Before you apply

After you've been accepted

What to expect

Before applying to volunteer at Hospitalito Atitlan, please read our FAQ, which provide detailed information about working at the hospital as well as traveling to and living in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala.

FAQ: Before you apply

What is the application process?

Every volunteer must fill out an application for review by HA administration for every work assignment at Hospitalito Atitlan.

Clinicians cannot work in the hospital unless they have been formally accepted and had their work dates confirmed in writing.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Guatemala now requires that all volunteers receive either a short-term work permit or a Guatemalan medical license (good for two years).

To be accepted, you will have to provide various documents for review by the Colégio Medico two months prior to arrival and before you will be included in the work schedule:

  • A CV 

  • Copies of your: 

  • Medical license 

  • Diploma 

  • Passport (all pages including BLANKS) 

  • A letter that either supports your proficiency in your specialty or standing from a university (or copy of your diploma for your specialty). 

  • A letter requesting permission to volunteer addressed to Dr. Juan Manuel Chuc, HA's Director including dates. 

Please send all files on the same day, to facilitate the process and avoid confusion with other applicants.

What if I have special skills?

When you send in your application, write a little about your special talents to our volunteer coordinator, Febe Sosof. If you're accepted, we'll try to make the most of your skills.

What are the basic requirements?

There are special requirements for medical specialists and nurses below. Medical students should check out Medical Students/Recent Graduates section.

For everyone else, the requirements are:

  • Minimum four-week commitment 

  • Minimum intermediate Spanish 

  • Minimum two-years experience in your field (except for residents) 

  • Unrestricted license 

  • Written proof of good standing in your professional or residency program 

What are the requirements for specialists?

Although we appreciate volunteer specialists, the hospital is not capable of providing all types of specialty care to its patients. Therefore, we encourage ophthalmologists, endocrinologists, orthopedic surgeons and dentists to contact us.

Requirements are:

  • Minimum two-years experience in your field (except for residents) 

  • Unrestricted license 

  • Written proof of good standing in your professional or residency program. 

There are no time or language requirements.

What are the requirements for registered nurses?

Registered nurse volunteers work regular shifts, alongside Guatemalan nurses, under the supervision of the hospital's head nurse. They have also been instrumental in providing additional expertise to their Guatemalan colleagues, as their training is very different.

Requirements are:

Can other medical professionals volunteer?

Yes. The Hospitalito has been lucky to have a wide-range of medical professionals volunteer including paramedics, and laboratory and radiology technicians.

We accept these individuals on a case-by-case basis, so please feel free to contact us.

Requirements are:

  • Minimum four-week commitment 

  • Minimum intermediate Spanish 

  • Minimum two-years experience in your field 

Do you accept non-medical volunteers?

We consider non-medical volunteers on a case-by-case basis. Please feel free to contact us. Non-medical volunteers who work with us usually have a high level of Spanish and/or special skills.

Do I have to speak Spanish?

All medical volunteers must speak at least intermediate level Spanish. The only exceptions to this rule are for obstetricians, surgeons, and a few specialists.

Intermediate Spanish

Volunteers should be able to:

Is there any financial assistance?

Long-term medical volunteers (six months or more) may be eligible for a housing stipend.

Volunteers spending a year or more with the Hospitalito:

What is my legal status? Do I need malpractice insurance?

The concept of malpractice and malpractice insurance does not exist in Guatemala. Still, gross/criminal negligence is not without consequences. Apart from this, you can practice medicine in the country in legal peace. You will not have to purchase insurance or consider third party payment issues.

Will I be working under supervision?

Dr. Juan Manuel Chuc, Medical Director of Hospitalito Atitlan, is responsible for all medical volunteers. Dr. Chuc is a general practitioner with 18 years in practice. He is from and respected by our local community.

We expect you to work independently, and Dr. Chuc will not interfere in your work unless he has cultural or medical concerns. If so, he will share them with you with kindness and patience. His word is final on all issues related to the hospital. He is available by phone and will come into the hospital, during off hours, if needed.

What if I have an issue or concern?

If you have any issues or concerns, please speak with Dr. Chuc or the chief of staff. Our nurses, like those the world over, are a rich resource when challenging medical or cultural issues arise. Please consult them regularly.

When can I volunteer?

We accept volunteers throughout the year, the needs are greatest over the winter holidays and during the summer.

We limit the number of volunteer clinicians (MD, DO) to three at one time to enhance the experience for them and HA staff. At the same time we can have two to three medical students (depending on the number of supervising clinicians on hand).

Remember: Do not make travel plans until your complete application has been accepted, and you have received, signed and returned your confirmation form.

What type of clinician makes the best Hospitalito Atitlan volunteer?

Flexible, open and friendly clinicians are best!

Hospitalito Atitlan has a very collegial work environment and volunteers should be prepared to be addressed by their first names or by Doctor/Doctora + their first name, regardless of their experience or status in their home countries. Being comfortable with this level of informality is essential to a good HA experience.

Clinicians who are licensed to dispense medicines are the greatest help to the hospital, especially those with experience in family medicine, obstetric and gynecological medicine, midwifery, emergency medicine, pediatrics, internal medicine and urgent care. Hospitalito Atitlan provides the only 24-hour healthcare within a two-hour radius, so volunteers should be prepared to treat a wide range of conditions. Learn more about our services.

How do I know I would make a good volunteer?

Health Volunteers Overseas has an article, Highly Effective Volunteers, in its volunteer toolkit. Although directed at medical volunteers, it includes advice that is applicable to anyone volunteering abroad:

What combination of skills and personality makes for a highly effective international volunteer?

Surprisingly, the personal characteristics of exceptional volunteers, in any discipline, are remarkably consistent: people who are patient, flexible, adaptable, innovative and open to new experiences and ideas are typically the most successful and satisfied volunteers.

"An outstanding HVO volunteer is a combination of skilled health care provider/educator, ambassador, and adventurer," said David Frost, DDS, MS, Chair of HVO's Board of Directors. "A volunteer has to be willing to share knowledge and skills in his/her area of expertise on many levels, with specialty peers, interested support staff and patients both in the treatment of routine and complex cases as well as the teaching of techniques from basic to cutting edge. The best volunteers are adventurers - people willing to accept a challenge, something out of the ordinary, which will ultimately enrich themselves and others."

I would like to know more about the area. What resources do you suggest?

See our Recommended Readings and Links page.

What does the Hospitalito offer volunteers?

Hospitalito Atitlan considers its volunteers an essential pillar in its sustainability. We try to make their transition to Guatemala as seamless as possible by providing orientation, including a tour of town, and assistance with housing and transportation. We are unable to provide financial support to short-term volunteers, however a small stipend may be available for long-term volunteers, defined as six months or more.

In addition to working in the hospital, our volunteers have the opportunity to do community outreach and traveling to rural areas, including Cerro de Oro and Chacaya, where the need is great. You will travel with a team of doctors and nurses that speak the Tz'utujil maya language. The group will take lab tests, medical supplies and medicine.

Where will I live?

Once you have been accepted, the medical volunteer coordinator will send information on housing. The Hospitalito has neither staff nor resources to make volunteer housing arrangements, but we do provide housing descriptions and landlord contact information to make the process easier.

Safety and Security for Volunteers

Guatemala does a great deal to insure the safety of tourists and volunteers visiting the country. But this does not guarantee your safety. It is important that all travelers understand there is no 100% SAFE area in Guatemala. Crime and accidents occur everywhere in the world, and unfortunately, Santiago and the Lake Atitlán area are no different. That said, the Santiago area is very safe for the conscientious and prepared traveler. As is the case when travelling anywhere, each traveler should be aware of their surroundings, use common sense and keep their radar on for potential problems at all times.

We encourage all volunteers to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. STEP will advise you of problems in the country and areas to avoid. Remember to include the last date you will be in Guatemala, so the messages will end when your trip ends. Sign up for STEPhttps://step.state.gov/step/

The volunteer coordinator has a form to report travel outside Santiago Atitlán. By remaining aware of where you are at all times during your stay, we can better assist towards ensuring your safety in case of any unforeseen circumstances. We appreciate your cooperation.

Safety tips

In order to have a safe and enjoyable stay in our country, Guatemala's Tourism Board and the National Program of Tourist Assistance recommends that you follow these guidelines:

Plan your trip with enough time in advance to obtain more information about the different destinations.

Travel with a group.

Travelling with a group helps ensure both your own safety and the safety of all group members.

Make copies of important documents.

Make copies of all your travel documents, such as your passport, and keep the documents themselves in a safe place (e.g. the safe in your hotel room) to minimize the risk of losing them while out and about.

Distribute your money daily.

Carry only the amount of money that you think you will use during the day. Keep the rest in a safe place, such as in your hotel room.

Debit/credit cards.

We recommend that you carry only the cards that you expect to need during the day. We also advise that you do not accept any help from strangers when you are withdrawing money from the ATMs. You should check that the ATMs are not altered, to avoid any case of card skimming.

Money exchange.

Exchange your money only at banks, ATMs or your hotel. Avoid exchanging money at informal houses or street posts.


We recommend using only taxis that are properly identified. Also, we recommend the taxis identified as "Taxi Seguro - Safe Taxi". They are trained in tourism topics through the National Program of Tourism Assistance. Since most of the taxis in Guatemala do not have a fare calculator you can negotiate the fee. In Santiago, red "tuc-tucs" are ubiquitous, and these are generally a very reliable and safe way to travel around town.

Hotels and other services.

When looking for services such as hotels, tour and tour guides, or Spanish or Mayan language schools, we recommend that you choose only in those properly authorized by the Guatemalan Tourism Board. If you have any doubts, please contact us.

Parks, archeological and sacred sites.

During your visit to the different sites or parks you should remain within the designated areas. You should also follow your guide's instructions, and either dispose of garbage in designated places or carry it out with you. It is important demonstrate respect for all sacred sites so that we all may continue to enjoy the ancient and sacred Mayan culture in Guatemala.

FAQ: After you've been accepted

How do I know I've been accepted?

You will receive an acceptance and confirmation letter from the Hospitalito. Please note that you must have this letter before coming to Guatemala. We are not able to accommodate volunteers who show up without making prior arrangements, nor are we able to allow clinicians to work in the hospital if they have not been accepted or had their work dates confirmed.

All accepted volunteers are required to read the Hospitalito Atitlan Volunteer Orientation Manualprior to their arrival in Santiago Atitlan. A digital copy will be sent to you with your acceptance letter.

Then, please sign your confirmation letter, scan it, and return it to us via email.

Are there visa requirements for long-term stays?

Upon arriving in Guatemala, you will receive a tourist visa for 90 days. If you plan on staying longer, you will need to visit the immigration office in Guatemala City, where you can pay $10 and get an extension of an additional 90 days only. You must have traveler’s checks a credit card (in your name) or a notarized return ticket. The airline in Guatemala City can provide the notarization.  After 180 days, you must leave the country for two nights, after which you can start the process again.

What are licensing requirements?

The Guatemalan government prior must approve all medical volunteers before they can work at the Hospitalito or volunteers must get a Guatemalan medical license (good for two years). We will work with you to help complete the process.

A month before you arrival, you should send the following documents to our medical volunteer coordinator, Febe Sosof. Please note that your spot will not be reserved and you will not be included in the schedule until we have received all of your paperwork, which we need to send to the Colegio Medico for review and approval:

  • Your CV 

  • A letter requesting permission to volunteer addressed to Dr. Juan Manuel Chuc, HA's medical director 

  • Copies of your: 

    • ooMedical license 

    • ooDiploma 

    • ooPassport (all pages including BLANKS) 

  • Letter that either supports your proficiency in your specialty or standing from a university 

  •  A copy of your signed confirmation letter 

What kind of care does the Hospitalito offer?

Hospitalito Atitlan provides the only 24-hour emergency care within a two-hour radius. As of 2017, we also offer 24-hour obstetrical services, and OB/GYN outpatient care seven days a week. Our facility provides weekday outpatient and general consultation, including pediatric and dental care. We also have an orthopedic surgeon available for scheduled surgeries. On occasion, we care for patients who otherwise would be in an ICU but are not willing or able to be transferred. The Hospitalito also performs laboratory testing. Those that we cannot analyze are sent to a lab in Panajachel. Learn more about our clinics, inpatient care and most common patient cases.

Does the Hospitalito charge for services? If so, why?

Hospitalito Atitlan is a private, not-for-profit hospital and receives no money from the government, nor is it aligned with any religious or political organizations.

HA has two sources of funding - patient fees and private donations. Without both, the hospital would have to close its doors.

Hospitalito Atitlan continues to operate thanks to donations of money, equipment, medicine and volunteer labor. That is why our volunteer staff and the medicines they bring are so essential to our existence. Charging patients for care and medicine helps pay for the rent, electricity, permanent staff salaries, and essential, non-donated medicines and supplies.

Currently, the hospital charges Q25 ($3.25) for consultations and Q50 ($6.50) for emergency visits. The Hospitalito attends to patients from a wide variety of socioeconomic backgrounds. For many of our patients, these fees are extremely affordable, and for others, they are not.

Hospitalito Atitlan has a full-time social worker available to evaluate each family's ability to pay for services. For those in need, the hospital discounts its services by 25%-100%. Patients are never refused care because of an inability to pay. If you come to HA as a volunteer, you should discuss financial issues with the social worker, hospital administrator or director, never with the patients.

Our board knows that the Hospitalito will never be sustainable based on patient fees, however it feels that those with resources to pay should do so. In addition, the people of Santiago Atitlan value what they pay for and free medical care and medicines would have less worth for them.

What shots do I need?

No shots are required to enter Guatemala. However all medical volunteers should be current on the following vaccinations:

In addition, they should have had a TB skin test within the past year.

Those volunteering for a long period of time should consider a prophylactic rabies vaccination.

Malaria is not an issue, due to Atitlan's altitude.

For more information on recommended vaccines and preventive medicines, visit the CDC website.

What does the hospital need?

Check out our medical and non-medical wish lists. Before you come, please make copies and share them with your co-workers, religious congregations, civic groups and friends.

We update the list regularly, and it contains what we really need. If you're thinking of bringing anything that does not appear on the wish list please check first with our medical director, Dr. Juan Manuel Chuc.

Are there things I shouldn't bring?

Yes. Here are some examples of things we are not able to use:

  • Expired medications - Guatemalan law forbids the Hospitalito from accepting expired medications. If you are bringing medications, please make sure that they have an expiration date of, at minimum, six months from your expected arrival date. Preferred expiration dates should be one to two years after your expected arrival. If you do bring expired medicines, we are forced to pay for their destruction by a medical waste company in Guatemala City. Even though the medicines may still be effective, legal and social requirements prevent us from giving them to our patients. 

  • Used adult-sized clothing - We are happy to receive donations of small children's clothing in good condition. However, please do not bring adult clothing. In the past, we have received old garments, in sizes too large for the Guatemalan population, and too often in poor condition. 

  • Medical equipment that cannot be serviced in Guatemala - Please be in touch with us if you want to bring medical equipment. Provide us with the specific item and model number, so we can determine if it can be repaired in the country. We have received some wonderful machinery that we have been unable to maintain and repair. The best approach is to check the medical equipment wish list to see exactly what we need. 

What should/shouldn't I wear?

It is best to bring layers, so you can be comfortable during the day and warm at night.

From April to November, it is rainy season with rain most afternoons. The high temperature reaches about 65 degrees Fahrenheit, and there are few cold and rainy days. Bring fast drying pants. Jeans don't dry during rainy season and are difficult to hand wash. A poncho and/or umbrella are essential.

The rest of the year, the temperature gets up to around 75 degrees during the day, but is cool at night.

The Tz'utujil people in the area are very conservative, so it is important to respect local standards. Women do not show shoulders or legs. Men do not go without shirts.

Appropriate dress is absolutely necessary for those who interact with patients.

What's appropriate dress for work?

The dress code at the Hospitalito is business casual, but without a coat and tie. Doctors generally wear slacks and a shirt with a collar or a longer skirt and blouse and closed toed shoes. When seeing patients, physicians should wear white coats.

What should I bring?

Things you should consider bringing include:

How much money will I need?

Guatemala can be very inexpensive. However, there are good restaurants and temptations to buy that can upset even the best-planned budget.

Restaurant meals run between $4 and $5 for breakfast and lunch, and even more for dinner. The trip across the lake to Panjachel or San Pedro costs around $5 round-trip.

If you watch your spending, prepare food at home, walk or take the Q2-5 transportation around town, you can get by on about $50 per week (excluding housing), however you should budget more if you are bringing a family.

Can I bring my family?

Many of our volunteers have brought their families. Guatemala is a great place for children, exposing them to a different culture and giving them the opportunity to learn Spanish. Long-term volunteers with children can take advantage of several bilingual English/Spanish primary and high schools in Panajachel, which is across the lake. A number of children of Hospitalito staff travel there daily.

What is the relationship of the Hospitalito, Asociacion K'aslimaal and AMIGOS Hospitalito Atitlan?

Asociacion K'aslimaal (Tz'utujiil for 'life' or 'rebirth') is the Hospitalito's founding organization and makes up the hospital's board of directors. The organization has partnered with the community to ensure that the Hospitalito is a stable institution committed to the improved health of the people of Santiago Atitlan and its environs.

AMIGOS Hospitalito Atitlan is a US nonprofit organization that has partnered with K'aslimaal to raise funds for the hospital in North America. It is HA's principal international fundraising arm.

FAQ: What to expect

Should I call to make my hotel and travel reservations?

We recommend that you make your reservations via the Internet - phoning Guatemala from the US can be expensive.

My flight arrives at night. Where should I stay in Guatemala City?

We recommend that you stay near the airport or nearby zones - 9 or 10 - where there are small, simple airport hotels that cost $15 - $30 per night. The luxury hotels in Zone 10 provide shuttle service from the airport and have drivers at the airport exit with signs.

Check out these links for more information:

Good general travel information for Guatemala City: www.wikitravel.org/en/Guatemala_City

Hotels near the airport (over $50): www.channels.nl/airports/airports_gua.html

Here is a list of hotels/hostels near the airport, many of which include airport pickup and drop-off service:

Dos Lunas Guest House (www.hoteldoslunas.com/)
21 Calle 10-92, Zona 13 - Aurora II 
info@hoteldoslunas.com or hoteldoslunas@gmail.com
Tel: (502) 2261-4248 or (502) 2261-4337

Hotel Bed & Breakfast "Mi Casa" (www.hotelmicasa.com/)
5 Avenida "A" 13-51 Zona 9.
Tel: (502) 2339-2247

Hostal Los Volcanes (www.hostallosvolcanes.com/)
16 street 8-00 Zone 13 Aurora 1
Tel: (502) 2261-3040, (502) 5853-7016 or (502) 2261-3584

Hostal Aurora II
20 Calle "A" 9-58, Z.13, Aurora II
Tel: (502)2261-4505 or (502)5201-1493

How do I change money?

The airport has an exchange kiosk, although the exchange rate is not good. After the kiosk, on the left is a 5B ATM machine. Good hotels in Zone 10 have reliable ATM machines, as does the new Walmart in Guatemala City. There are two reliable ATM machines in Santiago Atitlan and three banks. Traveler's checks can be changed in the local banks. Dollars and Euros are more difficult to change.

How do I get to Santiago Atitlan?

There are various options, listed in order of those that are the quickest, most comfortable and most costly.

Private van - We can arrange a private van to pick you up at your hotel or at the airport at a cost of Q800 or about $107. If you arrive on an evening flight, we recommend that you spend the night in Guatemala City, as the travel time to Santiago Atitlan is 3.5 hours. With a private van the driver can take you shopping (cheese, wine, things you cannot find in SA) and make any stops you want along the way.

To schedule a private van pickup, email volunteer coordinator, Febe Sosof, with all flight arrival information, so that your flight can be monitored. We cannot arrange airport pickups without your airline and flight information. Please send us this information before your arrival date. And please let us know if there are any flight delays. The driver will be waiting for you as you exit the airport. If you cannot find one another, go to the information center and contact the driver (5346-5911) or the volunteer coordinator (4045-5776). Please carry these numbers with you on your flight.

Tourist shuttles - Shuttles run by Atitrans can pick you up at your hotel or airport. (A reservation is required.) Travel time is four to five hours to Panajachel at a cost of $25. From there, you can take a boat across the lake ($3.50) to Santiago Atitlan. From the docks you can take a tuk-tuk - a motorized rickshaw taxi ($1) - to the Hospitalito. For more information, contact Atitrans at: info@atitrans.com or (502) 7831-0184/5572-0288. You can also make a reservation on their website: http://www.atitrans.net/

Chicken Buses ("camionetas") - For the foolish traveler, there are second classes buses that leave from the same location almost every hour until 4:00 pm and cost Q35. You will have to take a taxi to the departure site ($6 - $10) - known as "Donde pasan los camiones que van a la costa sur" (Where the buses pass for the Pacific coast).

The chicken buses drive very fast, and you'll have to share your seat with up to four other people. Your luggage will go on top of the bus unless you're allowed to keep it with you. "Ayudantes" (helpers) will want to help you find your bus. Make sure that you clearly state that you want to go to Santiago Atitlan. The buses have an Atitlan sign in the front window. If not, the ayudante will offer a partial trip, and you'll have to get off along the route and wait for the bus to Atitlan.

We do not recommend the public buses unless you have experience traveling in developing countries. The bus terminals and buses have skilled pickpockets and diversion artists, who find disoriented travelers an easy target.

Where can I stay?

Once you have been accepted with our volunteer coordinator, you will receive a document listing the housing options in Santiago Atitlan, which includes descriptions and prices.

You can also go online to check out and make reservations at the better local hotels:

Posada de Santiago: www.posadadesantiago.com

Bambu Hotel: www.ecobambu.com

Hotel Tiosh Abaj: www.tioshabaj.com

Is a homestay an option?

Homestays are only successful with families that have experience opening their homes to visitors. Problems can include food preparation and a healthy environment. We recommend homestays for those who plan on staying a month or more. For about $10/day (Q75), you will get a private room, meals, and laundry service. Home stays are listed in the housing list.

Where is the Hospitalito in relation to town?

Hospitalito Atitlan is located just outside of Santiago Atitlan in Canton Ch'utch'aj - about a 20-minute walk from downtown.

Can I receive mail?

In general, no. There is currently no functional postal system. You can send packages through Fed-Ex or DHL if necessary.

Will I have access to telephone and Internet?

There are several Internet cafes in town that charge $1/hour. Several coffee shops have wifi available with purchase of food or a beverage. Wireless internet is available at the Hospitalito, free of charge.

Cell phones are sold in town for $20 or Q150. Local calls cost Q1 per minute; calls to the US are Q2 (25 cents) per minute.

US cell phones generally do not work in Guatemala. Check with your provider to see if you can purchase a special SIM card that will allow you to make calls within Guatemala, in addition to international calls. There is a kiosk in the airport that offers SIM cards (next to the exchange kiosk).

Another inexpensive way to call other countries is through Skype or other Internet-based phone service.

How can I stay healthy?

The following are some tips for staying healthy while in Guatemala:

Where will I do laundry?

If you rent a house, the house staff will find a woman to come do your laundry, weekly or more frequently, if needed. This will cost about Q20 or $3/load. Be advised that hand washing can be hard on delicate fabrics, so you might want to give special instructions. Or, bring more durable cotton fabrics.

If you do a home stay, your laundry may be included in the cost. However, if your clothing is heavy or difficult to wash, you may be charged extra.

Dolores (5384-7441) has a laundry service; she will pick up and return your laundry.

Where can I buy food? What is available?

Santiago Atitlan has a thriving indoor market that is open daily, better in the morning. Fresh produce from around Guatemala is available at cheap prices. There are a variety of fruits, vegetables, beans and meats. In addition there are a number of small "convenience" stores that sell packaged foodstuffs. The town also has a number of restaurants.

If there is any food that you must have during your time in Santiago Atitlan, it is best to pick it up in Guatemala City prior to arriving.

Where can I study Spanish in Santiago Atitlan?

There are a number of Spanish teachers, with varying levels of experience, whose classes range from conversation to formal. We particularly recommend:

What are the major holidays? Where are they?