La Mariposa Spanish School & Eco-Hotel in Nicaragua in Central America


LA MARIPOSA SPANISH SCHOOL
& SUSTAINABLE TOURISM FOUNDATION


Welcome to La Mariposa Spanish School in Central America

Intensive Spanish instruction for groups (up to 20), individuals, couples, and families
in a delightful eco-lodge setting. Where the money you spend contributes to developing
genuine sustainable environmental, community-based tourism including our own little nature reserve.

La Mariposa Introduction video
Are you looking for - top-rated one-on-one immersion Spanish language classes; accommodation in a stunning eco-hotel, rustic eco-rooms or homestay; volunteer work whilst learning Spanish; organic meals; activities and excursions included in the Spanish program; edu/tourism with lessons varying from the history of Nicaragua to dancing and cooking; a beautiful and educational place to bring a group of students or a church group; a sustainable eco-tourism project which aims to help alleviate poverty as well as conserve the environment.

La Mariposa is a small, friendly non-profit Spanish school and eco-hotel, just outside the pueblo of La Concepcion, Nicaragua (Central America). We are an hour from Nicaragua's major attractions – including the beautiful colonial city of Granada, wonderful expanses of still unspoiled beaches on the Pacific Coast, the warm swimming water in the crater lake Laguna de Apoyo, the Masaya volcano, a live volcano - but just 45 minutes from Managua airport. All this plus the chance to get to know how our local communities are meeting the challenges of climate change with the help of our eco-tourism project.


We have 4 sites:
  • The original Mariposa, the Spanish school and eco-hotel.La Mariposa is surrounded by organic coffee, banana trees and flower gardens. Our climate is cool, green but sunny - we are 500 meters above sea level, which makes a real difference to the temperature. It is the ideal place for studying Spanish, learning about Nicaragua, exploring our local community, discussing environmental and development issues, and going out and about o n our activity schedule! You can be as busy as you like or just chill in a hammock and play with the dogs! Homestay and volunteer work is another option.

  • The Group Study Centre (El Piscacho) - our dormitory accommodation with plenty of sleeping, eating, meeting and classroom spaces surrounded by great views. The beautiful gardens are designed to attract butterflies and birds, and it has been built with local sustainable materials (straw, recycled tires, bamboo). We offer customized programs for each group - you can choose between Spanish classes, volunteer work or trips and activities, including our new program of rural sustainable activities. Local homestay is also an option. Also suitable for retreats.

  • The Nature Reserve, with giant guanacaste and cenizero trees and its abundance of wildlife (frogs, bats, parakeets, iguana, guatusa and much more). With the help of volunteers, a frog pond and butterfly gardens have been created, together with bird and animal observing hides. This land is also used as a meeting place for the surrounding communities who are organizing to improve their environment. It is also the base for students wishing to stay with rural families. There are plans to establish an environmental center on this land. Camping is possible here. And it is a great party venue!

  • The organic huerto or vegetable garden where much of our food is grown.

The Mariposa is where you can be a part of….learning, relaxing, having fun, living simply and healthily, close to animals and nature, and knowing that every dollar you spend is used to help the community and the environment.


the patio of La Mariposa's main building



We offer Mariposa students:

Intensive Spanish classes in our purpose-built school, which has rapidly gained the reputation as the best in Nicaragua. All our teachers are from La Concepcion - trained by us, highly experienced in teaching and well-equipped to introduce you to the local community and wider Nicaraguan culture, politics, history. Classes are mostly one on one (max 2 or 3) and we cater for all levels from absolute beginner to advanced, including specially designed children’s classes. We have our own learning materials with a Nicaraguan flavor. You study in delightful classrooms, filled with natural daylight, some in the gardens and on the terrace. We have an extensive library of Spanish study materials and a selection of books in English on Nicaraguan history, development issues, novels etc (we have over 1000 books available for you to borrow!). The climate up here is perfect for studying. You can now continue your classes with La Mariposa when you return home with our Skype option.

I took Spanish classes everyday which were one-on-one lessons of both grammar and speaking. I have never walked away with more Spanish and felt confident in speaking! It was hard, but paid off!     Tripadvisor Jan 2013

Neither of us had formally studied Spanish before, so we weren't sure how much we were going to learn in two weeks. We were pleasantly surprised. The teachers are patient, funny, and knowledgeable. While it can be challenging for a complete beginner, they really do try to ease you into the language and encourage you to relax and enjoy yourself.    Tripadvisor Jan 2013

One of the reasons I chose La Mariposa is because they would take a four year old, so my husband and I could take classes and know that she was being looked after. Her teachers were great with her and would go for walks and do puzzles and pictures with her.    Tripadvisor Jan 2013
Spanish class with Verania
Spanish class with Verania

A unique and genuine eco-hotel:  The hotel rooms have ensuite bathrooms with hot showers. The furnishings are simple but comfortable, all locally made out of sustainable wood. Power for fans and reading lights above your bed is solar and water is also heated by the sun for showers and kitchen use. We recycle waste, including grey water from showers, collect rainwater during the rainy season, use as few large electric machines as possible. We constantly explore new ways of being more environmentally friendly. The rooms have lovely views of the gardens and there are always hummingbirds to catch your interest or a guardabarranco catching insects. We ask for your help by consciously saving water, switching off lights and fans etc.

I stayed in the hotel and was comfortable with mosquito nets, warm water, my own bathroom.     Tripadvisor Jan 2013


A Mariposa room with hand made furniture and hand woven blankets
A Mariposa room with hand-made furniture and hand woven blankets

Our new Family Room is a large room with a bamboo divider. The kids' half (2 single beds) has an amazing dolphin mural painted by a local artist. The adult section has a double bed, reading lights above the bed, a view over the garden. There is a large bathroom with solar-heated shower and hanging space for clothes. There is also a separate private terrace.


Meal Ingredients
Meal Ingredients

3 meals a day served buffet style. The food is freshly cooked, mostly vegetarian and much of it harvested on our organic farm. What we don’t grow we buy in local markets, avoiding supermarkets. We eat plenty of salads. The menu offers a mixture of Nicaraguan food (always rice and beans) with foreign recipes - Paulette’s Mum’s pancakes, with locally produced honey and limes - popular with kids and adults alike. Breakfast, for example, is fresh fruit, homemade granola and bread, jams from a nearby organic fruit farm and a cooked dish. And of course locally sourced organic coffee and a range of teas. Filtered water is always available to fill up your water bottles (the filters are made by Potters for Peace).

The meals were out of this world! I am not a vegetarian, but considered becoming one after my stay!    Tripadvisor Jan 2013


Our ties with the community have developed and intensified over the years. We buy our supplies as locally as possible, everything from bamboo for our eco builds to oranges and coffee. Homestays are with families who are open and friendly and always happy to help with Spanish homework or chat about Nicaraguan politics! Several of our activities are in the local community, such as the cookery class. Walks to visit local artisan workers are also popular, and the trip to the Panama school offers not only a chance to experience how the Nicaraguan education system functions but also see some of the Mariposa community projects in action. Then there is our shop, selling locally made jewelry, small paintings, products made from recycled paper.

Our homestay was such an amazing experience. There is no better way to really get to know and understand a culture in my opinion.    Tripadvisor Feb 2013

Mariposa cookery class in the barrio
Mariposa cookery class in the barrio

Masaya Volcano crater lake
Masaya Volcano crater lake

An outstanding program of activities take Mariposa students further afield. We organize a full week (including weekends) of activities. On 3 afternoons and Saturdays we offer trips out to places of interest such as the Masaya volcano by night, the Masaya markets and artesanias, Granada, Leon, the Laguna de Apoyo, the Pacific beach, Managua, Catarina, the Pueblos Blancos and more! There are also salsa classes, discussions on the history of Nicaragua and a weekly Nicaraguan news update ( in Spanish with English translation if necessary). The trips are rotated on a monthly schedule, except for horse riding which is every Sunday. Or you can opt to do a guided hike along a ridge with stunning views of lakes and volcanoes.

I'm 13 and I stayed at la Mariposa for 3 weeks over Christmas. I really enjoyed myself. It was so much fun, there was always something to do. Ranging from going in a trip to the lake (which was beautiful) or climbing volcanoes.    Tripadvisor Feb 2013



Group experience for groups of up to 20 at El Piscacho, our group study center - your program can include Spanish classes (3/4 students), any of the options from our list of activities and/or volunteer work on any of our projects. We offer classes on environmental and development issues, as well as sessions on Nicaraguan history and cultural events. Your program is worked out in consultation with you. The location is suitable for retreats. With great views over the Masaya Volcano, surrounded by gardens especially designed to attract butterflies and birds - plus plenty of hammocks, it is easy to relax! Especially suitable for university and high school students, the accommodation consists of basic dormitories with outside (latrine) bathroom facilities. The electricity is solar powered with solar heated hot water in the showers! There is a separate house (3 rooms) next to the dormitory building, ideal for group escorts. The buildings themselves are worthy of study, being built of local sustainable materials such as straw, thatch, recycled tires, bamboo, caniza. Homestays in the local community are available.


Sustainable tourism initiative is a work in progress and we are looking for volunteers to help us out. This is a long term project working with a number of very poor rural neighborhoods, all of which are situated on the edge of the Masaya Volcano National Park. The aim is to help establish rural community facilities which will attract tourists and thus bring income directly into the community. This includes homestays with rural families, opportunities to work in the campo learning directly about small scale agriculture and the impact of climate change and activities such as hiking and horse riding in the spectacular scenery (unparalled views over the live crater of Masaya Volcano and the eco systems found within the national park), bird watching and observation of night animals. The guides are all local people. We introduce you to local forms of alternative medicine. Spanish classes are of course available. This project offers direct help to the poorest families…for example, we are tackling the problem of firewood extraction from the national park by providing eco cookers which have proved their worth and are very popular. Other means of helping include latrines, provision of potable water and solar panels. In return, the families are becoming involved in the whole eco project and taking part, for example, in reforestation initiatives.


An Ecological Reserve has been established on 5 acres of land, including a frog and dragonfly pond; special planting of fruit and forest trees and flowers to attract and feed birds (especially the local groups of parakeets and parrots whose numbers have been devastated by poaching for the pet trade), bats (bat boxes), butterflies and other insects; planting of rare trees and plants to increase local biodiversity. Iguana, guatusa, squirrels have all been spotted and the intention is to care for larger mammals as well. This land is also used as a nursery to provide trees and plants for reforestation in the surrounding communities. An eco-built center serves as a meeting place (and a great location for parties!!) for both La Mariposa and local people. Gradually this will build into an environmental education center with exhibitions and demonstrations on, for example, how to produce organic fertilizer from worms.


An evening program of discussions, films and night time walks is being developed. This includes a moonlit walk, weather permitting! There is always the option of a Friday trip to a local bar.

Other activities that are offered at the hotel for example history lessons, salsa lessons,documentary screenings, evening discussion are an asset to the school in my opinion as it helps people understand the culture and history of Nicaragua which is very important.     Tripadvisor Nov 2012


Volunteer and intern opportunities within the Mariposa projects, are well organized and supported and there are different options. We place each student individually alongside a worker, encouraging Spanish practice, and also guaranteeing that volunteering does not replace a local workers’ job! Working with children in one of our reading projects is always popular (though a time commitment of a month is preferable for this kind of work) as is helping on the organic farm or the community gardens. Projects, such as working on an eco build construction, are sometimes available. You can also help to care for our rescued animals or help us to improve wildlife. "Please note that La Mariposa does not set up or directly manage the projects. We support genuine initiatives from the community and so we cannot always guarantee the content of your volunteer work.

My goals for my trip were to live in a homestay, practice my Spanish in the real world, and volunteer with a local organization. The Mariposa was great at facilitating this. As a 16-yr-old traveling alone, I couldn't do most volunteer-type programs that care about age. Paulette was excited to have me and helped me set up my volunteer work.     Tripadvisor Sept 2012
Volunteers with Gabriel building a slide out of straw!!
Volunteers with Gabriel building a slide out of straw!!


Mariposa Worker of the Year Award!
Mariposa Worker of the Year Award!

An exceptionally good service provided by a group of workers who are hardworking, welcoming and willing to help with anything from climbing on a horse to practicing Spanish! Through our determination to offer as much local, sustainable employment as possible, we now employ over 50 people, including the teachers, drivers and maintenance staff who are known and much liked by Mariposa guests. There are also many employees who work behind the scenes looking after horses, on the farm or at the study centre. We put $3 to $5000 a week into the local economy through wages, homestays and purchases. We also ensure constant on the job training in eco friendly ways of hotel management. An exciting development is that we are exploring the possibility of transforming the Mariposa into a worker owned and run co-operative

The staff was so accommodating and worked around the clock to cater to our needs, requests, and ideas. It started to feel like a small family. I will definitely be returning and highly recommend this place.     Tripadvisor Jan 2013


Our gardens and woodland, though only a couple of acres are open for easy going strolls (almost certainly accompanied by one or more dogs!) and even some serious bird watching. Our efforts in planting trees (including Cedros, Guanacaste, Cenizero and the Marango, also known as the miracle tree) and extending the woodland garden have encouraged wildlife. We have built feeding and watering stations for the butterflies, birds, iguana, squirrels and possums who also live at the Mariposa. We still produce some of our own organic coffee though less and less as we give the land back to nature.

I really enjoyed my lessons outside the cabin on the upstairs verandah, because I spent time looking for birds and squirrels with my teacher Jenny, who was quite a wildlife expert. Several guardabarrancos.    Tripadvisor Aug 2012

Garden View from the terrace
Garden View from the terrace

Eggplants and tomatoes at the huerto
Eggplants and tomatoes at the huerto

Our farm and community garden project which produce much of the fruit and vegetables we consume in the Mariposa and, increasingly, for homestays. We use tried and tested sustainable methods, some of them originating in indigenous times, such as mixes of nime tree leaves and mixed planting to control pests, watering by hand to minimize wastage, production of our own compost from worms and oxen manure. Our chickens and turkeys provide free range organic eggs, as well as additional compost for the Mariposa garden.

Our meals were delicious at the school and at our homestay. Very fresh and healthy ingredients. Many of our lunches were prepared with vegetables from the schools organic garden.     Tripadvisor Feb 2013

At the Mariposa we try and help the environment as well as the local community through everything we do. We are not 100% organic or 100% solar yet (more like 90%) but do our best to continuously improve both our local environment and contribute positively to global issues like climate change. We are not perfect by any means and we learn all the time, mostly through the amazing knowledge of our workers, also often from students and volunteers.


An eco-built study centre with dormitory sleeping space for groups of up to 16 plus a small house with 3 rooms (homestays are also available). There is a large meeting/eating room, an onsite kitchen where we provide Mariposa meals and several small teaching areas. The study centre has amazing views over Volcan Masaya and Lake Xolotan and was built using sustainable materials – straw, recycled tires, bamboo. The bathrooms consist of 2 latrines and showers with solar heated water. We design individual programs for each group which can include Spanish classes, classes on environmental issues, Nicaraguan history, politics and culture, activities and trips.

I cannot even begin to tell you how much all of us appreciate everything you did for us. This was my seventh school trip to Central America, and all of them have been great, but our stay at the mariposa study centre was something else altogether, orders of magnitude beyond.    Personal email
The eco-built comedor at the study centre
The eco-built comedor at the study centre

Our community and environmental projects are all community led and offer Mariposa students an excellent chance to learn more about the challenges facing Nicaraguans, particularly in rural areas, and how they are responding to them. Students can also volunteer on many of these projects. Examples of what we do:

Volunteer with kids in the reading corner
Volunteer with kids in the reading corner
  • Renovation of a community centre building which was severely storm damaged. Together with community leaders we are developing small employment projects e.g. a bakery and a women’s sewing cooperative, computer classes for teenagers and folklore dancing classes for children.

  • Construction of a children’s playground in the school of Panama which includes a slide made out of straw and recycled tires.

  • Work together with the national park of Volcan Masaya to set up an eco tourism project. One idea is to offer young people, who make their living extracting firewood from the park, paid work protecting the park. This park is home to one of the last surviving colonies of white-faced monkeys in Nicaragua.
Especially important is the fact that the hotel is an investment in Nicaragua with the income it generates all being spent there.    Tripadvisor Jan 2013


Our rescued animals and wildlife habitat, is another important aspect of our work. We have rescued around 50 dogs from the streets, some live at the Mariposa but many dogs and cats live happily with members of our staff! Our rescued horses work just once a week offering Sunday morning rides. We work hard to improve the small amount of land we have – planting trees and flowers to attract wildlife, building nesting, feeding and watering places for birds, bats, small mammals, iguana and our wonderful tree frogs!

If you love animals, you will be deeply touched by the work Paulette and her staff have done to save some of the local wildlife and domestic ones.    Tripadvisor Feb 2013

A mariposa in the garden
A mariposa in the garden


Local marimba band on the terrace
Our Library
Our afternoon history class


La Mariposa Philosophy

Modern day tourism tends to emphasize the "experience" aspect of travelling often to the exclusion of the learning and reflection that can make international travel, especially to "less developed" countries, more meaningful and worthwhile. We try to offer a truly exceptional range of good, interesting experiences (we do not do the adrenalin pumping stuff) whilst learning Spanish - we are now one of the best schools in Central America - and absorbing the culture and history of Nicaragua. Travel can also be an important stimulus to reflect on questions which affect us all as global citizens such as "what kind of development is good" and "what can we do about the state of our environment".

We do not offer luxury or perfection, we are not a paradise and we do not offer to solve all your problems!! We aim to provide a friendly and thoughtful service to our visitors which is also exceptional value for money. We are not a "Hilton" type hotel where all is of a predictable standard (and please note there is no pool, no disco, no all-night bar). Staff and students treat each other as human beings working and living together who naturally have different opinions and even (occasionally!!!) make mistakes. Our animals are also a part of La Mariposa community.

We create as much sustainable local employment as possible. Except for Paulette and a small intern team, every aspect of La Mariposa is staffed and managed by local people, trained by us over the years. Wages are reasonable but not high (workers also receive a month's paid holiday per year, a month's wages at Xmas, severance pay and social security). Our goal is to help as many families as possible across the community rather than pay a lot to a select few. A very unusual aspect of La Mariposa is that we do not operate behind closed doors, everything we do is visible….you can talk to any of our staff, watch the accountant adding up bills (if you want to!) and join in with cooking in the kitchen. We do not hide any aspect of our work and you are always welcome to ask questions.

We have developed many other ways of putting money into the local community. Paying families to host students, with both very poor rural and more urban families benefiting. Plus we buy as little as possible in supermarkets (and we avoid the bigger ones as they are now mostly owned by Walmart), purchasing instead from local producers supplies from fruit to building materials. We consciously minimize buying imported goods (wine is an exception!). This policy ensures that the food we serve has not been transported long distances.

Over the years La Mariposa has become involved in a wide range of different projects in several of the poorer barrios in La Concha. We do not set up our own projects…… ideas and initiatives come directly from people in the community and, at their request, we employ people to work with them. Some of the projects support children, including disabled children; others, such as helping building a bakery, benefit women's cooperatives; we are also increasingly involved in eco-tourism initiatives aimed to strengthen both local communities and the local environment. Plus we have our rescued dogs, cats, monkeys, parrots, horses. Volunteer work is available on most of the projects.

Clearly we aim to be as eco-friendly as possible in our own practice. We are not 100% but better than most and constantly striving to do more. Both the hotel and the study center incorporate solar power, solar heated hot water, rain water collection, grey water recycling, organic gardening among other features. The study center was built from straw, recycled tires, bamboo and has a stunning butterfly garden. We plant trees where ever possible on our land, both rare forest trees and fruit trees for wildlife. We grow some of our veggies on our organic huerto and produce our own organic free range eggs. The food at La Mariposa is in season, largely vegetarian, locally sourced and as organic as possible. And always freshly cooked!!

Our furniture is sourced from local carpenters who use sustainable woods and fibers such as banana fiber. Blankets in the hotel rooms are purchased from a family weaving cooperative in Leon (there isn't one in our area). An example of how we connect different aspects of our work is that we visit this coop on the Saturday trip to Leon and you can try your hand at weaving your own blanket!

So over the years, environmental justice has become a stronger and stronger guiding principle for us as the effects of climate change become clearer and the impact is felt locally. Poorer countries will undoubtedly suffer disproportionately. Deforestation is a major contributing factor. In Nicaragua rainforest is being felled at an alarming rate especially for logging precious wood and raising cattle (a beef burger costs about 9 acres of rainforest!!!). Even protected national parks (as in other parts of the world) are increasingly under threat, including, on our doorstep, the Masaya Volcano National Park. Sadly most tourists only know about this volcano because of its dramatic live crater and have no awareness of the Masaya Laguna, the surrounding dry Pacific tropical forest (among other rare ecosystems) or the communities that live within the borders of the National Park . This forest is fast disappearing- only 2% of the original now remains. Water is taken from the Laguna for road building. The local communities are not consulted on major new tourist infrastructure developments. La Mariposa, on the other hand, works hard to do what we can to preserve these amazing and unique features of our precious landscape.

Thus what started out as a mere Spanish school has evolved organically into a myriad of projects and initiatives but all based on the same values. We have to consider the immediate community and environment whilst simultaneously thinking globally. The problems local farmers face here in La Concha are directly related to industrial prosperity and global climate change. How can we connect it all together in practice as well as in theory…people, animals, trees, the soil, food, water….. the community and environment of which we are a part? And how can we change what needs to be changed but preserve that which matters? These questions and challenges determine our priorities at La Mariposa more and more.

"HOW DO WE DO ALL THIS? - We are not an NGO and have no source of funds other than our income from the Spanish School. Our resources depend entirely on how many students join us! We do not make any profit….of the money you spend in La Mariposa, about half is spent on wages (of approx. 60 staff, most work behind the scenes on maintenance, gardening, caring for animals, projects). $800 -$1000 per week goes on food and supplies, plus the costs of building maintenance and gasoline. The remainder is spent on the projects. Our model is simple - the more we can expand our eco-tourism, the more resources we will have available for investing in the community and our environment.


the veranda






check out the blogs

"This unique hideaway has spurred a stream of rave reviews from our readers" Moon Nicaragua  (Moon Handbooks) by Amber Dobrzensky

“this wonderful school-hotel minimizes impac … setting is lush … Accommodation in comfy rooms with private bathrooms (and awesome views)…"
Lonely Planet 2009

If you would like to help us continue our community projects,
please consider a tax-free donation
which can be given through our friend, Reverend Brian Peterson
at Ascension Lutheran Church in Austin, Texas.


La Mariposa is not affiliated with any religious or political organisation.

We welcome people who can feel marginalised in more mainstream hotels - including families, older people, disabled people, black people and people of colour, gay and lesbian people, and we do not charge a single person supplement.

Whilst we welcome children at the Mariposa and do our best to create a safe, educative and fun environment, we must make it clear that children remain the responsibility of their parents at all times. Please read more here


TO MAKE YOUR RESERVATION

  1. Read through the website to see if we are for you…especially the "Do Not Come Here If..." page!

  2. Write to us at lamariposaspanishschool06@gmail.com to check on availability

  3. If you want more detailed info and LOTS of photos, check out tripadvisor reviews, facebook and the blog

  4. The FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) page on the website is useful for more detailed info and
    there is a suggested packing list.


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