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During my three short weeks in Guatemala, I spent most of my time learning Spanish in both Antigua and Quetzaltenango (Xela). It can be hard choosing a Spanish school in Guatemala- there are so many of them, so I’ve put together some tips to help you narrow it down.
Decide where you want to study
There are Spanish schools in pretty much every town in Guatemala, so the first thing to figure out is where you want to study.
The most popular option, Antigua, is about an hour from Guatemala. It’s a UNESCO world heritage listed town and appropriately pretty, atmospheric and clean.
The entire centre of town is geared towards tourists and Spanish students – there are all sorts of safe, clean restaurants selling things like bagels, pizza, and fondue, the bar scene is insane and almost the entire town is wired with internet.
Personally, I found it a little too sanitised for my liking. Additionally, most people speak English, making it less likely that you need to use your Spanish for everyday transactions.
Those who are a little more serious about travel and a little more serious about learning Spanish head to the highland town of Quetzaltenango (Xela).
About four hours north of Antigua, it’s very much a Guatemalan city and much grittier than Antigua, and for me, that was the attraction.
There are still plenty of vibey cafes and restaurants frequented by (mostly American) Spanish students, although things are a little cheaper in Xela.
Not many locals speak English, so basically every transaction or interaction will have you speaking Spanish. There are also loads of hiking opportunities in the nearby hills, and plenty of projects to volunteer with.
Lago de Atitlan
I didn’t study here, but Lago de Atitlan, partway between Antigua and Xela, is quickly becoming a popular location to learn Spanish in Guatemala. The wifi is incredibly fast and the food available rivals Antigua for variety. More laid back and often cheaper, Lago de Atitlan’s picturesque setting makes for a pretty chilled lifestyle.
Talk to people who’ve done it
I chose my Spanish schools in Antigua and Xela based solely on recommendations from other travellers.
I talked with travel bloggers and read posts on Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree forums and this helped me make an educated decision. Feel free to ask me questions in the comments below.
Ask about the Spanish teachers
At both my schools, the Spanish teachers were hugely experienced. Both had more than 10 years of teaching Spanish behind them and it showed. Their English was enough to ensure I understood everything we were discussing when necessary.
Ask about the Spanish school’s philosophy, extracurricular activities and volunteer opportunities
Most Spanish schools will organize extracurricular activities that are often free or very cheap such as salsa classes, lectures, film screenings or guided walks.
Many also run projects that are funded by your school fees. I chose my school in Xela based on its philosophy and the fact that almost all of its profits go back into their clinic, stove building project and daycare centre. They also offered volunteer opportunities nearly every day, whether you were studying for one week or one month.
Look at the accommodation options on offer
There are generally three different types of accommodation options when you’re studying Spanish in Guatemala.
Particularly popular in Xela, your school can usually place you with a local family for a nominal extra cost. Most families have extensive experience housing foreign students and will cook you three meals a day and you get your own room. I heard some even have wifi. This gives you the chance to totally immerse yourself in the language.
Had I stayed in Xela for two weeks, I would have spent my second week with a local family.
Not all schools offer this. I stayed in a student house in Antigua and loved it. I made instant friends and it was more comfortable and homey than staying in a hostel, and more flexible and relaxed than a home stay. We were provided with three meals a day. In all honesty, the food wasn’t great, but a lot of the food in Guatemala isn’t brilliant.
Hostel, guest house or hotel
You can also choose to organise your own accommodation and stay in a nearby guesthouse, which was what I did in Xela.
Price of a Spanish School in Guatemala
Price may or may not be an issue for you, but I would suggest going with the best Spanish school rather than going with the cheapest.
In Antigua, I paid $250 a week, which was on the expensive side and included 4 hours of private lessons a day, a registration fee and my accommodation and meals in the student house.
In Xela, I paid $145 for 5 hours of private lessons a day. The school waived the registration fee and had I chose to stay with a local family it would have cost an extra $40.
Go with your gut instinct
Because it will rarely get you wrong.
Bio: In 2010, Megan quit her job and left Sydney, Australia to travel solo through Asia and the Middle East. A scribbler of notes, a lover of food, yoga and photography, she’s now traveling through Latin America. Get inspired by her adventures at OnMyWayRTW.com, follow her on Twitter @megan_rtw or catch up with her on Facebook.