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Ecuador is one of the most popular places to study Spanish in South America. It is also one of the least expensive. A vast majority of the schools are found in Quito, although many have sister institutions in other cities and tourist towns around the country, such as Baños, Manta, Cuenca, and Otavalo.

If you are just looking to brush up on your existing knowledge of the language or to learn the basics to get by during your stay, most schools are happy to tailor their programs according to your requirements, offering courses ranging in length from 1 week to a year, from 2 to 8 hours a day. The majority of Spanish institutes also offer programs combining home-stays with local Ecuadorean families, as well as volunteer placements, workplace internships, cultural activities, and/or excursions to Ecuador's coastal, Amazon, and Andean regions included with the language tuition. The home-stays include a private room and either two or three meals daily taken with the family. One-on-one tuition or group classes, always with native speakers, cost approximately $6 to $12 (£4-£8) an hour depending on the institution and the specific program.

Qualifications obtained on completion of courses range from diplomas accredited by the Ecuadorean Ministry of Education and Culture to those recognized on an international level and accredited by Spain's Instituto Cervantes. Some of the schools have reciprocal relationships with U.S. and European universities, so you can even arrange for college credit.

Listed below are some of the better-established Spanish-language institutes in Quito, many of which have sister-schools in other popular tourist destinations. Study programs in such destinations are usually organized through their Quito offices. Guayaquil has very few Spanish institutes, primarily because most tourists head for Quito, and the castellano spoken in Guayaquil is generally more difficult to understand, particularly for the beginner.

The popular Amazonas Spanish School, Jorge Washington 718 and Avenida Amazonas, Edificio Rocaforte, Quito (tel. 02/2504-654; www.eduamazonas.com), was established in 1989. This academy boasts that all of its teachers have a minimum of 6 to 7 years of teaching experience. They emphasize language study combined with travel, offering home-stays, tours, and volunteer programs. They also offer Spanish classes in various popular destinations, including Quito, the Galápagos, El Oriente, and on the coast.

Beraca Spanish School, Av. Amazonas 11-14 and Pinto, 2nd floor; in Quito's New Town; and García Moreno 858, no. 3, between Sucre and Espejo, in Quito's Old Town (tel. 02/2906-642; www.beraca.net), has been operating since 1993. They provide the option of studying at either of their well-located campuses. Home-stays with Ecuadorean families, or in private apartments, can also be arranged.

Bipo & Toni's, Carrión E8-183 and Leonidas Plaza, Quito (tel. 02/2556-614 or 02/2500-732; www.bipo.net), is a Spanish academy with small-group and private classes. They also offer organized excursions, Latin dance classes, volunteer work opportunities, and home-stays. The institute has a good library, a garden with BBQ, and its own restaurant-bar, providing a friendly and interactive environment for its students.

Cristóbal Colón Spanish School, Colón 2088 and Versalles, Quito (tel. 02/2506-508; www.colonspanishschool.com), is one of Quito's most popular modern Spanish schools. They offer primarily one-to-one classes, but they also have organized excursions, volunteer work opportunities, and the option of studying in several sister schools located around the country. Classes usually last 4 hours, but more flexible schedules can be arranged.

Galápagos Spanish School, Av. Amazonas 884 and Wilson, Quito (tel. 02/2565-213; www.galapagos.edu.ec), offers one-on-one instruction through 10 levels, or personalized courses, with the option of completing the Ministry's diploma. Private classes, local home-stays, and a variety of optional tours and activities are available.

Instituto Superior de Español, Darquea Terán 1650 and Avenida 10 de Agosto, Quito (tel. 02/2223-242; www.instituto-superior.net), has been in business since 1988 and offers flexible Spanish courses in six locations around the country, including Quito, Otavalo, and the Galápagos. They emphasize extracurricular activities through an extensive program of excursions and events. Specialized courses in business Spanish and Latin American literature and history are also on the agenda.

Quito Spanish Institute, 9 de Octubre N27-09 and Avenida Orellana, Quito (tel. 02/2550-377; www.quitospanish.com), offers one-on-one or group classes that can be combined with home-stays and volunteer placements. The institute also runs internship programs and organizes excursions. The school is extremely flexible and willing to adapt courses to students' needs.

Simón Bolívar, Mariscal Foch E9-920 and Avenida 6 de Diciembre, Quito (tel. 02/2234-708; www.simon-bolivar.com), advertises that it is rated as "one of Ecuador's top schools" by members of the reputable South American Explorers Club. They also claim to carbon-offset their entire operations. They offer home-stays and volunteer placements, a "Discover Ecuador" program, and various excursions. The institute also has schools in Cuenca, in El Oriente, and along the Pacific coast.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.