Quetzaltenango, often referred to as Xela, is Guatemala’s second largest city. We chose Xela as our home to take Spanish lessons in for three weeks prior to traveling further in Central and South America.
Guatemala has numerous Spanish schools to choose from, with most being centered in the beautiful city of Antigua, known for its colonial architecture. While Antigua was attractive to us, Xela offers something that Antigua can’t deliver–the ability to learn Spanish in a city that is not overrun with tourism, thus forcing us to practice Spanish in our daily lives. We chose ICA as our school because it has a long-standing reputation of providing quality classes. We take one-on-one classes with our instructor (Gato) for four hours a day, Monday-Friday. In the afternoons, the school has different activities that you can choose from including trips around Xela. We paid roughly 660 USD for 3 weeks of 20 hours per week of classes. The school also offers free English lessons to local middle schoolers. We volunteer a few days a week to help the kids practice English, although we honestly believe we’re probably learning more from the kids than they are from us.
Our apartment in Xela is modest, but contains everything we need, we paid 280 USD for three weeks. We had a few issues the first week with our shower, also known as a Suicide Shower or Widow Maker. Originally we had no hot water (which if you read the article, may have been for the better) and began our morning routine with boiling water to shower with. We recently had it fixed and now receive lukewarm water, which we’re happy with. Also, so far, Markus is the only one to have suffered an electric shock. Megan continues to say a little prayer before each shower.
We first arrived in Xela during Día de Todos los Santos and went to the cemetery to absorb the atmosphere. It was wonderful to see all of the families celebrating their loved ones who have passed. Most families meticulously cleaned and decorated their graves, they then would gather to eat and drink around the grave and kids were flying kites. It was a truly festive occasion.
We have also traveled to the nearby city of Salcajá–home to the first church built in Central America. Getting there was a bit of an adventure as it was our first time riding the notorious chicken bus. There were no seats, so we stood in the back and held on for dear life. How many people can fit in a chicken bus? Always one more.
On the weekend we visited Fuentes Georginas, natural thermal springs near Xela. We went on a lazy Saturday afternoon, when the sky was cloudy and the air was cold, making it an extra relaxing afternoon. On Sunday we visited El Baúl a forested hill on the outskirts of the city overlooking Xela.