the Guatemalan Highlands of the Sierra Madre de Chiapas mountain range.

Surrounded by volcanoes and dotted with tiny Mayan towns accessible by boat, the area surrounding Lake Atitlán is known for its spectacular views and friendly people.

Do’s and Dont’s When Volunteering in Guatemala

Our best advice for getting the most out of your volunteer trip to Guatemala:

  • Don’t drink tap water; only bottled or filtered water
  • Have a cell phone in Guatemala (either from home or buy local)
  • Carry your cell phone everywhere
  • Tight / revealing clothes will draw extra attention from men
  • No jewelry, cash or expensive electronics in public
  • Don’t go alone on excursions or isolated places
  • Tell your host family if you are not going to be home for meals
  • Don’t isolate yourself (ear buds, sunglasses, spending all free time in bedroom)
  • Don’t worry about mistakes when speaking Spanish
  • Do not use ATM’s around Central Park Antigua area due to electronic fraud
  • In Antigua use only ATM’s inside upscale hotels like Porta Hotel Antigua
  • Watch for pickpockets and scammers at all ATM’s
  • Be aware that sexism and harassment are prevalent
  • Bring a rain jacket and small umbrella – it rains often in Antigua and Xela
  • Use your own toiletries
  • No swimming under any circumstances
  • Wash your hands frequently (or hand sanitizer if you can’t wash)
  • Keep your room tidy and clean up after yourself
  • Always ask before taking photo/video of someone
  • Speak softly – shouting and talking loud is impolite
  • No riding in chicken buses
  • Vehicles always have the right of way
  • Don’t ignore symptoms like headache, diarrhea, not sleeping
  • Fight jet lag with water, exercise, and adjusting to local time immediately
  • Always carry contact information on paper for our staff and your peers
  • All illnesses, incidents, & accidents MUST be reported immediately to coordinator
  • Use bug spray at night to avoid mosquito bites

Cerro de la Cruz in Antigua, Guatemala

The Cerro de la Cruz is one of the must-see attractions in Antigua, Guatemala.

La Cruz (“The Cross”) is in an elevated park cut into a hill on the north side of Antigua.

I visited La Cruz a couple of days ago as I was finishing my trip here to host our volunteers in Guatemala.

My photos are at the end of this post.

I still love visiting La Cruz every time I am in Antigua. The place never gets old!

At La Cruz you can see the entire town of Antigua and get an unobstructed view of Volcan Agua.

Go on a clear day for the best possible viewing. It is best to go early morning, say by 8 am, before the clouds roll in and cover things up.

Although it difficult to get lost in Antigua — because of its small size and perpendicular street layout — La Cruz can also serve as a good landmark for newbies to the town.

La Cruz has had a bad reputation for years with robberies and assaults of tourists.

But the city has mostly ended the daytime dangers by having police patrol La Cruz from 8am to 4pm daily.

To reach the top of La Cruz, you must walk about 300 steps. Many of the “steps” are long and flat, so it is not too tough of a journey.

How to Reach La Cruz

  • Go to the street 1a Avenida
  • Turn north on 1a Avenida
  • Look for the entrance sign “Bienvenidos Cerro De La Cruz”
  • Start walking up the steps!

Facts About Cerro de la Cruz

  • Built in 1930
  • About a 15 minute hike from center of Antigua
  • Police patrol 8am – 4pm daily


Cerro de la Cruz in Antigua Guatemala

Cerro de la Cruz in Antigua Guatemala

Cerro de la Cruz in Antigua Guatemala

Cerro de la Cruz in Antigua Guatemala

Cerro de la Cruz in Antigua Guatemala


Spanish Classes in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala

The above is a video of one of our group Spanish classes today in Quetzeltenango, Guatemala.

Normally our students’ Spanish classes are one-on-one, but occasionally the teachers get everyone together for a group activity. The Spanish lesson in the Guatemala video below involved a card game to help the students with vocabulary.

Remember, all of our volunteering programs in Guatemala include ten (10) hours of one-on-one Spanish lessons. You can do the lessons either in the morning or afternoon.

Most volunteer work takes place in mornings, so the Spanish lessons typically take place in the afternoons (after lunch at the host families).

Our Spanish classes in Quetzeltenango, Guatemala take place at the la coffee shop at 15 Av 8 Calle 13-77 Zona 1 in Quetzeltenango. They have a beautiful rooftop terrace with views of the city and surrounding mountains and volcanoes.


Hiking Pacaya Volcano

One of the most exciting excursions our volunteers do when volunteering in Guatemala is hiking Pacaya Volcano in Guatemala.

The entire Pacaya Volcano experience is a “half-day” excursion, usually lasting from 8am to 2pm door-to-door from the city of Antigua (where many of our volunteers live and work).

Hiking Pacaya Volcano

Most people who volunteer in Guatemala get the chance to hike the volcano — whether they are building houses or volunteering at an orphanage.

Hiking Pacaya Volcano is an incredibly rewarding experience but also very challenging physically.

You essentially need to be fit enough to walk up a hill for 2-3 straight hours.

You will sweat a lot but the air is windy and cool (especially at the top) so you’ll feel a bit clammy at times. Best to dress in layers.

Pacaya Volcano Album on our Facebook page

You can though hire a horse to take you up the volcano. It costs $20-$30 and there are horses and guides stationed throughout the hike.

Hiking Pacaya Volcano

You can start out on foot to see how you feel, then hire a horse ride if you don’t feel up to hiking.

Pacaya is an active volcano. Its last major eruption was very recent — in 2010, with ash columns up to 1,500 meters high and ash and volcanic debris raining down on Guatemala City and many surrounding small towns.

You probably won’t see any rivers of lava on your hike. But at certain points you can see smoke rising from the ground and feel the lava’s heat on your feet.

In fact at one stop on the hike, our guide gives out marshmallows that you roast using the heat rising from the earth.

Hiking Pacaya Volcano

The volcano and surrounding area now lie within Pacaya National Park which was created to supervise and protect tourism in the region. The park generates its income from entrance fees from tour groups like ours.

The views at the top of Pacaya Volcano are simply spectacular.

The amazing views include the volcanoes Fuego, Acatenango, and Agua as well as Guatemala City, Antigua, and dozens of villages.

Operation Listen to Love

One of our former volunteers has created a project called Operation Listen to Love — to donate items and cash in Guatemala several times a year.

The mission of Operation Listen to Love is to donate items such as new/used clothes, books, toys, school supplies, etc. to Semillas de Amor and other Guatemalan orphanages.

Operation Listen to Love is being run by Janine Kim, a California high school student, who volunteered through Cosmic Volunteers at the Semillas de Amor orphanage in Guatemala in the summer of 2013.

Cosmic Volunteers is providing guidance to Janine and her peer, as well as paying shipping costs for items they will send to Guatemala.

According to their Facebook page, this is how you can help Operation Listen to Love:

> Donate the above items and more kid-appropriate things to me or a participating club!

> Donate money directly to Semillas de Amor.

> Spread the word!!! use this project for your youth group, club, etc.

> Message Janine for more info!

Children and staff at Semillas de Amor:

Semillas De Amor Orphanage

Emam Murray Volunteers in Guatemala

Emma Murray wrote a blog about her volunteer experience in Guatemala. She spent two weeks helping to build a house in a village outside of the city of Antigua.

Here is an excerpt from her blog:

Day 15 – Last Day

Bittersweet endings seem to cling to me. It’s a pattern of occurrence I cannot seem to shake off.

We cranked out half of the house today in compensation for the time we lost waiting for materials earlier this week. At the end of the day our coordinator brought us cake and drinks to share with the family and to celebrate a long and hard week we endured to bring them this house.

It was sad to say goodbye to the family. To Hugo and Elivia, the little children. To the kittens born a couple days ago in the barn house. To the crazy uncle that would always come up to me and say “Whaaaa tyyme izit!!!!!” no matter how recently he had just asked me. To the kind grandmother that sewed my pants (I brought her a traditional cake bread the next day in thanks, and to my horror as soon as I handed it to her I realized that she had no teeth…. I don’t know how she ate it).

And to the masons especially. They were so patient and understanding. I learned so much. Who knew I could build a house?!

I leave for the airport soon. In the 25+ hours of travel I’m sure more eloquent words will come to mind, but for now I’d like to give everyone that I have met a giant hug.

I realize that they have all shaped this adventure in their own way. However trivial or large, my new experiences would have been nothing without the people that created them.

Emma Murray (USA-Germany)
House Building Volunteer, Guatemala