Summer Abroad Guatemala - On Site

UC Davis Study Abroad, Summer Abroad Guatemala, Ecological and Social Issues at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala Program, Header Image, On Site Page

Ecological and Social Issues at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala 


Students will stay in a large house owned by a local NGO (Amigos del Lago) in Santa Catarina Palopo at the shore of the lake. The house serves as a research/education center. The house is equipped with a large conference room, a chemistry lab, kitchen, and three large bedrooms each with its own bathroom. There are two bunk beds in one room, three in the other, and five in the largest one. Summer Abroad will be in charge of assigning students to the rooms. The instructor and the TA for the program will be sharing the accommodations with the students (see pictures to the right). 

Student Voices - Study Abroad: Our Stories, Articles by Lujain Al-Saleh


All meals are included in the program fees. Breakfast will be served at the house and lunch and dinner at a local hotel.


Mornings will be usually devoted to interactive lectures. Several times a week, students will spend the afternoons visiting relevant and interesting locations around the lake and higher up in the watershed, including institutions/projects, farms, water treatment plants, etc. Some of the evenings, representatives of governmental institutions, NGOs and various stakeholders will give informal talks. The class will draw parallels between the recent attempts to save Lake Atitlan and the 50-year old history of Lake Tahoe, CA and NV. On the weekends, students will be able to relax around the lake, visit the Maya museums or many great tourist locations like Antigua, Fuentes Georginas, and others, and immerse themselves in the local culture.

Note: The program schedule, including the daily itinerary and planned activities, are subject to change at the discretion of the instructor.

Excursions and Day Trips

Part of the instructions will be visits to various communities around the lake to see activities and projects related to our classes (Permaculture institut IMAP in San Lucas Toliman; FEDEMPA coffee processing facility in San Pedro Laguna; Tul growing association organized by Ati’tAla’ NGO in San Juan Laguna, and others.  During the weekends, whole day trips will be available to interesting cultural and environmental locations such as Antigua, San Pedro volcano, Las Fuentes Georginas hot springs and others.

Study Abroad Advisory of Student Risk

Participation in this UC Davis Study Abroad program requires travel to and extended living in a foreign location(s) abroad. UC Davis Study Abroad endeavors to reduce and mitigate risk wherever possible.  However, the environments and risks associated with living in these locations are substantially different than those found during a regular course of study at UC Davis. All participants must download and review the following information prior to departure. Any questions should be directed to the Program Coordinator.

Study Abroad General Risk Advisory

Program Specific Risk Advisories (PDF)

About Guatemala

Guatemala is one of Centro America’s most diverse countries. It has a rich and distinctive culture from the long mix of elements from Spain and the native Maya people. This diverse history and the natural beauty of the land have created a destination rich in interesting and scenic sites. Guatemala has been designated as a biodiversity hotspot due to its biological abundance and unique ecosystems.

About Lake Atitlan: “Nineteenth-century traveler/chronicler John L Stephens, writing in Incidents of Travel in Central America, called Lago de Atitlán 'the most magnificent spectacle we ever saw,' and he had been around a bit…Fertile hills dot the landscape, and over everything loom the volcanoes, permeating the entire area with a mysterious beauty. It never looks the same twice. No wonder many outsiders have fallen in love with the place and made their homes here.” Read more:

Currency: Quetzal  

Language Spoken: Spanish

Weather and Climate

You will be in Guatemala during the rainy season. For the month of July, on average, lows are in the 60s and highs will be in the 80s. The lake is located at around 5,200 feet. Rain comes usually in the afternoon and it can be a typical tropical strong downpour. It can also be windy. Current weather.

Research Your Destination

Summer Abroad endeavors to provide you with as much accurate information as possible. However, information can change daily. It is your responsibility to become acquainted with your host country before your departure.

We have listed some good starting points for your personal research. 

Keeping in Touch

Since communication options can vary dramatically from country to country, Summer Abroad advises checking with the instructor or the Program Specific Guide for advice about what might be the best option for your particular program.

Calling the U.S. from Abroad

Many U.S.-based long distance phone companies provide special services that make it easy for you to phone home from abroad. Some provide toll-free access numbers that connect with an operator in the U.S. Some provide the means to charge long distance calls to a credit card or to a third party. Some provide better long distance rates. Others provide access to emergency, medical, legal, translation, and entertainment information. Students are encouraged to investigate these options before departure and to shop for the best services and rates.

Global Cell Phones

Most cell phone companies can sell you a special global cell phone with the option to add more minutes as needed. Also, most cell phone companies can unlock your cell phone for global use, but this requires a trip to a provider at your destination who will give you a SIM card and sell you minutes. Check with your cell phone provider for more information. Global cell phones are also available through travel agencies and online. Be sure to check the policies for both incoming and outgoing calls and text messages.

Cell Phone Rental

Some students choose to rent a cell phone that works at their destination. Some companies will ship the phone directly to the student in advance of the program dates—and include a packet for sending the phone back when they return. Interested students can locate service providers via the Internet.

Phone Cards

Many travel agencies and specific phone providers carry great options for phone cards. Check the rates available from your long distance provider. You can often buy phone cards on site.


Skype is a computer program that you can download for free that allows you to talk (for free) on the phone over the Internet with anyone else who has Skype. Go to to download the program. For an extra fee (as low as .02 cents/minute) you can enable your Skype to call land lines instead of just other computers. You will need a microphone and headset so that you can talk to the person on the other line. Skype also includes a chat option for instant messaging.

Instant Messaging Systems

Instant messaging systems are also a great free way to communicate with people back in the states. There are numerous options for messaging systems from AOL Instant Messenger to Yahoo Messenger. Just about every messaging program can be downloaded for free online.

Internet Access

Computer and internet access varies by program. Information for your site will be listed in your Program Specific Guide.

Internet access is offered in all the countries we go to, but the reliability of it differs from program to program. Internet can be accessed through internet cafes. Some programs also offer access through the dorms or on-campus computer labs. Internet cafes are very reasonably priced and often times have various instant messaging programs installed and headphones available to chat with loved ones. Relying on internet cafes may reduce worry of bringing your own laptop with you. You can upload pictures at most internet cafes, but remember due to the speed of some connections, it may be a better idea just to bring multiple memory cards to avoid spending your whole day on the computer.

Cultural Learning

Living in a new culture can be exhilarating, rewarding, and stimulating. It can also be frustrating. It is one thing to tour a country, but it is quite another to live and function according to different norms. It is important to be open toward a new culture, to try to discard stereotypes, and to learn as much as possible about the culture before departure. If you educate yourself about the country you will be visiting, you will better understand and appreciate your new surroundings!

Even with preparation it is likely that you will experience "culture shock." Recent studies show that there are distinct stages of culture shock. Some of these stages include: awareness of the host culture and preparation, initial euphoria and excitement, irritability phase during acclimation, gradual adjustment, and adaptation to culture. Upon return to the United States, many students face "reverse culture shock."

There are some things you can do to minimize your cultural adjustment. Keep a sense of humor! Treat yourself to an occasional U.S. indulgence like a favorite food, or purchase a U.S. magazine or newspaper. Avoid other Americans who are overly negative or who complain a lot. Keep healthy. Above all, don't be afraid to try new activities!

Resources for Further Study

Ethical Considerations in Study Abroad