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Top Mountain Towns to Study Spanish in Latin America and Spain

Combine Language Learning and Adventures in Nature

Costa Rica volcano
Volcano in Costa Rica.

Choosing a Spanish language immersion program is a bit daunting considering there are 20 countries in the world with Spanish as the primary language. Where do you begin?

As long as you choose a top-rated and highly accredited school (most prestigious is accreditation with the Cervantes Institute), you will receive great instruction, which should be your top concern when choosing a program.

There are excellent schools that meet this benchmark scattered throughout Latin America and Spain, so what’s the next criteria to shorten the list?

You won’t be in class all day long, so be sure to think about the setting, environment, and activities/tours that interest you during your time outside of class. Yes, you will be learning Spanish on this trip, but it’s also a vacation, right? Plus, if you are bored outside of class, it will certainly affect your ability to concentrate and learn in class.

For those of you who love hiking, skiing, mountain biking, trekking, ziplining, rock climbing, etc., I’ve done the research for you on the Top 6 Mountain Towns for Studying Spanish. The schools in all of these mountain towns are accredited with the prestigious Cervantes Institute, have cultural and/or volunteer programs, and offer excellent access to the mountain adventures that you are looking for!

1. Boquete, Panamá

Boquete, Panamá takes the number one spot because it offers everything you could want for a fun and adventurous Spanish immersion in the mountains. Whether you are interested in hiking the Baru Volcano, relaxing in the Caldera Hot Springs, rock climbing el Gunko, white water rafting on the Chiriqui River, or ziplining in Palo Alto, you can do all of these activities and more in this traditional Panamanian town! The best tour companies (licensed and registered with the Panamanian Tourism Authority) are Explora Ya, Boquete Outdoor Adventures, and Boquete Mountain Safari.

The most popular local Spanish school (run by Panamanians, too) is Habla Ya Spanish School, and they have been teaching Spanish to foreigners since 2005. The school offers group and private lessons from just a few days to multiple months. You can choose to stay with a host family or they can help you get a great deal at hotels within walking distance to the school (which is centrally-located in the town).

Rafting in Boquette
Rafting in Boquette. Photo by Boquette Outdoor Advenures.

2. Quito, Ecuador

In Quito, Ecuador, you can enjoy city life while being just minutes away from mountain adventure sports such as trekking volcanoes including Cotopaxi (one of the Americas’ highest active volcanoes!) and Guagua Pichincha. You can bike down into the active crater of Pululahua or the Cotopaxi active volcano. Other options include hiking in the Pasochoa Protected Forest or Cotopaxi National Park, and enjoying nature in the Mindo Cloud Forest.

At Andean Global Studies (AGS), a top-rated Spanish school of the region, you can choose to split your program between 5 locations in Ecuador! Whether you want to learn general Spanish, take a custom program, experience immersion living with a host family, and/or participate in a volunteer project, this school can meet your needs. AGS can set up a variety of tours for their students, but for more intense excursions, they recommend booking through Ecuador Treasure.

Trekking in Ecuador
Trekking in Ecuador.

3. Monteverde, Costa Rica

Costa Rica volcano
Volcano with rain forest and palms in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica is a beautiful country, and has a well-established tourism program. A wonderful place in which to enjoy nature while also taking quality Spanish classes is the small mountain town of Monteverde, which has its own Nature Reserve with multiple trails for hiking. Monteverde is home to an extreme ziplining experience. There are also options such sa horseback riding, canyoning, bungee jumping, trekking, white water rafting on the Rio Colorado, and the famous Arenal volcano hike.

CPI Spanish Immersion School (owned and operated by Costa Ricans) is a top choice for language instruction in Monteverde. The school has been teaching students for almost 25 years and welcomes all types of students—professionals, teens, kids, groups, and more. They have three unique locations in Costa Rica, so you have the option of studying in a town and/or at the beach. CPI is not a top-rated school by chance—their program is excellent and consists of options to live with a local family, volunteer, and enjoy free weekly cultural activities. They can set up the majority of tours in the area through their sister tour company, STV.

4. Quetzaltenango, Guatemala

Landscape with rainbow in Guatemala
Landscape with rainbow in Guatemala.

Quetzaltenango (or "Xela" as the locals call it, derived from the town's indigenous name) is surrounded by inspiring volcanoes—Santiaguito (erupts every 40 minutes!), Santa María, and Tajumulco (the tallest volcano in Central America). There also are two serene lakes—Chicabal (in the crater of a volcano), and Atitlán (the deepest lake in Central America and also perhaps the most beautiful). Many 1-day or multiple day treks and hikes in and around the mountainous areas are available.

The complete program at Celas Maya Spanish School makes it easy for any adventurist to study Spanish and plan daily excursions to the area’s top destinations. They even have special programs for studying Spanish and volunteering, dancing salsa, studying for the DELE exam, or learning how to play the guitar.

5. Mendoza, Argentina

For adventurists and wine lovers, Mendoza, Argentina is a wonderful spot for studying Spanish at the Intercultural ISEYC. Be aware that Argentinean Spanish has a special accent. Intercultural offers Group and Private lessons. They are a member of AMERIGO, which is a group of quality Spanish schools in South America allowing you to easily study and travel by making mutual arrangements.

Located at the base of the Andes mountain range, and among the Cerro Tupungato (one of the highest active volcanoes in the Americas) and Aconcagua (the highest peak outside of the Himalayas), there are a multitude of adventure sports available for weekends: paragliding, white water rafting, trekking, rappelling, skiing, ziplining, mountain biking, and horseback riding. There are also a variety of water sports at the nearby towns of Potrerillos and Carrizal, and the hot springs in Cachueta. Campo Base Travel and Adventure is the leading tour company in the area.

6. Bilbao, Spain

Located in the Basque Country of Spain, Instituto Hemingway is a versatile Spanish school catering to students, volunteers, and people looking for work in Spain. They offer group, private, and DELE preparation courses all year long. They also offer many accommodation options such as staying with a host family, a shared apartment, student residence, hotels, and hostels.

The town of Bilbao, where the school is located, is on the coast, but it is also wedged among the Cantabrian and Pyrenees mountain ranges. This allows students looking for adventure to have the best of both worlds — water sports and mountain activities. Some popular activities are caving in Pozalauga and Arrikrutz, surfing and SUP in San Sebastián, hot air ballooning, learning how to play the Basque sport "Pelota," trekking along the coastline from Zumaia to Getaria, and even practicing some of the Basque strongmen sports with a previous champion!

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Mary Beth Strawn
Not quite your typical 29-year old, Mary Beth Strawn left behind the stressful rat race in Atlanta, Georgia when she joined the Peace Corps in 2010. Since then, she has been in Boquete, Panama perfecting her Spanish, working with indigenous communities and becoming an expert in Panama's growing tourism industry.

Now with a Panamanian partner and their baby girl, she has no plans to leave anytime soon. Who would want to leave this paradise?

In her free time, she plans future travel, keeps up her Southern heritage by making biscuits and gravy, and stays active with her husky dog and undomesticated cat.

 
 
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