We offer a variety of workshops, from half-day workshops to two-week intensives for groups, as well as internships and volunteering.



About Bamboo

In recent years, Bamboo has found fame as a rapid-growth, renewable building material of exceptional versatility. Not only strong, lightweight, economical, flexible and abundant, its beauty as an architectural element is also being captured and experimented with in ever more extraordinary ways by a growing body of bamboo builders and creatives, who become positively religious in their attraction to this wonderful plant.


Bamboo and Adobe



The Experience
For hands-on practice we work on different buildings - from community projects such as clinics and schools to private residences. Materials covered include wood, natural rope, thatch, lime, linseed oil, beeswax and much more.

We will introduce you to the key topics of disaster resistance, compost toilets and grey water recycling. We will also take a green building tour to explore the many natural buildings in the village of San Marcos La Laguna.

By the end of the course you will have the confidence to begin designing and building your own house using ecological materials.


Weaving Natural Rope Workshop



Bamboo Course April 2014

This course teaches first-time builders how to design and build their own house from the ground up, using bamboo and predominantly natural materials in tropical and temperate climates.

For hands-on practice, we'll be building a volunteer dormitory and bamboo furniture.

There will also be a two-day field trip to several bamboo plantations, a bamboo treatment unit, a bird sanctuary, a Guatemalan market and views of a live volcano



Topics covered:
* Site selection
* Barefoot architecture - how to go about designing and planning your own house
* General introduction to natural building materials
* Foundations 101
* Introduction to bamboo and its many uses
* Bamboo framing and architecture, including engineering for earthquake resistance
* Wall fill and plastering techniques
* Natural building tour



    Papaya Tree  




Charlie Rendall


Charlie has been building houses and landscaping gardens in San Marcos La Laguna, Guatemala for eight years. He tried just about every natural building method he could before settling on bamboo and mud as his favorites. He gave his first Bamboo Building Course in 2008 and loves helping others learn how build their own houses. Originally from London, England, Charlie holds a Masters Degree in Social Anthropology, and has studied Buddhism, Yoga, business and social development in India. For several years he taught transferable skills development to postgraduates at University College London before meeting his wife and becoming technical director at her arts education project, La Cambalacha. He also built this website :-)


Monika Goforth


Monika Goforth is a rural development worker specializing in permaculture and community empowerment to grow strong and stable local economies.  Obtaining her Masters in Social Change and Development from the University of Newcastle, Australia,  she visited Central American eco-communities, orphanages, and permaculture farms to work with change-agents and deepen her understanding of the local context. She works as Guatemala Program Manager for The Appropriate Technologies Collaborative. She serves the Return to the Forest team as an assistant educator and student manager, being your first point of contact for inquiries regarding our natural building courses.  You can spot her by her mud-stained T-Shirt. Email Monika with any questions at monika@returntotheforest.org

Nathaniel Steinrueck

Nate is a recent graduate from Green Mountain College, and majored in Renewable Energy and Ecological Design. Since his graduation in June, he has gained additional experience in sustainable construction, weatherization and digital fabrication. He has over 4 years of international building experience and completed a passive house in Frankfurt, Germany. Nate recently moved to Guatemala and is currently working as assistant project manager for a health clinic in rural Guatemala. Nate is spearheading the fundraising campaign for the Mei-Ker Project and teaches carpentry to local workers and carpenters. Email Nate with any questions at Nate@returntotheforest.org



John Barrie



John Barrie is the Executive Director of the Appropriate Technology Collaborative, an award winning nonprofit company that designs low cost sustainable technologies that provide opportunity for the world’s poorest people to overcome poverty. Mr. Barrie is an Architect and Industrial Designer; he has also been an Adjunct Professor of Architecture at the University of Michigan. Mr. Barrie is currently working with “World Challenge Design Teams” – groups of engineering, design and business students from colleges and universities across the United States to develop new appropriate technologies for low income people in the developing world.









The workshops takes place in three picturesque Mayan villages on Lake Atitlán, Guatemala. The natural building week is held in San Marcos La Laguna (population 3,000), a village well known for its natural beauty and as a place to learn meditation, yoga and alternative medicine. It has several well-established hotels, restaurants, bars and shops. Classes are held in La Cambalacha's workshop spaces and at The Yoga Forest, a farm and learning centre under development about 15 minutes' walk up the valley - a moderate level of fitness is therefore recommended to get the most from this course. Some classes take place at a community health clinic we are building in San Pablo La Laguna, 10 minutes' drive from San Marcos.

Forest gardening and permaculture workshops are held in neighboring Tzununa (population 1,000), at Finca Huevo Verde - a minivan will transport participants the 10 minutes' drive along the lakeside each day. We may also visit other food forests and permaculture sites around the lake.

Both Tzununa and San Marcos have a growing population of foreign residents, many of whom learned how to build by building their homes and businesses with the help of local craftsmen. The absence of building codes has led to a huge variety of architectural styles and techniques and it's a great place to see this diversity, as well as what not to do! Many residents are also keen gardeners who have created beautiful and productive gardens, a few of which we can visit during the course.

Lake Atitlán is situated right in the heart of Guatemala's western highlands and thus makes a great jumping-off point for exploring the rest of this small but incredibly diverse country. See Extras for further ideas on where else to visit.



Bamboo Building Course: April 13th-19th with accommodation: $1,100 without/ $800

Bamboo Building Course: May 13th-19 with accommodation: $1,100 without/ $800

Disclaimer: These prices are tentative and will be confirmed by Feb 8th


Any Questions? Send me a message.

Visit my blog for more about natural building and forest gardening.