When you take your Spanish course in Guatemala you will discover one of the most authentic countries in Latin America. After Bolivia in South America Guatemala, has the highest percentage of indigenous people. Catholicism has merged with pagan rituals. Colors are important in Guatemalan culture. You are probably familiar with the brightly colored fabrics, but I do not know any cuter! The descendants of the Mayans fortunately still attach great importance to their ancient traditions.
Country of contrast
Guatemala is a country or contrast. The Latinos are living in a modern way while you still see the Mayas in their traditional dress. The brightly colored hand-woven dresses are still worn on a daily basis; you will see them everywhere and in one of the many processions and local markets! There is a difference between the indigenous communities in Central America and in South America. In Central America the local indigenous population seems more open to modern developments. But without losing their traditions.
For example in Guatemala you can see an indigenous woman in her typical dress on a mountain bike with a cell phone in her hand. As a result it is easier to connect with local people in Central America than South America. Almost all the Guatemalan population has indigenous blood. Still the word ‘Indio’ is a swear word. It stands for dumb and illiterate; therefore always say ‘Indígenas’ (indigenous population).
The landscape of Guatemala is very diverse. You will find jungle, rugged mountain ranges, hill forests and lakes on a high altitude surrounded by volcanoes. Antigua, San Pedro, Lake Atitlan, the market of Chichicastenango and Tikal are the highlights of Guatemala. These places you can easily explore on your own. Tip: Take the local bus to a place you don´t find in one of the travel guides. This way you will get to know the daily life of Guatemala. Guatemala is known as the country of eternal spring, because of the mild climate in the highlands. It does not rain a lot in Antigua!
- Many outdoor sports like: climbing volcanoes, mountainbiking, riverrafting or horse back riding.
- Sailing on the Rio Dulce or Lago de Atitlán.
- Visit Livingston, a Caribbean town at the coast with African influences.
- Dive in Lago de Atitlan with ATI divers in Santa Cruz la Laguna.
- Bird watching.
- Weaving course.
- Salsa dance classes.
- Visit the ‘highlights’ of Guatemala: Antigua, Lago de Atitlan, Chichicastenango, Todos los Santos de Chuchumantanes and Tikal.
- Visit the less known but more traditional indigenous villages.
- Take a coffee or chocolate tour. You will get to know the whole process from the coffee bean or cocoa bean up until tasting or a good cup of coffee or chocolate drink.
- Volunteer work opportunities in abundance!
- Transportation: local bus (‘chicken buses’) or minibuses for tourist between the ‘highlights’.
Antigua was one of the first Spanish settlements. According to many it is the most beautiful town of the Latin American continent. People from all over the world have come to Antigua to study Spanish. Many travelers start their trip through Latin America by taking Spanish classes in Antigua. Antigua owes its present popularity to the low price level and q uality of the courses. The Antigua is a very popular place for the high degree of customer service. The Spanish founded the former capital Antigua in 1527. The roads are paved with cobble stones.
Antigua has 40,000 inhabitants. The daily market and the cemetery are absolutely worth a visit. Antigua still has a lot or remnants from the Spanish colonial rule.th and 17 th century. There are a lot of nice restaurants and bars where it is very easy to meet other students or travelers from all over the world. The very nice ‘Parque Central’ also has a social function. Both locals and foreigners use this as a meeting place. Antigua is located at an altitude of about 1530 meters (5020 feet) and surrounded by three volcanoes. From Antigua there are many possibilities to take a day trip or weekend trips using local transportation. For example you can visit Panajachel, a town at Lake Atitlan or Chichicastenango. Chichicastenango is the biggest market of the country. Every Thursday and Sunday the market gets overrun with indigenous vendors selling their goods. Highly recommended!
- Climb volcanoes (Pacaya, Agua, Fuego).
- Mountain biking and river rafting
- Salsa dance courses.
- Visit the many, restored or not, churches and cathedrals form the 16th and 17th century.
- Walk to ‘Cerro de la Cruz’ with its beautiful view over Antigua.
- To tothe market near the bus station and the cemetery located next to it.
- Weekend: visit San Pedro, Panajachel and the Chichicastenango market.
- Weekend-trip to visit the ancient Maya city Tikal in Peten.
- Great night life.
- Many volunteer opportunities.
These days San Pedro is the ´hot spot´ to visit. Before only the most adventurous travelers went to San Pedro, but these days almost all backpackers that go to Lake Atitlan will visit San Pedro. Why? Panajachel, the main attraction at Lake Atilan became too touristy and too expensive. Well, too expensive to Guatemala standards, Guatemala is still very cheap compared to other Latin American countries. The main street in Panajachel has market stalls on both sides where they sell all kinds of handicrafts. The kind you will find at any market around Guatemala. Nice, but it kind of gets boring after a while. Still bus loads of people who booked an organized tour come to Panajachel, but the real traveler today will go to San Pedro.
Eating out in San Pedro
It has many charming and delicious little restaurants where you can eat cheaply, nice bakeries and bars. I have had the most delicious croissant I have ever eaten in San Pedro. They can easily compete with those of a good Parisian bakery! A nice place to stay for a while and very cheap, but it is a place that is mostly visited by backpackers. Whether that is an advantage or disadvantage to you…….you can ask us, just bring on the questions!
Quetzaltenango is the second biggest city of Guatemala. The Quiché-Maya population as well as the travelers simply call it Xela. Xela has over 140.000 inhabitants and is located in a fertile valley at an altitude of 2334 meters (7657 feet). Because of the high altitude Xela has nice climate, almost always clear blue skies and no high temperatures but at night and in the mornings it can be a bit cold. You won’t see too many tourists here. That is why Quetzaltenango is an excellent place to learn Spanish and that way experience the less touristy, every day life of the Guatemalans. Even though Quetzaltenango is a big city, there is almost no industry; agriculture and trade are the main sources of income in the region. Quetzaltenango does not have has many remnants from the colonial period as Antigua but it is a real Guatemalan city with a central square and a daily market. When you walk around in this city you feel more like you are in a overgrown village; everywhere you will see low buildings and very little traffic congestion.
Villages around Xela
Around Xela, at distances of 10 kilometers or less, you will find nice typical indigenous villages. You can easily take a bus to one of these villages and walk around. Especially on market days and local holidays it is very special to visit these villages. The school will know exactly when there is such a special holiday in a nearby town and will take their students there for an afternoon visit.
- Volunteer work (there are many programs where you can work with the local Quiché-Maya Indians).
- Weaving courses
- Visit (on foot) the natural warm water steam baths near Los Vahos of Almolonga (3,5 km from Quetzaltenango).
- Drive to Todos los Santos Chuchumantánes especially during all saints´ day (1st and 2nd of November).
- Go to the surrounding indigenous villages on foot or by bus like for example Zunil: a picturesque agricultural village (10 km from Quetzaltenango) or the Friday market of San Francisco El Alto (17 km van Quetzaltenango).
- Weekend tour: climb the highest volcano in Central America: the Tajumulco (4220 meters / 13845 feet)
- Visit the most colorful yellow church you will ever see in San Andres Xecul.
- Walk to the crater lake Chicabal
- Soak in the natural hot springs of ‘Fuentes Georginas’ just outside Xela.
Monterrico is fortunately still that somewhat dusty, traditional beach town on the pacific coast of Guatemala. In the weekend wealthy people from Guatemala City visit the town to enjoy the beach, the good restaurants and the beautiful sunsets. But on weekdays the village is simply quiet. Horses on the beach, pelicans in the air and crocodiles in the surrounding mangroves also make this place special in terms of fauna. You can take a boat tour of the mangroves early in the morning to see the crocodiles and birds that live there.
From Augustus until December the turtles lay their eggs on the beach of Monterrico or south from there (towards El Salvador). Unfortunately the nests, with about one hundred eggs each, are poached and the eggs are sold for one dollar each. In the season you can help by patrolling the beach and thus making sure that the eggs can´t be stolen. If you see a turtle lay its eggs first you wait until she is ready. Once she returns to the sea you will take the eggs and give them to the program where they will be hatched under the most ideal conditions. Once the eggs hatch the baby turtles are released on the beach. The release of the baby turtles is quite a happening. You can adopt a turtle for $1 and when ´your´ turtle reaches the sea first you will win a free meal at one of the restaurants in town. Of course the money will benefit the program. See photo to the right of baby leather back turtles. The type of turtle that most often lays its eggs here is the Olive Ridley. It is still unknown how the female turtle after 8 years still finds the exact same spot on the beach to lay her eggs. They only lay their eggs where they themselves once came into the world…
The owner of Café del Sol, Thomas Schutzer, is involved with the protection of the turtles in this region via various programs. Ask him when people are patrolling the beach and if you can join them. It is a nice experience to walk on the beach at night, definitely when there is a full moon under a clear sky. If it is windy and pitch dark it is still an amazing experience because it simply never get colds here!
Activities Monte Rico
- Enjoy the sun, sea and beach but be careful when you go swimming because the sea is rough and the current is very treacherous.
- Beach volleybal.
- Horseback riding over the beach.
- v Hire a Quad.
- Spot crocodiles during the mangrove boat tour.
- Visit the turtle rescue centre.
- Try out ‘agua de coco’ which is water in a coconut, delicious and healthy.
- Enjoy the sunset while having a drink at one of the cafés on the beach.
Travel tip A lot of students combine Spanish courses in Guatemala with courses in Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica or Panama. You can book a so called open jaw ticket. This means you fly to Guatemala City but fly back home from another airport, for example Nicaragua, Costa Rica or Panama City. We would advice to travel from Guatemala to Honduras or Nicaragua overland. But if you want to continue your classes in Costa Rica or Panama it is better to fly. The cost of a one way ticket is about $200.
When you are planning your trip take into account if you can the local holidays, you will be in for a treat. Every town has its own yearly celebration. The celebrations, that usually have a religious background, often consist of men dancing for hours (or days). They dress in the same costumes and wear masks that depict a certain historical event. In the weeks before Easter there are many processions in Antigua. The streets are decorated with flower peddles or colored sawdust that are laid down in beautiful patterns. The result is streets covered with paintings. Absolutely recommendable to go to Antigua during Easter! Next a list of special fiestas in the for tourist relevant places:
|Easter||Different dates each year, always in March or April (most impressive in Antigua)|
|Independence day||15th of September|
|All Saints (Todo los Santos)||1st of November|
|Annual celebration (per town)|
|Antigua||25th of July|
|Chichicastenango||21st of December|
|Sololá||15th of August|
|San Lucas Toliman||18th of October|
|San Pedro La Laguna||29th of June|
|San Pablo La Laguna||25th of January|
|San Marcos La Laguna||25th of April|
|Panajachel||4th of October|
|Quetzaltenango||15th of September|
|Flores||15th of January|
- General: Lonely Planet Guatemala
- Map: Guatemala
- Weather: weather.com
- Vaccinations: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/guatemala
Free on line Spanish courses, useful as preparation:
Info about special places in Guatemala:
- Digital platform about Latin America with news:
Volunteer programs in Guatemala:
Great list of volunteer programs in Guatemala:
We offer in Guatemala:
- Spanish classes
- Spanish & Adventure Trip
Go back to the Homepage to see the different possibilities of learning Spanish in Central and South America or combining your Spanish course with free volunteer work.