Escape from the heat and tourism touts of Granada, and the rest of Nicaragua, and learn Spanish at La Mariposa Spanish School, an oasis in the hills. Rest easy in a shaded hammock, knowing that every dollar you’ve spent goes back to preserving the breathtaking nature around you and the local people who call it home.
After a quick transfer in Masaya, we were let off our tiny microbus after an hour-long scenic trip from Granada. Passing through small villages, pineapple plantations and rolling hills, we had made it to the small town of San Juan de La Concepción, home of La Mariposa Spanish School.
A short walk down a dirt road, and the unmistakable butterfly sign – mariposa means butterfly in Spanish – let us know we had arrived at our final destination. Inside the gate, we were greeted by Chester Moraga, head of customer relations for the school. We followed him into the large building that houses the school and the eco-hotel to the dining area where they had graciously saved us two plates of the day’s lunch: a delicious organic, vegetarian dish of rice, beans, mixed vegetables and plantain stuffed with cheese that we washed down with a glass of lightly sweetened beet juice.
After scraping the last rice kernel off our plates, we were joined by San Juan local Hazel Gonzales. Hazel is project manager for the various community development projects run by La Mariposa that initially brought the school to my attention.
La Mariposa is set in a natural oasis filled with flowers, winding ancient trees, monkeys, birds and of course a rainbow array of butterflies. The hotel features 8 ensuite rooms all clean and spacious, a family room and, down one of the many small nature trails that snake around the property, a 3-room cabana. Spread throughout the property are hammocks and rocking chairs to lounge in when not in class or out on one of the many excursions. There is a large kitchen where the staff prepares the 3 daily meals included in the school’s packages: all vegetarian and made from organic ingredients, most of which are produced on the school’s organic farm. There is a library filled with books, games and a TV set to watch movies as well as various classrooms where the one-on-one Spanish lessons are held.
Wandering further out on the property you find large fenced-in areas housing toucans, parrots and even Capuchin monkeys all rescued with the help of the school’s owner and founder, UK native Paulette Goudge. Along the paths are benches and resting areas nestled among the trees and even outdoor classrooms that can be used whenever a student wants a change of scenery. Trotting along beside us on our tour of the property was a changing lineup of the 11 rescue dogs that call the spanish school home.
Nicaragua, like all of Central America, is home to hundreds of Spanish schools where you can spend anywhere from a week to several months learning the language and bit about the local culture. What makes La Mariposa stand out from the rest is not only its idyllic location, but its use of the school’s profits to fund 18 different community development and nature conservation projects.
Just a few of their projects:
- La Mariposa has partnered with Los Pepitos, a national organization that works with children with disabilities. The language school added a physical therapy program to the existing education project. It donates all the material and medical apparatus for the rehabilitation of children in San Juan de Concepción and neighboring towns as well as donating clothing, school uniforms, money for transportation and food to the project and to local families. The organization even pays the salaries of the physical therapist who transforms the lives of these disable children, many becoming completely rehabilitated and running when months prior they could hardly stand.
- La Mariposa has also helped dozens of families build community gardens using organic growing techniques as part of Masaya Municipality’s Santiago Garden Project.
- La Mariposa aids in reforestation efforts in an area greatly affected by pineapple and dragon fruit plantations and deforestation due to agriculture and urban sprawl. They run a 5-acre nature reserve and, using her own money, Goudge has just purchased 100 more acres of land to rescue from development and turn into a nature reserve.
- Recently, the school has become involved in giving Coci Nica stoves – stoves that use smaller amounts of wood than traditional stoves and greatly decrease the amount of pollutants released when used – to members of the local community. The school provides 40 stoves a month to local families. Along with each stove, 2 trees are planted in order to offset the wood used in cooking and to discourage further deforestation.
- The language school also donates material and provides financial support to 4 different schools and houses various rescue animals, many of which are able to eventually be released back into the wild.
The list goes on and on…
And all this is funded by the revenue generated by what is one of the top-ranked Spanish schools in Nicaragua.
Even the Spanish school in itself helps boost economic development in the local community by training and employing up to 40 teachers from San Juan de Concepción. All prospective teachers much pass an intensive one-month training session which includes grammar, conversational language tuition, time management, teacher-student interaction and much more. The program rivals the most extensive TEFL courses, and only participants that show an aptitude and dedication to teaching are chosen to work for the school.
La Mariposa Spanish School pays the salary of not only its teachers, but of the directors of their projects as well.
La Mariposa offers two packages:
Accommodation + Meals + Spanish Classes + Excursions
Accommodation + Meals + Spanish Classes +Volunteering
The accommodation can be in the eco-hotel – a truly sustainable hotel that utilizes various methods to reduce waste, energy and water consumption – the cabana or a homestay with a local family.
The excursions include presentations of local history and folklore, horseback riding, nature hikes, salsa lessons and tours to various sites of interest including Mombacho Volcano and Laguna de Apoyo. During the excursions, students are also able to visit the various projects and see first-hand where their tuition money is going.
Volunteers can also choose to help one of the many projects and live in a homestay. Mariposa never uses volunteers to replace paid local workers, but allows them to support the various efforts by working along with members of the community.
Learn more about La Mariposa Spanish School and their endless projects.