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Guatemala: Adventures and Spanish Study in Quetzaltenango

Three weeks of Spanish immersion plus adventures aplenty in the gorgeous Guatemalan mountains



Time to learn Spanish

Whilst in roaming Mexico and Cuba, it became very apparent that my dozen after-work Spanish classes held me in no stead to travel properly, or engage people in Latin America.
Guatemala is well known to have many quality immersion programs and arguably the best schools in Central America.

I looked at two of the major cities:

  • Antigua - a tourist oriented UNESCO heritage town with plenty of English speakers, or
  • Xela - with less tourists, but an emergence of quality schools and better opportunity for immersion.

Within Xela there were many reputable schools to choose from.
I went with Celas Maya after prompt responses from their administrators and the ton of positive reviews on Tripadvisor.

I booked three weeks full time study (5 hours per day), with homestay arranged by the school.

Overall it was a super experience, not only because of the school - but the activities, active immersion, with the added bonus of Xela being a very interesting city.

The School

Celas Maya is located in Zona 1, the upscale area of town, very safe, etc etc.
The grounds are lovely; with the ornate building surrounding a lovely garden.

Lessons are 1-1, where teachers / students sit at individual tables under the patio surrounding the garden.
It's a very peaceful place conducive to learning.


The school is affiliated with universities around the world, and offers formal accreditation courses.
Medical professionals from the US were studying here as part of a requirement back home to practice in Spanish.


The teachers here are great!!
Students have the option to change teachers each week. There are pros and cons to this approach.
I decided to work with my teacher, Yoli for the duration of my stay, as she's an ace teacher and also knew my strengths and weaknesses in learning and retention. She geared the syllabus and my homework accordingly.

By the end of the stay, we were great friends and I really appreciated her efforts, patience and persistence with me.


Teaching Style

The style of teaching is pretty formal, and the 5 hours of class plus homework can be pretty gruelling, but I got into a rhythm.

Classes were a good mix of concept introduction, exercises, then putting learning into practice via conversation.
We spent a lot time talking to practice.

By the third week, we were having discussions around politics, culture, travel, etc.
Not only was this a great way to practice Spanish, but more or less it was a cultural exchange.

The contrast between bus conversations going in to Xela, and three weeks later leaving... was chalk and cheese!



I stayed with a lovely family, very close to the school.
They were very used to having students live in their enormous, and very interesting house.

I had a massive bungalow, there the sons of the family grew up in, mostly to myself as they had now grown up.

These guys had a perchance for 70's and 80's classic cars, and between the three of them had no less than eight cars scattered around the city.


Living in the house really helped my Spanish as nobody spoke a word of English, and they weren't shy in correcting my Spanish at the dinner table.

Living in Xela

Xela is a very friendly city, untainted by tourism with many things to see and do.

A tip for visitors needing a working, there is an awesome athletics field in Zona 3.

Restaurante Panorama

Atop one of the hills overlooking Xela is the superb Restaurante Panorama.
It's a nice workout walk to get up there, but the views are definitely worth it!



Guatemala is a playground for the intrepid traveller!


We climbed to an awesome view point to Santa Maria

Mayan Culture

With a such a strong Mayan presence and culture, it was a great opportunity to learn about Mayan history and enduring culture and traditions.

Fuentes Georginas

The hot volcanic springs sit atop the lofty mountains near Xela.
We ventured up and swam in the boiling pools.
Local people believe the naturally heated volcanic water has healing properties.

Todos Santos

This was a highlight!
We drove for nerly 5 hours up through the mountains .....

to Todos Santos, for the annual festival, which included a horse race/parade... a standing tradition for many hundreds of years.


The town was abuzz with music and activity.
The caballeros looked pretty worse for wear after a marathon beer sesh to celebrate another horse race, and baffingly returned to the track in the afternoon for more drunk-riding.



On the way home we visited the marvellous Zaculeu ruins.
These have been marvellously excavated and, unclike Chichen Itza in Mexico, visitors are allowed to climb them!


Each week Celas Maya showed films in Spanish, usually pertaining to local culture or events.
I was fascinated by the film - When the Mountains Tremble
Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchú's film detailing Guatemala's very torrid recent political past.
This film is a must for anyone coming to Guatemala, or interested in Latin American history and politics.


We celebrated birthdays and graduations.

... with piñatas of course...

I graduated along with several other students, celebrating with morning tea in the lovely garden, with obligatory speeches :-)

Gracias Xela, Adieu

Guatemala wasn't on my bucket list, but I'm so glad I stopped here.
Xela was an incredible experience, and recommended for anyone wanting to do Spanish immersion.

I went to Antigua to climb Acatenango next....

Posted by SkinnyFists 07:49 Archived in Guatemala Tagged volcanoes guatemala xela spanish_study todos_santos celas_maya

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