General Tips and Suggestions
1) For U.S. citizens, a 90 day tourist visa can be obtained at the airport upon arrival. If you wish to stay longer than 90 days, you’ll need to obtain a new stamp. The easiest way to do this is to make a border run to a neighboring country and return back across the border.
Language courses in Guatemala are extremely affordable and very well organized. Since it’d been quite a few years since Mike or I had studied Spanish, and the kids had zero Spanish skills, we decided to make Guatemala our first stop in Latin America. To get to Xela, it’s a 4-5 hour bus ride of a 3.5 hour private taxi/car ride. Shuttles can be arranged to Xela from many hotels/hostels or through your selected language school. We studied at I.C.A. (pronounced ick-ah). They arranged a host family stay for us in a lovely home that was a 2 minute walk from the school. We had three large bedrooms and our own bathroom with a shower and a large, shared, rooftop deck. The cost for room/board (3 meals/day), and 5 hours/day of private Spanish lessons was just under $200/week per person. Our two eldest took classes at I.C.A. with us, with their own instructors. The two youngest, who were 2 and almost 2 at the time we arrived in Xela, we enrolled in the collegio across the street, for 5 hours a day, for a total of $50/month. It was a great set-up.
Xela is nestled between volcanos at around 7500 feet above sea level. It’s a great place to study Spanish as hardly anybody speaks English and you won’t run into many expats or foreigners. We saw less than 10 other white people our entire 4 weeks in Xela.
Favorite things to do:
–El Baul. This is a park on the top of a hill that overlooks Xela. To get there, grab a taxi but make sure you arrange a pick-up time as it is a bit out of the way and it would be quite the walk back to town. In El Baul, there are big, concrete slides built directly into the hill. Bring a piece of cardboard or a cereal box to sit on and you will FLY! There is a beautiful look-out up here too, giving you a birds’ eye view over Xela. There is a small playground up here, some hiking trails, and several stalls selling food and drinks. It’s a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.