In 2010, Chelsea Glass randomly chose Guatemala for volunteer work during college, and she fell in love with the country. A few months after she returned home to Sacramento, she went back to Guatemala and stayed for three years.
She quickly learned that the perceptions many Americans have about South America are wrong. The drug trafficking and violence are such a small part of it, she says. The beauty, however, is overwhelming.
While working in tourism in Guatemala, Glass met a man named Carlos Armas. They made plans to open a travel company, one that would not exploit Guatemala, but would instead introduce tourists to the finer parts of South America through environmentally friendly experiences. In doing so, they would help bring more tourism dollars to small communities and local people.
Sadly, Armas died before he and Glass could realize their dream. But she forged on, opening The Heart of Travel, an eco-friendly, sustainable boutique travel company that arranges trips to South America and Cuba for private groups, couples and singles.
The focus is on a travel experience that is safe, utilizing a team of knowledgeable guides in every country and a tour leader—Glass or one other—who leads the trip. “What we want to do is give people an opportunity to come and get to know these countries and get to know them in an authentic way,” Glass says.
The Heart of Travel hosted its first tour in February 2017 and since then has offered one private tour—often through a partnership with a local business (such as Orangetheory Fitness)—and one public tour per month. On every trip there are six to 12 travelers, and more than 100 people have gone so far.
Trips to Guatemala, Cuba, Ecuador, Peru, Mexico City and Oaxaca run seven to 14 days long and cost up to $3,700 for accommodations, in-country transportation and activities. (Most trips cost less than $2,000 per person.)
Instead of imitating other travel companies, which Glass says can be exploitative and unethical, The Heart of Travel creates meaningful experiences that benefit both tourist and native.
In Guatemala, for example, guests may view the Mayan ruins with a local guide before visiting Casa Flor Ixcaco, a women-led textile cooperative, where guests are given a tour of the area and then invited into family homes for the night. The family is paid for their time and hospitality, and guests get to experience a lifestyle vastly different from their own.
“There’s an ignorance about (these countries), and that’s because we don’t as a society focus on this part of the world,” Glass says. “It’s understandable people have misconceptions.”