After a week of relaxation at the lake, we were ready to hit Antigua, where we would be spending a total of 6 days, 5 of those at morning Spanish classes.
From San Pedro, we were able to find a tourist shuttle that went direct for $8USD each. This shuttle was the exact same price as if we had caught a boat back to Panajachel and caught a local bus, so was an easy decision. The road up the mountains from the lake is extremely rough, but that is the nature of the beast in Guatemala – the roads just aren’t great quality.
Antigua is a lovely town, and reminded us a lot of San Cristobal. Again, it is easy to see why Antigua has become a must-see destination in this part of the world. Cobblestone streets, old colonial buildings (both in tact and ruined), all sitting in the shadow of an enormous volcano. Walking south down the streets in the morning was quite the highlight for us!
Like San Cristobal, this place has a good international flavour, with many chic cafes, international food and lively bars. We had a personal favourite, Fernando’s. It did great coffee at a reasonable price, and had a cat called Micha whom Alex was quite obsessed. We also found a couple of good spots to eat when we weren’t eating at our homestay – Rincon Tipico & Toko Baru – both some of the best value spots in town.
As we said, our main reason for being here was Spanish lessons. We went with the biggest organisation in town – Antiguena – as we were able to organise it prior to arrival (however it is pretty easy to just turn up and find a place!).
All up, this cost us $330USD for both of us, which was a pretty decent bargain for 7 nights accom, 3 meals a day and 25 hours of Spanish. They also provided really decent snacks (tostadas, tacos, tortas and chocobananos) and morning tea for $0.50-$0.70USD, and there were free activities in the afternoon (we didn’t do any as they weren’t that great – city tours, a farm visit and a local pool visit – but they are there if you want).
Upon arrival, we were picked up by our ‘Mum’ for the week, Maria Elena. She lived with her son, daughter-in-law and adorable granddaughter in a tiny wee house just north of the centre. They ran a small restaurant/catering business out of their house, so we weren’t too concerned about the horror stories of rice and beans, beans and rice, 3 meals a day we had heard from some others!
While we really enjoyed staying with Maria & her family, it wasn’t quite what we were expecting in terms of full immersion. As Lonely Planet had warned, we weren’t the only tourists keen to learn Spanish, so we had two other German girls staying in our homestay, meaning that we operated as more of a small hostel than being hosted by a family, which certainly took away from our experience a little.
Anyway, Monday morning came around and we were assigned our teacher for the week – Lety. Lety was lovely, and was very patient with us as we bumbled our way through the Spanish language. With just a week of lessons, she emphasised ‘travel spanish’ focusing on words, verbs and grammar that we needed to know to form basic conversations about ourselves, and ask for things without sounding like the biggest gringo. Going back to school for five hours a day after being out of university for a few years was tough to say the least. We found ourselves really battling to focus after about 3 hours each day, and once Wednesday hit, things really slowed down in terms of how much we were picking up. We persevered though, and overall our Spanish was a lot better for it. To quantify it for you, we would sit at meals silent on Monday, and by Friday we were able to communicate how our days were, our feelings and mood, and explain what plans we had for afternoons and further travel. All in all, taking some classes is well worthwhile, but our advice would be to look at doing 2-4 hours a day maximum, as you really do not get your money’s worth if you try to go for 5!
When we weren’t bumbling our way through Spanish, we found ourselves hitting a couple of free salsa lessons. These were GREAT fun, as a lot of the Spanish students go, and no one really knows what they are doing. You learn a couple of basic dances, and rotate partners regularly, so its a great way to meet some new people in a slightly uncomfortable way. These free lessons were Monday & Tuesday @ 5pm (Salsa Sensation), and at Las Palmas bar on Thursdays @ 8.30pm.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have the time or money to do the popular Volcan Acatenango hike here – a overnight trek that takes you up an active volcano, with views of molten lava at night. Definitely look into this if you come, as we were gutted we couldn’t find the time to do it.
Antigua was great, and made for a great base to learn some Spanish . However, if you are looking for something a bit more authentic, or want to avoid speaking English in your homestay, it might be better to check out a place like Xela, which is getting a reputation for better Spanish lessons due to a lack of tourists!