Flores Mornings, Lima Nights: The 21 Best Places to Learn Spanish
So, you’ve got a bad case of wanderlust and an urge to learn Spanish that just won’t quit.
What do you do?
You go and learn Spanish in another country, of course!
There are literally thousands of opportunities to learn Spanish overseas. The biggest difficulty can be figuring out which Spanish-speaking country is right for you.
Don’t worry, from beaches to urban jungles to cloud forests to contemporary cities, we’ve got you covered.
Together with tips for choosing a language school and a rundown of the benefits of studying Spanish abroad (in case you need to convince yourself, your family or your friends), we’re about to explore the 21 best places to learn Spanish in the world!
Even better, I’ve hand-picked these destinations for you based on my own travels, so they’re tried and tested—why make yourself a guinea pig in an unknown destination when these places have already been checked out for you?
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Benefits of Studying Spanish Abroad
- Immersion, immersion, immersion. There’s not a single tutor, blog, textbook or study course that will disagree: The single best way to learn a language is to immerse yourself in it. Sure, Spanish immersion software is good, but being in a Spanish-speaking country wins—you can easily spend way more time speaking, reading and thinking in Spanish than any course can offer. Of course, you can always use FluentU to get a real immersion vibe from home.Give it a free try and get ready for the real deal.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
You can try FluentU for free for 2 weeks. Click here to check out the website or download the iOS app or Android app.
- Getting a grip on cultural nuances. There’s more to language than grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation. Learn how locals use phrases, intonation and slang to really get a feel for Spanish-speaking culture.
- A country’s worth of Spanish speakers to practice with. Not sure how to say a word? Ask your accommodation owner…or the person next to you on the bus…or in a café. You have a country of potential teachers at your disposal.
- Friends you can continue to learn with. Meeting people is the most fun part of travel, and if you can exchange details with even a few potential pen pals, you’ll have someone to practice Spanish with even once you’re home.
- Taking the study out of studying. Spending an hour working out your grocery list in the supermarket or buying a train ticket most certainly won’t feel like a Spanish class, but you’ll be learning all the same.
- Focusing on the most practical topics first. Starting with “survival Spanish” (greetings, numbers, food and drink and directions), and moving on to more complex topics, you can really focus your Spanish learning in a practical way when you’re living and breathing the language abroad.
- And going abroad is just awesome, obviously.
What to Consider When Picking a Language School
Pointing your passport towards a Spanish-speaking country is definitely a step forward in your quest to learn the language, but signing up for formal language classes will get you to your goal much quicker.
From learning correct grammar structures to having someone on tap to answer all your questions (the lady on the bus might get frustrated after your 45th query), language classes provide a valuable foundation when you’re learning a language in another country.
Here are some things to think about when looking at language schools:
- Class size. Are you interested in small groups where you get more speaking time, or a college-style setting where it’s more about language structure, note-taking and homework?
- Seriousness of the curriculum. Do you want a flexible study program where the teacher goes at the pace of the students, or are you more motivated by a test-focused process?
- Course materials. Do you want to walk away with a textbook? If so, is one available, and are the materials adequate? Or would you rather make your own notes as you go along?
- Extracurricular activities. Some schools put as much emphasis on outings and experiences outside the classroom (city tours, salsa classes, meals out) as they do lessons.
- Where exactly the school is located. Do you want to be in the center of a city for facilities and nightlife, or are you after some escapism in a rustic town where you can truly immerse?
- What the reviews say. Everything gets reviewed these days. What do the reviews say for the schools you’re considering? If possible, book a school that comes with a personal recommendation.
- If you’re getting what you pay for. Shiny brands can look impressive, but how does the school stack up in terms of cost per hour of tuition and the price of any extra activities?
Top Spots: The 21 Best Places to Learn Spanish in the World!
From Europe to Central and South America, from Andean cities to beach bases, here are seven of the best countries to study Spanish, all hand-picked by me based on my own travels and experience.
And if that isn’t enough, I’ve recommended my three favorite language learning locations within each country to help you get a bit more specific with your research.
No matter what kind of traveler you are or what type of environment you want to study in, Mexico is bound to have it because this expansive country has diversity in spades. Caribbean beaches? No problem. Cool cities? Sure thing. And if you’re there to eat as well as study (you’re entitled to a break…every few hours), Mexico has certainly got you covered. Let’s look at some places in Mexico that are especially great for learners.
1. Guadalajara. There’s a real student vibe going on in Guadalajara, thanks to the mix of local and study abroad students. Combining a size that’s more manageable than Mexico City but offering the same trendy shops, bars and cafés, it’s a popular place to call home for a while. Add mariachi and the chance to pop over to the town of Tequila, and you might not want to go home at all.
2. Oaxaca. If besides being a learner, you’re also a foodie, then your search for the best place to study Spanish can start and finish here: Oaxaca. Mole, tlayuda (kind of looks like a pizza but is a whole different concept) and chocolate are just some of the highlights, and with museums, markets and indigenous Mexican traditions, Oaxaca is an all-round winner.
3. Tulum. Most famous for the spectacular Mayan ruins that perch seemingly precariously over the Caribbean Sea, Tulum is one of the best beach spots in Mexico. Step out of your cabana for a bit of pre-breakfast yoga; take a quick dip in the sea between classes and spend lazy days on the beach over the weekend. If you think this sounds like studying in paradise, you’d be right.
Resources for finding a language school in Mexico:
A touch south of Mexico, Guatemala is a fascinating introduction to the wonders of Central America. Sufficiently on the travel radar to offer good facilities but under-developed enough to promise adventure, Guatemala will bring you close to indigenous cultures, active volcanoes (if you’re looking for them) and a whole wealth of history. Oh, and of course, there’s the world-famous Guatemalan coffee, picked locally and brewed fresh. Coffee alone is a good enough reason to travel, right?
4. Antigua. Antigua’s appeal spans centuries. In addition to colonial history, nature has shaped this place with volcanic eruptions that have brought a number of Antigua’s buildings to their knees. Yet these century-old ruins (including a monastery) just make Antigua all the more beautiful. With mountains and bright colors all around, the only problem with studying here is that you may struggle to keep your attention inside the classroom.
5. Lake Atitlán. Old and new mingle nicely in Lake Atitlán. Guatemalan traditions hold strong as the fishermen work the lake and the local ladies tend to the duties on the banks. However, if you’re looking for adventure (hang-gliding over the lake, anyone?), you’ll be pleased to find that plenty has moved with the times. There are several settlements/villages around the lake to choose between. If you’re looking for a real sense of cultural immersion while you study, this is the place to do it.
6. Flores. Most people come to Flores and use it as a base for the spectacle that is Tikal (ancient Mayan ruins surrounded by Guatemalan jungle), but the town has much more to offer for a longer stay. When you’re not diving off the jetty to take a break from the heat, wandering the narrow streets is a pleasure (and is likely to take you no longer than it takes to drink a coffee). Stay more than a day and you’ll feel very local very quickly.
Resources for finding a language school in Guatemala:
Ecuador has natural wonders coming out of its ears. Most people are familiar with (and long to visit) the Galapagos, but that’s just part of it. There’s the Andean mountains, Amazonian rainforest and colonial cities with such impressive altitude you can study Spanish with your head in the clouds. Literally.
7. Quito. Land in Quito and you might struggle at first to make sense of the urban sprawl, but stay a day and the city starts to take shape. With an old town that has UNESCO World Heritage status and a huge handful of real life to consume, Quito will keep you occupied when your classes don’t. Stay more than a day and you might come to think of Quito as the center of the earth, which, actually, it is—it’s home to the equatorial line.
8. Baños. If adventure is your middle name, or you’re looking to contrast your study time with the occasional adrenaline rush, then head to Baños. From white water rafting to mountain biking to horseback riding to waterfalls, there are plenty of activities on offer here. And when your muscles are feeling the full force of extreme sports, treat them to a dip in the thermal springs.
9. Cuenca. Those who want city life but are put off by the vastness of Quito usually find Cuenca does the trick. The mass of red roofs have surely had a hand in gaining UNESCO World Heritage status for the city’s center, but it’s the wealth of museums and impressive local handicrafts that add additional interest for visitors and learners who choose to drop anchor here. And if you’re in the market for a Panama hat (which are actually from Ecuador, not Panama), Cuenca is a good place to bag one.
Resources for finding a language school in Ecuador:
So much more than Machu Picchu (as wonderful as those Incan ruins are), Peru is a vast country that deserves exploration from north to south. From the capital city to Peruvian beaches—yes, Peru has some epic beach spots—to all-famous Cusco, study spots in Peru are tough to choose between.
10. Cusco. Most visitors drop into Cusco for a few days to acclimatize to the country’s altitude before tackling one of the hikes to Machu Picchu. And most visitors regret that decision the second they arrive: Cusco is so charming, they wish they’d signed up for a longer stay. Thriving with life and colonial history, Cusco is a standout choice as a base for studying Spanish.
11. Lima. As South American capitals go, Lima has certainly got it going on. From grand museums, to a thriving culinary scene, to cliffs that drop dramatically into the Pacific, Lima is a city with many faces. Discover its pre-Colombian past, modern Miraflores and, of course, there’s the nightlife that will let you get your salsa on from dusk ’til dawn.
12. Máncora. Most people don’t think about Peru’s northern reaches, but those who do are delighted to find a coastline filled with beaches. If you’re looking for a combination of Spanish school and Peruvian beach life, Máncora is your best bet. With sands that stretch for miles and an abundance of fish and seafood, beach and ceviche can be on the menu any time you like.
Resources for finding a language school in Peru:
Over half of Columbia is cloaked in jungle, yet this northern South American country still manages to punch above its weight when it comes to world-class attractions. Between the Caribbean coast, the salsa craze and the buzz of city life, it’s understandable why Colombia is such a popular spot for Spanish students.
13. Medellín. Once upon a time, Medellín was a fearful place, thanks to the presence of drug lord Pablo Escobar. But these days, life in Medellín is good—very, very good. The bars, restaurants and cafés are world-class and the salsa scene is buzzing. If you’re after a good dose of culture, this is the perfect place to learn Spanish as it’s spoken in Colombia.
14. Cartagena. We’d bet money that Cartagena is going to be one of the best-looking places you’ve ever been. The old town brims with narrow streets and vibrant buildings while the street food (try arepas stuffed with cheese) will have you craving for your study break. Add in the Caribbean sea and the chance to pop out to white sand beaches on a casual day trip and it will be hard to say no to a stay in Cartagena.
15. Bogotá. Sitting more than 8,000 feet above sea level, Bogotá is one of the highest spots in South America. And it’s all the more compelling for it. Culture fills the city from the Gold Museum, with over 50,000 pieces of pre-Hispanic gold, to graffiti tours that show more modern displays of Colombian art. To add more altitude (as if you need it), hike up Monserrate, a mountain in the middle of the city, for a panorama of awe.
Resources for finding a language school in Columbia:
Ah, Spain. Home of Spanish, and what better place to go and learn the language than in the country from which it came? But that’s not the only reason to go. Spain is riddled with top cities, beautiful beaches and some of the best food you’ll find in Europe. Plus, if you’ve never been, wouldn’t it be the perfect excuse for a Euro-trip?
16. Seville. Seville is not the kind of city you can just pass through. From its majestic cathedral complete with gold and silver fairy-tale decor, to the Moorish influence that’s so typical in Andalucía, Seville is a fantastic Spanish study base and one of Spain’s most impressive cities.
17. Madrid. You can’t visit Spain and not visit the capital. In fact, many people don’t just want to visit, they want to stay a while, which makes it perfect for a study abroad destination. The regal architecture combined with a 21st-century vibe will hold your interest while the tapas culture, trendy rooftop bars and legendary nightlife will make you want to stay for more.
18. Málaga. What’s most appealing about Málaga is the blend of city and sea. Want a day at the beach? It’s yours. Want to explore the historic center? It’s no more than a stone’s throw away. And with affordable fixed price lunches and a healthy student vibe, Málaga is a smart choice for learning to speak Spanish in Spain.
Resources for finding a language school in Spain:
Sitting with its feet planted in Central America but with a slow meander towards the south, Panama is a long, thin stretch of Latin America quite unlike any of its neighbors. The Panama Canal has allowed Panama to race along in the 21st century while a more rural setting maintains the country’s historic peace and charm.
19. Bocas del Toro. Off the coast of Panama, the archipelago of Bocas del Toro calls loudly to those with an adventurous spirit and a free soul. Rustic beaches where coconuts fall and roll to a stop will let you press pause on life (unless you’re surfing the waves) while the night promises a complete contrast—a party vibe that draws locals and visitors alike. Study Spanish in Bocas del Toro, and you’ll get the best of everything.
20. Boquete. Guatemala isn’t the beginning and end of coffee in Central America: Panama more than holds its own in the coffee stakes, and Boquete is the place you’ll find it. Nature at its finest, Boquete and its cool mountain feel provide the perfect climate for getting your brain around all those verbs.
21. Panama City. Between the old town, the modern stretch of skyscrapers in the financial district and the close proximity of the Panama Canal, you’ll quickly get the impression that Panama City is one of the most international cities in Latin America. Fine dining, top-class hotels and cool clubs make Panama City a study destination worth striving for.
Resources for finding a language school in Panama:
With Spanish spoken in so many countries around the world, it can be hard to choose where to study it.
But with this list, you’ve got some great options to get started.
Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)