Top Five Things to Do In: Quetzeltenango, Guatemala

IMG_9623Once the main hub for the Mayan Civilization, Guatemala is now the most-visited country in Central America. Quetzaltenango, which is often shortened to Xela (shell-ah), is a clean, and safe city that often attracts a more serious type of traveler who wants to improve their Spanish, explore the mountainous terrain, and get involved in the community and culture.

Geography
One of Guatemala’s biggest attractions is its geography. Guatemala is home to 33 volcanoes both dormant and active. Volcán Pacaya, one of Guatemala’s most active volcanoes and with its frequent eruptions, it has become a popular tourist attraction. Visitors climb the steep terrain to the top where if you’re not already out of breath from the hike, the stunning views of mountainous landscape will be sure to take your breath away. If you’re lucky, you may even be able to see flowing lava or spewing fountains. Make sure you bring plenty of water and some marshmallows to roast at the top!

Learn
There are various language schools in Xela to help you sharpen you Spanish skills. In addition to Spanish lessons, many of the schools offer opportunities for you to immerse yourself in the Guatemalan culture through home stays, cultural activities such as salsa classes, and volunteer opportunities like helping at a hospital or teaching English to elementary students.

Parque Central Quetzaltenango
Xela is considered Guatemala’s cultural capital. Parque Central is the heart of Quetzaltenango, making it a great place to experience Guatemalan culture. Located between three volcanoes, this major culture hub serves as a great hang out for locals and tourists and is home to beautiful architectural structures and a Catholic cathedral circa 1900, which has delicately carved stone work and colorful art. Also, if you’re feeling a little ambitious you can walk up to the Templo La Transfiguracion and marvel at the spectacular panorama of the city and surrounding mountains. Parque Central Quetzaltenango is also a fantastic spot to spend the afternoon with a book or people watching.

Coffee
Coffee is Guatemala’s largest export. Guatemala has a very suitable temperature, climate, and geography for healthy growth and abundant production of coffee. Guatemala has eight different coffee growing regions: each provides a unique bean for refreshing differences in your cup. If you think the Guatemalan Antigua coffee at Starbucks is good, wait till you try it fresh in its home country! For the real coffee enthusiasts, you can visit the Finca coffee farm just outside Quetzaltenango and learn about the growing and roasting process.

Chocolateria of Dona Pancha
Similar to coffee, chocolate is very popular in Guatemala. Visit this local family owned chocolate shop and learn how they make chocolate and about the culture and history behind chocolate-making. Try any or all of their 18 different chocolate flavors or make your own chocolate from raw cacao beans.

In conclusion
Quetzaltenango is a great place for the active traveler who also enjoys the simple things in life. Energize for a day of hiking on any of the surrounding mountains with a cup of the locally grown coffee, relax with some of Dona Pancha’s chocolate in Parque Central, or sharpen your Spanish skills and get involved in the community. Immerse yourself in Xela’s rich culture and history and you will most certainly not be disappointed!

Why You Should Stay With a Host Family

When most people travel abroad, they stay in hotels or resorts and don’t get the chance to immerse themselves in the culture of the country they are visiting. If you choose to do a World Endeavors intern, study or volunteer program that offers a home stay with a native family, you will have the opportunity of a life time. Here are some reasons a home stay is such a great experience.

1. The family will most likely cook local and delicious food for you daily.

2. In some cases they might even do your laundry for you!

3. You can ask them about their culture and gain an understanding of your surroundings and why people have certain customs or how they came about.

4. You can see how people live day-to-day.

5. They can make suggestions for local places to eat. This will give you a chance to go to these places and mingle with the locals.

6. If there are any interesting places to visit in the area, such as caves, beaches or castles that not many people know about, they will probably give you tips on where it is and how to get there.

7. If you have doubts about how to do daily tasks in a foreign country, especially one that speaks a different language, such as catching the bus or setting up your cell phone, they will also be able to help.

8. It’s nice to have a home away from home in a foreign country. Often, you will be able to do activities with them or go on trips with them.

9. You can stay in contact with the family after you leave. This may increase your chances of going back to visit!

10. You can greatly improve your language skills if the family doesn’t speak English.

Delicious Food and Good Friends: Two Great Reasons to Travel

Some of your friends may try to tell you that they know where to find the best Indian food in town.  They might be right – for your town.  Next time, you should suggest that the pair of you plan a trip to India together to see just what you’ve been missing. 

World Endeavors loves to work with pairs and groups, and I think it makes for a really unique experience.  I’ve been talking this week with a mother who wants to travel to Guatemala with her 13 year old daughter to volunteer in a World Endeavors orphanage assistance program.  What a great idea!  I am so excited for them! This is something the two of them will remember their whole lives.  They will get to know each other better, they will make a real difference for the children they meet at the orphanage, they will learn a new language and  a new culture, they will eat delicious local foods, and maybe even start a new family tradition!

So when your friend says to you, “How about we go to that great Indian place in the city?”  Tell him that it’s time the two of you tried something new – Why not go for the real thing?

 

 

 

World Endeavors Summer Photo Contest

Hello to all of our World Endeavors volunteers, interns, and students going abroad in spring/summer 2008!

We are excited to have participants in 16 countries this summer – Costa Rica, Ecuador, Brazil, Spain, Italy, England, Ghana, Thailand, China, Nepal, India, Guatemala, New Zealand, the Philippines, France, and Jamaica! With so many incredible people abroad doing so many incredible things, it would be a shame to not have a way for you to share all of your experiences with each other. And so…

I am excited to announce the first ever World Endeavors Summer Photo Contest! This contest will be a way for all of you to share what you’re up to, as well as to show off your photography skills. We will be collecting photos in 3 categories:
People – Photos of you, new friends, host families, people you work/volunteer/study with, etc.

Landscapes – These can be urban or natural – scenes from the cities, towns, and rural areas where you’re living and traveling.

Food – Who doesn’t love food pictures? I want to see typical meals from your countries, scenes from produce markets, and all of the crazy new things you’ve been brave enough to try (or at least brave enough to photograph!)

Email your pictures to us by July 10 (so you’ve got a few weeks to get out there and take some photos!). You don’t need to submit one for each category – just send in what you’ve got.

I will post all of the submissions right here on this blog, and then you will have a chance to vote for your favorites. The winning photos in each category will be featured on our website!

So if you’ve got some great pictures already, send them in, and if you’ve been shy with the camera so far, get out there and get some great shots! We can’t wait to see what you’ve got.

Guatemala: Volcanoes, Spas, and Volunteering

As I was researching Guatemala the other day, I just became so excited about all of the opportunities this country has to offer and all of the wonderful sites one can see while there! While volunteering in Guatemala with World Endeavors one can help the communities and people around the city of Quetzaltenango (traditionally known as Xela), while also experiencing the breath-taking landscape and culture of Guatemala. For example, it amazes me that Guatemala is home to Volcan Santa Maria, which is the highest volcano in the area and shaped like a perfect towering cone. You can actually climb to the top of it where you can then see all the way to the ocean coast, as well as watch the erupting of Santiaguito, the most active volcano in all of Central America! This site alone makes me want to take a trip to Guatemala.

A typical scene in Guatemala

There are also many natural spas located in Guatemala, one of which is Fuentes Georginas. The setting of this spa gives you a taste of the tropics, with tropical vines and flowers surrounding the hot sulfur springs. Also, there’s so much history to learn about while in Guatemala, as the Mayan culture is still present. For example, Laguna Chikabal is a lake where Mayan alters and priests are found. One can also visit traditional markets in surrounding villages (such as in Totonicapan). When going to Guatemala, you can’t miss stopping by the Copavic glass factory, the oldest church in Central America (in the town of Salcajá), or San Cristobal Falls. I guess I could just go on and on about what this amazing country is host to and that’s when I start to think – why not just go and experience it in reality!?

On the way to the market

The opportunities to learn and help others seem vast in Guatemala, making it a perfect place to travel to and volunteer in. Reading about all of the possibilities to enjoy the rich landscape culture gave me the urge to travel to this amazing place. But the urge became even greater after learning about the need for volunteers. World Endeavors gives the opportunity to fulfill a dream of going abroad to Guatemala by offering projects to help change people’s lives. From orphanage assistance programs to teaching children to helping provide healthcare to indigenous women’s assistance projects, the need for volunteers in Guatemala is great. What better way to experience Central America than to admire the surrounding Sierra Madres and volcanoes of Guatemala and help people in need?!

World Endeavors can help you get to Guatemala! Visit the website (worldendeavors.com) and then apply (click here to learn how)! Feel free to ask World Endeavors any questions you may have about Guatemala or about other programs! Call at(612) 729-3400 or 866-802-9678 (toll free in the USA and Canada)or e-mail us at info@worldendeavors.com.