Over the years, I’ve attended five Spanish schools in four countries, but my experience at Livit Immersion Center in Puebla in fall of 2017 has been the best so far.
As a fifteen-year-old, I spent a summer on a language exchange in Veracruz and fell in love with Mexico. These days, between drug-related violence and devastating earthquakes, the country receives more than its share of bad press. However, I believe travelers who do their homework can still safely enjoy this incredible destination.
My love affair with Mexico continues, especially with its gorgeous colonial cities, and I visit a couple of times a year. I’m fascinated by places like Mexico City, Guanajuato, Puebla, Zacatecas, Morelia, and Mérida, none of which feature on the US State Department’s no-go list. Of course, always do your own research on current conditions when planning your trip.
Mexican Spanish is my favorite Latin American variant of the language. It was the accent I learned at school growing up in Texas, and for me, remains the clearest and easiest to understand. Many other Spanish learners I know feel the same way. Additionally, the abundance of Mexican movies and TV shows makes it easy to practice listening comprehension at home.
Mexican Spanish is rich in creative slang and witty double entendres. It also incorporates many words from indigenous languages like Nahuatl, adding to its color and diversity.
I had visited Puebla twice before and been captivated by its opulent architecture and fascinating history. My plan was to return for a longer stay.
Unfortunately, the devastating September 2017 earthquake struck a few weeks before my departure. Many friends asked if I would cancel my trip, but since major earthquakes are a relatively rare occurrence I felt one was unlikely to reoccur during my stay. The affected regions also desperately need tourism revenue to rebuild, so the best way to help is to visit.
The destruction of the quake was evident in Puebla but even more so in smaller towns closer to the epicenter. Many historic structures in Puebla and surrounding communities were damaged and temporarily closed. It broke my heart to see those gorgeous buildings cordoned off with yellow tape.
However, the Mexican people’s resilient spirit is inspiring. The rebuilding process has already begun to reopen these emblematic treasures to the public. And Puebla boasts such a wealth of attractions that I never felt a lack of things to see and do.
I timed my visit to avoid rainy season, which falls in summer and early autumn. But my main reason for coming in October and November was to experience Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) for the first time. I wasn’t disappointed. This incredible celebration features some of the most beautiful, moving traditions and displays of folk art I have ever seen (see more below).
Choosing a School
From my research, I found two Spanish schools in Puebla with consistently excellent reviews on TripAdvisor, Yelp, and 123 Teach Me: Spanish Institute of Puebla and Livit. Both schools feature a similar daily program of four hours of instruction in the morning coupled with two hours of afternoon conversation practice with a local guide.
Spanish Institute of Puebla seems like a great school. They were extremely responsive in communicating and even graciously gave me a tour of the premises the last time I was in Puebla. Another friend attended Spanish Institute of Puebla and had a very good experience. However, they operate on a three-week schedule for group classes, and that didn’t work well with the dates of my visit.
At Livit, classes start on a weekly basis. Ultimately, though, I chose it due to its smaller size and warm, family-run atmosphere. Having attended larger, more impersonal language schools, I’ve realized I prefer the friendly, welcoming environment and highly personalized attention of a small school. As a woman traveling alone, having that kind of support feels especially important.
I almost don’t want to give Livit the rave review it deserves, because I don’t want it to grow too much. I loved the fact that it was so small and intimate. My first week, the school had six students, and the second week nine. It was fun to eat lunch family-style with the students and owners of the school every day. Fortunately, the owners assured me that they have a plan in place to limit growth if needed in order to preserve the cozy atmosphere that only a small family-run school can offer.
The other students at Livit were friendly and interesting. The school receives people from all over the world, but the majority are from the United States.
The school is located in a beautiful historic home that Maru and Scott remodeled and live in themselves with their friendly rescue dog Beluga. (The school does accommodate any students uncomfortable with dogs.) The property includes two small but nicely outfitted apartments students can rent if they prefer not to do a homestay. The school is about a 15-minute walk from Puebla’s main plaza.
I was lucky enough to have Maru, one of the owners of the school, as my teacher for the two weeks I was there. She is an outstanding instructor and helped me brush up my Spanish where it was most needed. From what I observed the other teachers were also highly qualified. This contrasted with another Mexican school I attended that charged less but often employed relatively inexperienced teachers. Having a qualified teacher makes a big difference.
I also enjoyed Livit’s creative, hands-on approach to language learning. The four hours of daily instruction were mixed up with a wide variety of activities and games to keep things interesting. There were cute little labels on many things at the school with the object’s Spanish name like “jabón para manos” or “el espejo.” When it came time to order coffee or pizza for the school, students even got to practice their real-life Spanish by volunteering to make those phone calls.
As an advanced (C1 level) student, it’s often been difficult for schools I’ve attended to find other students at the same level for a group class. My first week at Livit I shared class with one other student, but the second week I received private instruction for the price of a group class. I really appreciated that Livit did not cut the daily instruction hours from four to three as other schools often do when there is only one student in a group class.
Monday, Wednesday, and Friday we enjoyed a delicious homemade lunch of traditional Mexican food prepared by Maru’s mom. We ate family-style in the kitchen or in the lovely garden, weather permitting. Tuesdays there was an outing to a local restaurant to sample typical Poblano cuisine, like tacos arabes or cemitas. Thursdays a filling packed lunch was eaten in the van en route to our afternoon excursion.
Monday through Wednesday we spent two hours each afternoon with our guía (guide), a local university student. Many activities were possible with the guía: visiting historic sites or museums, touring a ceramic workshop, or just sitting and chatting in a café or bar. The main goal was practicing conversation in a fun, relaxed way.
My homestay was fantastic; the best I have experienced. My hostess Lupita was a wonderful and caring person, a patient conversationalist, and an excellent cook. We enjoyed many long chats that improved my Spanish.
After a while, though, I did miss being able to prepare my own breakfast and dinner, and so on my next visit I would consider staying in one of Livit’s on-site self-catering apartments. You also can’t beat the short commute to class in the mornings.
Excursions with Livit
The Thursday excursions led by Scott to nearby destinations were a lot of fun. Traveling by car gave us the opportunity to visit quirky off-the-beaten-path places, my favorite kind of outing. Scott is a laid-back, spontaneous guy and an amazing fount of information about contemporary Mexican culture and language. I enjoyed hearing his long-time expat’s perspective.
Puebla offers a wealth of sights, and there are also many interesting day or weekend trips you can take. Livit’s owners were very helpful in providing advice for weekend outings. I spent a lovely day in the nearby city of Tlaxcala. When I return I plan to go further afield for a weekend in the northern Pueblo Mágico of Cuetzalan.
Día de Muertos
I absolutely loved experiencing Día de Muertos in Mexico. I was fascinated and moved by the beautiful traditions and elaborate ofrendas (altars) constructed to honor the dead.
The city of Puebla itself isn’t especially famous for Day of the Dead, but there was still no shortage of impressive displays. The city provided a free map of the 30 most prominent altars. I devoted all my free time for three days visiting almost every ofrenda on the map! Many were in historic buildings I would never have visited otherwise. A nice way to get to know the city on foot while admiring elaborate works of folk art.
Livit also took us on an excursion to Huaquechula, a small nearby pueblo famed for its altars. A fascinating cultural experience that would be very difficult to do alone due to lack of public transport.
After two weeks at Livit, I hopped on a bus to Xalapa for eight days exploring the neighboring state of Veracruz before heading home to the States.
In early 2018, I’ll be escaping the cold by attending La Calle Spanish school in Mérida, Mexico for two weeks.
I met with Maru and Scott, Livit’s owners, while in Cholula for the Polyglot Conference in October 2022. Like most language schools, Livit’s classes moved online in 2020 and 2021. However, they are now back to offering in-person classes. Attendance has surged in fall 2022 as students make up for lost time due to travel restrictions.
Maru and Scott have many ideas for expanding Livit’s offerings, such as multiday student trips to off-the-beaten-path locations in Mexico like remote beaches untouched by tourism. Given their knack for outings exploring authentic local culture in the Puebla countryside, I would expect these trips to be unique and educational.
Have questions about studying Spanish in Mexico or a Spanish school recommendation? Please share your feedback in the comments.
I think this is one of my favorite of your posts so far. The language school looks and sounds fantastic; your photos seem especially beautiful. Your point about Mexican Spanish being most appealing to you possibly because of your exposure growing up makes sense. I most love the sound of Puerto Rican Spanish, which fits with what you wrote, since I grew up in the mid-Atlantic region (NY and NJ have the first and third highest Puerto Rican populations in the US). Puebla looks gorgeous and I want some gringa tacos and chile en nogada ice cream NOW :-). In any case, this really makes me interested in language, cooking, etc. classes and tours while on vacation. Seem a great way to experience the area at a deeper level.
Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Rainier. I really did put a lot more effort into this post; it’s amazing how much time blogging requires if you want to do it well, but it’s a labor of love. ? How interesting that you prefer Puerto Rican Spanish; makes total sense given your exposure. I find Caribbean Spanish beautiful to listen to, especially the Cuban accent, but I find it super frustrating and difficult to understand because they talk so fast and drop syllables! As usual, it’s just a matter of getting used to a certain way of speaking, though. And agree with you that language study and other classes and tour are a great way to experience places at a deeper level, especially for a solo traveler. I forgot to tell you I have a friend who has visited HK many times and taken Cantonese classes there… if you go back for a longer stay might be a cool option?
Interesting & helpful !
¡Gracias por el comentario, Eduardo!
Hi, love your posts! I am researching Spanish schools in Mexico and they are definitely helpful . My husband and I and our two daughters 10 & 12 are thinking of a trip next winter to Mexico. We all speak a bit of Spanish, but would really like to attend a school for a couple of weeks to advance it . Out of all the schools you have done, would you recommend one more thuan the other for a family to study at? We usually travel to the coast to surf, and have spent time in Mexico City but am open to seeing new areas.
Hi Nicki, so glad you’ve found my posts helpful. I’m not an expert on this, not being a parent myself, but of the schools I’ve attended or visited Escuela Falcon in Guanajuato was the most kid-friendly, with lots of younger students and a special children’s program: http://escuelafalcon.com/courses/childrens-program. (Livit only teaches adults, although in the summers a nearby school offers summer classes that kids can attend while their parents are at Livit.)
Another school that gets rave reviews is Habla in Merida, which offers a special immersion program for children in the summer as well as instruction for kids throughout the year: http://habla.org/spanish-immersion. Winter would also be the best time to be in Merida.
Hope that helps a little. Good luck with your search, and let me know how you get on!
HI……..thank you for a wonderful post and pictures ! I am researching language schools in Mexico
for a retired woman so your experience sounds wonderful ! I am looking for an experience where the other students try to speak Spanish with each other OUTSIDE the classroom, making it a true immersion . On the excursions, did Scott only speak Spanish ? I once attended a school in Oaxaca which was a good experience EXCEPT for all the English being spoken !
Also do you know if the owners allow guests on the excursions ? My husband may join me after a few weeks and he would be on his own while I was in school but would enjoy the short trips if allowed. Thanks, Celeste
Hi Celeste, glad you found it helpful! Yes, Scott is very good about sticking to Spanish on the excursions. To be honest, though, the immersion experience outside of class and the excursions will depend on the other students… in my experience, if there happen to be a lot of beginners you will hear English spoken outside of class, unfortunately. To be fair, I have not personally experienced any school in Mexico where that was not the case.
While I was there we didn’t have any guests on the excursions, but I would suggest sending Scott and Maru an email though and asking them… they are super helpful about answering questions. Suerte and let me know how it goes! 🙂
Thank you for sharing your experience with Livit. I am doing research for a Spanish immersion program in Mexico. In your post you mentioned that both Spanish Institute of Puebla and Livit are well regarded with similar teaching format.If the class duration wasn’t an issue for you, which one would you have selected?
Hi Don, that’s a good question… it would’ve been a tough decision. I probably would have gone with SIP, although now I’m glad I ended up at Livit, since it turned out to be a good fit for me personally.
Very belated thank you for your reply. I decided to take a 4-week course with Livit in April 2019. I will let you know my experience after it’s done.
Sounds great… I look forward to hearing about your experience! Enjoy Semana Santa!
This is such helpful information, thank you! I live in Chile and can NOT seem to master the Spanish. I think this program may be perfect for me. I really don’t want to hang out with a bunch of 20-something partiers. This sounds like the right approach for a 50-something desperate Spanish learner. 🙂
Glad it’s helpful! Chilean Spanish is super hard for me too… I find Mexican Spanish much easier.
You’ll be glad to hear that most of the programs I’ve attended in Mexico in the off-season (outside of summer and winter holidays) seemed to have a majority of learners who were 50+. Do let me know how your experience goes!
Lawrence A. Burry, Jr.
I apologize that my comments are quite delayed but still, I enjoyed your story and have learned a lot. My wife and I are looking to retire later this year and it’s my hope to attend a language school in Mexico next year. Concerning the age of students, it seems like every school that I read about online shows their students as being young and involved in athletic activities. I too, had to wonder if I’ll be the only older person and not fit in. You’d think the schools would make a point to let the older folks know they are welcome. Thank you for all the good information and happy travels to you.
Hi Lawrence, glad you’ve found it helpful. You’re right, schools should make a point of publicizing that they’re friendly to older folks, since they are often the ones with the leisure time and disposable income to study abroad. In practice, I have found schools to be sensitive to the needs of older learners since they so often have students of that age.
I hope you are still responding to theses posts. I have narrowed my choices to the two schools in Puebla and have only one concern. As much as I think a homestay would be a plus with more language and cultural exposure I also wonder if I won’t need some down time to just relax and replenish my energy as it seems the days could be a bit intense. What are your thoughts on this?
Hi Donna, it’s a valid concern and one of the reasons why I’ve leaned away from homestays in recent years. I’m an introvert and need down time! It’s worth mentioning though that during my homestays most interaction has been during mealtimes, and so there was still alone time for studying and relaxing.
However, both Livit and Spanish Institute of Puebla have intensive schedules, more than most language schools, so you will get lots of conversation practice even without a homestay. Livit has the on-site apartments and SIP has an arrangement with a nice aparthotel with laundry service. Depending on the length of your stay, you could also ask the school about dividing your time: one week of homestay to have the experience and then the rest in an apartment. Suerte and let us know how it goes!
Mary Ann Wood
I am currently taking an online class with Maru from Livit as a warm up for my stay this coming January. She mentioned your blog while we were speaking this morning. I retired in June and am greatly looking forward to having more time for travel and language learning! The smaller size of this school appealed to me as well as the on-site suite. Solo time is a must! Plus, I wanted to avoid ending up someplace where I was old enough to be grandmother to all the other students. I recently did a small group tour through some South African countries and the tour leader kept referring to me as the *matriarch* even through half of the group was just a few years to a decade younger than me. Your reviews on the different schools are quite helpful. Mary Ann
Hi Mary Ann, how annoying that the tour leader felt the need to call that out. For what it’s worth, I’ve never had that experience at a language school, even in Spain and France where students tends to be in their 20s. I think they are just friendly, democratic places. But in Mexico outside of summer in any case most students will be traditional retirement age. The on-site suite sounds like a good option and where I would choose to stay too. Enjoy your immersion, and let me know how it goes!