When you decide to learn a new language, a key part of your decision of what language to learn comes down to what new opportunities the language can open up for you – in other words, where you can travel to and be able to speak the language. This is because language learning is not an easy thing to do, and you’ll have to commit a lot of time to it, so you want to make sure that you’re not limited with the language you choose.
Spanish is the language with the second-most native speakers in the world (460 million of them), only bettered by Mandarin. There are 20 countries around the world where Spanish is an official language, giving you 20 fantastic reasons to learn to speak Spanish, and we’re going to look briefly at each of these countries. Some of them you’ll already be very familiar with, while some might be quite new to you.
The first country on our list is Argentina. Supposedly the most European of the Latin American countries, it has had great Italian influence due to mass migration of people from Italy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They’re also known to have incredible steaks, which have made their way over to the UK. A big part of the country consists of the region of Patagonia (which it shares with Chile), a great region for hiking and being at one with nature.
This landlocked country in the middle of South America is extremely multicultural, and there are 37 official languages around Bolivia. Indigenous culture still lives very strong here and is prominent even in large cities such as La Paz. This city is one of two that are considered the capital of the country – if you take La Paz as the capital, it is the highest capital city in the world, and you’re guaranteed to be short of breath there. Bolivia is most well-known (largely due to Instagram, I imagine) for the landmark that is the Salar de Uyuni, the largest salt flat in the world, on which many have taken amazing perspective photos. The north of the country also consists of the Amazon basin, while Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable lake, is shared between here and Perú.
This country stretches along the majority of the Pacific coast of South America and, because of its length, has an extremely varied climate. It is known for having very high standards of living, ranking very highly among Latin American countries in terms of income per capita and other measures. Many venture down to Patagonia while in the country, while the Atacama Desert in the north, which is one of the driest places in the world and the only true desert that gets less rain than the polar deserts, also attracts many tourists.
This is a country that has a bit of everything. From Medellín, a bustling place known as “the city of Eternal Spring”, to Bogotá, one of the highest capitals in the world, the country has a great array of cities. But then you’ve also got the Caribbean coast of the country, home to some incredible beaches, wildlife and sunshine. On the coast is Barranquilla, the home of worldwide superstar Shakira and also the location of the second-largest Carnaval in the world, behind the one that takes place in Rio. The country is no longer how it has been portrayed in several recent Netflix shows.
A Central American country, it is known for having great beaches. It is also known for having an extremely diverse variety of nature, including both flora and fauna, and has the highest density of species in the whole world. Costa Rica was one of the pioneers of ecotourism, which focuses on sustainability and appreciation of the environment. Nicoya, a region of the country, is one of the five “blue zones” in the world: regions where people consistently live a lot longer than average.
The biggest island in the Caribbean is said to be so different from the UK but provides an amazing experience. Because of the Communist party that still runs the country, living there can feel like a step back in time. Internet isn’t widely accessible on the go, so Internet cafés are the best way to make contact with the rest of the world. Supermarkets aren’t a thing there either, so you buy your groceries from people who have set up tables in the street. The same with eating out – most of the “restaurants” will be in somebody’s house. Although this is so different to what you’ll be used to, it’s part of the charm of the place. Many people just go here to get a quick snap in one of the old American cars that populate the country, especially in the capital city, Havana (ooh na na).
This country is the most-visited destination in the Caribbean and attracts visitors with its amazing beaches. It shares the island of Hispaniola with French-speaking Haiti, and the capital Santo Domingo was the location of the first permanent European settlement in the Americas. It is also famous for being the birthplace of two well-known types of Latin music: bachata (which if you know Romeo Santos, you’ll be familiar with) and merengue. A lot of people travel to the country for their honeymoons.
Often overshadowed by it’s two more-visited neighbouring countries, Colombia and Perú, Ecuador still has loads to offer. Lying right on the equator (hence the name – ‘ecuador’ is the Spanish word for the Equator), it has an amazing climate that hardly changes throughout the year. Many people are attracted by the difficult-to-reach Galápagos Islands, made famous by the research done by Charles Darwin, which lie 1000km off the coast. There are tons of species which are endemic to this archipelago, also known as the ‘Enchanted Islands’.
This nation is the smallest in Continental North America and also one of the most densely populated countries in the Americas. There are many volcanoes in the country and many Salvadoran migrants live in the United States.
This is sure to be the least well-known country on this list, both because of its location and the fact that it is the smallest of the Spanish-speaking countries. The only Spanish-speaking nation in Africa, it is located on the West coast of the continent. Unlike Ecuador and despite its name, the Equator doesn’t pass through the country, but it still benefits from very similar, hot temperatures as it is very close to this line. It has a great variety of animals, including various primates, leopards and elephants. The nation only became independent from Spain in 1968!
A country directly south of Mexico whose name comes from an Aztec word that means ‘the place of many trees’, it is by far the biggest Central American country by population. The Mayan civilisation, one of the most-famous indigenous populations of the Americas which established its first settlement around 4000 years ago, had its roots here. Mayan architecture still has a strong presence in the country, with the pyramids they created (not the same as the ones in Egypt) being famous around the world.
Honduras is a country of lots of natural resources such as minerals, fruit and coffee. The Mayans had a significant presence here, too, including the famous site of Copán. More than 65% of the country is covered by mountains.
By far the most populous Spanish-speaking country in the world with around 130 million people, this is an increasingly attractive tourist destination. It’s very well-known for its amazing food, which has been incorporated into British cuisine (but at a much lower spice level: I lived with some Mexicans once and, even though I love spice, it was a struggle). The nation is home to one of the 7 Modern Wonders of the World, Chichén Itzá, and has extremely long coastlines on both the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean.
Lake Cocibolca is the third-largest lake in Latin America and doesn’t receive the attention it deserves, considering first that the biggest lake is actually a bay (Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela) and that it isn’t much smaller than Lake Titicaca, a place that receives so much attention. Within this lake, there are 400 islets, 3 islands and 2 volcanoes, one of which is still active. The country produces a lot of great crops due to having extremely fertile soil, caused by volcanic deposits.
The Panama Canal is one of the greatest man made structures in the world, and of the greatest attractions of people to the country. This route provides a link between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and is extremely important for international trade. The country has very close ties with the USA.
This is one of the least travelled destinations in South America, potentially because it borders the giants of Brasil and Argentina, plus the fact that it’s landlocked. However, its popularity as a tourist destination is strongly growing. The country is well-known for being the only officially Spanish-speaking country where Spanish is not the most-spoken language: guaraní, an indigenous language, is spoken by more of the population than Spanish is.
My favourite country. The most obvious attraction here for most people is Machu Picchu, another Wonder of the World and an incredible Incan citadel tucked away in the mountains. You can do some amazing treks to the site, on which you’ll pass through snowy mountains as well as rainforest environments. Apart from this, there’s also the capital, Lima, which lies on the Pacific coast and holds amazing culture and personality. There are also some other great hiking regions such as Huaraz in the north, and the Colca Canyon near Arequipa.
The home of the language. Spain often gets overlooked in favour of further travels to South America when people are looking at going to Spanish-speaking countries, but the country more than holds its own. The capital Madrid is an incredibly beautiful city with lots of great architecture. Barcelona is the main draw for tourists to the country, being by the coast and with a great nightlife, plus attractions by Gaudí seemingly wherever you look. But there’s also much more than this all over the country’s 17 autonomous regions – plus the food is amazing, and they have CHURROS.
The second-smallest country in South America, being only ahead of Suriname in the rankings. It ranks very well across many statistics and is an extremely forward-thinking nation: it has passed many positive reforms for homosexuals, was the first country in the world to completely legalise cannabis and provides free education from nursery level all the way until graduation from university.
Unfortunately, in recent times this country has suffered from a lot of problems, but it is an amazing place. Angel Falls (el Salto Ángel), the world’s highest uninterrupted waterfall, is one of the biggest attractions. It lies on the Caribbean sea which means it has great weather along the coast and is one of the most urbanised countries in Latin America.
Of course, there are other regions where Spanish is widely spoken, but we have covered the countries where it is an official language by law. Other countries/ territories where the language is widely used are Andorra, Belize, Gibraltar, the USA and especially Puerto Rico.
Each episode of our podcast, the ESpeak Spanish Podcast, covered one of these Spanish-speaking countries, and the last episode of the season came out yesterday! This episode was all about Honduras, so if you’re interested in practising your Spanish while learning about these Spanish-speaking countries this would be a great resource for you.
Over the coming weeks, we’re going to be going into a bit more detail about some of these Spanish-speaking countries, looking at some of the biggest tourist attractions and hopefully inspiring you to travel to at least one of these countries soon!