Guatemala is “the heart of the Mayan world.” From spectacular cultural sites to pristine natural wonders, Guatemala has much to offer travelers looking for language study abroad somewhere off the beaten path. The country’s vast Spanish language study programs offer lessons that go beyond the classroom at some of the best language schools in Guatemala. While courses are often taught one-on-one, students also have the opportunity to incorporate daily practice with rare Guatemalan experiences. Local relationships and conversations will undoubtedly be made, especially while discovering the country’s beautiful landscape.
There are numerous Spanish language schools in Guatemala, many located in the top cities of the country. Students and travelers will be pleased to know that several are accredited by international universities and colleges, while others are developed in union with American university study abroad programs. Three of the most common cities for language programs in Guatemala are Antigua, San Pedro La Laguna, and Quetzaltenango, the country’s second largest city, where the nation’s top language schools are located.
Antigua. Rich in history and architectural charm, the colonial city of Antigua is a vibrant area that takes students back in time. Designated as an UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979, the city dates back to the early 16th century and today still boasts fantastic characteristics of the time, with cobblestone streets, decorative fountains, colorful massive buildings, and fantastic baroque-style churches. Antigua has a population of roughly 35,000 and was once the capital of the Kingdom of Guatemala. Aside from enjoying the city’s natural beauty, viewing the Spanish Baroque architecture by visiting the ruins of old San Jose or the Santo Domingo Monastery, language students should visit St. John’s Saturday morning market to buy local produce and the Jade museum shouldn’t be missed either.
San Pedro La Laguna is a beautiful destination located on the southwest shore of Lake Atitlan. Although one of the smaller towns in the area, that has a population of roughly 13,000, the town’s nightlife has become increasingly popular. Students flock to this location as it is well-known for Spanish language schools, and is close to San Pedro volcano (a nice day hike). The town itself can be reached by regular boats that cross Lake Atitlan or directly by bus from Guatemala City. Students can see the east side of the lake easily and enjoy snorkeling, canoeing, and kayaking, while studying Spanish in Guatemala.
Quetzaltenango (Xela) is the second largest city in Guatemala with a population of roughly 225,000. Located in a mountain valley close to 8,000 feet above sea level, temperatures are fairly chilly (it is known for being Guatemala’s chilliest major city). Rainy season generally runs from late May through October, while warmer, drier months are between November and April. The Santa Maria Volcano is located near Xela, and is a one hour climb that boasts fantastic views. If staying in the city is preferred during a language program in Guatemala, the Central Plaza is a nice place to people watch and is home to the local cathedral and museum. A micro-bus or large van stuffed with seats is available to get around the city, although bicycling is a great option as well.
Schools & Programs
Guatemalan culture can be seen in every corner of the country – be it through the warm and welcoming ways of the people, their highly respected traditions and customs, the intricate details of craftsmanship found at lively markets, or even the unique local foods made from recipes passed through generations. Students will find truly authentic experiences studying Spanish in Guatemala, that will not only encourage but inspire cultural engagement, and some of the best language immersion programs available.
Many programs even take students outside the classroom to see things they’ve never seen and experience things they never could have dreamed of. Language programs in Guatemala are, for example, often paired with activities like hiking up volcanos, salsa dancing, or canoeing on Central America’s deepest lake.
Always striving to offer a custom experience, some institutions offer one-on-one programs called Uno a Uno, where one teacher is paired with one student to assure conversation practice, an important element of language programs. Students are typically paired with a teacher based on personality, conversational ability, and topics of interest, such as Spanish for Medicine or Business. If a student prefers a different teacher for their language instruction in Guatemala, it is typically easy to change instructors. Other language programs in Guatemala offer group learning settings, or a combination of group classes and private tutoring.
Courses are generally tailored to the scholar’s preferences with a pay-per-hour system. Many programs offer a fully immersive experience, where the student lives with a Guatemalan family. This type of living situation is called a “homestay” and fully exposes students to the Guatemalan lifestyle and Spanish language daily.
Costs & Affordability
Costs range based on each program’s offerings. In general Spanish courses in Guatemala are between $400 and $800 per week, depending on accommodation options. It is advised that travelers review Guatemalan currency and exchange rates prior to applying for programs in Guatemala ($1 equals about 7.7 Guatemalan Quetzals). Overall, Guatemala is a very affordable destination to study Spanish abroad, with reasonable food prices and living costs.
Language programs in Guatemala sometimes come with free purified water, Wi-Fi, and multiple weekly activities, such as salsa dancing, merengue, city tours, excursions through coffee and or macadamia fields, Mayan museum visits, chocolate making courses, and cooking classes. Be sure to review what is included in your program before you turn away from the associated costs; some more expensive programs actually end up costing less in the end because of extensive package inclusions.
Travelers on a budget can definitely find affordable program options, such as shorter four week programs or programs where students can opt to include or exclude additional activities outside the classroom and select their accommodation type, based on their available budget.
Accommodations & Visas
Students are most commonly placed in homestay accommodation for the duration of their language program in Guatemala. Aside from providing a more immersive cultural experience, many programs opt to place students in homestays because they simply encourage Spanish language learning and practice. Language students who live with local families are much more likely to use Spanish daily and become more comfortable speaking the language with native speakers.
When it come to visas, a visa is needed to study Spanish in Guatemala, unless your language program lasts less than 90 days.
Students will be able to see attractions which include the ancient Mayan sites, like Tikal National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage site), the active Pacaya volcano, lively markets, such as Chichicastenango, and Antigua, a UNESCO designated colonial city.
“Guatemala has something to offer every traveler” according to Pedro Duchez, Director of the Guatemalan Tourism Institute. “Additionally, programs accommodate tourist attractions like mountain hikes, horseback riding, canopying, cycling or golfing, giving travelers the opportunity discover many of the country’s fascinations while learning the Spanish language.”