Spanish class on the banks of Lake Atitlan

In the words of Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini, “A different language is a different vision of life.”  As I learned from the a local Mount Vernon-area family, a family immersion vacation is a great way to expose children to a different culture and lifestyle, receive excellent language instruction from native speakers, and discover a new part of the world. And it’s more affordable than you think.

Ken Murphy and Nancy Carolan spent their honeymoon in Ecuador. Before they had children, they both spent years traveling and working in Central and South America and developed a passion for Latin American culture. Last summer, they decided to take their two children, Wyatt, 9, and Nathalie, 11, for a month of total language and cultural immersion in San Pedro La Laguna on Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.

Lake Atitlan is a large volcanic lake in the Guatemalan highlands.  It is known to be one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. Its shores are dotted with Mayan villages. Nestled on the lake’s western shore, San Pedro La Laguna is a small town with a population of about 13,000.

After some research into a school that would best fit their needs, they settled on La Cooperativa, which came highly recommended by American language instructors whose own children had studied there. Nathalie and Wyatt had individual classes for three hours every afternoon. Classes were held in small huts and their instructors also took them out on excursions to shops around town to practice the language.

For a complete immersion experience, the family decided to stay with a host family close to the language school. They specifically requested a family with children (ages 11, 14, and 18). Their cousins lived next door and had a son Wyatt’s age, so there was no shortage of playmates.

Nathalie and Wyatt had the opportunity to spend a month at one of the world’s most beautiful lakes, to be totally immersed in the Spanish language and Guatemalan culture, and to attend daily private classes from native speakers. They can’t wait to go back.  The only downside? Ken and Nancy’s “secret” language (Spanish) is no longer a secret from the kids!

Practical information

Travelling to a developing country certainly has its challenges and it’s not for everybody. However, there are preparations you can make to make your trip a lot safer and easier, especially with children. Check out this post from our friends at Ciao Bambino for tips on taking the kids to South America.

Airfare from Washington,D.C. to Guatemala City is generally around $300-$400 per person. Language classes for three hours a day and lodging plus three meals a day with a host family costs less than $300 a person for two weeks.

For advice and information about traveling to Guatemala, Ken and Nancy relied on and, both of which also have extensive sections about traveling with children, as well as language study.  For information about the Cooperative School, visit