Community based tourism in Guatemala: Mayan Gateway promotes sustainable development through community-based tourism activities. Guatemala is a complete experience. Whether on the tourist trail or not, each community has a unique story and there are captivating things to find throughout the country. Go on this special journey through the breathtaking mountains and indigenous villages of Guatemala.
There is so much happening in the small mountainside towns. The flourishing communities have a birds-eye view volcanoes, peculiar coffee farms, and shops filled with handmade products. You will be won over by the kind-hearted inhabitants. It has the kind of appealing, unspoiled feel of that kind of place… authentic, natural, and filled with life. Because of this, the rural villages in Guatemala stand out as a model for community-based sustainable tourism.
What exactly is community-based tourism? Often when you travel, the money we spend in a country does not really benefit the communities. While hotels, tours, and restaurants may provide some local jobs, if they are owned by outside big companies, a lot of the profits leak out of that destination.
Community-based tourism is when the local communities themselves lead the way in building the trip experience (like a tour or homestay), and they also directly benefit from it. This trip, like many others, is focused on community tourism in Guatemala, its living Mayan culture and people.
A driver will be waiting for you to take you to your hotel in Antigua Guatemala.
The views from Antigua, which is situated in a valley between volcanoes, are just breathtaking. When the volcanoes are not buried by clouds, it is likely possible to catch some of the 20 to 30 amazing eruptions from Volcano de Fuego throughout the day.
We will really have stunning views, when we head up the hill to San Cristobal El Alto. Experience a tour of the town with their community organization, eat at an organic restaurant, and see the market on Sundays. There will be time to stroll around the charming flower-lined streets (acquiring it the nickname “garden town”).
Day 3. Antigua Guatemala – Antigua to Santo Domingo Xenacoj
Today you will take a full day trip to the community of ‘Santo Domingo Xenacoj’. This town is full of inhabitantes excited to welcome travelers and women who are working to preserve their weaving heritage and protect it from cultural appropriation.
Depending on when you are able to travel, you may come across a craft fair or other local fair. There is always a festival somewhere in the country. That is the way to visit Guatemala–be open to spontaneity. This should be the trend of new travelers because Guatemala is more than the exemplary experiences it is known for. The whole country is an experience.
In late October, the inhabitants of the town are preparing colossal kites for All Saints Day on November 1st. It is the best time of the year to visit this town to see the local festivities.
Today you will experience a weaving workshop with the cooperative of women to learn about their passion for preserving their weaving legacy.
Many of the women in Guatemala still wear the traditional colorful dresses, which consists of a skillfully woven blouse, skirt and sash. The pattern of the blouse indicates what locality and indigenous group the clothing are from. Each handmade garment is complex, colorful, and can take up to a year to make.
For many of the Maya, the clothing is more than just a course to identify their region. It holds ancestral meaning and ties them directly to their lineage. Specific patterns on the garments can indicate competence in the community and some are reserved for special events.
In many ways, the blouse is the common thread throughout the tourism experience. The combination of geometric arrangements, colors, animal and plant symbols show up in many forms and serve as a bright expression of the richness of the culture.
Today we will hike the active Volcano Pacaya. If you are lucky, you may see running lava! Together with your guide, you will roast marshmallows in between the warm lava rocks.
Additionally, we will visit a Lava Store. In 2010, the volcano had a serious eruption, spitting rock on nearby villages and covering Guatemala City (about 18 miles away) with ash. Thankfully, most inhabitants evacuated safely, but hundreds of homes were damaged.
Out of the restoration and rebuilding efforts, the Lava Store was born as a way for people to earn an income from visitors who came to hike the volcano. Each fragment of jewelry, made by a local artisan, has some volcanic sand in it, symbolizing that something fine can come out of destruction. Not only does purchasing from the Lava Store benefit the region, hiking the volcano with one of our local guides provides good employment opportunities for those who call volcano Pacaya home.
Today you will learn how to make peanut butter with a direct trade coffee company, ‘De La Gente’ is a direct trade coffee company that works with local cooperatives by providing space building programs and offering their product to markets.
In recent years they have begun offering community-based sustainable tourism experiences in their community of San Miguel Escobar. They began this in order to open up economic chances to women in their community since most of the coffee farming is done by men.
In the afternoon, you will have a Chocolate workshop.
Your driver will take you to Lake Atitlan, where you will take a boat to the town of San Juan La Laguna. This lakeside town is a must for any responsible traveler visiting the lake region. The colorful town is a boon for those who want to experience and support provincially run initiatives.
We offer cultural exchange tours that preserve the heritage, people, and environment. Because the village is remote, job opportunities are limited and much of the community relies on these programs for financial backing. Through Rural Inns, or homestay programs, visitors can get a first-hand experience of life in the small town of San Juan la Laguna.
There are over 25 Maya families that have opened their homes to travelers. Each host family will take in new visitors each week and share their home, food and traditions. While the homestay experience provides an exclusive window into everyday life for the Mayans, We also offer tours that feature textiles, medicinal plants, painting, chocolate and more.
When you buy a handcraft at many of these cooperatives, an important portion of your purchase goes toward community projects and education. A highlight of the tour is the Art Gallery and the weaving demonstration center, where you can learn about the process of using natural dyes.
The homestay program in San Juan gives travelers a chance for cultural immersion and locals an opportunity to augment their income.
In addition to staying with a local Maya family, you can shop directly from artisans, naturally dyed fibers at a weaving cooperative to medicinal plants to stunning paintings at artists cooperatives.
At the weaving cooperative, sit in on a fiber demonstration where you will see the colors created from different natural dyes from beet root to coconut shells to avocado tree bark. Then shop away, knowing that the money you spend is going directly to the artisan who wove the product!
San Pedro la Laguna.
Many municipalities in Guatemala have or are starting to implement a single-use plastics ban. San Pedro la Laguna was the first town on Lake Atitlán to take the lead! In 2015 the local government passed an ordinance moving toward environmental care. The city saw how contaminated the lake was becoming due to plastics and decided that in order to preserve the natural charm of the lake and attract more tourism, they needed to do something about it.
What was not an easy shift at first has now become a great standard. Local inhabitants were initially uninterested in making the switch because they thought it would just cost too much, but the government visited each family and gave them mechanisms to make the switch to a plastic-free life. Now everyone in town carries reusable bags.
Visit ‘Santa Catarina Palopo’.
In Guatemala, there are 21 distinct Mayan languages and more than 250 towns, each with their own particular design for their woven garments. Basically, you could tell what town someone was from based on what they are wearing if you pay attention to the details.
In the town of Santa Catarina Palopó on the shores of Lake Atitlan, an ingenious community project has emerged in the last few years: painting these geometric patterns on houses and buildings throughout town.
The objective is to preserve their weaving designs, promote tourism in order to boost job opportunities, and to use art as a tool for social renewal.
Art is a tool for change in this fishing town. In recent years the population has increased significantly, which has shifted the economic scene. Traditional trades like fishing and agriculture are no longer a viable choice. Many of the Maya families are being forced into poverty because they are not able to keep up with commerce and do not have the necessary skills for a competing job market, that is where Painting Santa Catarina comes in.
Made for the community, the organization aims to revitalize the town by making it a cultural harbor through art. With the support of community rulers and volunteers, individual homes are painted with Mayan symbols. The organization hopes that this beautification will lead to more tourism income and in turn, more financing opportunities, jobs, and marketing for indigenous arts.
The project also gives people the option to reclaim their heritage through these symbols by giving them exposure. There are hundreds of houses that are already painted. Each family is able to choose the base color, symbols, and secondary colors. The association then administers the painting materials and a locally-employed promoter, who ensures that the project is finished. The cherry on top? The paint is ecologically friendly!
The design starts from the idea that the town is a large woven that is drying on the breathtaking mountains and that connects the lake with the sky.
Today we will drive to the Pacific coast. Surfing, sunshine, and sea turtles await you. ‘El Paredón’ is a hidden gem on the Pacific Ocean of Guatemala. Still relatively off the beaten path, the oceanside town is starting to gain tourism traction. Tours organized by local organizations go towards funding education and environmental projects. They have set up a community garden and are teaching people how to grow their own organic food. They have also established a computer lab, a secondary school, and a library.
The tours we organized in the area are also committed to providing jobs by hiring residents for guides and hosts. We offer homestays, turtle tours, cooking classes and more.
El Paredon makes up 10% of all of the mangrove systems of Guatemala. Because their biosystem is fragile, organizations are working to change the local mentality and stress the importance of beach clean up and conservation. The great news is that these samples are only a small taste of the Guatemalan movement towards sustainability.
You will have a tour to a mangrove and support community and conservation
One of the main tenets of community-based tourism is that the local community reaps economic benefits, but this is not always straightforward or an easy action. Because of this reason, we work with local organizations to ensure the inhabitants benefits from growing surfing tourism while also promoting conservation.
There are many options on this beautiful coast. You will have the option to learn how to make authentic Guatemalan food with a local family, paddle through a mangrove as you spot wildlife, or take a turtle tour on the river.
This is one of the only areas in the entire world where sea turtles are present year round, and it is crucial to observe the turtles responsibly and prevent over tourism by traveling with a responsible tour operator like us.
Today you will have a free day to rest and relax, or to participate in extra activities if you wish.
You will have a free morning to rest and relax, before your driver takes you to your hotel in Guatemala City.
Unfortunately, this amazing experience ends today. You will have shuttle service transfer to the airport for your flight back home.