El Portal and Squatter Cities

El Portal in Guatemala City is really worth a visit. The service is good, they serve tapas when you buy a beer and it is a real part of Latin American history. It is in the Lonely Planet.

Many people and guidebooks will tell you to keep away from Guatemala City - that it is too unsafe. We stayed at Xamanek Backpackers, which is located in a safe area of the city. Our host, Luis, who is from Canada gave us excellent advice on where to go, which bus to take and which areas of the city ware safe. He even encouraged a "tour" of a squatter area organized by a school program that provides schooling and other services to the poorest of the poor. The program, Safe Passages, provides assistance for children who once worked salvaging garbage at the city dump.

Thanks to Safe Passages, today, more than 550 children who live around the Guatemala City dump spend their mornings or afternoons at the program where they receive assistance with school work, a healthy meal (often the only one they eat each day), access to a medical clinic, exposure to the arts, and vocational programs in a caring and safe environment. Many of the children in the program are the first in their families to attend school. This year, more than 10 students in the Safe Passage program will be enrolled in the most academically competitive schools in Guatemala.

Please note, Squatter Cities are areas where people build their own houses on land they don't own. Cities feel free to ignore these populations and often don't provide any services. No electricity, no water, no sanitation and no garbage pick up. Moreover, police service is also usually not available. Few NGOs deal with these populations, so the people who live in these areas are really on their own. Right now over a billion people live in squatter cities and that number is expected to double in the next 15 years.

If you are interested in a tour of Safe Passages and the area where they are located you should get in touch with Safe Passages early in your travel preparations. They are busy working with kids but offer some outreach to travelers on occasion.

Next on our trip - On to San Pedro


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