Learning Spanish in Guanajuato

With long-term travel, we felt it was important to establish our goals. One of our major goals of this trip is to become fluent in Spanish. I’ve taken Spanish in the US on and off sporadically all my life, not getting past the basics, but I was determined to change that on this trip. The Foreign Service Institute (US federal government’s training institute for language instruction) reports that it takes 575 – 600 hours of study to become proficient in Spanish (yikes!). Knowing this, we made the decision early on to not wait to enroll in classes.

So why Guanajuato for 3 weeks of language school?

  1. A Great City. Guanajuato has been on the top of my list in terms of cities to visit in Mexico.
  2. A Great Language Program. We found a great school, Escuela Falcon, that worked so well after one week, we decided to enroll for 2 more. We found on this trip, and I think these are words to live by, “If it’s is working well, don’t change it.”
  3. Volunteering Opportunities. A volunteer organization for travelers, Do Good As You Go, has an office in Guanajuato, along with volunteering opportunities, and we planned to make a visit.

So with the decision to stay in Guanajuato, we cozied up in the only trailer park in town (a parking lot with a bathroom that is infamous for the serenade of dogs barking at night).

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Our campsite for 3 weeks in Guanajuato. And look who we ran into! #Flightlesskiwis


A Great City- Guanajuato
Guanajuato is such a cool old mining town that has turned into a thriving Mexican city / college town. The Guanajuato university is so beautiful, and pretty famous for its law program. When we weren’t in school, we had a great time exploring (and getting lost in) the winding streets and callejones (small alley ways). And I have to admit that their street performers far surpass the San Francisco street performers. They are more creative and artistic with their costumes and performances.

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Amazing views of the city as you hike up

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Plaza La Paz. There was a great sandwhich place here called 100 Montaditos

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The small streets (callejones) made Guanajuato so cool to explore

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The streets of Guanajuato are always crowded

And then began our love affair with the puestos (food carts) of Guanajuato. We ate many varieties of tacos, fresh squeezed jugo (juice), and a variety of dulces and pans (sweets and breads). One of our favorite puestos was San Jose Carniceria which served a whole baby grilled onion beside your tacos that was so sweet and delicious it could be dessert! There were definitely some restaurants we loved as well though, including Los Campos and Taula’s Pollo el Carbon place (the best deal in town for dinner at 100 pesos for a whole grilled chicken, salad, and pasta for 2 AND the mexican wine de la casa was delicious!).

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We ate a lot of street food. Sometimes it was a great decision, sometimes not

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Lamb barbacoa

We even managed to take a day trip to a neighboring large city, Leon, to see the state fair with our friends Ben and Emma (Flightlesskiwis). The highlight of the trip was definitely the leather goods (Leon is known for their leather goods). I think George may have bought the hide of a whole cow by the time we were done…

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We all got boots at the Leon State Fair! Great quality at a great price.

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One of the hilarious rides at the state fair. The Toros buck the riders off while a goofy song plays. Everyone watches and laughs

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Food at the state fair

A Great Language Program
For 4 hours each day we were in class at Escuela Falcon taking a variety of courses that we hand-picked to fit our needs. I can’t say enough about the staff and program. They were so flexible in how you could design your day. For example, we chose to do a mixture of group and private classes. We also selected to do an hour of grammar, two hours of conversation, and an hour of auditory comprehension which worked great for us. They have all different levels of classes going on throughout the day, and even give you an assessment to help you find your fit.

A Day in the Life at Escuela Falcon (beginning with our walk to school):

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Our walk to school began just after 8am, down, down down the hill...

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This guy hassled us every morning. #Dogsonroofs

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Morning ritual - Jugo Verde for less than $1.

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Then, Breakfast time...

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Watch our for those cars! The streets are quite narrow in Guanajuato.

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Inspiring moment walking past the Law Building at the University of Guanajuato

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Finally,we pass through Plaza Baratillo, near our spanish school. Every thing you could want was in this square - food, coffee, fresh bread

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Each morning we were greeted by the friendly office staff at Falcon. It is a really great language school - http://escuelafalcon.com/

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Class starts at 9am sharp! Many of the teachers were university students earning their teaching degrees

We had about an hour of homework each night, and were mentally drained by the end of each day (exactly how we knew we should feel if we were making progress). Luckily we found the perfect place to spend our afternoons.

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Escarola cafe was probably our favorite cafe. We'd come here every day after class to study and get online. Great teas, healthy eats, and a peaceful garden.

So did we feel like our Spanish skills progressed in our 3 weeks (60 hours of study) at Escuela Falcon? Absolutely. Its so comforting to be able to understand conversations now. I feel like our ears really opened up to Spanish. Our speaking is progressing more slowly, but its coming along.

Are we done taking Spanish classes? Absolutely not! These three weeks confirmed just how much work we are going to have to put in to become fluent. I always knew it would be tough to progress, but it goes without saying that the more you learn, the more you realize you still have to learn. But we are excited, and more importantly, motivated to get to the point of fluency. Our next Spanish classes will hopefully be for another two weeks in Puerto Escondido.

Volunteering Opportunities
We also managed to fit in time to do some volunteering with Do Good As You Go (also known as Muskoka Foundation). We met up with Katie Clancy and had the pleasure of accompanying her to a community program on Fridays in La Venada II that helps expose kids to various activities and people with occupations that they may not encounter in their everyday life.

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Beautiful vistas, but La Venada II still awaits funding from the government to build permanent housing and infrastructure. Everything they have, houses, water source, etc, the community has procured themselves in what used to be an empty plot of land.

We learned about the neighborhood, and got to interact with the kids who live there. On one particular day, there was a dance class, followed by kung fu, and a little pottery! It was so interesting to see the kids gravitate towards the activities they had interest in.

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Jenine handing out the kids ceramic art (http://www.themuskokafoundation.org/)


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The kids made bird whistles

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Also there was kung fu lessons

We really enjoyed our experience and hope to do more volunteering along the road!

All in, we had such a great experience in Guanajuato. We did a lot in three weeks, so please do check out all of the photos below (and George’s funny comments).

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Driving into Guanajuato

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Our campsite in the hills of Guanajuato. #sportsmobile

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First day in town, first Michelada

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Didn't have great things to say about the Nieve

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Plaza Jardin is a fun meeting spot

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The streets of Guanajuato are always crowed

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First day of school, Jenine was really excited

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The Law Building at the University of Guanajuato

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We ate a lot of street food. Sometimes it was a great decision, sometimes not

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In Guanajuato there was always something interesting going on in the streets

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Off to class every morning at 8am

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Morning ritual - Jugo Verde for less than $1.

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Breakfast time....

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Making fresh tortillas in the morning

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hearty street breakfast

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Lamb barbacoa

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Our local coffee shop

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The streets are quite narrow in Guanajuato

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Law Building University of Guanajuato

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Walking to class

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Plaza Baratillo, near our spanish school. Every thing you could want was in this square - food, coffee, fresh bread

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Spanish class at Falcon

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We did some volunteering with some communities that live on the top of the city. This is the view from up there.

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Jenine handing out the kids ceramic art (http://www.themuskokafoundation.org/)

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Plaza La Paz. There was a great sandwhich place here called 100 Montaditos

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We went to the symphony one night. It was really great

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With the Kiwis at the Leon State fair. It was our weekend trip. I got that leather hat there

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We all got boots at the Leon State Fair. Great quality at a great price

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new boots in!

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Food at the state fair

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One of the hilarious rides at the state fair. The Toros buck the riders off while a goofy song plays. Everyone watches and laughs

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Dinner on the patio at an awesome Italian restaurant (La Trattoria de Elena)

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One of the many cool outdoor bars in Guanajuato

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The small streets (callejones) made Guanajuato so cool to explore

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Amazing views of the city as you hike up

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Jenine smiling above the city

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Nothing like getting a Michelada with a view

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Another great plaza in Guanajuato. There were so many. The city is really charming

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Us and the Kiwis at camp

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This guy hassled us every morning. #Dogsonroofs

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My favorite! Pollo al carbon

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The markets were really cool to explore. Here is one selling great dried peppers and more

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I got a little sick in Guanajuato, and Jenine made me a delicious chicken soup. #movienight

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Jenine volunteered with the Muskoka Foundation while I was sick. Here is ceramics class. (http://www.themuskokafoundation.org/

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The kids made bird whistles

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Also there was kung fu lessons

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On valentines day, we got a big red beer michelada - litro

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This kitty came and visited us every morning (because we'd feed her milk)

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cool churches and buildings all over guanajuato

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One of our favorite cafes - Santo Cafe

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This is one of the more famous streets in Guanajuato. There is a legend very similar to Romeo and Juliet that describes two lovers who lived in these houses.

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Our kitty loved to come cuddle with Jenine each morning

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Another great roof top view. This city was really special

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This was probably our favorite cafe. We'd come here every day after class to study and get online. Great teas and peaceful garden. (Escarola cafe)

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We even did a beer tasting at the local brewery Gambusino

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Me "working" at our cafe Escarola

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Graduation day - we completed 60 hours of course work each in Espanol!

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The office at Falcon, it is a really great language school - http://escuelafalcon.com/

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On the day we were leaving Guanajuato, we found this amazing castle. So much to explore here

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6 comments on “Learning Spanish in Guanajuato
  1. Haley Heneveld says:

    How cute is the kitty!!?!! Jenine you should have kept her!!

  2. Jane says:

    Beautiful and interesting place. Looks as if the dog on the roof was in charge of the campsite! xo

  3. Chris Young says:

    Hi Guys, Your travel stories, photos, and insights are wonderful! Thanks for sharing your adventure!! Many years back, I did a semester at the Universidad de Guanjuato- what a beautiful city and memorable experience! Did you find the large hillside statue “Pippila”? (worth the hike, views and an interesting part of the local history) Do you have plans to stop and explore San Miguel de Allende and some of the smaller silver towns in that region? (I understand that San Miguel is now very blown-out and a largely a more expensive expat community- yet I remember it as a beautiful city with incredible art, food, music and nightlife… If you get a chance to visit Oxacca and San Christobal de la Casas you might also enjoy the experience and the wide variety of culture, climate (cooler mountain region) and people before heading to the more homogenized beach life/coast. A trip up to the Yucatan and perhaps into Belize is also recommended yet be sure to avoid getting anywhere near Cancun… (after all my traveling in the more “authentic” areas of Mexico, Cancun was a real bummer and horrific culture shock…). If you haven’t heard this yet or often enough, i’m really impressed with your dedication to this adventure and exploration!! As you well know, the kind of travel you are engaged in can be challenging to the body, mind, and soul yet the rewards are truly priceless and will last a lifetime!!! Keep up all the good works and in-joy!

    • Jenine says:

      Thanks for the thoughtful comments Chris! Glad you are enjoying the blog 🙂 We did find the Pipila and it was definitely worth it. After Guanajuato we stopped in San Miguel de Allende for a few days, and you are correct – its really expensive and home to a lot of expats,but what surprised us about San Miguel was that it was also a popular destination for many wealthy mexican tourists, many from DF (like taking a trip to Napa on the weekends from SF). We plan to visit Chiapas (San Cristobal), Oaxaca, and the Yucatan (outside Cancun). Will be skipping Belize (we’ve been before) and hopefully hitting Guatemala early April!

  4. Emma says:

    Yes! Glad you found the brewery! Have the Spanish classes made life on the road much better since?

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  1. […] been awhile since we last posted about taking Spanish classes in Guanajuato. Since then we’ve actually made it all the way to the Yucatan (with no service in Isla Blanca […]