Central America Gap Semester:
Guatemala, Costa Rica & Roatan
Sustainability and Spanish Immersion
How will you Carpe Diem?
Bridging the continents of North and South America, Central America is a land of immense environmental and cultural diversity. Lush tropical rainforests, towering volcanoes, steep-sided mountains, and extended coastlines inspire unique cultural expression. Indigenous Mayan communities, enclaves of Garifuna and Afro-Caribbean communities, and people of mixed European ancestry invoke an atmosphere of social activism and political engagement.
From the Sierra Madre mountains of interior Guatemala, to the sea turtle haven of the Nicoya Peninsula; from the tranquility and splendor of Lago Atitlan and her surrounding volcanoes, to the coral reefs off the coast of Roatan, Carpe Diem Education takes you to a region that is merging the complexities of socio-political realities with the hope of a more sustainable future.
- Engage in service learning with a sea turtle conservation non-profit on the Pacific shores of Costa Rica. Interacting with these animals is truly an amazing experience!
- Learn about sustainability, organic agriculture, and community living while working alongside indigenous Mayan coffee farmers.
- Trek through forests, coffee plantations, and cornfields, arriving at the magnificent Lake Atitlan. Reflect and restore as you practice yoga and meditation on the shores of this tranquil crater lake.
- Visit an architecture and design organization that is promoting innovative, intelligent, eco-friendly structures to densely populated urban areas. Move on to a rural setting and practice your skills through hands-on efforts at home construction.
- Engage in immersive Spanish classes while participating in home stays, practicing Spanish with host families, and refining your skills through individualized language lessons.
A land of social, cultural, and economic intricacies, Central America provides a rich environment for in-depth exploration of how communities are engaged in common efforts to live in a more sustainable way.
Beginning in Guatemala, we’ll explore the highland regions of Antigua and Quetzaltenango, diving into one on one Spanish study. Immersing ourselves in the local culture, we keep our activities varied through discussions with a local Mayan healer, soccer games with our Spanish teachers and locals, discussing regional history, and learning the basics of Guatemalan cooking. We connect with the land through hiking local trails and visiting some of the most beautiful hot springs on the planet!
More confident in our Spanish, we now trek through rural villages, pastoral countryside, and coffee plantations, talking with locals along the way, and witnessing the agricultural practices of Mayan communities. Eventually, we descend to the crater lake of Lago Atitlan, surrounded by soaring volcanoes and home to multiple indigenous communities. Working alongside Mayan farmers, we learn about planting and harvesting coffee and participate in efforts to restore local ecosystems. How can agricultural practices coexist with, and even benefit, local ecosystems and native flora and fauna?
Continuing our inquiry into sustainability, we’ll spend a day with an urban architecture and design firm that is promoting eco-friendly building in densely populated areas. We put this theory into practice as we transition to a more rural setting and assist a local NGO in building homes for local farmers and agricultural workers. How can we develop land in a way that is mutually beneficial to people and the environment?
Transitioning to the Pacific Coast of Guatemala, we explore the role of education, business, and enterprise in the context of sustainable growth, environmental tourism, and local economies. And while we are at it, we’ll take a couple of afternoons to enjoy the beach and perhaps even take a surf lesson!
As we move on to Costa Rica, we immediately notice the emphasis on environmental conservation and sustainability reflected in the landscapes we see. Over one-quarter of this nations’ land is set aside as protected habitat. Once again living with homestay families, and immersing ourselves in Spanish classes, we will be improving our ability to listen to the stories of others, and to share our own. We enjoy the beauty of the natural environment through rainforest walks, waterfall hikes, learning local customs, and stretching our comfort zones by learning some salsa dancing.
Traveling to the Nicoya Peninsula, we find ourselves walking the beaches at night, searching for sea turtles who are coming ashore in order to dig nests and lay eggs. We’ll work with local volunteers in an effort to protect sea turtle nests, and perhaps even watch newly hatched turtles make their inaugural voyage to the sea!
We end by diving into the sea ourselves, in the beautiful coral ecosystems of Roatan, Honduras, earning our PADI Open Water Scuba Certification. This is one of the most spectacular reefs in the world, with crystalline warm waters and vibrant marine life. This is also a time to celebrate our experiences and revel in the beauty of the natural world.
Carpe Diem Education’s Central America semester brings you an in-depth look at indigenous culture, sustainable practices, and the relationship between land and people. Through working alongside farmers and builders, intensive Spanish study, and homestay experiences, the journey through Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Roatan provides us a deeper understanding of how local communities are addressing the increasing pressures of climate change and managing resources in a more sustainable way.
Accepting Applications For:
There's a lot to truly traveling, even if you think you have it down. If you want to understand a country deeply, with its people, culture, spirituality, hopes, and fears, I recommend Carpe Diem.
Carpe Diem has helped me grow in many ways and become the person I always wanted to be. I have found out a lot about myself and the importance of relationships, community, culture, leadership, and much more. Before my Gap Year semester, I was not sure what I was going to study or even if I wanted to go to school. I was exposed to so much new knowledge throughout this trip; I cant wait to further my studies in college focusing on environmental sustainability.
Deciding to join Carpe Diem is the best thing I have ever done. It has improved my independence and has allowed me to mature much more than I would have had I gone directly into school. The experiences that I have had here will last a lifetime.
This experience has changed my life. I have new perspectives on things I never knew I would have. I have learned how to fully be myself around everyone. I have never been as constantly happy as I have on this trip.
Seize Your Journey
- The first three days of your semester will be spent in a comfy backpacker retreat in the city of Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. You’ll learn more about the program, bond with your fellow group mates, and learn strategies for staying safe and healthy while traveling.
Quetzaltenango is Guatemala’s second largest city, and also has one of the largest Mayan populations with an incredibly unique culture. Here, you’ll live with a host family, spend the morning in 1:1 Spanish class, and spend the afternoons participating in activities like cooking classes, dance classes, or perhaps a local soccer game.
Spend a week in the rural coffee growing region of Guatemala. Here, the group will live all together but have meals with local families, while studying Spanish and participating in community projects and activities.
In the highland town of Matagalpa, known for the delicious coffee grown in the surrounding areas, you’ll live with host families, study Spanish in small groups and participate in various cultural exchange activities while learning about some of the current events and issues facing Nicaragua.
San Juan la Concepcion, Nicaragua
Experience life in small town Nicaragua. Live with host families, continue your study of Spanish and volunteer with community projects such as the after school program or in the community gardens.
STUDIES IN SUSTAINABILITY
- Learn about sustainable living, natural building, and organic agriculture. You’ll live and work on an organic farm and, in addition to helping with farm chores, you’ll participate in local cultural and craft activities.
COMMUNITY-BASED SERVICE LEARNING
- Work with an NGO on sustainable development projects in a small coastal community in Southern Guatemala. Past projects here have included working at local schools, helping with beach clean-ups, learning about small business development, and working with youth groups. In addition to volunteer work, you’ll have the opportunity to surf some of the best waves in Guatemala.
STUDENT DIRECTED TRAVEL
- During the student directed travel excursion, the group will work together to design, plan, budget, and implement their own itinerary. Examples of past activities include: visiting the beautiful blue pools of Semuc Champey in Guatemala, exploring the colonial city of Granada, catching some waves on the coast, visiting the indigenous markets in Chichicastenango, or climbing volcanoes outside of Antigua.
- Volunteer alongside Costa Rican scientists to patrol the beach for sea turtles that come ashore to lay eggs. You might help to tag and take measurements of the turtles, to move eggs to protected nesting areas, or monitor nests as baby turtles hatch and make their way to the ocean.
Treks in Central America vary depending on the time of year. Examples of past treks groups have done include: hike to waterfalls through the cloud forest in Nicaragua and hiking up dormant volcanoes with views to the coast in Guatemala.
Fly to the island of Roatan off the Caribbean coast of Honduras for a week of rest, relaxation, and some of the best SCUBA diving in the world. Take a course leading to your PADI Open Water SCUBA certification.
- Spend time on the shores of Lake Atitlan in Guatemala learning about yoga and meditation, health and wellness. Explore local communities and reflect on goals and accomplishments of the trip thus far.
The Student Experience
Explore the following links to learn about the Carpe Diem Central America student experience.