Why study Spanish in Guatemala?
Guatemala is a small country in Central America, which attracts travelers thanks to the magnificent landscape and intense history. Guatemala offers amazing sights, a wealth of traditions, and a fascinating landscape bursting with mountains, lakes, forests and volcanoes. If you are on a tight budget, this is a great destination to learn Spanish abroad. Guatemala is known as the most affordable place to study Spanish in Latin America. Furthermore, the people are welcoming, and Guatemalan Spanish is easy to understand. To top it all off, the mix of European, Indigenous and African influences are all combined in the Guatemalan culture, making it a very interesting destination to learn Spanish.
Quick links to:
Highlights of Guatemala
Guatemala CityThe biggest city of Central America, Guatemala city offers interesting museums about Mayan Culture and traditions, vibrant markets, great food and several art galleries.
AntiguaA beautiful colonial town in the highlands - also called “the jewel of Guatemala” is full of interesting ruined churches and monasteries. Enjoy nice food and animated life on the streets. A very good choice for your Spanish program in Guatemala!
Volcan de AguaVolcan de Agua nearby Antigua is an awesome feat, and the view from the top is one of Guatemala’s true gems. A must-do!
Lake AtitlanOne of the most beautiful lakes on the planet. Lake Atitlan is in a magical, mystical setting, surrounded by volcanoes, green-clad mountains and boasting impressive views.
TikalTruly amazing ancient Mayan ruins in the jungles of Peten. Watch the sunrise from the top of a pyramid; a unique experience.
FloresSet on an island in the middle of Lake Peten Itza in Northern Guatemala, backpackers’ hotspot Flores sits on top of the ancient Mayan city of Nojpeten. Ixpanpajul is a natural park is only 15 minutes from Flores.
The Spanish language in Guatemala
As in most countries in Latin America, the official language in Guatemala is Spanish. Aside from Spanish, there are still groups that speak an indigenous language. In total, there are 21 indigenous languages in Guatemala that have their origin from the Mayan language such as K’iche, Q’eqchi, and Mam. Guatemala is known for having the most neutral accent in Central America. The people speak slowly, arevery patient with tourists and friendly. There is not much slang in Guatemala. Some typical expressions used in Guatemala are “chapin/chapina” (meaning someone from Guatemala), “pisto” (meaning cash), “burra” (meaning bus) and “chilero” (meaning cool). If you are planning to learn Spanish in Guatemala, you will surely start using these expressions and words yourself in no time!
Food and drinks from Guatemala
Guatemalan food is characterized by both Mayan and Spanish influences. The two most important ingredients in typical Guatemalan meals are corn and beans. Examples of typical Guatemalan dishes are Chiles rellenos, Chicken Pepian and Kak’ik. Normally breakfast in Guatemala is light, with eggs, tortillas and beans, while lunch is the most important meal of the day. Lunch normally starts with a soup and is followed by a main dish such as beans, corn and rice. The last meal of the day usually consists of bread, beans, vegetables and fruits. The national beer of Guatemala “Gallo” (rooster) is very popular. Other popular drinks in Guatemala are limonadas and licuados, which are both fruit drinks. If you want to try nice Guatemalan food, the capital city is the best places to try it.
Useful Information for Guatemala
MoneyThe currency in Guatemala is the Guatemalan Quetzal with an exchange rate of 7.71 GTQ for 1 US Dollar at the time of writing. Coins come in 1, 5, 10, 25, 50 cents and 1 Quetzal, while banknotes come in 0.50, 1, 5, 10, 20, 50 ,100 and 200. It is possible to pay with US dollars, but it is better to pay with the Guatemalan Quetzal. Even though you will find ATMs in most cities, it is harder to find one in smaller towns. So before going to a smaller town, be prepared and take enough money with you. Something else to keep in mind is that it also can be difficult to change large bills, so make sure always to have small bills while travelling in Guatemala.
WeatherThe diversity of the geographical terrain results in a variety of weather conditions throughout Guatemala. A very wet and cloudy summer runs from May to October and is followed by a drier and sunnier winter season from December to March. The best time to visit Guatemala is between December and April. However, Guatemala – land of the eternal Spring - has stable temperatures year round. Most of the country enjoys warm or hot days with mild or cool evenings year round. Here in Guatemala, you can enjoy any time of the year!
What to bringTo be well prepared for your study abroad trip to Guatemala, pack your clothes according to the time of the year and the region you are planning to visit. Guatemala has a different climate in each region, so deciding on what to bring can be quite challenging. If you plan to stay for a long time and visit several regions, it is advisable to bring more different types of clothing with you. Here are some of our suggestions for your travel essentials for Guatemala. Something to take into consideration is that you can buy a lot of these items locally as well, especially in the bigger cities or tourist areas.
Learn more about Guatemala
as a destination to learn Spanish
About half of the population in Guatemala is mestizo (known in Guatemala as ladino), a mix of European and indigenous descent. Their culture is dominant in urban areas and heavily influenced by European and North American trends. The other part of the population is indigenous from either one of the 21 indigenous groups. Deeply rooted in the rural highlands of Guatemala, many indigenous people speak the Mayan language, follow traditional religious customs, and continue a rich tradition in textiles and other crafts. The two cultures in Guatemala have resulted in a complex society which is also deeply divided between rich and poor. There is great variety in Guatemalan lifestyles, marked by differences between Ladino and Maya ways and between urban and rural areas. The contrast between the modern ways of the cities and the traditional customs and crafts of the Maya peoples gives Guatemala a colourful and dynamic culture.
Guatemala is the third largest country in Central America and borders with Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, Belize, the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. About two-thirds of the country’s total land area is mountainous. The rugged terrain provided refuge, allowing the indigenous peoples to survive the Spanish conquest in the 16th century. On the other hand, the fertile valleys eventually produced fine coffees and other crops that would dominate Guatemala’s economy. Frequent volcanic eruptions, torrential rains and earthquakes have often brought disaster to the country. As most of the territory is characterized by mountains, these divide the country into several geographical zones: the lowlands in the northern part, the mountains in the center and the coastal region in the southern part. The rest of the territory is characterized by rainforests, lakes, lagoons, volcanoes, lowlands and a coastal part. There are 33 volcanoes in Guatemala; some of them are still active.
Guatemala is a very biodiverse country with fascinating flora and fauna, due to the diverse landscape with mountains, lakes, volcanoes, forests and coast. The Land of the Eternal Spring counts with a high concentration of volcanic mountains, lagoons, waterfalls, caves and beaches. Indigenous fauna includes the armadillo, coyote, bear, deer, jaguar, fox, monkey, puma and tapir. The national bird of Guatemala is the highland quetzal, the symbol of love of liberty. There are more than 900 other species of native birds, as well more than 204 species of reptiles. Since 1990, the Guatemalan government has become increasingly dedicated to protecting its natural resources, and nowadays there are over 30 national parks and preserved areas, such as National park Lake Atitlan, National park Sierra del Lacandon and National park Tikal.
Before the arrival of the Spanish and colonization different indigenous groups such as the K’iche, Q’eqchu, Mam, Garifuna and Xinca lived in Guatemala. The Maya temple at Tikal was built over 1,300 years ago as a tomb to honour the Maya ruler, Ah Cacaw. Tikal, once an expansive city and home to 100,000 people, was abandoned in A.D. 800. The ruins were discovered in 1695. Spanish colonization was completed in 1524, and it was not until 1821 that Guatemala became independent of Spain. However, it still belonged to Mexico until 1839, when it completely became independent. A politically unstable period followed. Guatemalan history is marked by the Cold War between the U.S. and the USSR. From the 1950s to the 1990s (with a suspension of military aid between 1977 and 1982), the US government directly supported Guatemala's army with training, weapons and money. The civil war in Guatemala lasted 36 years and resulted in the deaths of thousands of people. More than 450 Mayan villages were destroyed, and over one million people became refugees. This is considered one of the worst ethnic cleansings in modern Latin America.
Since the peace accord, Guatemala has enjoyed successive democratic elections, most recently in 2003. However, corruption is still rampant at all levels of government.
As in most countries in Latin America, the cultural background of Guatemala is very diverse with European, Indigenous and African influences. Most of the population is mestizo, a mix of European and Indigenous descent. There are 21 indigenous groups from either Mayan decent and a few from non-Mayan decent. The indigenous people of Guatemala have maintained a distinct identity, centred on lands and villages in the western highlands. Many speak a Mayan language and follow spiritual practices from before the Spanish conquest, sometimes blended with Roman Catholic beliefs. Although most of these people are poor by material standards, their lifestyle is ecologically and spiritually satisfying to them, and they have largely chosen to remain isolated from national life.
The diverse cultural background of Guatemala is reflected in its music and its arts and has European, Indigenous and African influences. A national instrument in Guatemala that plays an important role in traditional music is the marimba, a wooden xylophone. Dance is an important cultural aspect of Guatemalan culture. Some well-known traditional dances are the danza de los monos, danza de la conquista and danza de los venados. Once a year there is an important dance festival in Totonicapan were the different cultural traditions are celebrated and where all these dances are shown. In addition to the well-documented architectural legacy of the Mayans, Guatemala is also known for its baroque architecture. This style can be seen mostly in cathedrals and government buildings of Antigua and Guatemala City.