Maximo Nivel: Everything You Need to Know | An In-Depth Review


With four Institutes and unparalleled in-country support, Maximo Nivel is a leader in international education, study abroad, and travel in Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Peru. This organization is a top-ranked local provider in Latin America, specializing in three specific areas for people who want to journey and work abroad:

  1. Work abroad, inviting individuals and groups to volunteer abroad and pursue international internships with impactful projects
  2. Study abroad, offering internationally-accredited programs for students, including Spanish-immersion coursesstudy abroadhigh school abroadTEFL certification, and university study at Maximo Nivel’s world-renowned institutes
  3. Travel abroad to exotic destinations for adventures and cultural exchange excursions, as well as gap year programs and professional certifications in scuba and yoga.

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About Maximo Nivel

Founded by Giovanna (from Lima, Peru) and Ken Jones (originally from the US), Maximo Nivel operates four educational institutes in Costa RicaGuatemala, and Peru. While living in Cusco, Peru in late 2002, Giovanna and Ken realized a need for native English teachers, small class sizes, and above all, excellent client service. Like most people who start an organization, they felt they could deliver something very special to meet those needs. As Maximo Nivel’s ESL institute grew, the young organization began to build on the idea of creating an “intercultural center.”

“We created the institute around the idea of bringing our local students together with our international students and we slowly built out our programs to focus on educational travel and study abroad,” says Ken.

Sixteen years later, Maximo Nivel brings thousands of people together every year across a number of complimentary programs including Volunteer Abroad, International Internships, TEFL Certification, Spanish Immersion, University Courses, English as a Second Language, among others. They give the opportunity for individuals to volunteer in Costa Rica orphanages, serve a Guatemala medical mission, teach English in Peru, and so much more.

It is a “feet-on-the-street, live here, work here kind of organization” with institutes, employees, and project infrastructure in all of three countries. Maximo Nivel continually invests in its staff and facilities – dedicated instructors and facilitators are multicultural and multilingual, and available for support 24/7.

Maximo Nivel’s mission is to be a professional, ethical, and hard-working organization dedicated to providing a great experience to every student, volunteer, and client. Its goals are to:

  1. Deliver high-quality, safe, affordable programs
  2. Provide the best Spanish language immersion in all of Latin America
  3. Train and certify world-class ESL teachers
  4. Organize excellent internships and other opportunities for international work experience
  5. Improve impact at every volunteer project site where they work
  6. Help people experience the world through education, adventure, and cultural travel

Who Travels With Maximo Nivel?

Maximo Nivel’s programs and volunteer projects are open to travelers from all backgrounds and interests. Their brand of educational travel has grown as a viable option for a variety of travelers: from solo adventurers to high school and university students, young adult groups, retirees, and even families. It’s hard to pinpoint the “average” participant as Maximo Nivel has simultaneously seen younger and older travelers every year.

The organization also works with university study abroad groups – both faculty-led and student-led – and during the summer, they offer an awesome Spanish Camp in Costa Rica for high schoolers. Participants by age group include:

  1. University students: 18-24
  2. Young professionals: 25-35
  3. Teens: 13-17
  4. Mature learners: 40+

Most of Maximo Nivel’s participants come from the United States, Canada, and Europe, followed by Australia and South Africa. Recently, they have seen a huge increase of people traveling from Mexico, Brazil, China, and various Asian and Middle Eastern countries, as well.

Some participants join for a week and others stay on for a year – on average, people join Maximo Nivel anywhere from two weeks to six months.

Travel Opportunities With Maximo Nivel

Maximo Nivel offers a variety of programs at its institutes in Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Peru. Programs are created with the intention of providing participants a cultural immersion experience that includes unique opportunities to volunteer or intern abroad, study Spanish, teach English, and more. Participants experience more than just a vacation – they experience life-changing educational travel. These programs run from as short as one week and for as long as one year, and they can be focused in one specific area, or can be customized to include a combination of activities.

Maximo Nivel’s programs include:

  1. Volunteer Abroad
  2. International Internships
  3. TEFL Certification
  4. Spanish Immersion
  5. Gap Years
  6. University Courses
  7. Spanish Camp (teens)

Volunteer Abroad

Join Maximo Nivel’s Volunteer Abroad program and choose from a number of social issues and projects where you can work to help make a difference in Costa RicaGuatemala, and Peru. Choose to work with programs ranging from childcare, teaching English, sea turtle conservation, jungle reforestation, organic farming, beach conservation, construction, animal care, medical and healthcare, and working with indigenous communities.

Volunteering with Maximo Nivel allows you to live and work in Latin America, immersing yourself in a new culture while helping to support local development efforts. Fees for these programs are affordable and transparent, and allow the organization to ensure your safety, pay for your housing and food, and employ the in-country team that supports all volunteers.

In addition to personal enrichment, if you’re a US citizen, you can receive the United States’ President’s Volunteer Service Award when you complete 100 hours of service. This honor includes your award pin, certificate, and letter from the president.

Volunteer Adventure in Latin America

Maximo Nivel makes it simple to combine a volunteer expedition with fun and exploration. The Volunteer Adventure program is a two-week cultural experience that places you on an international community service program for five days, with the next six days focusing on exploration. You can choose Costa Rica, Guatemala, or Peru, and the program includes housing and food with a family-stay while volunteering, and at a hostel or hotel while traveling. Private rooms and apartments are also available for an extra fee.

Some of the adventures that you’ll embark on include:

  1. Costa Rica: Poas Volcano, La Paz Waterfall and coffee tour, Tortuga Island tour, and three days at Manuel Antonio National Park
  2. Guatemala: Volcano Pacaya hike, surf lessons on the beaches of El Salvador, and zip-line tour
  3. Peru: Cusco city tour, Sacred Valley tour, Machu Picchu overnight tour, two-day tour of Lake Titicaca and Puno

International Internship

Consider one of Maximo Nivel’s international internship programs if you want college credit for a volunteer experience, or if you’re seeking a professional development opportunity abroad. There are a variety of opportunities available, from teaching in a public school, to working with a micro-business, or contributing to an NGO or government agency as a part of the human rights internship. Or choose a medical program if you’re interested in the field. And Maximo Nivel’s hospitality and tourism program lets you gain valuable experience in client service, sales, and marketing. There are even special education internships for those hoping to work in the field of special needs.

Available in Costa RicaGuatemala, and Peru, your internship program is personalized from the beginning. When you live and work internationally, you’re showing employers that you are a flexible person, able to adapt, and an effective communicator with people from other backgrounds. As an intern, you’ll get practical, professional experience, and develop your Spanish language skills and cross-cultural expertise.

TEFL Certification

Teaching English as a Foreign Language provides English speakers an exciting opportunity to travel, live, and work abroad. And volunteers can expand a Spanish speaker’s opportunities by playing a part in their English education. But tackling a placement overseas teaching English is daunting if you’re a recent graduate, or even an experienced teacher.

Maximo Nivel offers you the chance to build your career skills and expand your knowledge and techniques with a TEFL certification course – this option prepares you for the formal, rigorous review process of TEFL Accreditation. It meets all global standards for the exam, and Maximo Nivel even guarantees lifetime job-finding support.

The organization also offers some of its TEFL graduates paid work as teachers in its Native English Program in Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Peru. When you graduate from Maximo Nivel’s TEFL program, you’ll receive resume assistance, lists of language schools in your preferred destination country, access to job boards with ESL positions, introduction to Maximo Nivel’s ESL teacher recruitment partners, a letter of reference, and much more.

Scholarships Available for TEFL Certification

If you’re a previous participant with volunteer program through Maximo Nivel, and interested in the TEFL Certification program, you’re invited to apply for the Nicholas Epstein memorial TEFL scholarship, provided by the Loudin-Epstein family in memory of their son. Nick taught English as a second language at Maximo Nivel before becoming its graphic designer in 2013, then its creative director in 2014. He worked with Maximo Nivel until 2017. The scholarship is a full ride for the Maximo Nivel TEFL Certification program and covers tuition, books, housing, and meals in Costa Rica, Guatemala, or Peru.

Intercultural Exchange through Tandem Conversations

Creating opportunities for people to interact with and learn from each other is part of Maximo Nivel’s mission, and its multi-program, multi-language institutes serve as gathering places for people from around the globe. The institute “melting pot” invites international travelers and local English language learners to connect in a positive way, sharing tandem conversationsand exchanging stories and cultural traditions in a free atmosphere.

This is a flexible program that allows people to participate as time allows – from one hour to 10 hours per week, sharing conversations, helping others improve their vocabulary, and learning about each other over coffee, during a walk to the market, while hiking or playing soccer, having lunch, or touring local sites. It’s a great way to move your language comprehension to the next level.

Spanish Immersion

If you’d like to become a Spanish speaker, Maximo Nivel customizes its courses to your specific Spanish learning requirements, including Spanish for Specific Purposes (SSP) courses, such as Medical Spanish and Spanish for Business. The organization offers small group classes to learners of all levels, or can tailor your instruction with a private tutor and one-on-one lessons. Group classes are organized based on your results on Maximo Nivel’s free Spanish Placement Exam. If you’re ready to become fluent, you may want to check out Super Intensive Spanish courses, which place you in a small group class for four hours, followed by two hours of private lessons.

Gap Year Programs

Transform your life with a gap year, becoming more focused and aware of what you want to do when you attend university, or if you’re a graduate and seeking inspired change. Spend time on a Maximo Nivel gap year program designed to help you discover new skills and interests through work, study, and travel. Connect with others and get involved in community service. Spanish classes include all levels from Basic to Fluency, and the variety of volunteer options is varied.

Your 24-week itinerary is pre-planned, while being flexible, with weekends free and two-week vacations for treks, tours, and time to relax. This gap year program includes:

  1. 12 weeks of Spanish language classes
  2. 20 weeks of volunteering, divided between three or four programs
  3. One-week surf school
  4. One-week scuba certification
  5. Two-week break with housing

If you’d like, you can split your gap year program between countries with Maximo Nivel’s Country Jumper program. This takes you from Costa Rica to Guatemala to Peru, spending eight weeks in each of the countries. This program includes:

Costa Rica: eight weeks of Spanish language classes; four weeks of volunteering with kids, and one week of surf school

Guatemala: eight weeks of Spanish language classes; four weeks of volunteering with kids, and four weeks of volunteering with eco-agriculture

Peru: four weeks of Spanish language lessons; four weeks of construction volunteering, and four weeks of volunteering for jungle conservation

University Credit Abroad

University credit is available for gap year programs, including Spanish language studies and service learning. Maximo Nivel offers opportunities for you to receive university credit toward your major, minor, or elective requirements through Spanish Immersion, volunteering and service learning, or through an international internship. The organization partners with California State University-San Marcos (CSUSM), as the official School of Record, or you can work with your own university to arrange credit.

High School Abroad

Maximo Nivel’s High School Abroad program is a Spanish Immersion program in Costa Rica. Spend a semester or an entire year at a fully-accredited high school in Latin America, and you’ll become a bilingual speaker. This program is taught in English and is open to high school students from 9th to 12th grade – you’ll take AP classes, general education, sports, and more, while earning credit toward the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma.

Tuition includes all textbooks, workbooks and computer lab fees, and extra tutoring is available. Fees vary based on the school you choose. Students live with host families, and have a private room.

Mini Adventure

If you’re more interested in adventure, consider a Mini Adventure (or two) through Latin America. This trip could be your entire journey abroad, or you can tack it before or after a volunteer program. You’ll zipline through the jungle, hike a volcano, explore Machu Picchu, or learn to surf when you sign up for Maximo Nivel’s Mini Adventure program. All trips include housing and food. Here are some examples:

6-Day Beach & Jungle Adventure in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica: Includes a visit to Manuel Antonio National Park, rainmaker jungle tour, canopy zipline, whitewater rafting, and Nauyaca Waterfall hike

6-Day Mini Adventure in Guatemala: Includes volcano Pacaya hike, three days on the beach with surf lessons, two days in Tikal (airfare to Tikal included), and zip-line tour

6-Day Mini Adventure in Peru: Includes a Cusco city tour, Sacred Valley tour, Moray Ruins, two-day tour of Machu Picchu, and Lake Titicaca and Puno tour

Standouts And Accomplishments

International Accreditation

Maximo Nivel prides itself on being an internationally-accredited institute, which means they must adhere to strict codes of practice and maintain the highest professional standards. They are accredited by the following agencies:

  1. California State University-San Marcos
  2. Ministry of Education (Guatemala)
  3. Ministry of Education (Peru)

Because of their accreditation with California State University-San Marcos, college students looking to receive college credit for Spanish language immersion can do so either through this university or through their attending college.

Locally Owned and Operated

As well, Maximo Nivel is locally owned and operated, working directly in the destinations their offer their participants. This helps them to understand the needs of the local communities in which they work, plus the culture and the variations in language, which they can then educate and translate to their clients immediately upon their welcome orientation. Maximo Nivel strives to ensure that their clients, and the areas they work in, are benefiting from the organization’s commitments to them.

While Maximo Nivel is a local organization, they have a very international team – 60% to 70% are local, while about 30% are international. The team bonds over languages, cultures, food, and travel, and are all avid teachers and global citizens at heart.

We’re the real deal in terms of feet-on-the-street, gave-it-all-up to come live and work in Latin America. We love sharing that part of ourselves and working to make a difference, and when you bring that kind of passion and experience together, really cool things happen! And it means we have the know-how to create and organize really great programs.

Latina Majority-Owned

Maximo Nivel is proud to promote that the organization is Latina majority-owned. Giovanna Jones is a Peruvian native who contributes tremendously to the operations of all of their programs. She helps management to understand the different needs of the communities, and assists in the development of cultural sensitivity training for international employees.

Program Leadership and Safety

Maximo Nivel ensures that their team provides the best support possible for their participants, and focuses on developing their team members as leaders. For example, they have a team of Field Managers who work in the field with volunteers, and who create and manage service learning projects. The organization employs a local medical specialist in each country to help lead medical groups and health care projects, while a local construction foreman leads construction projects.

Maximo Nivel embraces the idea of client service and safety, evident in the infrastructure and “home base” provided for all of their participants. The organization has invested a great deal in their facilities and in their team, providing bilingual and trilingual staff, high-speed internet, computer lounges, institute access seven days per week, large common areas, and 24/7 support.

What’s Included?

It’s difficult to take someone out of their comfort zone and keep them confident while traveling in a foreign country, so Maximo Nivel makes this a priority. Program advisors guide each applicant through the registration process, and then the international team takes over once travelers are in-country. The organization’s staff also includes directors, field managers, and client service managers, each having a hand in developing a schedule for the trip and organizing travel.

Maximo Nivel’s institutes are open seven days per week, and provide free wifi, a computer lounge, and free coffee and tea at the onsite snack bar. In addition to destination- and program-specific activities, a monthly calendar informs all visitors of cultural activities and events at the Maximo Nivel institute and around the city. These can include tours, treks, museum exhibits, live music, and much more. All of Maximo Nivel’s travel programs include the following:

  1. Airport pick-up
  2. Program and safety orientation
  3. Walking tour
  4. Official program certificates
  5. Free Tandem Conversation Program
  6. Free Spanish language tutoring table
  7. Free salsa dance classes
  8. Free cooking classes
  9. Emergency contact 24/7

Reviews From International Travelers

It’s easy to learn what people think about traveling with Maximo Nivel: there are dozens of reviews and testimonials both on Maximo Nivel’s website and here on Volunteer Forever (Maximo Nivel is our top-rated provider), and the organization has a blog filled with articles written by participants and providing tips and insider information. Maximo Nivel also features reviews on Facebook, TEFL Course Review, 123 Teach Me, Language International, and Language Trip Reviews.

Here are a few of Maximo Nivel’s testimonials from happy travelers:

Thank-you for everything Maximo! I’ve now volunteered in Cusco and Costa Rica. The volunteering was great, the people were amazing and the memories will be with me forever! Thanks for one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life!

– Andrew

I have researched a lot of TEFL courses and decided on Maximo Nivel. It was an awesome course and it really prepared us for teaching English. It was very thorough and the amount of practical teaching time was impressive!

– Laura

TEFL was amazing and I’m so happy I decided to do this. Teaching has always been in the back of my mind and because of this class I definitely want to do this.

– Jordan

The Spanish lessons are so well taught I definitely recommend taking advantage. I am becoming more and more comfortable speaking every day! Thanks for everything guys! Looking forward to my last 2 weeks!

– Roxy

Ready To Travel?

If you’re not sure where to start, check out some of Maximo Nivel’s most popular programs for some inspiration:

  1. Medical Internships
  2. Micro Business Internships
  3. Education Internships
  4. TEFL Certification
  5. Construction Volunteer
  6. Sea Turtle Conservation Volunteer

Or if you’re interested in up-and-coming travel opportunities, here are a few ideas:

  1. Indigenous Communities
  2. Scuba Certification
  3. Yoga Instructor Certification

Of Maximo Nivel’s three destination countries, Guatemala in particular may be perfect for travelers looking for a mix of everything: according to the Maximo Nivel team, their program site in Guatemala is more similar geographically to Costa Rica with lush jungles, rainforests, beautiful mountainous views, and situated between the Pacific and Caribbean coasts. And in a similar manner to Peru, Guatemala maintains a rooted ancient culture with preserved ruins, more than 20 indigenous languages, and traditional fashions and art. If you’re ready to experience the beauty, charm, and culture of Guatemala, check out Maximo Nivel’s programs in La Antigua!

Ultimately Maximo Nivel’s goal in helping you choose a destination and program is to make sure the experience is right for you: that you embark on the trip that you’re looking for. The team is always looking to expand their travel options and the study abroad programs they offer, while making sure their programs remain low-priced and accessible to as many people as possible.

Stay tuned for new programs and projects – including semester study abroad programs – in the coming year!

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