How A Culinary School is Powering the Economy of a Guatemalan Village

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About a year ago today, we left Utah to spend a few months in a little Guatemalan village called Santa Cruz La Laguna.

It is a colorful town, right on the coast of Lago de Atitlán (Lake Atitlán) that you can only access by boats that the locals run. The topography is marked by steep hills that the locals climb up and down every day to go to work.  There are tiny walkways, 1000’s of steps, and houses stacked on houses–a Guatemalan version of Positano

The hilltop village of Santa Cruz La Laguna. CECAP is the tall yellow building on the left hand side.

As you can imagine, Santa Cruz is an entirely different world than Salt Lake City.

There are no supermarkets, just a few local produce stands and small convenience stores. Boats of fresh vegetables come in once a week. There are no cars, just little tuk tuks that shuttle people from the dock up to their homes.

Amidst all of this beautiful simplicity, there is a yellow building perched on a tall hill that is powering the economy and future of this little village. It is called CECAP.

We stayed with a local woman named Rosalia. Rosalia is the Associate Program Director of Amigos De Santa Cruz (organization that aims to improve the lives of the indigenous people of Santa Cruz and surrounding villages through support for education and sustainable economic empowerment) & the Assistant for the CECAP Vocational Training Center. 

Rosalia, Associate Program Director of CECAP, with the village of Santa Cruz in the background.

CECAP was born out of a conversation in Santa Cruz back in 2006 about how best to grow the local economy.

The few jobs available were low-paying manual labor.  Women had next-to-no prospect of earning an income outside the home. The community wanted a center that provided pathways out of this poverty cycle. In 2010, CECAP opened its doors. Today, CECAP trains over 400 students each year in trades including culinary arts, carpentry, weaving, hospitality, and more.  Not only do graduates find work all around Lake Atitlán and in the two social enterprise businesses located in the CECAP building, but many receive opportunities in larger markets like Guatemala City.  The CECAP building is a tall yellow building perched on the tall hills of Santa Cruz La Laguna. On the very top floor is Café Sabor Cruceño.

Run by the young graduates of the CECAP Culinary Program, Café Sabor Cruceño is located on the rooftop terrace of the CECAP building in Santa Cruz, which overlooks beautiful Lake Atitlán. The restaurant is a nonprofit social enterprise business supported by Amigos to provide practical training for the students and graduates of the CECAP Culinary Program, as well as to spur local economic development by attracting tourists to Santa Cruz village.

The view from Café Sabor Cruceño with a delicious dessert prepared by the student. Photo courtesy of CECAP.

Café Sabor Cruceño now employs 12 young chefs from Santa Cruz.  Each will learn practical skills that help launch their culinary careers, such as running a bustling restaurant, teaching visitor cooking classes, and catering weddings. Visitors to the café can decide which dish and drink, among traditional Guatemalan favorites, pairs best with the stunning view of Lake Atitlán.  

A student of CECAP’s culinary program baking bread. Photo courtesy of CECAP.

Pepian, a traditional Guatemalan Stew

Our favorite was the Kaq’ik de dos Carnes (chicken and beef stew made with three locally grown chilies, served with avocado, rice and tortillas) with a Banana y Cacao Licuado.  Another must try is the most popular Guatemalan dish–Pepian (traditional Guatemalan stew of vegetables, ground seeds, cocoa, chilies & spices—served with chicken or tofu)…which also pairs well with a Banana y Cacao Licuado.  Let’s be honest, licuados are good with anything at anytime!

Banana y Cacao Licuado

When you visit Guatemala, don’t miss out on the opportunity to enjoy delicious, authentic cuisine at Café Sabor Cruceño while admiring the breathtaking views of Lake Atitlán’s majestic volcanoes.  

How To Get There

From Panajachel: Take the public ferry to Santa Cruz la Laguna.  The price is 15 quetzal. Verify this amount with the boat captain prior to departure.  The boat ride takes about 10 minutes.

  • – By tuk tuk
    • Grab a tuk tuk at the dock.  Ask the driver to take you to CECAP.  The price is 5 quetzal. Again, I would verify this amount with the driver prior to taking off.
  • By foot
    • The walk up from the dock can be strenuous.  However, if you are in good shape–or want to start getting there–just follow the path up from the dock.  It will wind back and forth a couple times. Once you reach the center of Santa Cruz, turn right and you will see the CECAP building.
  • Walk through the door and past sewing stations.  You will see a door leading outside on the right with stairs going up.  Just take the stairs up and you are there!
  • Relax and enjoy!

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