I am going to Central America in 2007.
I plan to touchdown in Guatemala to kickstart the CA/SA adventure.
I don't speak spanish, but plan to take 3 weeks of classes classes in Guat'. Basically i was wondering where in Guatemala to learn - obviously Antigua has a great reputation and it might be a good place to meet other travllers plus it might be a gentler introduction to latin America. But Quetzaltenago, i have heard is good and less touristy - which appeals, but what is the actual town like???
If anyone has any experience of these or other cities in Guatemala, I would appreciate some insight....
Both towns are fascinating, but very different. Antigua is small, easy to reach, very beautiful in a "living museum" sort of way. It would probably provide a gentle introduction to Latin America, but maybe not a very realistic one. Quetzaltenango (Xela) is a much larger, and much more typical small city, and would probably provide some real challanges--asking directions, figuring out bus routes, dealing with shopping, markets, and the like. I've visited Antigua several times, and spent a few weeks in Xela as well; both are well worth doing, and the choice probably depends on your needs and preferences...but I think I'd lean more toward Xela if your intention is to continue on a lengthy trip through Latin America. Three weeks is not a long time in which to learn enough traveller's Spanish to continue on your own (or maybe I'm just a slow learner!) Xela would provide a good test for you; if you find you can cope with Xela on your own after three weeks, you should be ready for some serious travel. Let me know if I can provide any other info!
I have resided in both Antigua and Xela, in Antigua it is very common for many spanish students to go out on the town at night and speak English, for serious travel you require more immersion. Xela is a "real city" with local bus services, outdoor and supermarkets, adequate night life, and fewer tourists than Antigua, bring a sweater and jacket, gets cool at night about 7500+ feet above sea level. In Xela you are able to home stay with a "real family" speaking only Spanish rather than in the dorm rooms that are provided as "home stays" by many Antigua schools. The best schools are of course in Antigua, with authentic home stay and immersion, but more expensive. Avoid the "budget" schools. Usually you'll take 4 hours of one on one instruction Monday-Friday, the better schools have trips and volunteer ops on weekends as well.
Do a search engine query..over 150 Spanish Schools (accredited*) in Guatemala
- some schools, especially in Antigua, are 'hole in the wall' operations and not acredited.