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Remember what it was like to make travel plans before the internet? If you’re an 80s baby like me, you probably have a vague memory of what planning a trip was like back then. Poring over guidebooks, checking the calendar, jotting down notes, and finally, picking up the phone to book it all.
This time-consuming, frustrating process got even harder when going somewhere you didn’t speak the language. Yes, you could expect at least a basic level of English from the people at your accommodation, or rely only on English-language guides. But in doing that, you risked leaving some of the experience lost in translation.
Say you want to travel to a Spanish-speaking country – which, as a Spaniard living in Mexico City, I wholeheartedly recommend you do – but you’re not fluent in the language.
Want to stay at a locally-owned place in Madrid, even if the owners don’t speak English? Take tango lessons in Buenos Aires in Spanish? Or find your way seamlessly to the best tacos al pastor in Mexico City… and order without a translator?
Thanks to the internet, now you can. These 13 apps and websites from Spanish-speaking countries around the world offer accommodation, local experiences, and opportunities to socialize with locals… all in Spanish.
Your Spanish skills are basic at best? Fear not, we’ve also included a few apps for learning a little of the language, or to translate once you’re there. And if you need to turn on the English automatic translation (offered by most of the sites), no hay problema.
Just grab a couple of cervezas, leave your shyness behind and start hablando: estás en tu casa.
Pick Up a Few Words of Spanish
Even if you just learn a couple of basic expressions, they’ll take you far. Besides, it is one of the best ways to get you psyched for your upcoming trip. The famed Duolingo or its distant cousin Busuu are a great way to start, but for something more Spanish-specific, check out the following sites.
This website works similarly to other language sites, but it’s dedicated to learning español.
Spanish Mooc offers the classic online language learning experience: several modules with vocabulary, grammar and comprehension exercises of increasing difficulty. Unlike other websites, though, it focuses on speech and pronunciation by having you listen to and repeat natural language.
There are also two physical instructors behind the courses, available to answer questions, give advice and add the human touch other courses lack.
One of the trickiest aspects of Spanish, especially for English-speakers, is the intricate conjugation of verbs. Between subjunctive, imperative, plural and singular subjects, and irregular verbs, learning how to correctly conjugate in Spanish is tricky, even (believe me) for native Spanish speakers.
iOS app ConjuVerbs is here to help. The app allows you to look up any verb in any form, and it will give you the meaning, root verb and complete conjugation. It will also allow you to save any verbs you have trouble with and check them in “flash card” form offline – so you can even study during the flight.
Find Travel Inspiration
Not sure where to start planning? Checking into a virtual meeting point and getting insights and insider tips is a great way to get your feet virtually wet in your next destination.
Enter Minube. This website and app offers advice on destinations around the world, including where to stay, what to eat and do, and photos of travelers’ favorite spots.
The website started out in Madrid, and has slowly expanded to several countries in the world. It includes a handful of Latin American countries, such as Chile, Venezuela, and Peru.
Web, iOS and Android, free
In terms of inspiring trips, there aren’t many that beat the Camino de Santiago. This pilgrimage through northern Spain is routinely called a life-defining experience, and even an addictive one: many travelers decide to do it more than once (editor’s note: like me!).
If you are planning on joining their ranks, you might want to check out Vojo. This app offers practical information about stops on the way, outlines different itineraries, and puts you in touch with other pilgrims. It also features a GPS service, letting you send details to emergency services in case you get lost or injured while on the Camino.
iOS and Android, free
Planning the Trip
If you’re looking for something with a little more Spanish flavor, however, check out the following sites. They’ll let you keep logistics closer to the ground, including sourcing locally-owned, hard-to-find accommodation, or having more options for domestic flights.
Despite being based in Spain, all these sites have an English translation option.
This online travel agent is Spain’s answer to Booking.com, a one-stop for all your travel-related booking needs. Through Atrápalo you can book flights, hotels, package holidays, rental cars, restaurants, and even events such as theater plays.
The site prides itself on finding the best deals available on the net at any given time (“Atrápalo” means “Grab it”). Offers are updated every minute, making it worth checking regularly. It is available in Spain, Mexico, Peru, Panama, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Chile, Argentina, and Colombia.
Web, iOS and Android, free
Despegar is another one-stop option, working similarly to Atrápalo. The site allows you to book flights, packages, events, rental cars, and private accommodation through professional agents.
It is available in the same countries as Atrápalo, plus a handful of other Latin American countries, including Honduras, Bolivia, and Paraguay, and a few non-Spanish-speaking countries like the US and Brazil.
Web, iOS and Android, free
Looking to stay in a house instead of a hotel? Check out Migoa, a holiday home portal that lists houses and apartments in 12 countries including Spain, where it first launched.
The difference to Airbnb, if you’re wondering, is that Migoa deals with professional holiday real estate agents. This means problems will be dealt with immediately, and last-minute cancelations are very rare.
If you have been to Spain for a while, or have Spanish friends, chances are you know about the concept of “casa rural.” Casas rurales are a popular option — these houses in the countryside, available in all Spanish regions, offer accommodation from charmingly rustic to overwhelmingly opulent.
Toprural is a great resource to locate and book them, working as a rural-oriented Airbnb. Created and launched in Spain, HomeAway purchased the company in 2012.
During the Trip
Communicate in Spanish
Whether your level of Spanish is decent or non-existent, sometimes you might need to have things translated at a moment’s notice. From street signs to menus, these apps are here to help.
I must admit, as someone with a college degree in Translation and Interpreting, recommending an automated service feels a little like a professional betrayal. That said, I can’t deny it comes in handy in a pinch.
For those situations when you need a word translated fast, such as a weird message blinking on an ATM’s screen while it beeps loudly (been there, and it is not pretty), Google Translate can save you.
The app can now be accessed offline for both Android and Apple-wielding travelers. Spanish is one of the dozens of languages with instant visual translation, making English versions of words available with barely a click.
iOS and Android, free
Anki is a virtual flashcard provider, available for several languages – including Spanish. Its main purpose is for studying vocabulary and learning new words, but it also works as a way to communicate if your confidence level isn’t high.
You can pre-load useful cards that you know you may need and show them offline whenever the occasion arises. One example: if you’re allergic to a food or medicine, you can point it to the waiter or doctor at a moment’s notice.
iOS, macOS, Android, and Windows, free.
And on to the best part: exploring.
Guía de Viaje
If you’re planning a trip to Argentina, this app is for you. Guía de Viaje offers itineraries, suggested activities and experiences depending on your interests, and recommends cities based on your travel plans.
Interested in wine? Head to Mendoza. Want a pure wild outdoorsy trip? Bariloche is for you. Whatever your plans are for Argentina, Guía de Viaje helps you shape them.
iOS and Android, free.
Atlas is the official website of the Ministry of Tourism in Mexico, and it is as messy and mesmerizing as the country itself. The interface isn’t the best and navigating around the site could be easier, but the images are stunning and information is comprehensive.
Just like Mexico itself, you need a little patience to unearth all that Atlas has to offer, but oh, does it pay off.
Online only. Mobile app in development.
This app opens up Colombia via your smartphone. It offers maps of the country, including suggested itineraries and a calendar with monthly events around the nation.
Gurú Viajero also has specific information on several cities, including Bogotá, Medellín and Barranquilla. Once you’ve downloaded the app, you can access it offline, avoiding the need to find Wi-Fi or use cell data.
iOS and Android, free.
Have you been to Spanish-speaking countries? Which sites and apps helped you plan your trip?
Image via Nick Jewell (llamas in Machu Picchu), Hernán Piñera (men in front of Palacio Real in Madrid), Kevin Dooley (photographing El Caminito in Buenos Aires), Vince Alongi (tango lessons sign in Buenos Aires), Dave Herholz (tacos al pastor).