There are plenty of options for active, adventure, or theme vacations to Guatemala. Popular themes and activities include bird-watching, Maya archaeology, cave explorations, and mountain biking. In many cases, you may want to add on a specific theme tour or partake in some adventure activity as an a la carte option within the broader scope of your trip to Guatemala. However, some of you may want to build your entire itinerary around a specific theme or activity. The agencies listed below specialize in adventure tourism or specialized activities, as indicated. In addition to the agencies and operators listed below, most of the package and escort tour operators listed above offer a selection of themed specialty tours or adventure options.
General Adventure Tour & Special-Interest Tour Operators
- Adrenalina Tours (tel. 502/7832-1108 or 5535-6831; www.adrenalinatours.com). Not for pregnant women or those with heart conditions. This Guatemalan-based company specializes in strenuous hikes and volcano climbs -- one is rated "dangerous due to toxic gases." They also offer 4WD off-road tours, with a vehicle, driver, and multilingual guide, for Q1,125 ($150/£75) per day, among their many options.
- Adventure Life (tel. 800/3440-6118 in the U.S. and Canada; www.adventure-life.com) has several different trips, including biking, kayaking and trekking, visiting villages and ruins, or Easter Week in Antigua. Prices range from 6 days for around Q6,563 ($875/£438) to 11 days for around Q17,775 ($2,370/£1,185) per person. Airfare not included.
- AdventureSmith Explorations (tel. 800/728-2875 in the U.S. and Canada; www.adventuresmithexplorations.com) offers several different trips, with experiences running the gamut from rafting and cave exploration to Maya ruins and markets. Some include Belize, southern Mexico, or the Copán ruins in Honduras. Five days cost around Q6,713 ($895/£448); 9 days around Q15,000 ($2,000/£1,000) per person, not including airfare.
- Bike Hike Adventures (tel. 888/805-0061 in the U.S. and Canada, or 604/731-2442; www.bikehike.com) is a Vancouver-based company specializing in multiday, multi-adventure tours for small groups. Their 9-day tour will have you hiking, mountain biking, sea kayaking, and tree-canopy exploring. You'll visit Guatemala City, Antigua, Chichicastenango, the Volcán Pacaya, Lake Atitlán, and Tikal. They'll let you design your own trip, too. The cost for their 9-day adventure is around Q14,243 ($1,899/£950) per person, not including airfare.
- CA Tours (tel. 44/132-983-6309 in the U.K., or 502/7832-9638 in Guatemala; www.catours.co.uk). If motorcycles are your thing, this is your trip. They offer two tours: 10 days with 1,207km (750 miles) of riding for Q19,875 ($2,650/£1,325); and 14 days with 1,770km (1,100 miles) for Q28,125 ($3,750/£1,875) per person; airfare not included. You can use the motorcycle they supply, or pick from several other models and pay extra for rental. They will also customize a tour for you.
- GAP Adventures (tel. 800/708-7761 in the U.S. and Canada, or 44/870-999-0144 in the U.K.; www.gapadventures.com) is a major international adventure and educational tour operator with a full plate of theme tours to Guatemala. Options include hard-core adventure activities, language-learning trips, and stints doing volunteer work. Their prices vary according to the trip and activity, but are very competitive.
- Maya Expeditions (tel. 502/2363-4955; www.mayaexpeditions.com) are pioneers in adventure and ecotourism in Guatemala. They offer dozens of tour, activity, and theme options, including Maya archaeology, river rafting, and weaving. They also offer relaxing day tours. They use knowledgeable local guides and bring in academic experts. Contact them for prices.
- The Sierra Club (tel. 415/977-5588 in the U.S. and Canada; www.sierraclub.org) is an environmental organization that offers a 10-day trip that highlights Maya ruins and the jungle. In their own words, "If you are looking for five-star hotels, copious hot water, and gourmet food, this trip is not for you." This trip runs around Q26,963 ($3,595/£1,798) per person, part of which goes to support the land preservation organization. Airfare is not included.
Language Classes -- Guatemala is a major destination for folks looking to learn or brush up on some Spanish. You can find courses of varying lengths and degrees of intensiveness, and many that include cultural activities and day excursions. Some of the schools have reciprocal relationships with U.S. universities so, in some cases, you can even arrange for college credit. Most Spanish schools can arrange for homestays with a local Guatemalan family for a total-immersion experience. These homestays include a private room and either two or three meals daily taken with the family. Most of the schools integrate excursions and cultural programs into their curriculum. Classes are often small, or even one-on-one, and can last anywhere from 2 to 8 hours a day. Listed below are some of the larger and more established Spanish-language schools, with approximate costs. The majority are located either in Antigua or Quetzaltenango, and to a lesser extent around Lake Atitlán. But there are Spanish-language schools in such far-flung corners of the country as Monterrico and the Petén. Contact the schools for the most current price information.
Guatemalan Spanish is considered one of the most pure, in terms of clarity and pronunciation, in the Americas. Compared to the Spanish spoken in other Latin American countries, Guatemalan Spanish tends to be more clearly enunciated and slightly slower. This is one of the reasons language schools are so popular throughout Guatemala.
Quetzaltenango has the greatest concentration of language schools, followed in short order by Antigua. In broad strokes, the programs in Quetzaltenango are less expensive. In Antigua, you'll pay a slight premium for living and learning in arguably the hippest and most desirable city in the country. That said, in reality, the price difference is often negligible. I personally recommend you decide where you want to spend your time and what kind of side trips and extracurricular adventures you might want to enjoy, and choose by location.
- Academia de Español Guatemala, 7a Calle Oriente, #15, Antigua (tel. 502/7832-5057; www.acad.conexion.com), offers group and one-on-one classes. Their main facility features a lovely garden, with its own swimming pool, as well as free Internet and Wi-Fi connections. A 1-week program including 4 hours of private instruction per day, a homestay, and airport transfers costs Q1,725 ($230/£115).
- Celas Maya Spanish School, 6a Calle 14-55, Zona 1, Quetzaltenango (tel. 502/7761-4342; www.celasmaya.edu.gt), offers intensive Spanish and Ki'che Mayan language classes. One of the larger and more popular schools in Xela, these folks charge between Q1,125 and Q1,350 ($150-$180/£75-£90) per week, for 5 hours daily of one-on-one instruction, including a homestay with a local family.
- Centro Lingüístico Maya, 5a Calle Poniente, #20, Antigua (tel. 502/7832-0656; www.clmmaya.com), offers weeklong programs with 4 to 7 hours of private instruction per day. The 4-hour-per-day week runs Q863 ($115/£58), with the homestay costing an extra Q488 ($65/£33) per week.
- Eco Escuela de Español, San Andrés, El Petén (tel. 502/5940-1235; www.ecoescuelaespanol.org), is a community-based language school program in a small village on the shore of Lake Petén Itzá. The program costs just Q1,125 ($150/£75) per week, including lodging and three meals daily with a local family, as well as 4 hours of daily class time, usually one-on-one.
- Escuela de Español San José el Viejo, 5a Av. Sur, #34, Antigua (tel. 502/7832-3028; www.sanjoseelviejo.com), only offers private instruction. Their 33-hour Monday-through-Friday program costs Q900 ($120/£60), not including room and board. These folks can arrange a local homestay for around Q750 ($100/£50) per week. They also have several very comfortable houses and apartments right on or near their campus.
- Jardín de América Spanish School, Calle 14 de Febrero, Panajachel (tel. 502/7762-2637; www.jardindeamerica.com), is located in downtown Panajachel, just a few blocks from the shores of Lake Atitlán. Their homestay program places students with predominantly local Maya families for an interesting cultural experience. A weeklong program with 4 hours of instruction daily and homestay costs Q1,275 ($170/£85).
- Proyecto Lingüístico Quezalteco, 5a Calle 2-40, Zona 1, Quetzaltenango (tel. 502/7765-2140; www.plqe.org), is a very well run school that integrates an understanding of Guatemala's social and political context into their learning experience. They actually have two campuses, one in downtown Xela and another in a more rural, mountain setting. A weeklong program, including 5 hours of daily private instruction and a homestay, costs Q1,350 ($180/£90).
- San Pedro Spanish School, San Pedro La Laguna, Lake Atitlán (tel. 502/5715-4604; www.sanpedrospanishschool.com), is an excellent little school that even offers classes in the Tz'utujil Mayan dialect. Rates run Q1,125 ($150/£75) per week for 4 hours of classes per day and a homestay with a local family.
- Ulew Tinimit Spanish School, 4a Calle 15-23, Zona 1 (tel. 502/7763-0516; www.spanishguatemala.org), is one of the better Xela language schools. These folks also offer classes in Ki'che and Mam Mayan dialects. A 1-week program with 5 hours of class instruction daily and a homestay costs Q1,125 ($150/£75).
Academic Trips & Learning Vacations
- Art Workshops in Guatemala (tel. 612/825-0747 in the U.S. and Canada; www.artguat.org). This group offers many creative opportunities, including nearly every genre of writing, plastic arts, and even yoga. While there are opportunities to try your hand at Maya weaving, that class watches the real experts at work and visits the markets where their works are sold. Ten-day tours run around Q11,663 to Q13,463 ($1,555-$1,795/£778-£898) per person, plus airfare, depending on workshop.
- Jim Cline Photo Tours (tel. 877/350-1314 in the U.S. and Canada; www.jimcline.com) is guided by a professional photographer who teaches participants to see Guatemala through the camera lens. The 10-day "Living Maya" tour, limited to nine people, focuses on colonial architecture, colorful markets, small villages, the natural beauty of Lake Atitlán, and the Maya people. Cost is around Q22,313 ($2,975/£1,488) per person, plus airfare.
Volunteer & Working Trips
If you want to lend a hand while in Guatemala, you have several options. Habitat for Humanity International (tel. 502/7763-5308 in Guatemala; www.habitat.org) has several chapters in Guatemala and sometimes runs organized Global Village programs here. Their Global Village trips are large, group-escorted trips that include work on a Habitat for Humanity building project, as well as other cultural and educational experiences. The costs range from Q9,000 to Q13,500 ($1,200-$1,800/£600-£900), not including airfare, for a 9- to 14-day program.
Alternatively, up in the Western Highlands around Quetzaltenango, you can check in with Entre Mundos (tel. 502/7761-2179; www.entremundos.org), which functions as bridge between a host of non-governmental organizations and community projects. They specifically work to connect foreign volunteers with appropriate community, social, health, and educational projects.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.