For those of you looking to backpack through Central and South America you're going to be needing to brush up on the Spanish skills you may or may not have. Guatemala is known for having the cheapest Spanish language schools with two main hubs, Xela (short for Quetzaltenango) and Antigua. Xela is the more authentic, much less touristy city between the two. Prices for Xela will range from 150-300 and typically include accommodation at a homestay, 2-3 meals a day, and 4-5 hours of one-to-one Spanish lessons with a trained local. Given its highland location it's the chilliest city in Guatemala. During our stay night time lows were around 2 °C while noontime highs would hit around 25-28 °C. So if you we're planning on only seeing the humid tropical Central America shown in most brochures you might want to rethink your packing. There are an abundance of volunteer opportunities, dance classes, and hikes around the area. Chicken buses (or tour van shuttles) can take you into Antigua or Lake Atitlan for a weekend visit.
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93 Kms from Quetzaltenango
Less than 50 km away from the hustle and bustle of the capital – Guatemala city is the colonial town of Antigua. First look and it feels you’ve been transported to a different period in time; that is if you can ignore those motor vehicles.The city proudly sits surrounded by three volcanoes; its majestic outlook not doomed by the earthquake that turned the city to rubble in 1773. The earthquake stopped the time there it seems – the brightly coloured facades of colonial houses, majestic cathedrals, still standing walls of churches whose domes have caved in, cobbled streets are so inviting. Its a UNESCO world heritage site now; there is still magic in this centuries-old decayed dilapidated town.I was excited about Antigua ever since I decided to visit Guatemala; since this was going to be my first ever Spanish colony experience. And I was not disappointed at all. The orange and red and yellow mansions are fascinating, the flowering trees lining the streets, the whiff of breeze as you walk in the evenings only added to the charm.
113 Kms from Quetzaltenango
Antigua, once a colonial capital is rich in history, cultural and natural disasters. After a large earthquaked hit the capital the King of Spain moved the capital to Guatemala City. The town is surrounded by three active volcanoes. The last larger eruption came out of Volcano Fuego in September 2012. Most days you can see smoke coming out of this volcano. For those brave enough to go in for a closer look, tourist offices can arrange day hikes up the volcanoes. A walk through the city displays historical colonial monuments, vibrant markets and street vendors, a diverse mix of Catholic churches (both modern and from the Spanish colonial era), and a an array of restaurants catering to locals and foreigners. Of course with this boom in tourism here, prices are more expensive in Antigua than the rest of Guatemala. For those wanting to stay longer there are many options including volunteering, working at chocolate or coffee farms, dance classes, Spanish language centers, and cooking courses.