Like many towns in Guatemala that now have regular tourist trade, San Pedro has a few language schools offering Spanish lessons. These are not the well-organized language "institutes" found in Costa Rica or Antigua, where savvier, Internet-connected schools offer well-structured courses and the opportunity to live with a local family. Many schools in Antigua offer not only a language course, but also cultural trips, and even airport pick-up – all at a substantial premium, of course. This is not necessarily a put-down of San Pedro – quite the contrary. It means that learning Spanish in San Pedro can be a far sight cheaper than Antigua. For someone who is willing sort out transportation for themselves from the airport and who wishes to set their own agenda regarding "cultural trips", San Pedro can prove ideal. As with any language school in Guatemala, there is a quality risk. Schools in San Pedro come and go. I would strongly suggest checking them out until you find one you are comfortable with. Ask questions about the courses offered (methodology, number of students), and speak with the teacher to be sure you are comfortable with him/her as well as their proposed course offering. Only then should you start negotiating an agreeable price!
After visiting three different schools, my pick was Casa Rosario, located just up from the embarcadero for Santiago Atitlán-bound boats. Two local teachers, the always-affable Vicente and Samuel, run the school. I explained to Vicente my goals for learning (grammar, conversational Spanish), and he was right on the money in coming up with a course plan for my four week stay: 20 hours of individual instruction per week, plus a room for US$ 50 per week. I could have stayed with a family for US$ 90 per week (including board), but opted for a room at the school. My instructor, 25-year old Jose, was great, and I was conversationally fluent at the end of my stay, tackling advanced grammar (past perfect, past indefinite) and writing essays. The other students are primarily other backpackers, but there were also a few Mayan adult students improving their Spanish as well – which is always a good sign.
I managed to make the most of it - class in the morning, exploring the lake in the afternoon, and studying in peace in the evenings in one of the "open air" classrooms on the unfinished third floor of Casa Rosario with views of the volcano, the village, and the lake. If I needed stimulation, the school’s lounge had a small television hooked up to a satellite dish. Vicente also allowed me to use one of the school’s traditional canoes as used by local fishermen. He would not let me use it until the water on the lake was almost mirror-calm. I found this a little frustrating at first, but I later understood why. The canoe is essentially built for a small Mayan, not a tall Caucasian. The craft is short and squat – requiring you to kneel – with about a 2-inch freeboard. For you non-nautical types, this meant that slightest rocking of the boat to one side or the other, and I would have taken on water. I came ashore caked in black muck to my knees (you have to land in the lagoon), suffering from terrific cramps from maintaining balance on my knees for so long. Despite this, I know that the views from the middle of the lake were something few other travelers would ever enjoy.