Guatemala is probably the best country to learn Spanish. Reason is that this country in Central America is full of amazing people that speak a clear Spanish in a not too fast manner. Another reason is that the Spanish Schools and the homestays in a local family are absolutely inexpensive. And the third main reason why you should learn Spanish in Guatemala is that this country is full of beautiful Maya ruins, nature, cultural inheritances and buildings that can’t wait to get explored.
Where to learn Spanish in Guatemala and how much it costs
The three main cities to learn the Spanish language are Antigua, San Pedro La Laguna and Quetzaltenango (Xela). We decided for the San Pedro Spanish School in San Pedro La Laguna as it is beautifully located at Lake Atitlan (Lago di Atitlan) and we could stay with a local family and completely inverse into the culture. San Pedro Spanish School offers private lessons for USD 150 per 20 hour week and for an additional USD 114 per week you receive your own room with ensuite at a host family including three meals a day.
How our school week and homestay looked like
We stayed for two weeks with Maida, Mauricio and their 6 year old daughter Aweex and dived deeper into their lives and culture than we would have ever expected. Every morning after our work-out Maida surprised us with a different breakfast and practiced with us our Spanish before we left for school. Sometimes Aweex also joined in, joked around and corrected our misuse of the Spanish language.
Classroom training at the lake in the mornings
Then we had classroom training with Elvia at San Pedro Spanish School. Well, classroom training is probably the wrong expression as our classroom was a beautiful hut at Lake Atitlan, big enough for the three of us, in the middle of a beautiful garden.
Elvia completely personalized our class schedule and because we already had some basic knowledge and are not too untalented with languages, we reached an ok level after two weeks of intensive training. But when you start with zero knowledge and its your first foreign language then you should probably invest about 3-4 weeks to learn Spanish in Guatemala.
Homework and exploring the surrounding villages in the afternoons
Every day after school Maida surprised us with a different local dish for lunch and gave us the chance to practice what we had learned at school. The fact that she spoke English helped a lot when we were completely stuck. The afternoons we spent doing homework and exploring lively San Pedro and its surrounding villages. We visited artistic San Juan, stoned San Marcos and took part in a traditional ceremony of the Celas Maya called Maximon in Santiago Atitlan.
Conversations club and social activities in the evenings
But we had to make sure to be back by five as then the conversation club at our school started, followed by a changing program of salsa, soccer or a demonstration of the local chocolate production.
In the evenings Maida surprised us again with a local delicacy and also Mauricio joined in if there wasn’t an important basketball game to join and hold some quite advanced conversations in Spanish with us.
Cultural inversion and more activities
But it wasn’t just the conversations we hold with them, that gave us a lot of insights into the Guatemalan culture, Maida also invited us to her brother’s birthday, to her mother’s church celebration, to a hike to the Indian nose, a sauna evening with the entire family, showed us San Juan and connected us with her cousin who gave us a cooking class.
Climbing the Indian’s nose
We got up at 3am on Saturday to catch the first Chicken bus that brought us, Maida and some more family members to Santa Clara. From there, in complete darkness, we made our way up to the top of a mountain called “Indian’s nose”.
It was a short but intense hike. Once we had reached the top, we didn’t doubt for a second that it was worth the effort. The view over Lake Atitlan, the villages and the volcanos was marvelous. We sat there in complete admiration and started to understand why some think that Lake Atitlan is the most beautiful lake in the world.
But when we returned to San Pedro there was no time to rest, because Maida brought us to her cousin’s house. She works as a chef in a local restaurant and was willing to give us a private cooking class. She went with us to the market and prepared a local dish with us, called Hilacha. It was so delicious we can still smell it when we close our eyes.
She also taught us how to prepare Tortillas, which are a mandatory part of every meal in Guatemala. We didn’t do too bad, at least we reached the level of a 10-year-old Guatemalan girl, and they tasted fantastic.
Market of Chichicastenago
It takes about two hours by minivan to reach Chichicastenago from San Pedro. This remote mountain village hosts the biggest and most colorful indigenous market in all of Central America. Every Thursday and Sunday, the entire city center turns into one gigantic market, where you can buy all sorts of colorful clothing and souvenirs, flowers, pottery and food. There is an entire street for selling living animals and the vendors are so numerous, you don’t even want to count them.
Antigua – The most beautiful city in the world
Within about three hours you can travel by minivan from San Pedro to Antigua. We did this after we had completed our classroom training at the San Pedro Spanish School as the last stop on our Guatemala trip.
Antigua is like a poem. A city so full of beauty, history, wisdom and joy it is pure literature. Every wall, door and street of this ancient city is so picturesque it could be right out of a painting.
You can climb the volcano Acatenango or spend your days strolling through the city and get to know its cafes, restaurants, churches, monasteries, old ruins and people.
Tikal – Maya Ruins
As we travelled to Guatemala from Belize, we started our trip in Tikal. There in the rainforest of northern Guatemala lies an abandoned city that was once the center of the Maya empire. The impressive buildings, the fact that you can climb most of them and the location in the middle of the jungle with all its exotic animals makes Tikal an exceptional experience.
Island City of Flores
A two-hour minivan ride later we arrived at the second stop of our Guatemala trip. Isla de Flores is so tiny and picturesque it almost seems unreal. There is only space for maybe a hundred houses and you can cross the entire island by walking in about 10 minutes. Similar to the old town of Campeche all its houses are painted in bright colors and their doors are artistically designed.
Jungle of Rio Dulce
Within 4h by minivan you can reach Rio Dulce. This is the name of a lovely town at a river with the same name. And at the other side of the river there is a magnificent jungle that wants to be explored. Another highlight is a hot waterfall called Cascadas Calientes which is perfect to lose yourself in your thoughts.
From Rio Dulce to the school in San Pedro la Laguna
It took us half the night and the entire next day to make our way to San Pedro La Laguna. At around 3 o’clock in the night we took the boat to the town of Rio Dulce where we entered the bus to reach Guatemala City about 6h later. From there it took us another 4h to reach Panajachel where we changed to a boat taxi (lancha). But because of the rough sea that day, it was almost night when we finally reached the San Pedro Spanish school, signed up and got introduced to our host mother Maida.