In January and February 2018 I spent two enjoyable weeks studying Spanish at La Calle Spanish school in Merida, Mexico, the charming cultural capital of the Yucatan.
Merida is known as the safest major city in Mexico and has become justifiably popular as an expat mecca. The city offers many cultural activities as well as a plethora of interesting restaurants, cafés, and bars.
Merida is especially famed for its traditional cantinas, and you should definitely try one of these fun venues for live music and free botanas (snacks).
Merida has a small airport, but Cancun often has cheaper and more frequent connections from North America and Europe.
I used American Airlines frequent-flyer miles for a ticket to Cancun and continued on to Merida by bus after spending a few nights in the picturesque town of Valladolid.
Returning, I used United miles to fly from Merida back to the States through Houston.
The best time weather-wise to visit Merida is from late November to February. I was in Merida from late January to late February, and by mid-February the days were getting pretty hot (highs of around 92°F, 34°C). Personally, I would probably not visit Merida any later than the end of February.
Merida is a popular place to study Spanish. From my research, I found two Spanish schools in Merida with consistently excellent reviews on TripAdvisor, Yelp, and 123 Teach Me: Habla and La Calle, formerly Calle 55. I corresponded with both and found them responsive and helpful.
Habla receives rave reviews and seems like an excellent option. It costs more than La Calle but represents excellent value for money. For example, a daily home-cooked breakfast and lunch at the school are included.
A friend with many years of professional language teaching experience gave Habla an extremely positive review. He reported they are very progressive and current with their techniques.
However, I ended up choosing La Calle because another friend was also studying there. It’s also located in walking distance to the central plaza, which was important to me.
La Calle is without a doubt the most visually stunning Spanish school I’ve ever seen. Centrally located at a 15-minute walk from the main plaza, the school occupies a gorgeous remodeled colonial house filled with colorful artistic touches and beautiful traditional tile floors.
The garden features a lovely patio and a swimming pool along with an outdoor shower and changing facilities. The swimming pool is important when it gets hot and sticky!
The outdoor space was very inviting, and many students spent their afternoons studying and hanging out on the beautiful patio by the pool.
The school is owned by a Mexican-French couple, and the administration was friendly and helpful. I appreciated that Augustín, one of the owners, checked with me frequently to make sure everything was going well.
I considered a homestay, but the majority of the school’s families lived further out from the city center, and I preferred something in walking distance. I also wanted more privacy and the ability to prepare my own meals. I found a basic but inexpensive Airbnb apartment with a small kitchen around the corner from the school that worked well.
La Calle had a nice range of ages among the students, from 20s to retirement age. As a fortyish student, I prefer schools that aren’t dominated by a single age group, like all twenty-somethings or all seniors.
All the students I met were from Canada, the US, or Europe. La Calle seems to be the Merida Spanish school of choice for the interesting young digital nomads with online jobs who make the colonial city their temporary winter home.
The school has several independent guides it contracts with to offer short city excursions during the week as well as reasonably priced weekend outings to sites further afield.
I loved the creative itineraries of these trips, which often featured fascinating off-the-beaten-path destinations; we explored the city cemetery, visited an abandoned hacienda, and ate at the homes of local families in a Mayan village.
I took several of these tours with guides Raúl and Ángel, and they were both outstanding. Both were knowledgeable, spoke a slow and clear Spanish (and could translate to English if needed), and corrected any Spanish mistakes made by the students on the tour, which was much appreciated.
Other optional school activities with a small fee included cooking classes and a weekly movie night on the patio.
Aside from the tours frequently offered by the school on weekends, there are many cultural sights in Merida as well as interesting possible day trips.
Recommended excursions include the uniquely lovely Yellow City of Izamal, the flamingos of Celestún, or the incredible cenotes of Homún, a small town about an hour and a half by bus from Merida.
Normally classes are Monday to Friday from 9am-1pm, but as with most Spanish schools the vast majority of students were beginner or intermediate, so there were no advanced group classes available for me.
However, the school was extremely accommodating in arranging afternoon classes for me that ended up being private lessons by default, since there weren’t any other students at my level. I really appreciated that they didn’t try to place me in a group class that wouldn’t have been the right fit.
La Calle was also very flexible about scheduling, and I was able to cancel or move around lessons when there was an afternoon tour that conflicted with my classes, for example.
All the teachers were enthusiastic and friendly. I especially appreciated how the teaching staff made the effort to always correct my mistakes, even in social hours after class. However, the quality of the instruction did vary depending on the instructor; other students I spoke with had similar observations.
The morning group classes have the same teacher all week, but in the afternoon classes my teacher often changed daily. On the positive side, I enjoyed the exposure to different teaching styles and accents (teachers at La Calle are from all over Mexico and even Spain), but it made it harder to have continuity between lessons. Again, this would not be an issue for the morning group classes which is what most students would be taking.
I did also note some mild disorganization at times on the part of the school in regard to class schedules and after-class activities. To be fair, I think much of this is cultural since some disorganization, minor delays, etc. are common in Mexico.
It also would have been beneficial to provide an orientation for new students to explain how things work at the school and perhaps give an overview of the city of Merida, things to do, etc.
My advanced classes were focused on conversation, listening comprehension using videos, and writing exercises for homework. The videos used in my classes were interesting and relevant; however, another student told me she felt the videos used in her class were outdated and lacked useful vocabulary.
If you are looking for a structured syllabus, a textbook, and lots of grammar drills, La Calle is probably not the right school. However, Merida is a vacation destination for many people, and so a relaxed, casual style of instruction is probably a good fit for many students.
One friend who spent more than six weeks at La Calle reported her Spanish improved immensely due to the highly social environment and resulting friendships with teachers and other locals. This natural immersion experience was much more beneficial for her compared to previous formal studies at another Mexican school.
Overall, students I spoke to at the school were happy with their experience. If you want to study Spanish in a relaxed, beautiful place, La Calle is an excellent option.
For additional language practice, check out the Merida English Library‘s weekly English conversation club as well as a weekly Couchsurfing language exchange called the Merida Speakeasy in La Bierhaus pub. Both of these are good opportunities to meet locals as well as fellow extranjeros.
I spent a month in the Yucatan in all, visiting Valladolid and Campeche in addition to Merida. Read more about my Yucatan travels here.
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Ingrid retired early from software engineering at 43 to devote herself to language learning and travel. Her goal is to learn a new language to fluency every two years. Currently, she speaks English, German, and Spanish, and is learning Portuguese.