Study Spanish in Mexico City
The Heart of the Aztec Empire
Home to around 20 million people, the capital of Mexico is a solid destination for learning Spanish and enjoying a bustling city. Mexico City has language schools for all budgets; I studied in a high-end institute and also at a low-priced school. In addition to Spanish opportunities, the city holds some of the country’s finest cultural highlights. Following are options for studying and exploring the big city.
Where to Study: Low-End
If you’re on a strapped budget, one of the best places to study Spanish is the Centro de Enseñanza para Extranjeros (Language Center for Foreigners). Known as the CEPE, this institute offers a six-week intensive course for just $340. Additional courses start at $70. You’ll also have to pay an annual registration fee of $60.
How can such a cheap school be any good? It’s connected to UNAM (Autonomous National University of Mexico), one of the top public schools in Latin America. The university was founded in 1551. Its central campus, where the CEPE is located, was named a UNESCO world heritage site in June 2007.
In addition to reasonable prices and a university setting, the CEPE offers guided tours of the campus and Mexico City area. The destinations vary, depending on the month and time of year.
You can register on specific dates. When you sign up, bring your passport and be ready to pay for the courses (they accept Visa and MasterCard). You’ll take a placement exam to find out which level to start in. Housing options are provided upon registration. Learn more about the CEPE at its website - www.cepe.unam.mx.
Explore Mexico City
During your free time, the only problem you’ll have is choosing what to see first. Mexico City is packed with enough museums, temple ruins, parks, and restaurants to keep you busy for months.
A good starting point is the Zócalo, the city’s main square. Surrounding the open plaza is a mesh of historical sites. You can tour Templo Mayor, which contains Aztec ruins. Next to it you’ll find the Metropolitan Cathedral, built by the Spanish in the 1500s. Then head to the National Palace, which houses stunning murals painted by Diego Rivera.
To learn how it all began, check out the National Museum of Anthropology. This sprawling museum presents Mexico’s history in an engaging layout. You may need a few trips to see it all. Learn more at www.mna.inah.gob.mx.
When you want a taste of colonial streets and quaint houses, head to Coyoacán. This neighborhood was once home to both Leon Trotsky and Frida Kahlo. Their houses are now museums. The quiet plazas of Coyoacán draw musicians on the weekends. A cup of coffee and a stroll are a great way to spend the evening here.
Explore the Surrounding Area
When you need a break, hop on a bus headed out of town. You won’t want to miss Teotihuacán. It’s about 55 kilometers outside of the city. Plan to spend a few hours taking in the two looming pyramids and surrounding artifacts.
If you’re on the hunt for silver, Taxco is the place to go. Just 160 kilometers from Mexico City, this old mining town has some of Mexico’s best jewelry. Its narrow streets and red-roofed homes create a picturesque setting for shopping and exploring.
To get off the beaten path, try Toluca’s botanical gardens. The Cosmo Vitral Jardín Botánico features stained glass windows and beautiful greenery.
Mexico City is an adventure waiting to happen. With schools for all budgets, there’s something for everyone. Spend a few months in the heart of the Aztec empire; you’ll leave with memories that will last a lifetime.
Play it Safe in Mexico City
Mexico City is one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world…and also one of the more dangerous ones. That does not mean you should avoid it completely; I lived there for four years without any major incidents. However, that does mean that you should take extra safety precautions while there.
Getting mugged and assaulted are some of the most common crimes. Unfortunately, the number of kidnappings per year is on the rise. These crimes often occur early in the morning, before the sun rises, and late at night. Stay on major streets and travel with someone when it’s dark if possible. Do not take a new route or go somewhere unknown past sunset. And never take out cash from an ATM machine at night.
Crowded subway cars can lead to trouble. Some lines include a few cars near the front that are for women only. If you are female, check for these, as they are well worth the few extra steps you will have to take to get on. Hang on to your wallet or bag at all times while riding the subway system. The Hidalgo stop is notorious for pick pocketing–consider yourself warned!
And foreigners should simply avoid some areas of town. Don’t go into the market called Tepito, located near the center of town, no matter what anyone tells you. Stay away from dangerous colonias, or neighborhoods, especially Doctores and Buenos Aires. And before you head somewhere new, ask local friends about it. They will watch out for you. Follow these precautions and your wallet (and body) will thank you.