In sheer geographical terms, Argentina and Chile’s credentials are certainly impressive. The largest Spanish-speaking country in the world, Argentina stretches from the Tropic of Capricorn towards the world’s most southerly point, while across the Andes mountain range, Chile is a sliver of land with deserts, temperate rainforests and endless sandy beaches. “The vast regions of both countries encompass a wide array of landscapes, activities, history and opportunities,” says Jose Sanchez at Coined International, which has branches in Argentina and Chile, “thus offering intercultural experiences for even the most demanding participant.”
In Argentina, Lindsey Walken at ECELA Buenos Aires thinks there is something mysterious about the country that attracts people to study, travel and explore. Buenos Aires itself, she says, is a modern city with a very European flavour. “This mix gives the city a very interesting personality,” she says.
The city rivals the likes of Paris, Madrid and London in terms of cultural activities, claims Lorena Belcastro at BASP in Buenos Aires. “The city is considered the fourth [best] in the world theatre scene it has more theatres than New York. The traditional and modern museums of the city are famous, and tango music and dance can be found through the most sophisticated tango houses or the most popular milonga [traditional tango dance establishments] of a neighbourhood.” Magdalena Cambiasso at VOS School Buenos Aires, meanwhile, believes that “it is a sleepless city that offers all sorts of activities at very low prices. Students can enjoy a folklore music show at 8.30pm and then go for dinner at 10pm, and later [have]drinks and maybe even go tango dancing after that to round up the night.”
Similarly, Patricia Maria Sever at Mente describes Buenos Aires as a “fascinating and fast-paced city”. It has, she elaborates, something for everyone, and a whole range of cultural, work, volunteer and educational opportunities. The schedules of most schools are jam-packed with interesting and unusual excursions and activities. AISL Argentina, for example, takes students to bars and cafés to drink mate, a local herb infusion shared with friends as a sign of camaraderie, according to Carol Tribe at the school.
About 300 kilometres northwest of Buenos Aires is Rosario, birthplace of Che Guevara and Argentina’s third-largest city. A port city with cobbled tree-lined streets and historic buildings, it is here that Ludmila Reinaldo set up Fundación Convivencia language school. “All year long you can go to the many parks that the city offer,” says Reinaldo. The school offers a range of Spanish courses including a newly-introduced Spanish plus sports programme, which incorporates language tuition with coaching in sports such as soccer a fitting pastime in the city where Diego Armando Maradona played in the local soccer team in 1993.
Home to Argentina’s oldest university, Cordoba is located in the heart of the country where you can find one of the four branches of Coined International. “The city represents the perfect experience of learning Spanish in a mixture of culture, adventure sports, scenic landscape of lakes, rivers and valleys,” asserts Sanchez. As well as its schools in Buenos Aires and Cordoba, Coined recently opened a centre in Puerto Madryn in Patagonia. “The school is located in the city centre, only 200 metres away from the beach, next to the calm waters of Golfo Nuevo where students [are] able to learn Spanish while experiencing the authentic Patagonian wildlife,” says Sanchez. “Penguins, dolphins and killer whales are some of the different species of fauna and seabirds that live in this outstanding natural environment.”
The gateway to Patagonia, San Carlos de Bariloche is widely known as the capital of adventure sports in Argentina. “The Bariloche region has many highlights for visitors and residents: spectacular views, lakes and mountains,” relates Silvia Adriana Vila at Bariloche Spanish Lessons. “In winter you can enjoy snow sports such as skiing, snowboarding and snow trekking. The rest of the year you can go trekking and spend nights in mountains huts, kayaking, rafting or horseback riding.”
Despite San Carlos de Bariloche having developed into a sizable city, Vila is keen to point out that the city retains a strong sense of tradition. As well as preserving its native heritage, the city has a mix of influences from German, Swiss, British and Irish immigrants.
If wine is more your taste then Salta one of Argentina’s most important wine growing centres is an ideal study location. Salta-based language school Bien Argentino Idioma y Cultura recently introduced a Spanish and wine course that combines language teaching classes about the history of wine in the local area. The city itself is also full of history, as Mónica del Milagro Plaza at Bien Argentino explains. “Salta is a place with an historical relevance in our country and the colonization of America.”
Mendoza, another popular wine tourism destination, is a compact city where free book fairs and concerts are held throughout the year. “The Andes are just a few kilometres away from the city,” says Veronica Gallardo at Ecela. “We have an arid climate, with temperature ranges that allow for good summer sports in the mountains and ski resorts just two hours from the city during the winter.”
Like Argentina, Chile offers a wide range of activities thanks to its varied scenery. “In the north, there’s the Atacama desert, mountains along [the length of] the country, cold rainy forests in the south including the lake district, and Carretera Austral, where Torres del Paine National Park is located,” recounts Paola Lazcano at Newen Escuela de Español in the capital city of Santiago.
Santiago is set on a wide plain near the foot of the Andes and close to the ocean, and offers plenty to do. According to Stefan Meffert at Tandem Santiago, the city has expanded considerably over the past 15 years and has become one of South America’s most vibrant urban centres. “The modern clean underground has tripled [the city’s] size,” says Meffert, adding, “The city was selected in 2010 by the New York Times as one of the 10 must-see places in the world.” There’s a thriving cultural and nightlife scene with live music, from jazz and rock to Latin American folk, offered. “You will find flamenco and tango presentations, salsa shows, techno discothèques and [numerous] restaurants [offering] all kind of food,” says Meffert. “You can find typical pubs where Chileans dance cueca brava, an urban form of the national dance, drinking wine and eating Chilean food like the famous empanadas [a savoury stuffed semi-circular pastry].”
Lazcano relates,“Santiago is a safe city, in spite of being a big city. We have one of the longest cycle paths in South America, therefore it is possible to travel around the city by bicycle.”
Kira Lansing at Ecela Santiago highlights the downtown neighbourhoods of Santiago Centro and Recoleta. “[They’re] full of all different types of shops, restaurants, clubs, plazas and other attractions. You can while away an entire afternoon wandering the tiny streets of Barrio Patronato and Bellavista (Recoleta), appreciating the incredible local street art and stopping in for a bite at one of the tiny ethnic eateries whose facades are sometimes part of the art itself. I myself have spent many afternoons like this, and I believe that it allows the true vibe and soul of the city to manifest in all five of your senses.”
For time out from the capital, just a hour’s bus ride away from Santiago is Valparaíso, a colourful harbour, with traditional architecture, pubs, hills and friendly people, says Lazcano.
“Chile’s attractions will surprise many students. The tourism industry in the country isn’t as popular as in the rest of South America, because it isn’t as exposed as Machu Pichu or the Iguazú Falls. But you can find a great combination of history, natural splendours and even something for the artsy crowd. We send students exclusively to Santiago, which might seem big, loud and might not have the same ambiance as Buenos Aires, but it’s cultured, ambitious and emerging. Even if you had months in Santiago, I do not think you would have time to see all the popular sights, restaurants or drinking spots in the city centre or the Bellavista area. Bellavista is the ideal spot to try the local drink, pisco sour.”
Francisca Jofré, Condor Idiomas, Chile
“In general both countries are very welcoming to Brazilians; they are a short flight away from Brazil and studying there is cheaper than studying in Spain. We send students to Buenos Aries and Santiago. Argentina is the most popular country, but Chile is getting more popular among Brazilians. Personally, I really enjoyed both. I felt very well welcome in both countries.”
Allan Mitelmao, Just Intercambios, Brazil
“Argentina is the most popular of our Central and South American destinations, closely followed by Chile. Our students absolutely love the full immersion in a very distinct and different culture from that of Spain, along with the stunning architecture, awe-inspiring scenery, delicious cuisine, great local wines, passion for dance and the famous Latin vibe. Students say that Buenos Aires is a beautiful city with great schools and teachers, while those in Santiago describe the city as modern, efficient and with a large number of trees and parks.”
Jennifer Maynard, Cactus Language, UK