Guatemala is one of the best places to visit if you want to learn to speak Spanish. This beautiful Central American country is full of unique experiences that not only help you with your Spanish, but can also provide full immersion cultural activities.
There are so many Spanish schools in Guatemala that there is something for everyone, including for families. Guatemala is an ideal destination to learn Spanish in that it is not far from the US, classes are quite inexpensive and the locals speak Spanish much slower than many other Latin American countries.
After a few weeks of traveling the country researching and testing out various programs, we have come up with our thoughts on the best Spanish schools in Guatemala.
Where to Find the Best Spanish Schools in Guatemala
People coming to study Spanish in Guatemala is a huge industry. There are schools in most major tourist areas, so for many visitors, the first issue to resolve is which is the best location to learn Spanish in Guatemala. Even with a variety of schools all over the country, the three main hubs are Antigua, Lake Atitlan and Xela. During our time in the country we were only able to visit Antigua and Lake Atitlan, but chatted to many other travelers about their thoughts and experiences in Xela.
One of the most popular places to learn Spanish in Guatemala is in the UNESCO World Heritage town of Antigua. Located about 1 hour from Guatemala City it is the easiest to reach and integrate into. As a popular tourist and expat destination, it is filled with all the places that foreigners like to frequent. That said, there are also a ton of great local Guatemalan restaurants, cafes and shops if you keep your eyes open for them. We had our best Guatemalan breakfast in Antigua as well as experiences with local Guatemalans.
Antigua is filled with a variety of schools for all types of learners. As is the norm throughout Guatemala, classes are designed to be one-on-one. Typically schools will offer everything from conversational Spanish to college level class credit as well as specialized Spanish focusing on the medical and law fields.
For families looking to study, the course structures are generally the same. However if you have more than one child all at the same Spanish level, the children can easily study together with 1 teacher.
After researching multiple schools in Antigua, we would highly recommend Ixchel Spanish School. They are quick at responding online, do not require advance booking payments and are very open to feedback. Other schools that we came across during our time in Antigua that come highly recommended are:
- La Union Spanish School: Initially started by training Peace Corps volunteers, this Spanish school offers classes for everyone!
- Spanish School Don Pedro de Alvarado: One of the oldest Spanish schools in Antigua.
Set on the banks of a beautiful crater lake surrounded by looming volcanoes are several traditional Mayan villages. This picture perfect setting is where many people choose to learn Spanish in Guatemala. Typically when speaking of studying at Lake Atitlan, most people are referring to San Pedro or Panajachel.
During our visit we decided to study in San Pedro rather than the even more touristy hub of Panajachel. Both are beautiful towns right on the lake with their own positive and negatives. Panajachel is easier to get to/from as it is a hub for transport throughout the region. Here you can easily get to Antigua, Guatemala City, Chichicastenango and more. However, being a transport hub means more people coming and going each day. We also found the street stall sellers to be a bit more pushy than in San Pedro.
San Pedro, across the lake is a little more traditional of a town tucked into the shadow of Volcano San Pedro. This hillside town offers plenty of Western restaurants, small markets and tons of tuk-tuks to get around making it easy to stay for a while. And those tourists who do make it to San Pedro do tend to stay for a while. Our unofficial calculation put this from 3 weeks to 13 years!
Being a hub for expats, visitors will find everything they want at reasonable prices.
The main schools of note in San Pedro are San Pedro Spanish School, Lake Atitlan Spanish School and Cooperative. We heard nothing but great things about all three of these schools. The San Pedro Spanish School uses an actual curriculum which is often times important for some Spanish learners. For new students, they might find the use of a curriculum a bit slower than learning more common phrases first which is often the way that other schools teach.
We wavered back and forth between the different schools, but finally settled on Cooperative based on some online reviews from other families who attended. Overall, we were not super happy with Cooperativa, however, it could just be the one teacher we had as all the other students loved their teachers. My son’s teacher was less engaging than other teachers he had and often put him in uncomfortable positions by asking him which teacher he liked best or which school he liked best. That said, all of the adult learners at the school were very happy with the program and the extracurricular activities they provided. If we were to return, we would try out San Pedro Spanish School.
There are also schools in San Marcos and San Juan. If you have time, take a boat tour around the lake visiting the other villages to determine which might be the best fit. In general, San Juan, the textile village, is much more traditional as it has resisted commercialization like neighborhood villages. San Marcos tends to be the ‘hippy’ center. San Pedro and Pana are both filled with tourists and expats alike.
Quetzaltenango (Known as Xela)
Quetzaltenango is the country’s second largest city set in the highlands of Guatemala about 4 hours from Antigua. Xela as it is known is a bit grittier than the other destinations with very little English spoken so you will be forced to practice your Spanish much more. It is often said that those who are the most serious about improving their Spanish head to Xela. Perhaps..but I can’t say for certain!
The benefits of learning Spanish in Xela are that you will also be exposed to many opportunities to volunteer, travel to nearby villages that see less tourism as well get the chance to do plenty of hiking.
For us, we preferred a more subdued study space, but I would love to check this mountain town out on our next visit.
The most recommended schools in Xela is Celas Maya Spanish School. However, for families looking to learn spanish, I would highly recommend checking out Kamalbe Spanish School Xela as well as San Pedro Spanish School from Lake Atitlan. They also have a location in Xela that comes highly recommended.
Cost of Spanish Schools in Guatemala
There seems to be quite a range of prices for the different Spanish schools in Guatemala with the most expensive schools in Antigua and Lake Atitlan and Xela being much more economical. The price of your tuition is dependent on how many hours a day you plan to study. Many visitors tend to go for 3 or 4 hours per day Monday – Friday. However, for those with limited time and increased attention and interest in Spanish language acquisition, there are 5 and 6 hour classes also provided at many schools.
For families with smaller children, we do not recommend any more than 4 hours per day, with 3 hours being more preferable for most children.
Based on a 15-20 hour a week schedule of classes, you can expect to pay anywhere from $115 per week to $220 per week. This would include only your tuitions, not accommodation.
Classes are usually quoted in US dollars, however when you arrive, you will be expected to pay in Quetzals.
Also note that many schools require a deposit in advance if you would like to secure your spot. Often people recommend not paying this deposit and just turning up when you arrive. I would suggest booking in advance if you know you want to study at a specific school during a specific time. If you are more flexible, you can show up and choose upon arrival, saving yourself the deposit which is often not applied to your actual tuition.
Accommodation While You Study Spanish in Guatemala
Just as there are several options for where you can study Spanish in Guatemala, there are also a myriad of options for your accommodation. Many visitors recommend and choose to stay in a homestay with a local Guatemalan family. I have heard nothing but great things about this. However, there are also options to rent an apartment through services like Airbnb or even through local advertisements posted in the town. Last, you can also always book a hostel or hotel for the duration of your visit.
The homestay option is a highly preferred option for many travelers to Guatemala due to its low cost as well as the ability to live locally and really learn from your host family about what it means to live in Guatemala. Most often the host family does not speak English, so your only option to communicate will be Google Translate or your newly learned Spanish! Here are some tips to brush up on your Spanish conversation skills before you arrive to help you out!
From all accounts the families are quite friendly, offering good home cooked food. The only negatives I have read about homestays are in reference to Antigua where often a family will host several guests at once making it feel much more like you are staying in a hostel as well as making it much easier to speak English to the other guests, which defeats the main purpose of the homestay.
However, in places like San Pedro and Xela, the option to stay with a local family can be quite rewarding. Typically homestays do not offer meals on Sunday and you can choose if you would like full board (all meals) or half board with just breakfast and lunch.
From our experience, it is not always easy to make it back to the homestay house for lunch after a long morning of classes, so we would recommend eating lunch out and trying to have dinner with your host family.
For a semi-homestay option, many schools have onsite rooms for students to rent. Using this as an option allows you to stay for an economical price and have access to home cooked Guatemalan meals without feeling like you are encroaching on another family’s space.
Rent an Apartment
Yes, Airbnb (use my referral link and you will get $30 off your first stay!) has made it all the way to Guatemala and is another great option for visitors staying long enough to study Spanish. The biggest downside to having your own place is that you do not have others to interact with or to ask questions to.
As a family traveler, my son was not that excited about staying in a family home and not having our own private space. Since I was already putting him into a Spanish language course all day long, I figured he would need the down time at the end of each day, so we opted for renting apartments in both Antigua and San Pedro.
In Antigua we rented an adorable villa in a complex of other apartments with a gorgeous courtyard that was about 15 minutes walk from my son’s school. Besides being a little bit of a walk from the center of town, we loved having our own space and the feeling of living in a neighborhood rather than in the middle of the tourist district. That said, there are plenty of areas in Antigua where you could find your own little neighborhood and be within close distance to the bulk of restaurants and shops.
In Lake Atitlan, we opted for a semi homestay situation where we rented an apartment on the top of a family’s home. It was the perfect balance of having our own space, but also being in a local neighborhood, experiencing what life is like for locals. I felt this to be a really unique experience for my son and myself.
Hostels & Hotels
Lastly, there is the option to stay in hostels or hotels for the duration of your stay. Many Spanish schools have a list of recommended hotels that are near to the school. The positive aspect of staying in a hotel and/or hostel is that you will be around plenty of other tourists to chat to each day. This can also be a negative if you really want to focus on improving your Spanish language skills.
While there are many economical options, we found as family travelers, it was usually just as cheap to rent our own apartment as it would be to rent a hostel with a private room. This also provided the option to make meals at home if we wanted.
A Typical Day at Spanish Schools in Guatemala
Schools typically offer morning or afternoon sessions. During our time in Guatemala we choose to always start in the morning, however one day due to an overnight trip we moved our morning class to the afternoon. For kids, afternoon classes can be difficult after being active all day.
Classes begin at either 8 a.m. or 9 a.m. depending on how many hours you plan to study each day. We had both 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. classes during our visit.
Once you arrive to your school, you will be assigned a teacher on the first day. This will be your teacher for the duration of classes unless you choose to mix it up with different teachers each week.
Most schools have courtyards or gardens where students are able to study at their own private space for the day. Typically teachers move locations each day to keep things fresh.
From here the way the lessons go depend on your instructor or school and what level of Spanish you are currently at, as well as your goals.
For my son, he was at the beginner level, so his first week focused on common phrases he would hear people ask him as well as simple vocabulary.
His next week, his teacher focused on vowel sounds, reading and writing. And so on.
For my 8 year old, he really enjoyed the one-on-one lessons as well as the many games they would play throughout the day.
Typically a snack break is provided at 10:20. Some schools provide a snack, some do not. I always sent my son to school with a snack and drink just in case.
End of class is most often at noon, providing you ample opportunity to explore the town and study for the next day!
Many schools offer activities for their students to help them learn more about the culture as well as to practice more Spanish. Some offer conversation nights, movie nights, salsa dancing and weekend excursions (for extra fees).
We did not try any of these ourselves since my son was the only child in the schools during our visits, however it can be a great way for solo travelers to meet other people.
Spanish Schools in Guatemala with Kids
Since this is a family travel website, I would be remiss to not specifically mention how it is to study Spanish in Guatemala with kids. While there do not appear to be any schools specifically focused on children, most schools that we contacted and spoke with all welcomed children learners. That said, very few programs actually had a set curriculum for children.
Our experience was varied. The schools in Antigua seemed the most accustomed to working with children. My son’s teacher had a variety of fun games to play ranging from Hangman to work on letter sounds to matching games that worked on the different words associated with a topic. My son was always happy to attend class and never wanted to leave.
In San Pedro, my son’s teacher was a bit less engaging. My son reported that she would often pull out her phone to take selfies of herself during class and when she got bored she would open up cartoons on her phone for my son. In general I felt the school was not that receptive to my feedback, but they did try to institute more hands on activities including making pictures of the mercado (market) with all the items you would find there, making flashcards with pictures and words as well as playing jump rope games to learn the numbers. In general, I would not recommend Cooperative to other families. However all of the adults we spoke to who attended school there, really enjoyed it.
I think that the longer you are at a school and with a particular teacher, the more they will understand your child’s learning habits and preferences. Some children would struggle to sit for 4 hours like my son did, so you would need to chat with the school about taking walks and being more active.
Overall, we felt like the experiences here were very good considering it was one-on-one instruction for less than what we would pay for 2 group classes in the US. It also provided a unique environment to learn and use the language.
We will definitely be back to test out more schools!
There are many factors to consider when choosing a Spanish school in Guatemala. From location, to a teachers qualification and price. However for many it is also important to look at factors like social awareness. Do they work with local non-profit organizations? Are they a cooperative, looking out for the wellbeing of their teachers?
I understand the difficulty of choosing schools online. There are so many options it is difficult to know what is right for you. For additional recommendations, talk to people who’ve actually attended the school you are interested in. This is sometimes difficult to do online, but you can search forums like Lonely Planet and TripAdvisor as well as join Facebook groups like the WorldSchooling group for families who travel a lot. Read as much as you can, email the schools, and talk to people have done it themselves.
If you have time and flexibility, you can also always turn up to a destination, book a hotel for a night or two and check out the schools you are interested in to get a feel for them in person. We did not have that flexibility of time, so choose in advance and were happy with all the schools we had researched.
Enjoy! It will be a wonderful learning experience no matter what your age is!
Have you studied Spanish in Guatemala? Give us your recommendations below!
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