Spanish language school for a duo of new travelers
April 25, 2015 8:53 AM   Subscribe

A friend and I are hoping to find a Spanish language school where we can go for 1-3 weeks, late May-June, somewhere in Latin America. We've been considering going to Guatemala, but hear very mixed things about safety from various anecdotal sources. We're both relatively inexperienced female international travelers and don't really know how to assess what's actually safe for us. Questions: 1) Should we go to Guatemala for this ? 2) If not, where should we go? If so, where should we go? I know there have been questions on this, but it seems things may have changed in recent years.

Our hopes:
-Good-quality instruction
-Connected with the local community/ideally politically conscious (I've been dreaming of PLQE but I don't know if it's too late for us to register as I know they're pretty popular)
-Can accommodate a pescetarian diet
-Safe enough and with enough of a community for me to stay on for a few weeks after my friend leaves in early June and not be totally socially isolated
posted by c'mon sea legs to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
You need Escuela Falcon in Guanojuato Mexico. Safe culturally progressive town, school is small and flexible. I , a youngish woman spent two weeks there and wish it could have been 6. The Mexican Politics class is really great, you can go to a lot of events in the nearby university , it's basically perfect
posted by genmonster at 9:08 AM on April 25, 2015 [5 favorites]

I've been to Guatemala (a few years ago now) as a solo female traveler and felt safer there than any other place I've been to in central America. I'd say avoid Guatemala City - most people fly in and go directly to Antigua. There are many language schools right in Antigua, and I met a lot of people going to them (though I never did) who seemed to enjoy it. I met many solo female travelers in Guatemala of all ages and they all appeared to really feel safe. Of course take normal precautions. You might consider traveling around Guatemala after your friend leaves rather than staying put, as there is a lot to see and it takes some time to get around.

In terms of diet, I can't really remember - but there is always the grocery store.
posted by Toddles at 10:24 AM on April 25, 2015

Maybe look into the Spanish language schools in Copan Ruinas, Honduras? It's a small, safe town with a lot of things to do. Probably not as touristy as Antigua, but still with a lot of amenities. They could definitely accommodate your diet. There's a very nice artisanal cheese shop/restaurant there. If it's within your budget, I would recommend visiting one of the Bay Islands after your friend departs. Roatan is very beautiful.
posted by Lingasol at 11:53 AM on April 25, 2015

Go to Guatemala! Consider Xela (Quetzaltenango), a mid-size city in the highlands where there are hundreds of language schools. It's quite a safe city in a very beautiful region with many thousands of foreigners present for Spanish instruction at any given time.

Based on my experience there a few years ago, long as you generally avoid Guatemala City and don't travel alone or at night, you should have no problems.
posted by killdevil at 12:19 PM on April 25, 2015

People have given you good advice, in my experience traveling a lot in Latin America. Second the suggestion to venture further into the highlands in Huehuetenango or Quetzaltenango (also known as "Xela" pronounced shay-lah), though Antigua is safe and we'll set up for language learners, it's more of a tourist destination (its a UNESCO heritage site). I found Guatemala less friendly than other spots in Latin America (the highlanders are reserved by Latin standards) but friends had good luck in homestays in Xela.

The Escuela Falcon mentioned above has a really sterling reputation and everyone loves Guanajuanto, especially Mexican nationals.

Many many years ago I studied at Cuahnauhuac school in Cuernavaca, which was great and Cuernavaca is an appealing, pleasant town not far from Mexico City that I understand has turned a popular spot for expats. It has decent access to other interesting places.

Conan Ruinas is a pretty little town as mentioned above, with the unfortunate fact of being in otherwise-troubled Honduras. You'd probably travel through San Pedro Sula, which frankly sucks.
posted by vunder at 1:06 PM on April 25, 2015

Cuenca (Ecuador) appeared to have a ton of language students. It's a very pretty town, easy to get to and around, felt very safe, lots of interesting things within a short bus ride. I also found the people there to be generally friendly and extremely patient with my mediocre Spanish. People say that Ecuadorean accents are easy to understand, which is true in my experience, though it may also just be that folks there are willing to speak slowly and repeat things a lot. I'm a vegetarian and had no trouble.

The expat community there seemed large and very...evident (English-language bookstores, English on most restaurant menus, some businesses with an exclusively North American clientele) - which can be a good or bad thing, depending on what you're looking for.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 2:52 PM on April 25, 2015

I loved studying Spanish in Xela (where PLQE is) and felt very safe. You might as well contact PLQE and see if they have openings at the time you're looking for. If that doesn't work out, I really liked Sakribal, which was the first woman-owned school in Xela and had a great cultural program, including lots of socially-conscious, left-leaning political stuff. They set me up with a nice homestay near the school, which meant I didn't have to walk around too much late at night. (You can also rent an apartment in downtown Xela if you'd rather not do a homestay)

The nice thing about Xela is that it feels like a "real" Guatemalan town (as opposed to Antigua which is lovely but feels like a museum) but is still pretty accessible for foreigners and has a pretty big foreign student/NGO worker population. So there will be vegetarian restaurants, etc. It's also in the highlands, which makes for some great weekend trips. I had a great afternoon wandering around a Saturday market in a high mountain town; another weekend I went to Lago Atitlan for two nights, which was so great.

Definitely try to get some personal recs for a school, or at least read reviews carefully, because a lot of schools are basically just there to make money from tourists while paying teachers as little as possible. One great thing about PLQE is that all the teachers are employees (I think employee-owners?) as opposed to contractors. Sakribal used contractors, but they were known for paying well and treating teachers well, so they got good teachers.
posted by lunasol at 8:33 AM on April 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

I travel in Guatemala a lot, and I feel very safe there. Xela is cool, but it's a sizable city. If you want a more of a village vibe, go to Lake Atitlan. San Pedro has cheap ($5 a night) hotels, and a ton of Spanish schools. I went for two weeks to Rosario School and it was great. All the schools offer homestays, but I find it's cheaper to just get a room in town. The food in San Pedro is really good, and inexpensive. Memail me if you want specific recommendations!
posted by ananci at 6:18 PM on April 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

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