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If your hometown is suffused by a wintry chill, the idea of a family vacation to Antigua may pack appeal. But before your thoughts turn to beachside resorts, let’s clarify that I don’t mean the English-speaking Caribbean island of Antigua, but the relatively warm colonial town of La Antigua Guatemala, where speaking English will be secondary to learning Spanish at one of several schools.
“The great bonder for families is all to plunge into a new activity from scratch, and for many kids seeing pop stumble over a new language can be fun, memorable, and educational,” suggests Robert Reid, U.S. travel editor at Lonely Planet. A few Spanish-language schools in La Antigua provide not just traditional instruction but also an immersive home stay, where Reid says “four hours of study, room and board with a local family runs from $125 per person.” That’s per week.
In addition to potentially bundling your language instruction with a home stay, you might also choose a school that offers area day trips or opportunities to volunteer within the community. There are dozens of schools and programs, but two that Reid and the Lonely Planet staff recommend are Academia de Espanol Probigua (www.probigua.org), which uses its profits to set up and run libraries for Guatemalan children in rural villages; and Escuela de Espanol San Jose el Viejo (www.sanjoseelviejo.com), which in addition to a large teaching staff includes a pool, tennis court, and accommodations.
During those in-between moments when you’re not honing your Spanish, you and your brood can enjoy La Antigua’s decidedly less studious pursuits of sipping excellent coffee, shopping for local clothing and crafts, and volcano-watching – there are three situated around town.
While La Antigua Guatemala is not itself a danger zone, violent crime in Guatemala – due in part to poverty throughout the country – is an ongoing problem. If you intend to plan this trip, your first step will be registering with the U.S. Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), which will connect you with the U.S. embassy in Guatemala City – a short taxi ride away from La Antigua. The embassy will not only know your whereabouts, but will also email you about local travel and security conditions before and during your trip.
The crime and poverty issues within Guatemala will obviously be a deal breaker for some families, but if you’re willing to accept or at least start considering the risks, there are great rewards that come with this kind of immersive, and in many respects, philanthropic experience.
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