A March 2005 trip
to Antigua by kakao
Quote: Antigua, Guatemala, is well-known as one of the best places in the world to study Spanish. With over 70 schools in this small city of cobblestone streets, you will find everything you are looking for in a vacation: education, culture, nightlife, great food, and friendly people!
The city is small, surrounded by volcanoes and filled with international students, tourists, and Mayan locals walking the beautiful cobblestone streets. It has an international flair, with excellent cuisine to suit any taste and enough luxuries so you won't miss home. During the day, you can study Spanish, relax in Central Parque, take a day trip to hike a volcano, or go shopping and find beautiful gems or inexpensive textiles. At night, tons of hippie bars and hangouts welcome any visitor.
But what Antigua is truly known for (in the educational community) is its abundance of Spanish Language Schools. Over 70 schools exist within the city, and many students choose to study with a private tutor and stay with a local family. Classes usually run from 8am to noon (with optional afternoon classes for those who want a more intense learning experience). That leaves your afternoons free to explore the city, whether you want to visit La Merced (a beautiful church), pick up some souvenirs at the Artist Market by the bus station, or sing at Open Mike night at The Rainbow Cafe. There really is something to do for everyone!
Spanish Language Schools:
While many visitors book a language school in advance, you really do not need to do this. You can arrive in Antigua, Guatemala, and check out a few schools before finally deciding on one. Some things to consider are: Cost of the program, how many hours a day, availability and quality of homestay, what kinds of activities they offer (and for how much), and what materials they give you or let you use. Check out http://www.guatemala365.com/ to help you decide on a school.
Other Suggestions: If you plan on visiting during Easter Week, be prepared for large crowds and expensive hotels. Book everything in advance, including restaurants! While there are large crowds, you will be amazed at the large processions and detailed alfombras (carpets made out of sawdust) created by local residents, or Panza Verdes.
Within Antigua: It is easy to walk from place to place, or you can take a tuk-tuk, a horse-drawn carriage, or rent a bike to get around.
To Get Away: To take day trips or side trips to Monterrico, Lake Atitlan, or Guatemala City, you can stop by any travel agency (there are tons on the streets) to book a minibus or shuttle. If you are really adventurous, you can take the beautifully decorated chicken busses. They are an experience in themselves and highly recommended (although not at night)!
Restaurant | "El Punto"
It’s decent, and its walls painted are with scenes of Italy. How romantic, right? Overall, it was a nice, clean restaurant (and the bathrooms were decent as well!).
It was absolutely delicious. We thought we were in Italy. We ordered the ravioli and the lasagna, and I must say that the ravioli was some of the best I've ever had. I would highly recommend it!
Warning: We recommended this restaurant to a few friends, and some of them got sick after eating here. However, we never had a problem and would eat here again anytime.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on August 30, 2005
7a Av Norte 8A
The restaurant has three different seating areas: the main seating area, the garden seating area, and the poolside seating area. There is also a bar inside the restaurant. I chose the garden seating and was not disappointed. Candlelit tables and lush greenery surrounded us while we ate the top-notch food. It seemed like there were a lot of international visitors at the restaurant, including a lot of businessmen/women.
Food: Excellent and reasonably priced. Considering this was one of the nicest restaurants I had eaten at in Guatemala, I expected the food to be pricey. But it wasn't at all, and the food was just as pleasing to me! We ordered carpaccio to start, duck and lamb. Everything was delicious. It was so nice to eat carpaccio after I hadn't had it for a long time. (I would say that it is fairly hard to find a place in Guate that serves it.)
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on August 30, 2005
Meson Panza Verde
5a. Avenida Sur 19
My private teacher did not speak any English, so it actually worked out great. Any time I did not understand a word in Spanish, she had to define it for me in Spanish, which really helped my listening skills. My teacher was a Mayan woman, and was a fairly good teacher. She used materials from other schools and had a set plan for teaching (grammar and drills from 8am to 10am, reading and conversation from 10am to noon). The only complaint I had was that there were no books for me to check out and take home.
The school had places to sit in their main office, as well as in another location about 2 blocks away. Both locations were well-kept and clean, with free coffee and water. I would say that their facilities were not as nice as some of the other schools, but the view of the volcano made up for it. Also, when the school was really crowded, it became a bit noisy, as there were some 60 students and their private teachers speaking at the same time.
The school had a lot of activities, as the school director, Mario, was truly involved and cared about his students. There were free salsa classes once a week and cooking classes every now and then (I learned how to make a special Guatemalan dessert!). There were also trips to nearby towns (eg San Antonio Aguas Calientes, where you can attend a lecture in Spanish about the customs in the town regarding their textiles), museums, and other sights. All activities were very reasonably priced (not like some other schools, which were obviously making money on their activities). Overall, I would say that the activities were one of the highlights of the school!
After studying for 3 weeks at Tecun Uman, I decided to change schools to see what else was out there. I chose Escuela de Espanol San Jose el Viejo because it was the most beautiful school I had seen in Antigua!
The school is next door to the ruins of an old church, and you can see these ruins on the side of the school. Thus, when you walk in the school, you see the ruins on the right, and the rest of the facilities are covered with greenery - this school must have one of the best kept gardens in the whole city. If you are lucky, you will get your own "classroom" in the gardens, complete with a whiteboard for you and your private teacher to use. There is free Internet access for use during the breaks, and there are two sweet Labrador Retrievers that walk around and visit all the students.
I had three different teachers at the school. One was very good, one was pretty bad, and my last teacher was excellent. Most of the improvement in my Spanish occurred with this one teacher (Alejandro). The school lends you textbooks to use, but most of the time my teacher and I just talked about random topics. In addition, he brought a book (in Spanish) discussing topics such as astrology, life in the future, abortion, and other controversial topics. We would choose one topic a day in the late mornings (the early mornings were dedicated to grammar) and debate the issue at hand.
The Activities: Unfortunately, the school did not offer free activities. However, every Thursday, the school organized a trip, either to Azotea (a nearby museum and coffee plantation), to San Antonio Agua Caliente (a nearby town), or to a macadamia farm. They usually rotated between these three activities, which meant that after 3 weeks, you wouldn't have any other activities to attend. In addition, they grossly overcharged for these activities.
The Cost: Pretty reasonable at $85/week for 4 hours a day for a private teacher. You can also stay in the gorgeous facilities (not homestays, but apartments) they give you access to their pool and tennis courts. Very luxurious!
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