Learning Spanish in Bolivia offers the chance to not only learn a language, but to immerse oneself in a millennial culture. Though indigenous languages are still widely spoken, the vast majority of Bolivians also speak Spanish. There are different dialects, changing depending on the region and national and foreign influences.
However, all dialects are fusions of Peninsular Spanish dialects (Andalusian, Castilian, etc.) and native languages such as the Guaraní, the Quechua, the Aymara or the Chane, among others. Each dialect is the expression of a particular culture and cosmogony. Learn Spanish in Bolivia and immerse yourself in a lively ancient world.
Bolivia is the heart of Latin America. Located in the center of the continent, its unique landscapes, immense and impossible to grasp, open the heart and the mind. There is a deep spiritual atmosphere that makes these country unique.
Its people -- mostly indigenous -- have kept their beliefs and traditions alive. Over the centuries, their customs have blended in an inimitable syncretism with the religion and values Spanish conquistadors brought with them. It is then common in Bolivia to consider oneself Catholic while worshiping indigenous Gods such as the Pachamama, Mother Earth.
This contrasts and fusions fit the country’s geography perfectly -- Bolivia is desert, Bolivia is the Andes, Bolivia is the lake Titicaca, Bolivia is geysers, Bolivia is salt lakes, Bolivia is the Amazon... Bolivia is everything.Photo credits: Matthew Straubmuller.
What are your options for studying Spanish in Bolivia? Outside of a study abroad program, here are two other avenues to consider:
These programs generally offer traditional group courses, where you would be placed according to your level. You’d have the chance to work on your grammar, syntax, and speaking skills with a professional native professor while hanging out with other students interested in learning Spanish.
Most of these language programs are run by language schools that can also help you find housing and to get around. Some of these schools also offer what is generally known as a language study and culture immersion combination programs.
In these programs studying Spanish is organized around the culture of the country to make sure that the students submerge themselves in Bolivia’s traditions and culture.
Volunteer and intern program
These programs offer you the chance of learning Spanish while also building your resume or helping those Bolivians in need. Depending on the program you’ll be placed in a traditional classroom or you may be offered one-on-one Spanish lessons tailored to your needs.
There are also many organizations looking for qualified people either to intern or volunteer in Bolivia. If your goal is to build up your resume, some international work experience will definitely be a great addition. Bolivia is a developing country where higher education is still a privilege. Many companies located in Bolivia are eagerly looking for medical, engineering and teaching professionals.
If your goal is to contribute to Bolivia’s future, volunteering might be your best choice. There are tones of non-profit organizations trying to help increase Bolivians standard of living. Whether it is teaching, contributing to health programs or helping protect the environment, there is a lot you can do to help build a better future for Bolivia.
- Did you know...? Bolivia was named in memory of Simón Bolívar, Latin American hero who fought to liberate Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and Panamá from Spanish rule.
- School’s out, let’s have some fun! Bolivia is full of adventures waiting to be taken on. Either if you’d like to hike in the Andes, walk through its dry plateaus, discover the rich biodiversity of the Amazon or relax next to Lake Titicaca, get out there and enjoy!
- Wow others with an idiom! Bolivian Spanish is full of expressions that have been directly translated from indigenous languages. For example, Aymaras use the expression “Dios pagará,” “Good will pay,” when they want to say “thank you”: this expression didn’t existent in their native language.
What visa do I need to study Spanish in Bolivia?
Citizens from the European Union, Canada, Australia, Britain and the U.S. do not require a visa prior to their travel to Bolivia (check your country’s embassy site if you have another nationality).
When you get to Bolivia you will need to get a tourist visa at the airport, where you will be asked for:
- A $135 USD cash fee for the visa
- A 4cm x 4cm color photo
- A passport valid for at least 6 months
- Evidence of a hotel reservation or a letter of invitation in Spanish
- Proof of economic solvency (credit card, cash, or a current bank statement)
- An International Vaccination Certificate for yellow fever
As soon as your passport gets stamped you will have a valid visa for 5 years. During this period of time you will be allowed to enter the country 3 times a year for a cumulative stay of no more than 90 days. In other words, the next 5 years after your visa is issued you’ll be able to spend 90 days a year in Bolivia, being able to divide these days in up to 3 visits if that is what works for you!
What cultural immersion activities are not to miss?
Bolivia has been deeply transformed this last decade. For the first time in its history Bolivia has had an indigenous President, Evo Morales.
Morales, former leader of the coca growers and the protests against the nationalization of Cochabamba’s water, is a huge hero in his land. He has given autonomy and powers to the indigenous peoples and has started a wide array of social programs. He has also included traditional indigenous beliefs in the Bolivian constitution.
Also, if your language school or the organization you’re working with doesn’t include extracurricular activities, make sure to plan some trips to hike in the Andes, swim in the Titicaca, or visit the archeological site of Tiwanaku.
There is so much to do in Bolivia that it is difiicult to choose! However, don’t miss the chance to go to Salar de Uyuni, a huge, blinding lake of salt that turns into a huge mirror when it’s covered with water.
La Paz is a great place to get a glimpse of the contrasts that characterize contemporary Bolivia. Though Sucre remains the country’s judicial capital, La Paz hosts all governmental buildings and its Bolivia’s commercial and industrial center.
Located at an amazing altitude, more than 12,000ft, the city hangs over a huge canyon and has an amazing view of the ever-snowed Mount Illimani, 21,000ft high. La Paz is a great place to understand Bolivia’s stratified society.
Some of its neighborhoods display all the comforts of the West, and are filled with lively restaurants and impressive museums. But El Alto, Aymara capital of the world and part of La Paz’s metropolitan area, is still really poor. Most streets aren’t paved and children run half naked in the streets. A reality worth seeing.
Cochabamba, East of La Paz, is Bolivia’s liveliest city and a perfect spot to take a peek to Bolivia’s recent history. Cheaper than La Paz and Sucre, Cochabamba remains a poor city but its center is starting to boom with new restaurants and bars where young professionals and students hang out.
Though being close to Cerro Tunari, the highest peak in central Bolivia with an altitude of more than 16,519ft, Cochabamba has a clement climate. Its citizens are proud and dignified. They took the streets in the early 2000 to protest the privatization of the water of their city, which was being turned into a business by the central government and its management was being handed to a multinational corporation.
With their protests, now known as Bolivia’s Water War, Cochabamba’s citizens stopped the privatization and provoked the collapse of the government. Among them was Evo Morales, first indigenous President of Bolivia.
Santa Cruz is an island in the middle of Bolivia. With an almost tropical feel, Santa Cruz thrives with business activity. The city’s center is filled with restaurants, cafes and stores located in low-rise buildings in narrow streets.
Though Bolivia’s population is mostly indigenous, Santa Cruz’s citizens are mostly mestizo or white. This characteristic, though, it also makes Santa Cruz a city where racism against indigenous people is still alive, and some of its most radical politicians have even asked for the secession form Bolivia to avoid sharing their region’s riches with the poorer Andean an plateau regions.
The cost of living in Bolivia is extremely cheap compared to most of the Western world. You will receive, for every dollar, around 7 Bolivianos, Bolivia’s currency. A meal in an inexpensive restaurant usually costs around $2 USD and a 1-bedroom apartment in the city center around $330 USD. Not having much savings is not a problem in Bolivia!
LIVFund, The Learn, Intern, and Volunteer in Latin America gives $500 dollars to those students in need who plan to study, intern or volunteer in Latin America.
Contributed by Maria Pomés Lorencés
Spanish Language Programs in Bolivia
What is the best way to learn Spanish?
The best way to learn a language depends on your learning style. However, immersing yourself in a Spanish language program with weekly courses, participating in cultural activities, living in a homestay away from other international students, and practicing independently can all be very effective ways to learn Spanish.
Where can I learn Spanish abroad?
There are over 20 countries where the official language is Spanish. Some of the most popular places to study Spanish abroad include Spain, Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Cuba.