Traveler Tamara Hillstrom

Tamara HillstromTamara Hillstrom, a resident of Minneapolis, Minnesota, has traveled all over the United States and the world. Some of her fondest destinations are the northeast (New York City, Cape Cod, and Boston), the west (California, Seattle, and Ashland), and Europe (France, Italy, and central Europe).

But there is one place where she spends more time than any place other than home: Guatemala. Her interest in this unlikely destination came about after she adopted three children from the country. Then, in 2008, international adoption was closed in Guatemala, and Tamara knew she had found her calling. Tamara immediately began work on founding an orphanage, and less than two years later, she opened the doors on El Amor de Patricia in San Lucas, Guatemala.

Now Patricia spends much of her time in the Central American country, and she has discovered a country that she truly loves. She is currently planning a one-month trip there for the summer of 2014. Through her years of experience, she strongly recommends Guatemala as a unique, beautiful vacation destination.

After flying in to Guatemala City, Tamara recommends hiring a local driver to take you to Antigua Guatemala, Sacatepequez. Over the years, she has developed a relationship with a driver named Edwin, who now handles all the driving for El Amor de Patricia. In Antigua, one can rent a house for a great deal.

For a quick day trip, you can’t miss visiting Panajachel, on Lake Atitlan. There you can visit coffee plantations, open air markets, partake in adventurous activities like ziplining and active volcano hiking.

Another day trip offers a one of a kind experience. Niños con Bendicioón in San Antonio Aguas Calientes offers a program for village children to perform indigenous dances. It’s an outstanding experience, and the proceeds fund the local school there. Be sure to try the local hand made tortillas while in town, too.

One thing Tamara loves about Guatemala is the food.  There is an outstanding culinary scene with offerings not available anywhere else in the world. Pollo con laroco con creme is a meal you can’t miss.  Laroco is a small white indigenous flower added to a cream sauce with chicken. The combination of flavors makes it a big hit in Guatemala. Perhaps some Americans might find the experience slightly like eating a flower bed. Try El Café de la Vaca in Guatemala City for the real thing.

But amidst a Guatemalan vacation, Tamara can’t help but see the poverty. Through the beautiful sights is the very real underlying issue of Guatemala’s poor. This is where her experience really comes into play. She recommends volunteering while in the country for one of the wonderful foundations and organizations working to give back to the community.

For example, you can visit El Amor de Patricia and participate in The Bunker Project. The organization keeps a list of children in need of a bed. You sign up and purchase a bunk bed, bringing it to a home. There, you remove whatever the children have been sleeping on and install the new bed. The program is a huge success, and offers a way to really have an impact on a life in a real, tangible way. It can make a trip to a foreign country into something truly special, a memory that will last a lifetime.