|Guatemala is a recognized destination to study Spanish and many cities throughout the country have many schools dedicated to foreigners. Not all cities are equal to study Spanish, some are a very bad choice in fact if you really want to learn and practice.|
Not surprisingly, the schools are
mostly located in tourists hubs. You will hardly find any school in
the capital although it's a very large city.
The advantage of tourist hubs are that
they have activities and sights to visit on your days off.
The main disadvantage is that there are
plenty of tourists and locals are more able to speak English. In
most cases when you begin in Spanish and stumble a bit, they will
continue in English to rush things a bit and pass to the next
customer in line. Another inconvenient of tourists hubs is that at
night you'll often be more tempted to go take a beer with other
tourists than studying.
Geography of the Spanish schools in Guatemala.
The six main locations to study Spanish
in Guatemala are:
- Quetzeltenango (Xela)
- Lake Atitlan (Panajachel and San Pedro)
I placed them from what I consider the
best to the worst.
Xela is a large city with numerous
schools, but because of its size the tourists still are a small
minority. There are a few activities and sights to do in and around
town and the weather is pleasant (just cold at night due to high
Cobán is a major transport hub for
those visiting the site of Semuc Champey but few tourists actually
stay in Cobán, which still has a nice feeling of an authentic
Monterrico is a nice small village by
the Pacific ocean, a bit difficult to reach however. Also, although
its great black volcanic sand beach is spectacular the location is
only to get a tan, because the waves are very dangerous. Just
getting far enough to wet your knees will put your life at risk. The
village is in a large mangrove area so it's overcrowded by
mosquitoes; that's the only place in Guatemala where I needed a
mosquito net to sleep.
Lake Atitlan is a wonderful location to
take pictures but not to learn Spanish. Panajachel is packed with
backpackers while the other side of the lake is home of many ex-pats
stretching their retirement dollars. Not only will the local
businesses address you in English but you will also hear it all the
time in the streets where most of the signs also display English.
Flores is a charming little island near
Tikal but its small size, lack of activities and the facts it's a
major destination makes it a bad place to study Spanish. Again,
you'll hear English all the time, and you will cross path with
another tourist every 10 steps you make.
Worst place at all for me is Antigua.
Because of its proximity with the capital (and its airport) and its
charming colonial city reputation Antigua is often a major stop on
the itinerary of the tourists. Result, all the city is actually a
huge tourist trap gift shop with inflated prices for everything.
It's a nice colonial city, for Guatemala, but it lacks good
preservation of its heritage. It's hugely overrated as colonial city
and I've seen ten times better in Mexico. The city itself is quite
small (1 sq km, or about 1/3 of a sq mile) and there are a few
interesting attractions around it, but most of them are overpriced
for their value.
One of the classes of the Cobán school.
Since the classes are aimed to serve
tourists, they are available on a weekly basis (you can begin any day
of the week usually, no need to begin on a Monday). Because of the
short duration, you won't have time to go through a formal
curriculum. The clientele makes it also difficult to have group
classes, so it's usually private tutoring one-on-one with your
teacher, which is nice and challenging most of the times. The daily
schedule is usually a class of 4 hours (including a 30 minutes break)
either morning or afternoon, depending of your preference (I
recommend the morning, unless you like to party and need recovery
Because of the format and duration,
don't expect to master the language in a few weeks, but it's a good
way to initiate yourself or refresh your skills.
Guatemala is probably the cheapest
place to get classes. You can get 20 hours (5 days at 4 hours/day)
for about US$125 to US$150 and most schools offer you an option to
stay within a family (with room and board) for about US$50 - US$75
per week. The lodging option is very interesting.
I studied one week in Monterrico
(picture on top of the page), two weeks in Cobán. I also spent at
least a week in each of the other locations. In my case it was
especially to revise some concepts and force me to practice. I'd say
the first mission was accomplished although I would have preferred to
go more deeply in certain subjects. The second mission was partly
accomplished because both teachers I had were finally doing most of
Be careful if you want to volunteer and
find it nice that they offer you Spanish classes as incentive. I've
seen many cases where you have to pay a lot to volunteer your time
and energy. Volunteer opportunities should be free of charge, at
most you'd have to pay for your room and board (a maximum of US$75
per week). I've seen many charging about $100 par day!!!! They use
the Spanish classes as incentive to close the deal. You know know
the prices for the classes, so if you want to study, you don't have
to pay with your money in addition to your time and effort. Besides,
most schools also offer you volunteer opportunities (FREE of charge)
to give you more occasions to practice with an organization within