The Land of Giants: Guatemala’s volcanoes

Guatemala is located at the intersection of the North American and Caribbean tectonic plates, which make it the perfect place for volcanoes to thrust up from the ground and loom like giants over the land.

Volcanoes are often seen as one of the most destructive forces in all of nature, but they also provide an incredible amount of nutrients to help perpetuate wildlife and agriculture, in this case the coffee trade that has made Guatemala’s beans famous among coffee drinkers all over the world. Because of their geographic, cultural, and economic impact, as well as their obvious grandiose presence, volcanoes became the cornerstone of this photo series. They are impossible to ignore because some are currently active, erupting (nonviolently) every day.

In Guatemala, stray dogs are everywhere. They roam free settling down in large cities, hillside communities, and even remote tourist attractions like the Pacaya Volcano. El Fuego, the volcano to the left, is active, erupting over 10 times per day. (Photo by Timothy Song/GroundTruth)
Hikers make their way to the base of Pacaya Volcano (Photo by Timothy Song/GroundTruth)
Woman creates artwork made of dyed woodchips for a Catholic festival, in Antigua, Guatemala. (Photo by Timothy Song/GroundTruth)
A sunset view from a restaurant in Panahachel, one of the largest towns on Lake Atitlan (Photo by Timothy Song/GroundTruth)
Antigua, declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1979, maintains a lot of its traditional features, like painted colors on the buildings. There are only a handful of colors legally allowed for use, which creates a uniform, picturesque look to the city. (Photo by Timothy Song/GroundTruth)
Local coffee operations like the one pictured here supply the likes of Starbucks and Walmart. However, worker pay remains low. (Photo by Timothy Song/GroundTruth)
At nearly $1 billion in 2019, coffee is one of Guatemala’s largest exports. (Photo by Timothy Song/ GroundTruth)
A local launches his boat in front of a new construction site. Lake Atitlan is encircled by volcanoes and small towns, many of which survive off of tourism. However, foreigners own a lot of the equity in these towns, while locals like the one pictured here, have difficulty accumulating wealth. (Photo by Timothy Song/GroundTruth)

Photographer’s Note

There’s something magical about pushing back a few volcanic rocks and being able to feel the heat coming out of recently cooled lava. 

We embarked on this trip to Guatemala just as Coronavirus was infecting the world. There was limited information about the disease, and people were scared. My group decided to go anyway, and I’m glad that we did. There are also many socio-economic and cultural stories that we learned about during our time in Guatemala. The beauty of the land is at odds with the incredible income disparity, reflected on the large portion of its population that lives under the poverty line.

One day after we returned on March 16th 2020, Guatemala shut its borders to foreigners. I’m not sure when we’ll be able to travel next, but this period of social distancing and staying in reminds me what a privilege traveling the world is and how much I miss it.


The Meghan Sennott “Life is Amazing” Photo Essay Contest

Tim Song is the winner of The Meghan Sennott “Life is Amazing” Photo Essay Contest. He’s a graduate student at The Questrom School of Business at Boston University and his work focused on documenting Guatemala’s volcanic landscape in mid March of 2020.

The contest was open to all Boston University undergraduate and graduate students in the BU Study Abroad programs. His winning entry was announced on May 3rd, 2020, World Press Freedom Day.

Meghan Sennott was a Boston University, College of Arts & Sciences student studying History and Biology. She first studied abroad in Oxford, England in 2005 and then traveled to Quito, Ecuador in 2006 to participate in BU’s Tropical Ecology program. Tragically, Meghan and 12 other people died in a bus accident while traveling in Peru after the end of her semester in Ecuador. Meghan loved to travel, was curious about the world, and often said “Life is Amazing.” To celebrate and honor Meghan’s life, the Sennott family is sponsoring this annual Photo Essay Contest.

The contest is organized in partnership with The GroundTruth Project. Meghan’s father, Richard Sennott, is a Photo Editor for GroundTruth, which is founded by Meghan’s uncle, Charles Sennott.