I started my trip with one semester of Spanish and thought it could pick them up on the way, but I was completely wrong. I couldn’t really communicate with others in Mexico. So I decided to take one month of Spanish before I head down to South America, but where?
After some research, Guatemala seems to be the cheapest among all countries and have the easiest accent for foreigners to follow. Also, I started in Mexico so it makes sense to start at a place closer from there. I found a few websites, compared their price and decided to give a shot to Utatlan Spanish School in Quetzaltenango (Xela).
I was there on last week in July in 2014 and stayed for four weeks. They offer 20 and 25 hours of classes a week, which means four or five hours a day. They offer discount for those who stay more than four weeks. They also give us a choice for staying with a homestay. I chose 5 hours with homestay for US120 per week.
I had two teachers for the course of study. I was with Mari for the first week. She is experienced, patient and laughed a lot. It was a tough week because I had to pick up everything I learned before. The following week, another student returned so the school arranged me another teacher, Willy. He is 22 and is a university student in Xela. I first doubted the very first few days because he seemed to be really unorganized. Also, he once used 20 minutes to make a photocopy of my homework, which is something that I didn’t like. Some teachers also preferred playing card games or scrabble which I don’t think I learn the best by that. After that, I made clear what my goals were and things got better. We focused more on grammar in classes.
Classes are from 8am to 1pm. They have a 30-minute break from 10:30-11am. They offer free bread and café. So technically, you are having 4.5 hours of classes if you choose a 5-hour class.
After the first week, I felt like I learned more than I did in one semester. After all, I still learned a lot during classes, after school activities and immersion with my homestay family.
After school activities
I love those activities. It was also a great chance to practice Spanish with locals or sometimes with my classmates. During my stay, activities included free salsa night on Monday, hike to La Laguna Chicabal, trip to Georgina hot springs, cooking class, visit to chocolate factory, Chichicastenango market, some churches, cemetery, free Friday dinners and potlock.
I stayed with a homestay family with another student form the school. I got a private room, with three meals from Monday to Saturday. I first thought it was not a good idea because it limited everything (I had to get back home every day and every meal and can’t try local street food). However, after a week eating restaurant-quality food cooked by our family, I’m so glad I stayed. Also, our awesome Guate “mama” often brought in her relatives, which was a perfect immersion for us.
Location and weather
Quetzaltennago, located at the southwest high land in Guatemala, with an elevation of 2330m, is the second largest city in Guatemala. It gets cold at night (after visiting Mexico and Belize)! I feel like it drops down to 10 degrees Celsius at nights! No mosquitoes issues at all! And when you play soccer or go hiking, prepare to get totally out of breath!
From Guatemala City, it was a 4-hour drive. I hopped on a bus at Fuente del Norte for Q70.
Cheap! Of course depending on what you are looking for. You can easily get full for Q20 at a restaurant owned by a local. Street food can be found near Parque Enriquez.
There are a lot of locals in town. So you have a lot of opportunities to practice your Spanish after school. Xela is not a big party place but there are life music around cafes with really good vibes! My favorite places were Cafe Red and Cafe El Cuartito. Xela has very poor air quality though, probably because of all the black smoke those chicken buses emitt.
See more about the food and city of Xela.
I feel very safe walking from Parque Enriqez to where I live, which is about a 10-mintue walk. I have not had any issues about safety. I walked home after 12 a couple of times and had no problems at all.
Do it! There could be some even cheaper options in Xela. But for the quality of classes I got and fun activities, it is totally worth the pricce. A lot of different places in Guatemala I went also offer Spanish classes. Antigua and cities around Lago de Atitlan are some other options to consider. If your plan is flexible, get there first and shop around when you arrive in town. There are plenty of affordable Spanish school. For hostels, definitely go with Black Cat Hostel or Yoga House if you are into yoga.