This is a very special place. The entire community of teachers, guides, drivers, etc. are among the warmest and most welcoming I have ever met. Everyone has a smile and everyone is willing to help you learn and practice your Spanish (they are very patient!) and do whatever they can to help coordinate local excursions. Located close to volcanos, lakes, lagoons, the pacific coast, colonial cities and more. It was easy to combine learning along with some local tourism. I would love to go back!
April 2017, I concluded my 4 weeks and 3 days of lessons at La Mariposa Escuela De Español, Masaya, Nicaragua. It was my 2nd time visiting the school, and the only Spanish instruction I have received in my life. I learned a lot, but I know I need a lot more practice and dedication. I am very pleased with my level of comprehension and speaking, and I look forward to learning more as I study my almost full notebook on Spanish grammar. If you are interested in learning Spanish, experiencing another culture, genuinely supporting a local community, and meeting like minded people from around the world as well as some really cool (Tuani!) professors, I highly recommend staying and studying at La Mariposa Escuela.
By simply staying at La Mariposa, for any period of time, you are directly supporting crucial local employment opportunities, school programs for children and the disabled, health programs for locals, food assistance programs for underprivileged families, environmental restoration and animal rescue programs, and many more one off and long term projects that make a real and sustainable impact on the local community. See the facebook page of Paulette Eve Goudge, for some examples of some of the amazing work that she supports at the school. The school is very affordable and offers a wide range of lodging options (homestay, hotel, eco cabana, reserve cabana) depending on your comfort needs. They also have volunteer opportunities (on the farm/reserve, at a health clinic, working at a children's school, or helping with disabled children) which allow you to offset the cost of staying, if you are on a budget (or want to practice Spanish more with locals and work with nice people!). The school has excursions, tours and activities planned for every day and they are very flexible with re-scheduling if you see something you’d like to do and ask them in advance.
I stayed with a homestay farmily and worked at the farm to enjoy the Nica experience and to offset my costs. Depending on your homestay, living standards are likely below what you are used to at home (Just a warning). The toilet was flushed with a bucket, I slept under a mosquito net, showered with a bucket, and cars/trucks passing on the highway were quite loud (roosters too!) so bring ear plugs. It takes some getting used to, but almost everyone I met at the school who chose the homestay option enjoyed getting to know their homestay family and experiencing Nica life. I also got to practice my Spanish at home, and experienced Semana Santa (Holy Week), attending mass with my family. Of course, more people opt to stay at the hotel or eco-lodge, which is also a great and affordable option if you want normal hotel accommodations.
I'm a little ashamed to admit, but my friends and family would probably point me out as THE meateater back home, but I really enjoyed the (mostly) vegetarion food at La Mariposa. If you are solo, a couple, a family, or small/large group, they can can cater to, and accommodate your needs. I saw groups of 15-20 and smaller, couples, and families with children while studying at the school. The schedule of activities might include visiting volcanoes (Mombacho and Masaya), visiting Granada or Leon (and Masaya markets), relaxing at the Laguna de Apoyo, hiking through Mariposa owned conservation land, exploring the local projects the school supports, history classes on Nicaragua, cooking lessons, horseback riding on Mariposa property, and many more fun afternoon and entire day (Weekend) excursions. Paulette is dedicated to sustainable economic and environmental practices as well.
I spent a lot of time at La Mariposa, and it will always hold a special place in my heart. I will always remember the people I met and the friends that I made (professors, workers, homestay, and fellow travelers). I look forward to returning again in the future, and I encourage all travelers to visit for at least a week if you are going to be in Nicaragua.
To be honest I came to La Mariposa because of the outstanding reviews and indeed they were all well deserved. If I could give 6 stars I would.
We came with our 7 and 9 year old-in part for the Spanish but in greater part for them to travel "outside the American bubble". Everyone at the school helped co-ordinate travel logistics (going above and beyond) but also allowed us to tailor our afternoon activities to what would work best for us. A couple of suggestions/additions
1. Bring bug repellent-the strong stuff. You will need it!
2. Expect basic but safe accommodations
3. Dont hesitate to give feedback if you need to adjust or tailor your spanish lessons-the staff appreciated the feedback and we found the "tweaks" helped give us what we wanted
4. This is a great place to take kids because you have so much support. One day my daughter was a little nauseous and the staff made multiple inquiries about how she was doing. It was reassuring to know if she had actually been really sick there would have been help
We just got back from a great week at La Mariposa with 4 kids (we were two families, so my son and his friend and my friend's two kids). The 3 kids lived in the homestay which was only a 5-10 minute walk from the school which was AWESOME - they ate breakfast there (and dinner) and then came to school by 8am for 2 hours of private grammar, 2 hours of conversation.
The teachers are inspiring - our kids learned more in 1 week than in 2 years of school. Love the homestay aspect as it gives them more time to practice (and the parents can stay at the eco hotel and have some private time).
some excursions could be better planned - not sure why the Granada trip left so late as we didn't get a chance to see the city - just ate dinner and came back. Our kids alternated between community service at local schools and excursions. We took advantage of the massages (they were great!). Since I already spoke Spanish, I did one hour of private lessons and read literature which was perfect. They are totally willing to customize anything. The kitchen staff was awesome too - they washed all my clothes after my daily workout which I appreciated.
Things to keep in mind - Nicaragua is NOT a luxury destination. Managua is hectic and not scenic, there is a ton of traffic, pollution, trash everywhere, extreme heat, NO airconditioning - my daily workout was hard to pull off in the intense heat. I went to two local "gyms" but one had ancient equipment and NO ventilation - but literally the cost was $1 for the week so hard to complain. The slightly nicer gym was maybe $2. Prices are CHEAP for Americans here - a Coke is like 70 cents (often served in a baggie).
There are also bugs - my friend had a tarantula in her room and while we were having rum one night a scorpion scuttled across the patio. Not a deal breaker (and the nightwatchmen was kind enough to do a "sweep" of my room at night since I'm such a wimp) but be aware - it's hot, dusty and dry with crazy traffic. Inside the eco hotel is a little haven from the outside world.
In short, top notch language school - kids LOVE IT - monkeys, a nature preserve - it's heavan. For parents, it's a matter of how much eco hotel you can take for how long. Personally a week was perfect for me but for kids, they could easily spend 4 weeks or more. Language instruction was great and ALL THE STAFF were phenomenal and devoted. And they help the local community in every way from rescuing dogs and cats to supporting schools and clean water.
I spend two months at La Mariposa – and really couldn’t have imagined a better place for my stay.
Spanish (classes and host stay)
Starting from a beginners level, each morning I had two hours of grammar and two hours of conversation classes – both individually taught and both with teachers that were highly qualified and especially super interesting and lovely people. The host family I stayed with was five minutes from the school and I came back after traveling to be with them over Christmas since we got so close… It is definitely an experience living under a ribbed roof, with walls that do not go up to the ceiling (so that you hear every sound from the next room) and no Internet or running water – but it was 100% worth it. My host mum and I sat over our rice and beans every night for at least one hour talking about politics, society, religion, family life – and that from beginning on, when I could barely say a few words. My Spanish definitely improved a great deal.
Excursions and activities
The school organizes excursions to all the important sights you can see in the area (and there really is a lot, San Juan is strategically perfectly situated) – which is especially nice, when you don’t know Spanish too well yet or are not used to travelling in the country alone. Also there is a great variety of activities at the school – as the famous weekly history class, or the diverse cultural events.
In the afternoon I participated in two different projects: I worked in the permaculture garden, which I enjoyed for being outside, working with my hands and plants… but most of my afternoons I spend with the kids in one of the after-school projects. It was great fun to be with the kids and a good Spanish training at the same time. It was hard to say goodbye.
What I hadn’t expected and what made Mariposa really the perfect place for me was their flexibility and how much they were concerned with helping me organizing my travel. After five weeks of classes my head was overfull and I wanted to take a break – no problem, I could leave all my stuff at my host families place, did not pay anything, and they helped me set up travel plans for my little break… No matter what issues I had (medical problems, need to send stuff back home etc.), I never hesitated to ask them for advice and they always could help me out. Since I had just finished a Yoga-teacher-course I had the idea to give some classes to the teachers – the Mariposa team was very happy to support me with that – you are encouraged to bring in your own ideas and skills.
The last (but not least) important point for me was, that I really felt that with my stay, I supported a throughout sustainable concept. Paulette (the founder of the school) is really concerned about ecological and social issues – she doesn’t like pesticides, it is hard for her to turn down an injured dog and tries her best to keep her employees busy even in times of economic hardship. You can be sure that every bit of your money goes into a good project. (And the prices are really well, so you won’t even spend that much...).
I can fully recommend a stay at Mariposa and hope I will be back myself one day.