There are few more interesting places to live and study than the city of Quetzaltenango. Commonly known among Guatemalans by its Quiche name of Xela (Shay-la), the city is situated in a mountain valley at an altitude of 7,500 feet (2,280m), amid spectacular peaks and
volcanoes. Its altitude gives it a perfect climate—daytime high temperatures never exceed 85°F (30°C) or drop below 55°F (13°C). It is the site of nine universities and the home of many of Guatemala's outstanding writers and artists; it prides itself on its reputation as "The Cradle of National Culture."
The city serves as the commercial and cultural center of the vast rural region known as the Altiplano, where Guatemala's indigenous population still carries on subsistence agriculture by methods that predate the Conquest. The majority of the city's population are Maya-Quiche Indians, many of whom still wear their traditional clothing in daily life. Xela has few slums for a city of its size (pop. 125,000).
Despite its many attractions, Xela has not become a center and is not one of the usual stops on the "Gringo Trail". Unlike other cities such as Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala City and San Jose, Costa Rica, there are very few English speakers among Xela's inhabitants—a fact which benefits students of Spanish because it forces them to use the language in every aspect of daily life.
Although Xela is still a relatively safe city, some things have changed since Pop Wuj - Spanish School Guatemala was founded in 1992, mainly due to the increase in the number of cars, resulting in more noise and pollution. Nevertheless, Xela remains more of a sprawling town than a typical city. It is the real Guatemala, without the intensity one feels in the capital city of "Guáte." Its architecture is a hodgepodge of adobe, reinforced concrete, and modern steel construction, and it has some very interesting historic neighborhoods (one of which has transformed into a historic district).
There are narrow, winding, hilly streets that contribute to its charm and sense of timelessness. If you study in Xela, you will get to know the country and the surrounding highlands, learn from well-educated teachers, and experience lower prices than you find in other centers Just keep in mind that it is not a lovely, manicured playground, like Antigua, Guatemala or Cuernavaca, Mexico. Quetzaltenango is a place students go to appreciate its unique qualities, and because it is home to some very special people.
A recent Pop Wuj student shared his Xela experience on the Pop Wuj Projects Blog. Read his first-hand account here.
Please note that due to high elevation, the mosquito (Aedes aegypti) that carries Zika as well as dengue fever, chikungunya, yellow fever, and other diseases is NOT present in the city of Xela (officially called Quetzaltenango) nor the highland communities where Pop Wuj runs community projects.
Zika cases have been reported in other parts of Guatemala, and Pop Wuj encourages all students to take safety precautions if they plan to travel to lower elevations during their free time. The U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) warns that women who are or may soon be pregnant need to take special precautions and recommends that travelers in areas with Zika take steps to prevent mosquito bites such as wearing long sleeves/pants, using bug spray, and using screens or mosquito nets. Travelers should also remember that Zika can be sexually transmitted.
Our Student Coordinator is on hand to discuss travel plans, questions, or any concerns you might have at firstname.lastname@example.org.