Ideas Brewing in Guatemala

Escape to Guatemala for exploring ancient civilizations, meeting modern day innovators, and savoring the best cup of coffee in the world.

Guatemala stamp
Armchair Adventure inside
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Pacaya volcano
After two hours of trekking up the side of Volcán de Pacaya— one of Guatemala’s still active and always unpredictable volcanoes— I pause by a hardened boulder of lava to pull another layer from my daypack. At 6,000 feet, the temp is getting colder. The air thinner. Clouds are close enough to touch and breathing is like a two-pack-a-day wheeze. But at least I’m not alone.
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Volcano Pacaya in Guatemala
After two hours of trekking up the side of Volcán de Pacaya— one of Guatemala’s still active and always unpredictable volcanoes— I pause by a hardened boulder of lava to pull another layer from my daypack.

At 6,000 feet, the temp is getting colder. The air thinner. Clouds are close enough to touch and breathing is like a two-pack-a-day wheeze. But at least I’m not alone.

Streams of other intrepid hikers are scaling the narrow footpaths to the summit. Foreigners. Locals. School children on field trips. Elderly people with walking sticks and strapping caballeros hauling the infirm on horseback if necessary— just to make sure everyone can reach the top.

And why?

Not simply for the breathtaking view. Not for bragging rights, or Instagram fame, or death-defying selfies. But to partake in the time-honored tradition of roasting marshmallows over an open volcano vent.
Climbing up volcano
Never mind that just months prior, molten lava gushed down the slopes of our very walking path.

Never mind that nearby Volcán de Fuego’s 2018 eruption engulfed entire villages in deadly landslides of ash, rock, lava, and toxic fumes.

And never mind that one cup of marshmallows contains 29 grams of sugar, increases triglyceride levels, causes cavities, and has absolutely no nutritional value.

To hell with playing it safe. My fellow climbers and I know what the prudent will simply never understand.

“Life is a daring adventure, or nothing at all.”
-Helen Keller
Church in Antigua, Guatemala
Antigua colonial church
Coffee farm
Coffee plantation
Entrance to Earth Lodge
Welcome to Earth Lodge
Overlooking Guatemalan valley
View from Earth Lodge
Flowers hanging in the street
Antigua flower festival
Family walking down hill
Coffee farm family
Bug on coffee leaf
Coffee plant guest
Fuego volcano in Guatemala
Volcán de Fuego at work
Vegetables in Guatemala
Fresh produce
Walking up volcano in Guatemala
Climbing volcano
Roasted coffee beans
Fresh roast
Horses for climbing volcano
Volcano taxis
Top of volcano Pacaya
View from top of volcano
Guatemalan avocados
Coffee in Guatemala
Cool Beans— Guatemalan coffee farmers adapt to modern times.
Coffee beans
For over a century, the fertile highlands of western Guatemala have produced some of the world’s most celebrated coffee beans.... continue reading
Coffee farm on mountain
Shade-grown on slopes of rich volcanic soil, small farmers have planted, cultivated, and harvested nearly half of the country’s coffee while fostering health and prosperity for their communities.

But trouble has been brewing. (Yep, we’re going there.)

Over the past decade, the slow drip of falling bean prices has left Guatemala’s coffee-producing communities in financial hot water. After a 60% price plummet since 2015, all that rich soil and sunshine isn’t adding up to a hill of beans.

And don’t let those $5 pumpkin spice lattes and drive-thru coffee shops on every corner fool you either. North America’s caffeine addiction may have retail outlets buzzing, but profits filtered out at the top leave the farmers in a daily grind of all work and not nearly enough pay. (Sorry, can’t stop now!)

Beyond mere market jitters, for thousands of coffee farmers, this financial erosion is grounds for surrender. And the economic jolt is contributing to an already shaky border crisis.

“A huge part of the migration America is seeing at its southern border is because of the falling price of coffee,” said Ric Rhinehart, the former executive director of the Specialty Coffee Association of America. “All of us are deeply concerned that we’ve reached the end of coffee producing as a sustainable livelihood for much of Mesoamerica.”
Dream catcher hanging
But an enterprising group of farmers in San Miguel Escobar were ready to wake up and smell the cappuccino. They didn’t want to leave, but something had to change… and an idea was percolating.

Together they formed De La Gente— meaning: “from the people”.
Coffee farming family in Guatemala
DLG’s strategy would adapt the traditional coffee farming business model to the modern era by working in collaboration to improve quality, processing techniques, and infrastructure while expanding market reach through online sales, product diversification, and experiential marketing.

And business began to perk up.

Partnering with more cooperatives and on a larger scale was an important first step but tapping into the burgeoning agritourism trend gave revenues an even greater boost.

DLG now works with five cooperatives representing about 300 farmers and delivering almost $500,000 in improved income to farming communities. Coffee tours led by local farmers bring everyone from coffee roasters and café owners to voluntourists and service learners from around the world to hike through coffee fields, learn sustainable processing methods, hang out with the farmer’s family, and experience the human side of an often-faceless industry.

Meanwhile, DLG’s staff photographer tags along to post every buzz-worthy shot to Instagram.

Adding to DLG’s experiential offerings, Guatemalan barista-hipsters help guests identify and evaluate aromas, flavors, and brew methods from French presses to pour-overs at cupping workshops.
Coffee cupping
Diversification revenue now pours in from online coffee clubs, gift subscriptions, brewing equipment sales, ancillary products (DLG t-shirts, tumblers, water bottles, and assorted DLG-branded swag), cultural exchanges, Spanish lessons, and workshops that teach visitors everything from woodworking to bag-making to how to cook perfect pepián.

DLG’s blog and social media posts discuss sustainable, eco-friendly practices, offer updates on regional coffee conferences, and share important work developing organic fertilizers and pesticides.

Today, De La Gente’s integrated international supply chain is already helping Guatemalan coffee farmers rake in up to 30% more for their beans, count on greater price stability, and invest in a healthier future for the next generation. Consumers not only enjoy great tasting coffee at affordable prices… but knowing that this rich and robust business model helps the entire coffee-loving world?

Cool beans.
De la gente coffee sack

Want to enjoy great coffee that has an impact on the ground?

Buy coffee at the DLG online shop.

Go on a coffee tour.

Learn to make pepián, Guatemala’s national dish!

Check out voluntourism and service-learning opportunities

View from Earth Lodge
Earth Lodge
Hammock at Earth Lodge
Earth Lodge— one of Guatemala’s many innovative, entrepreneurial ventures— is a niche tourism enterprise where global influences, environmentalism, and wellness combine.

Located on a mountainside, 6,000 feet above Antigua, it is a natural retreat for body, mind, and spirit...continue reading
Doing yoga at earth lodge
Featuring a lodge, restaurant, avocado farm, yoga studio, home-cooked vegetarian meals, and unbeatable views, guests come for a week– or even just an afternoon– to escape the city hustle and chill in a hammock with a cold craft beer and fresh guacamole. And their traditional, wood-fired Mayan sauna is a great remedy for stress of all kinds.

Best of all, by leveraging their wellness concept with visitors, Earth Lodge also helps support Las Manos de Christine— a nonprofit that broadens opportunities for impoverished local children in the nearby village of El Hato.

Map of Guatemala
Satellite map of Guatemala
World map
Temple at Iximche
Divided we fall — Iximche’s hard lessons from the past
Carving of Mayan warrior
For over 2,000 years, the ancient Mayans— a diverse, indigenous group inhabiting much of Central America— was one of the most dominant societies of the Western Hemisphere. A civilization so ingenious, they built elaborate palaces, pyramids, and entire cities without modern machinery— let alone the wheel... continue reading
Old Mayan painting
Their complex understanding of astronomy measured time using complicated calendar systems. Advanced farming methods included irrigation and terracing. And they created one of the world’s first written languages, made paper from tree bark, and even wrote books.

No doubt, the Ancient Greeks and Romans would have given props.

By 900 AD the Mayans had an estimated population of two million and were at the top of their game. But no empire is too big to fail— and little did they know things were headed for a crash.

By the early 11th century, things went belly up.

Historical evidence points to a long period of drought— made worse by deforestation and agricultural practices that exhausted the environment so much it simply couldn’t sustain the population. Constant warfare among competing city-states distracted them from these larger problems at hand.

To avoid starvation, people eventually abandoned their cities and hit the road in search of new beginnings.
Mayan scroll
By the 1400s, a Mayan tribe known as Kaqchikel had settled in the western highlands of Guatemala, living peacefully among other tribes— including their allies and neighbors, the K’iche’. For years the Kaqchikel and K’iche’ worked together to rebuild a strong Mayan society.

But when the power balance shifted in favor of the Kaqchikel, their relationship hit the skids. The Kaqchikel broke away to establish their own capital at Iximché, and began building “all new” temples, palaces, and strategic garrisons.

As their rivalry gained steam, the Kaqchikel and K’iche’ continued to fight over anything and everything... but bigger troubles were on the horizon.

By the 1500s, when the Aztecs in Mexico discovered Spanish ships sailing into the Caribbean, Moctezuma II sent word to Kaqchikel leaders warning of foreign intervention. But despite the credible intel, sound advice was written off as fake news.

As expected, no sooner did the Spanish overthrow the Aztecs in Mexico they set their sights on Guatemala. The Kaqchikel, however, remained unfazed. Convinced of their power and prestige, they figured they could easily negotiate a deal with Spain.

When Conquistador Pedro de Alvarado arrived at Iximché, he was pleasantly surprised to be received with open arms by Kaqchikel lords. He was even more pleasantly surprised to discover a fractured Mayan kingdom, weakened by decades of partisan bickering— a Conquistador’s dream come true.
Mayan scroll
Alvarado offered to help the Kaqchikel defeat the Kʼicheʼ opposition for good— if, in exchange, they provided the Spanish with native soldiers to assist in their takedown of the other Mayan kingdoms. Always happy to go after their favorite punching bag— the Kʼicheʼ — the short-sighted Kaqchikel leaders were eager to collude with Spain and finally achieve total Mayan domination.

Together, the Spanish and Kaqchickel quickly wiped out the Kʼicheʼ as well as other highland tribes, but their short-lived bromance ended as fast as Alvarado could demand the Kaqchikel hand over all their gold.

Mocking howls of “TOLD YA SO” could be heard all the way from Mexico.

With no Mayan allies left, Alvarado promptly declared Iximché the first capital of Guatemala and said “hasta la vista, suckers” to the fleeing Kaqchickel. His troops hung around Iximché for a couple years until it burned to the ground and they continued their rampage through the rest of the Americas until Spanish became the official language of most of the Western Hemisphere.
Iximche ruins
Today, Iximché is a serene archaeological site that offers a small museum, a ceremonial site for Kaqchikel descendants, and reminder of the greatness in the Guatemalan DNA.

It’s also an epic lesson on what can happen when meddling foreign powers offer to help defeat domestic enemies.

A house divided against itself cannot stand for long.

Mayan carving
Ancient Mayan carving & hieroglyph
Working to excavate ruins
Iximche excavation
Iximche ruins
Iximche ruins today
Guatemalan history exhibition
Guatemalan history museum
Mayan stones
Mayan relics
Model of Tikal
Scale model of Tikal (Mayan empire)
Painting during Mayan times
Mayan painting
Outside museum of modern art in guatemala city
Carlos Merida Museum of Modern Art
Exhibition at Carlos Merida museum
Modern Guatemalan art
Carlos Mérida mural in museum
A Kaqchikel family holds a ceremony at Iximché to honor their ancestors and ask for their son to be accomplished in his studies and break his video game addiction.
Afghan teens
Coloring outside the lines — Carlos Mérida explores the identity of modern Guatemala
Carving of Mayan warrior
Born at the end of the 19th century, Carlos Mérida was a Guatemalan artist, Renaissance man, and descendant of Spanish and Maya-Kʼicheʼ heritage. From 1910 to 1914 Mérida traveled through Europe studying art and rubbing elbows with renowned artists from Picasso, Klee, and Kandinsky to Miró and Mondrian.... continue reading
Carlos Merida exhibit
But the more he was influenced by trends in Europe, the more he felt inspired to embrace his Central American identity and culture.

When World War I broke out in 1914, Mérida returned to Guatemala and began to see his country in a different light. The folklore that once seemed “common” now fascinated him. Inspired by the patterns and colors of Mayan textiles, he began fusing European Modernism— Cubism and Surrealism— with local and indigenous themes to establish a uniquely native American art.

Avoiding the artsy-crafty-clichés that pandered to the expectations of outsiders, Mérida strived to express an authentic American voice in artistic form, using a range of mediums from canvas and mural works, to engraving, mosaic tiling, and indigenous amate paper. Even the discovery of ancient Mayan ruins became integrated into paintings and sculptures.

Merida’s work has been exhibited in museums and universities worldwide, but The Museo Nacional de Arte Moderno Carlos Méridao in Guatemala City is home to the permanent collection of a visionary who saw Guatemala for all it could be— and never afraid to color outside the lines.
Guatemalan textile
Design process sign
Engineering design process
Empresario students
Guatemalans learning art of coffee making
Coffee-making 101
Guatemalan student taking notes
Angel taking notes
Touring anthropology museum
Cultural Anthropology Museum
Empresarios at volcano
'E' for Empresario
Guatemalan teen reading poem
Michi reading her poem
Statue in Guatemala
Spanish influence
Walking through Marroquin University
Touring Marroquin University
Guatemalan teen at Volcano Pacaya
Angel at Volcan Pacaya
Archway in Guatemala
Colonial architecture
Andy with Guatemalan teens in program
Andy and the Empresarios
Listen to the GSD Podcast
Outside the Box: how creative thinking can open up new solutions to the border crisis standoff.
Guatemalan textile
Dina with teenagers from India
Ready to spice up winter?

Next stop, India!
Photo credits
Pacaya Volcano: By James St. John (Flickr: Pacaya Volcano (southern Guatemala)) - [CC BY-SA 2.0 (] -

Flower textile: randreu [CC BY 3.0 (] -

Mayan painting: Photo © 2004 Jacob Rus [CC BY-SA 2.0 (] -

Iximche temple: Greg Willis from Arlington, VA, usa [CC BY-SA 2.0 ( -

Carlos Merida exhibit: Bcotton08 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (] -

Carlos Merida mural: AldoRojasMex [CC BY-SA 4.0 (] -
You can access the student guide to this GSD E-Magazine episode via Google Doc found here: