A Day with an Indigenous Community in Santa Catarina Barahona

Small Change 4 Big Change is a charity dedicated to helping the indigenous families of Santa Catarina Barahona help themselves through education and sustainable farming.

Lisa Mitchell de Mena founded the not-for-profit organisation in 2012 and set up projects in the local community. The projects focus on teaching local people how to live a healthy, sustainable lifestyle. Lisa’s aim is to support families to earn their own income and live well.

We spent a day with Lisa and the community in Santa Catarina Barahona. Here’s what we did:

Explore Santa Catarina Barahona

This little known town is located just 20 minutes outside of Antigua. It is a beautiful place to spend an afternoon. The town square as a similar colonial style to Antigua, but without the crowds of people passing through. It’s a peaceful and serene town, surrounded by forested hills. It’s pretty unlikely you’ll see another tourist out here; only locals. But there are so many things to do in Santa Catarina Barahona.


La Cascada Pools in Santa Catarina Barahona

There are two cold spring pools in Santa Catarina Barahona. Just a short walk from the main town square is a swimming complex of small circular pools filled with cold spring water from the mountain. The La Cascada pools look out over the town and surrounding mountains. There were quite a few local kids who had been enjoying the pools when we passed by, but Lisa said hardly any tourists come out this way to enjoy them. Walk up towards the mountains, and you’ll find a more natural set of pools. These pools also contain cold spring water and you can see the river flowing right into them. They’re surrounded by trees but equally gorgeous.

Santa Catarina Barahona Viewpoint

From the main town, you can walk up the steps to the viewpoint which looks out over the town. It was a pretty cloudy afternoon when we were up there but the view was still incredible.


Meet a Local Guatemalan Family from Santa Catarina Barahona

Lisa introduced us to Sylvia, a local woman of Santa Catarina Barahona, and her family. Sylvia’s family have been involved with multiple projects run by Small Change 4 Big Change. These include raising free range chickens and tilapia fish in their gardens, and building ecological stoves as a healthier and more environmentally friendly alternative to cooking on an open fire. Sylvia and her husband cooked us a delicious vegetarian lunch which we ate in their home.

Learn about Traditional Mayan Wedding Culture

After lunch, Sylvia talked about traditional Mayan wedding culture and what her own wedding day was like. She showed us the traditional clothes that many of the Guatemalan women weave. Santa Catarina Barahona is home to some of the most talented weavers in the whole of Guatemala, including Sylvia herself. The locals here continue to use hand-weaving techniques.

Sylvia teaches us about Guatemalan traditions

Sylvia explained that when a Guatemalan wedding is arranged, the bride-to-be and her mother-in-law must both weave traditional clothing items for one another. There’s a lot of pressure here though, as the quality of the clothes woven is said to show how much the bride and her mother-in-law like each other. The bride’s wedding outfit is provided by her mother-in-law and the bride won’t see it until her wedding day. 

At the end of the wedding day celebrations, the mother-in-law will tell the bride that her time to celebrate is over and send her to the kitchen to hand grind coffee for all of the wedding guests. Sylvia expressed some resentment about this arrangement but explained that it’s just the way that their wedding traditions are. Many families continue to follow this custom still today.


Syliva asked us if we’d like to try on some traditional Guatemalan clothes. We’d never worn Guatemalan clothing before, so we both tentatively agreed. Just as I’d imagined, the wraps and thick belts worn by Guatemalan women are heavy and uncomfortable. Wearing them for all of 5 minutes made me realise just how comfortable jeans are in comparison!

Trying on typical Guatemalan clothing


Only moments after we’d been kitted up in Guatemalan clothing, Sylvia bought out a traditional wedding veil to show us how a Guatemalan couple might be dressed on their wedding day. We were awkwardly British about the whole thing, but I nonetheless complied and tried the veil on. If you’d ever wondered what we’d look like wearing Guatemalan wedding clothes, here you go:


We thanked Sylvia for her workshop on Guatemalan wedding culture and for her family’s amazing hospitality. We really had such great fun learning about local traditions with Sylvia. It was such a valuable experience for us to spend some time with a local family to see what life is like in the community of Santa Catarina Barahona.

Community Gardens in Santa Catarina Barahona

One of Small Change 4 Big Change’s most important local projects is the community gardens in Santa Catarina Barahona. The gardens bring together local women who tend the gardens for a few hours each week. The women involved in the community garden project are usually from lower income families who suffer from poverty and struggle to provide healthy food for their children. The community garden allows them to have access to fresh, organic and nutritious vegetables. The produce is split evenly between the women who work the garden each week.

Lisa also runs the Healthy House and Home project. In this project, she teaches the women how to prepare healthy meals with the vegetables from their gardens.

Small Change 4 Big Change are always looking for extra hands to volunteer in their community gardens.

Believing that small changes can make big ones, Lisa has worked hard to inspire a whole community to learn new skills and live sustainably. She hopes that these lessons will be passed onto the next generations. We have no doubt that they will.

Opportunities with Small Change 4 Big Change

Visit the Community of Santa Catarina Barahona: If you’re in Antigua and would like to visit the community of Santa Catarina Barahona, explore this charming town and learn about local handicrafts, you can arrange a day trip with Visit.org.

Volunteer with Small Change 4 Big Change: One of my favourite things about Small Change 4 Big Change is the fact that the local community have a say in where the charities resources should be spent. And overwhelmingly, the local community wanted extra English lessons to help them find more stable and relatively well-paid employment. Small Change 4 Big Change is always looking for volunteers. If you’re interested in volunteering and helping the locals learn English, you can contact Lisa on the Small Change 4 Big Change Facebook page or website.

Charlie Marchant

Charlie is a long-term traveller from the UK who writes about simple ways to travel sustainably, including how to become a house sitter and slow traveller, eating local and vegetarian, and making responsible travel choices.

One thought to “A Day with an Indigenous Community in Santa Catarina Barahona”

  1. This piece is so inspiring, I will be sure to pass it on in any way that I can.
    I love the vibrant colours that the Guatemalan blend so well in their textiles and you were both good sports to get dressed up!:)

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