My Experience Studying Spanish In Guatemala

San Pedro La Laguna

Studying Spanish in Guatemala

San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala

While traveling through Guatemala I spent 3 weeks taking Spanish classes and staying with a local family on Lake Atitlan. Here’s a rundown of my experience.

Guatemala is one of the best countries in the world to visit if you’d like to learn Spanish. It’s not too far from the United States, classes are inexpensive, and locals naturally speak slowly without using too much slang.

Plus, if you’d like to learn Spanish fast, there’s no better way then to be totally immersed in the culture & language for an extended period of time.

I decided to study in the town of San Pedro La Laguna on Lake Atitlan, located in the Guatemalan Highlands of the Sierra Madre mountains.

This massive lake is surrounded by volcanoes, colorful wildflowers, and traditional Maya villages. A picture perfect setting to learn Spanish.

Lake Atitlan

Beautiful Lake Atitlan

San Pedro La Laguna

My Home for 3 Weeks

Spanish School In Guatemala

I went to Cooperative School San Pedro on Lake Atitlan (Lago de Atitlan). It’s a true cooperative started by a group of experienced Spanish teachers who believe they have a responsibility to their community.

In general it’s recommended to take at least 3 weeks of Spanish classes to get a basic grasp on the language. You can choose between 3-6 hours of instruction per day, either morning or afternoon classes.

Homestays are available or you can find your own accommodation.

I paid $205 USD per week for 4 hours of class per day, 5 days per week, which also included my homestay plus 3 meals a day. It was a great deal!

Lake Atitlan has a laid-back hippy vibe, and the landscape around the lake is breathtaking with many outdoor activities nearby. However Antigua & Quetzaltenango (Xela) are also popular towns for learning Spanish.

Xela is a larger city, while Antigua is a bit more touristy.

Friends of mine have recommended ICA Spanish School in Xela and Antigua Plaza School in Antigua if you’re looking to stay there instead.

San Pedro La Laguna

Spanish Class with Flori

Typical Day At Class

There are a few different options for class schedules, however I choose 4 hours of one-on-one Spanish instruction per day, five days a week. My teacher was Flori, a local woman who’s been teaching for years.

She always seemed upbeat and excited to teach as we sat in the shade overlooking Lake Atitlan.

After a general evaluation of my Spanish skills (almost non-existent in my case), Flori gave me a refresher course on rules of Spanish and helped improve my vocabulary using fun games and written exercises.

There were homework assignments every night too…

My Spanish quickly improved with regular daily instruction, and I was finally able to communicate with my Guatemalan host family and other locals.

Three weeks of class wasn’t enough to become fluent, but traveling through Central America was MUCH easier because I could understand a lot more and make myself understood.

Even though I probably sounded like a 5 year old!

Homestay Guatemala

Guatemalan Homestay

Mayan Hosts

Local Maya Host Family

The Homestay Experience

While taking Spanish school in Guatemala I stayed with the Bixcul-Pichilla family in their small two-story cinderblock home nestled at the bottom of Volcano San Pedro.

It was super difficult to communicate at first, as they don’t speak any English. Only Tzujill (a local Mayan language) & some Spanish.

I had my own bedroom, and the family of 5 shared 3 others. We also had a basic kitchen and open-air courtyard. Living this way was an eye-opening experience for me, very different from the “comfortable” American lifestyle I’m used to.

There was a bathroom in the courtyard, and a sink area used for washing clothes, cleaning dishes, brushing teeth, shaving — pretty much everything.

Water was delivered via pipes once or twice a week, where it’s stored in drums for later use. Occasionally it would run out if we used too much.

San Pedro Volcano

Climbing San Pedro Volcano

Lake Atitlan Canoe

Traditional Wooden Canoe

Activities Nearby

Like I mentioned earlier, the Lake Atitlan area is full of cool things to do. So when I got sick of trying to memorize new Spanish words, I’d take a break and get outside for a Guatemalan adventure!

Volcano Hikes

Lake Atitlan is surrounded by volcanoes. Hiking these is a great way to get some exercise and capture epic photos of the landscape. Two of the most popular hikes are Volcano San Pedro and La Nariz de Indio.

Lake Kayaking

Rent a kayak and explore Lake Atitlan up-close and personal. Or if you’re feeling REALLY adventurous, find a local fisherman willing to rent out his traditional wooden canoe. They aren’t easy to navigate!

Scuba Diving

Yes, you can go scuba diving under the lake here, and apparently there’s interesting stuff to see. Like freshwater crabs, underwater volcanic hot-vents, and flooded hotels. ATI Divers is located in the town of Santa Cruz.

Coffee Tours

Coffee is a big deal in Guatemala, and the nutrient-rich volcanic slopes around Lake Atitlan are covered in coffee farms. A coffee tour allows you to experience the fascinating coffee production process from start to finish.

Maya Villages

There are 12 Maya villages spread out around the shores of Lake Atitlan, with many only accessible by boat or on foot. My favorites were Santiago, San Juan, and San Marcos. Walk the cobblestone streets, visit old churches, watch a local basketball game, and experience some Maya culture.

Community Outreach

Many of the Spanish schools in San Pedro give back to the community with social aid projects, and you can volunteer to help out by bringing food or building supplies to poor local families in need.

San Pedro Church

Church in San Pedro la Laguna

Santiago Lake Atitlan

Santiago Streets

Tips & Advice For Studying Spanish

Panajachel is the main transportation hub for the Lake Atitlan area. A bus from Guatemala City to Panajachel takes 3-4 hours. Once at the lake, the best way to travel from village to village is by lancha (boat taxi). Prices vary, but are generally around 15-25q ($2-3 USD).

The temperature around Lago Atitlan fluctuates between 50 – 80 degrees (F), so it can get chilly at night. Larger towns like Panajachel & San Pedro have ATMs, but not all of them do.

When picking a Spanish school in Guatemala, keep a lookout for schools that funnel money into social aid projects for the local community. I’d also recommend staying in a homestay for the same reason, that money goes a long way towards improving the lives of your host family.

For additional recommendations, talk to people who’ve actually attended the school you are interested in. Search travel blogs or online forums like Lonely Planet to read reviews of other schools. ★

Traveling To Guatemala Soon?

Don’t forget travel insurance! I’m a big fan of World Nomads for short-term trips. Protect yourself from possible injury & theft abroad. Read more about why you should always carry travel insurance here.

More Information

Location: San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala
Spanish School: Cooperative School San Pedro
Total Cost: $90 – $225 USD per week depending on hours/homestay
Useful Notes: Staying with a host family is the most cost-effective way to learn Spanish in Guatemala, and the best way to practice what you’re learning in school while learning about local culture.
Recommended Reading: Lonely Planet Guatemala

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Studying Spanish in Guatemala. More at ExpertVagabond.com
Studying Spanish in Guatemala. More at ExpertVagabond.com

Any other questions about studying Spanish in Guatemala? Are you interested in traveling here? Drop me a message in the comments below!

Any Questions Or Comments?

Thanks for leaving a comment, I appreciate your feedback. However please use your real name only and treat everyone with respect. Lets have a meaningful conversation!

57 Comments

  1. Hey! I’m contemplating a similar 3-week Spanish course somewhere in Guatemala. How did you decide to pick this destination vs. others? I’m having a difficult time choosing a city!

    Also, how do you select a home stay program?

    Thanks in advance!

    Ps. I’m a solo female traveler, if that’s useful in the assessment of best locations!

  2. Hello Matthew. I really like your blog; you’ve done a nice job with the presentation of all the information and photos of the wonderful lake. I still have three weeks left in Guatemala, and I am considering spending the final week studying in the great school that you’ve described, the Cooperative School in San Pedro. I hope that they have a spot for me. I’ve had six weeks in Guatemala in total; at the moment I am traveling in Peten, visiting Tikal and the Rio Dulce. I am a 65-year-old woman, traveling alone, and I’ve never had any problems here. I find the Guatemalan people very kind and friendly, especially with Third Age people such as myself. I studied for the first three weeks in Guatemala in Antigua, at the Don Pedro de Alvarado Spanish School. One of the things I liked a lot there was that I could volunteer with the kids in their project without being charged a fee before I could participate. I helped the kids with their English lessons and gave a couple of classes myself to a small group of 9-year-olds. I really enjoyed the experience.

  3. Thanks for this informative blog. I have been wanting to travel in Central/South America ever since I could remember but as I’d be going alone, I don’t know how to go about it. I pretty much want to copy your trip if that’s ok. I’d be thinking of going in October. I’m now going to look into the school you went to but any extra advice would help. Muchas Gracias!

  4. We’re in Xela at the moment and classes here seem a little cheaper than over at the lake. We just started today and managed to get 4 hours of school, 5 days a week with a homestay and 3 meals a day for around $140usd. I’m in a similar boat to you and came into it knowing virtually no Spanish at all. Did you find 3 weeks was enough to get some basics? Or would you recommend slightly longer?

    1. Hey Matt,

      How’s the internet connection over there? I plan to work remote from there but I need to make sure the internet is reliable enough for making calls and uploading files etc. Thank you! :)

      1. Hey Melody, sorry, I’m only just seeing your comment now. Might be too late by this point but thought I’d write back anyway just incase. The internet there wasn’t amazing, but it was good enough. Overall I’d say decent by Guatemalan standards. We made video calls and streamed the occasional video. Nothing massively data intensive, but if you avoid the peak hours and schedule your work you should be ok. Hope that helps, enjoy xela!

  5. Thanks so much for this wonderful post!! It inspired my 19 year old daughter to enroll at the Cooperativa, where she has just finished up 3 weeks of a 4 week stay — she loves it!

  6. Hi Matthew,
    Thank you so much for your insightful post. I have been to Guatemala a couple of times and truly love everything about it.

    I am considering moving there😊. First things first, learning spanish is a priority for me. I am strongly considering staying with the host family but I was wondering if one is limited to access in the home and are there time constraints for coming and going — thanks!
    January Jo

  7. I studied at Cooperativa back in 2011 and stayed with the same host family as you! It was a great experience. I love seeing your photos of familiar places and people. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Thanks for sharing your experience, Matthew! Your post helped my boyfriend and I make the decision to also homestay and study with Cooperativa, and we have absolutely no regrets. To pay it forward to anyone else seeking information, I have a write-up on my blog. We look forward to using our improved Spanish on further travels!

  9. Hi Matthew,

    I am traveling to Guatemala for my first time as a solo female in two months. Although I will not be studying Spanish during this trip (maybe in the future), I will be visiting some of the villages around Lake Atitlan. I was just wondering what your perception of safety was around the lake? Did you feel comfortable walking around alone and exploring different villages?

    Do you have any tips for a solo traveler to Guatemala?

    Thanks so much.

  10. You are right , the best way to learn a language is totally immerse yourself in that specif language’s culture. Your brain have to change the way you think and helps you understand and connect the dots. Awesome idea for a travel/educational post ! Good Job!
    If you want to learn Portuguese, tell and Mister Brazil will help you with some ideas in Brazil!
    Tchau!

    1. *Tzujil
      I think you meant Tz’utujil /ˈtsuːtəhiːl/ is a Mayan language spoken by the Tz’utujil people in the region to the south of Lake Atitlán in Guatemala.

      Thank you Matthew for visiting us.

      Giovanni.
      – Guatemalan guy

  11. To have some basic Spanish language skills when traveling in Latin America, makes the travel much more fun and easier. Even the smallest word in Spanish, makes you closer to the people.

    I haven’t been to Guatemala, maybe that will be my nest destination in Latin America.

    Thank you for sharing!

  12. I really enjoyed this post. I think Spanish is actually really easy to pick up when you are fully immersed, more people should look to get that kind of exposure! I volunteered in Spain though workaway.info for just two weeks and it really sharpened my existing Spanish skills!

  13. I was just in Guatemala a few weeks ago and I couldn’t believe how cold it gets at night! I always thought I was back in Maine for a minute. Lake Atitlan is absolutely beautiful. If you find yourself back in Guatemala anytime so I recommend the Xela to Lago de Atitlan 3-day trek with Quetzaltrekkers. The altitude just about killed me, but the scenery and locals made it 100% worth it!

  14. Spanish look verry nice. And I think that people in Guatemala and spanish are very kind to tourists. I wast there 2 years ago and that was beautiful experience.

  15. I am almost fluent and Spanish and most of my lessons were learned by just being on the road, volunteering and working with locals and long term travelling all across South America. I never took any formal classes. I came from a country that was under Spanish rule for more than 300 years. Our national language, Filipino, has a lot of Spanish words integrated into its vocabulary. The accent was not so difficult for me to pin down.
    The best way to really learn a language is to live with the locals. Not only do you fully immerse yourself in their cultural practices and traditions, you also get to practice your Spanish on a daily basis with native speakers!
    Great idea to learn it in an area as rich in culture and natural beauty as Lago de Atitlan! Kept you inspired and motivated everyday I bet!
    Another great post from you, Matthew!

  16. Man once again incredible post! I loved learning Spanish in Guatemala and highly recommend it to anyone. Your photos are amazing and make me want to go back to Guatemala again! Antigua really is a gem in central america. Its architecture and people are so beautiful. I have noticed however with the amount of people heading there for Spanish studies that prices are beginning to rise. Keep up the great posts I cannot wait to see what you write about next!

  17. I’m always so happy about your post and amazing pics. Thanks for share this post. Guatemala is a wonderful place for experiencing everything local. Some light on coffee plantations could have been still great. Please cover us some things on coffee estates since we come from the Western Ghats regions of Karnataka.

    Thanks Matthew!

  18. What was your level after 3 weeks? The experiences sound awesome but practical this not a super long time. Was buying groceries and taking taxis manageable or were you able to ask about people’s jobs and families?

    Curious because I have never met non-Thai who studied Thai for 3 weeks and was able to communicate beyond asking prices, and a few basic phrases related to travel, etc. (although of course there might be some who do) so wondering how different this time frame would be for Spanish.

    1. Unless you’re already bilingual, that’s kind of impossible to tell. Different people have language learning abilities.

  19. Guatemala is a fantastic place to learn Spanish. We spent a few months living across the lake in San Marcos La Laguna and loved it—it’s a quieter town with a yoga/spirituality focus and one Spanish school. San Pedro is a bit cheaper though and has more options for learning Spanish.

  20. Wow that is a great deal! The best way to learn a new language is to throw yourself into the country where it is spoken itself. It is my hope to learn Spanish as I tour around South America!

  21. Hey Matthew,
    That really shows how keen you are when it comes about learning,
    even I believe learning languages adds a plus point and it will last for ever whether be it in a corporate, travelling or in the society.
    Hats Off… :-)
    Never heard about Guatemala, seems very pretty place with lots of adventurous activities.
    and yeah it was a great deal 205 bucks, great.!!!
    keep posting…
    cheers.

  22. I can’t wait to get to Guatemala. We’ve used homestays elsewhere in the world and always found them to be interesting.
    Will definitely do the San Pedro volcano hike. Images look amazing.
    Pete

  23. $205 USD per week is a fair deal with all inclusive. You must have gone through tough time, having water supplied twice a week. How did you manage? Glad you enjoyed it after all.

  24. Nice idea Matt! Has your Spanish continued to improve now that you are in Mexico?

    I ‘clocked’ German on Duolingo last year, but to be honest it was rote-learning and now my comprehension is essentially non existent. Might have to look into this for a small German town in the European summer. Keep up the inspiration

  25. I picked up a bit of Spanish during my travels in Latin America, but I’m a ways off from fluency … I’ll have to do this when I’m back in the near future!

  26. You can also fall in love and live happily ever after…I did all that in 1992 and have been married to my Gautemalteco for 23 years. I lived in Antigua for 6 months and it changed; defined my life.

  27. Hey Matt! Great article, it’s spot on! My wife and I just finished doing this exact same thing in San Pedro a week ago, except we studied at San Pedro Spanish School. We loved our time in San Pedro too and thought it was the best of the surrounding villages.
    We enjoy reading your articles, keep up the great work!

  28. I love your blog! I follow you on snapchat and saw you using a bike to get around, definitely a good way to keep fit. The church looks beautiful, looking forward to more posts. Safe travels!

    1. Agree. Plus there’s no better way to learn a language faster than being surrounded by people who speak nothing else. Family dinners with my host family were pretty awkward until I learned to communicate in Spanish! It’s a powerful motivator.

  29. What great photos you take! The color is absolutely stunning!! Hola Matt!! I’m David ( davehdez @ Instagram / Snapchat ) from Barcelona, if you in any moment come to the city let me know, I would be happy to help you know this city, greetings!