Learning Spanish in Guatemala is popular and some places are well-known for it.

But if you want to remain fairly off-the-trail, Xela is defintately the place to go.

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The amazing cemetery with Santa Maria in the background

A large chunk of Guatemala’s tourism revenue comes from teaching Spanish to travellers. It’s not like it’s the only Spanish-speaking country on the continent but a number of factors make it the coolest place to learn. To start with, the Guatemalans speak slowly and clearly. The Guatemalan culture is heavily indigenous, (55% of the population) so it makes it an interesting place to stop and get to know. 

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Beautifully hand woven dress of the women and girls worn everyday

Guatemala is also much cheaper than most of Central America, making it a very competitive proposition.

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Catarina waited for us everyday and chatted even after we bought our rug.

As a result, you get a interesting crowd of students, not top-end travellers, but definitely a lot of backpackers eager to brush up on Spanish. You normally pay for a week’s course at a time,  4-5 hours a day one-to-one with a teacher, although that can modified to your needs. Then you stay with a local family for around $40 extra a week if you want the total immersion which most people do. 

Many people wanting to learn Spanish tend to head to either Lake Atitlan or Antigua and having been to both of these places I will try and give you a picture of what that might look like. Lake Atitlan is a very scenic mountainous landscape with volcanoes and postcard indigenous people. Many villages along the shore of the lake cater for differing needs of spirituality.  This place is pure bliss and the Guatemalan equivalent of a beach village. We also heard that as it’s such a small place the quality of teachers is not as high as in Xela. I preferred Lake Atitlan to relax after my spanish classes. 

Antigua, on the other hand, is somewhat of Guatemalan version of San Miguel de Allende, although a beautiful looking colonial town, it has an abundance of trendy looking bars and cosmopolitan restaurants and is somehow shielded from the rest of real Guatemala supposedly for the safety of ‘tourists’.  It seems that many go to popular Antigua or Lake Atitlan for Spanish study.  Don’t get me wrong Antigua is a lovely colonial town but it’s a bit like going to Guatemala when you aren’t going to Guatemala. For us there was a great western influence in food, (also more costly) restaurants and facilities. 

We had a preference for real Guatemalan life in Xela.

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There’s always a parade to celebrate life here in Xela

As soon as we arrived in Xela there was a warm sunny vibe, everyone smiled, it was very mellow and totally authentic. As we say – it’s very ‘real’.  We liked Xela already. The people just went about their business, courteous and nice. It turns out Xela is the usually the last choice for Spanish classes in Guatemala which is such a shame because I would not go anywhere else after spending 5 weeks there and I highly recommend it for students and people of all ages.  Staying here is a real cultural submersion, schools are numerous and the ratio of travellers is just about perfect – not too many to clog the streets and enough to make some new friends.   I loved my classes at Celas Maya, I loved my teacher, I loved Xela and here’s why:

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Isn’t it nice when people ask you to take their photo? I love that

1) They speak Spanish – all the time!  We found an very highly regarded school Celas Maya located in Xela. Another reason to learn Spanish in Xela instead of other cities in Guatemala is no one in Xela will voluntarily speak English to you. It’s all Spanish. They speak nice and clear and slowly, and because the spanish learning is a large part of their economy the friendly Guatemalans will take the time to help the struggling kiwi trying to speak or stop and pose for your photos. 

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The cutest kids in national costume.

2) The People Secondly they treat you beautifully and their attitude translates to: you are my friend, not some random tourist with money to spend.

We felt it a privilege to be here living alongside them. 

3) Xela Cost of Living The cost of living and spanish lessons were way lower than in Antigua and what’s more the fresh food available was the best we have had anywhere in the world!

The food market in Xela was way better than Antigua. 

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Chicken about $5 for 2 large thigh and legs

I loved our weekly trips to the Market Democracia to buy our $10 of fruit and veg for the week! Yes, it was that cheap.

4) Xela Climate Thirdly is the attitude and climate here, only a few days of very short rain. It’s warm in the day and easy to sleep at night, no humidity whatsoever.

5) Xela Hiking and Exploring Lastly the surrounding hiking, villages and valleys to explore are nothing short of breathtaking.

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Biking through the villages just outside Xela

We stayed in an apartment about 2 minutes walk from our chosen school Celas Maya.  It was a fabulous neighborhood complete with a bakery, supermarket 5 mins walk, a couple of nice cafe’s close by, it just really perfect in every way. Each morning about 5am we were woken by firecrackers, roosters, dogs barking or some other random phenomenon that was new to us.

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Roughly cobbled streets characterise Xela perfectly

Go to Atitlan if you want peace, tranquility, lake and mountains, bearing it mind that you might feel too at peace to study. 

Go to Antigua if you want an international hangout party with all western amenities. 

But if you want to see the real Guatemala, then Xela should be your first stop. 

Share your Xela experience with us below. We’d love to hear.

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