My Top 10 Hostels and Budget Hotels in South America

Here are my top 10 places to stay while travelling through South America, all based on my own experience at the time of my stay during 2017.

Colombia

Casa Viejas – Minca – Colombia

£9 a night

Minca is a small village inhabited by 800 people at an elevation of 650m in the Sierra Nevada above Santa Marta.

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Casa Viejas goes into my top 3 favourite places is stayed during my 6 months in South America. The incredible views out across the valley where on a clear night you can see the twinkling lights of Santa Marta, the pure tranquility of just hearing the birds and the buzz of the jungle below. Waking up to this view every morning was such a treat.

Run by a French couple and their volunteers, Casa Viejas has the best breakfast in Colombia, served with fresh coffee straight from the La Victoria Minca that surrounds the hostel. Freshly filtered water is available, and with no wifi and evening meals served together it is great for socialising and getting to know your fellow guests each evening.

I recommend making the most of the tours available and visit the La Victoria finca via the water falls, and take in the unspoilt beauty.

Recommended – Accessible only by motorbike (with your backpack on your back is fun) or 4×4 this is perfect for travellers who who want to relax and enjoy nature and get away from buzz of the world for a few days

My Rating 10/10

 

Dreamer Hostel – Santa Marta, Colombia

£7 a night

Santa Marta is a city in Colombia. It is the capital of Departamento del Magdalena and the fourth-largest urban city of the Caribbean Region of Colombia,

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Dreamers is like being in an all inclusive resort, where you never have to leave.

Comfy dorms and beds, great shared bathroom with enough showers and toilets so you never have to queue (but avoid using the hand towel) there was a spate of pink eye going round when I was there.

There is Swimming pool  to cool off from the days heat or just chill and recover from your latest trek. There is tasty and well priced food available all day.

The location is perfect for visiting Parque Tayrona for either the day or you can leave your bags in the lock up and go off and explore further along the coast. Anyone doing the Lost City trek will find this a good base to start and finish. One of the best places to meet other travellers from all over the world with each evenings activities and organised day tours – really friendly staff that just makes the whole experience wonderful.

Recommended – Best place to start if you are a hostel virgin or just starting your trip and want to meet people and have some fun. Not for those wanting a quiet night.

My Rating 8/10

Ecuador

Lulú lama – Isinlivi, Ecuador

Price on request.

Isinlivi is a small village high up in the Andean mountains of Ecuador, it one of the town you stay in when doing the four day Quilotoa Loop.

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Lulu Lama is one of those hostels you walk into and think – is this really a hostel – it looks more like a ski chalet you would find in the Swiss Alps, with the wooden interior and burning fire keeping the place toasty warm.

The perfect place to spend a cosy night after a long days hiking . Super cosy dorms and private rooms, or splash out for the cottages that over look the valley.

There is a spa area where you will find a jacuzzi to relax those weary feet with a cold beer. Re count the days hiking with your fellow travellers over some home cooked food, laughing with those that got lost, followed by a game of cards by the fire .

Recommended – Single travellers and couples.

My rating 9/10

 

Hostería Izhcayluma – Vilcabamba Ecuador

£7.80 a night

Vilcabamba- Vilcabamba is a village in the southern region of Ecuador, in Loja Province, about 45 km (28 mi) from the city of Loja

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The perfect last stop in Ecuador before heading into Peru, this hostel definitely  makes my top 3. This is a hotel that offer dorms at hostel prices and the facilities are the best you can find at any hostel in South America.

A beautiful restaurant with an extensive menu freshly cooked for breakfast, lunch and dinner, a separate bar with pool table to unwind after a long days trek, and a swimming pool to soak up the days rays. The highlight and added bonus for all you yogis, is the free yoga each morning and afternoon.

The cabin style private rooms each with a private balcony are perfect for couples or families. The dorms each with 6 singles beds (not a bunk bed in sight) –  each with a mezzanine floor and an incredibly large bathroom.

There are self orientating treks of differing difficulty that surround the hotel and well worth trying out while there.

Recommended – Yogis, couples, families and travellers that need some time out from the usual backpacking and hostel life.

My rating 10/10

Peru

Eco lodge – Mancora – Peru

From £53 a night

Máncora is a town and beach resort in the Piura Region, in northwestern Peru. It is located in the Talara Province and is capital of the Máncora District.

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The perfect treat for a traveller who has been on the road a few months and needs some luxury and comfort at a good price.

My final top 3 of my stays in South America, a small and boutique hotel with only 5 rooms, set around a beautiful garden and swimming pool. The bright pink flowers against the natural wood and bright blue sky are so inviting, I could have stayed here for days.

Off the beaten track away from the hustle and bustle of the Main Street in Mancora – you have real peace and quiet to take stock, write your blog or catch up on life.

Freshly baked breakfast and a super french host to look after you, even Tofu the dog is there to give you comfort.

The rooms are simple and chic, with wood slated walls, grey slate floor and white linens. The enormous king size bed and luxury cotton linens make you just want to cosy up with Netflix or someone else and never leave.

The luxury of having, shampoo , conditioner and soap and freshly washed soft towels all makes this worth it for at least one night for any traveller in the need of some me time .

Recommended – Travellers in the need for some me time

My Rating 10/10

 

Loki del mar, Mancora , Peru

£7 a night

Máncora is a town and beach resort in the Piura Region, in northwestern Peru. It is located in the Talara Province and is capital of the Máncora District.

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Loki is more like walking into an apartment complex in the Costa del Sol , than a hostel that only costs £7 a night.

Promoted as a party hostel, the Loki group have hostels in all the major cities in Peru and in La Paz, Bolivia.

After my luxury 2 night stay in Eco Lodge I was in the mood to party for a few days and Loki did not disappoint.

Full of young 20 something travellers, the day I arrived there was water sliding and gladiator drinking games going on. The music starts at 10am and eventually finishes when the bar closes, which can be anytime the staff deem it no longer full enough to stay open.

The rooms are a good size, mixture of single beds and bunks each with on suite shower room and separate toilets. The Pool is a real bonus and ideal for cooling down in the 30 degree heat or jumping in and joining the many games that are played. The evenings come alive with themed nights, with the day guests from the rest of the resort that come and enjoy the fun.

Happy hour is 6pm to 9pm everyday and if you get beer cap in the bucket you get a free shot. This never happened from want I could see!! The menu is pretty good too and not expensive, with a mixture of local and western food.

Recommended – If you want to sleep then Loki is not for you.

My rating 8/10

 

Wild Olive Guesthouse , Huacachina, Peru

£10 a night

Huacachina is a village built around a small oasis and surrounded by sand dunes in southwestern Peru

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This was a little gem of a find, very clean with plenty of space to relax and unwind and catch up on Netflix. The main living area had 2 great big sofas and large tv, it felt like being at home.

The rooms were possibly a little small for 6/8 bunks, but still very comfy and clean, with great showers and hot water –  Which is all you need after a day of sand surfing in the desert.

There is a cute restaurant attached to the back that over looks the oasis and does great breakfast and food.

Recommended – all types of travellers

My rating 8/10

£6 a night

Magicpacker Hostel – Cusco , Peru

Cusco s a city in southeastern Peru, near the Urubamba Valley of the Andes mountain range. It is the capital of the Cusco Region and of the Cusco Province. This is the main base for all travellers wanting to trek to Machu Picchu.

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The magic packer was my base for a few days before and after my Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu. The rooms were all really big, with larger than usual really comfy bunk beds.

The rooms are all situated around large courtyard, that is perfect for chilling in the sun on bean bags, breakfast is included in the price and isn’t bad for Peru. Its situated just out of the main busy part of Cusco, which makes it much quieter without having to walk-up a hill to get away from it all.

The showers were the best I have had in all my travels in Peru, powerful hot water and plenty of them. There is a lock up for you to leave your large backpack when going on a trek for a few days.

Recommended – For all travellers

My rating 8/10

 

Bolivia

Hostel Wara Uta, sla del Sol, Yumani

£22 a night includes breakfast and Wifi

Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun) is an island in the southern part of Lake Titicaca

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At the top of the hill nestled amongst a few other hostels and homes, this little hostel of no more than 4/5 rooms is so idyllic set in a beautifully well maintained garden. The rooms are clean and most of the time has hot water. Its a good walk from the boat with a few hundred steps and steep accent to get to, but so worth it for the views and the friendly greeting from the owner.

The hostel is perfectly located for exploring the island and trying the best restaurant for miles. Las Velas is a cute little restaurant snuggled amongst eucalyptus trees at the top of the village, a great place to unwind with a glass of red and watch the sunset.

Las Velas is a one man band owned by Pablo, a gourmet chef who use to work in posh restaurant in Lima.

It runs without electricity, meaning each table is lit by candle light and set inside the front part of Pablo’s house. The kitchen is to the rear where Pablo cooks and prepares delicious dishes like steamed fresh trout in white wine or homemade lasagne, with his head torch as the only form of light.

Recommended – for couples or groups of 3/4

My rating 8/10

Chile

Valle Mistrel – La Serena, Chile

£12 a night

Valle Mistrel is more like a hotel than a hostel, sometimes it make sense to pay a little extra to be in nice surroundings. From the front it looks just like any other small hostel that you stumble across, brightly painted and with sign posts with all the major cities with their distance.

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Behind the glass door, is large long and beautifully cultivated space. The reception area, what looks like use to be the living room to the original house, but now houses the new fleet of bikes for hire. I arrived in the middle of the night and made use of the sofa to kip until the reception was open. The night porter was a bit clueless.

This backs onto a large garden – come patio that follows the length of the building, where you will find most of the double rooms.

Plenty of seats too chill, and listen to the music that is piped from above, the trickle of water from the water feature and the Avery of birds all makes for a pleasant relaxing environment.

Each double room is clean and spacious, comes with complimentary soft white towels. Each with an ensuite and all the essentials you find in a hotel. The breakfast terrace over looks the Garden from the rear.

However, the new addition and the jewel in the crown is the incredible roof terrace, with bespoke furniture made of old furniture and the panoramic views of the whole city.

Just below are the new dorms, with the most comfortable bunk beds I have slept in yet. The only downside is no mirror in the ensuite .

Recommended – For all Travellers that like nice surroundings

My rating 9/10

Top 10 things to do in Colombia 

Colombia is so large, travelling from Cartaenga on the coast to Bogota the capital, is like travelling from Manchester in the UK to Paris. It’s such an incredible and fascinating country, that it would be hard to see and do everything unless you have few months to travel. 

To help you, I have pulled together my top 10 recommendations of what to see and do from my 6 weeks in Colombia, and even I didn’t get to do everything. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did. 

1) Parque Tayrona 


Parque Tayrona has some of the best beaches that Colombia has to offer and is Colombias most popular national park. To get to the beaches you will need to hike a minimum of two hours, through the jungle and along the beautiful coast line. Make sure you take plenty of water with you, as its pretty hot and humid. 

I would recommend you leave you big bag at the Dreamer Hostel in Santa Marta and take enough for 1 night 2 days, and spend a night in the park sleeping in a hammock at El Cabo San Juan. If you get there early you can claim a hammock overlooking the sea high up on the lookout point, otherwise it will be a sweaty tent.

Expect there to be lots of other travellers doing the same. Alternatively you can book one of the many hostels and eco hotels just outside the park.

Make sure you take plenty of bug repellent as the mosquitos and sand flies are pretty ferocious here.

Getting to the Park

  • Shuttle from Santa Marta – most hostels provide a daily shuttle service to the park 15,000cop/£3.60
  • Local bus from Santa Marta – Take the bus headed to Palomeno and ask for the park. 10,000cop/£2.50
  • Taxi from Santa Marta – 30,000-40,000cop/£7-£9 

There are a few trekking options 

  • 6-7 hour round trip through the jungle via El Pueblito where you will find some indigenous locals. Access vis Colionas de Calabazo entrance and return via the coast route to the main entrance. 
  •  4 hour round trip along the coast. This is the same beautiful trek there and back and takes 2 hours. For a quicker route back follow the horses, as it only takes 1 hour 30 minutes through the jungle. 
  • To access this route via the main park entrance and take the minibus to the start of the trail.

     Costs 

    • Accommodation – Hammock 25,000cop/£6 – Hostel 25,000/£6 – Eco Hotel 163,000cop/£40
    • Park entrance 48,000cop/£12 (require your passport)
    • Minibus 3500/£1


    2) Minca


    For the ultimate relaxation, I recommend you stay a few nights in the mountains, in the middle of a finca (coffee farm) 1600m above sea level close a a little village called Minca. This hidden gem is relatively new on the tourist trail, so therefore a lot less commercial than its neighbouring tourist traps. 

    There are some Hostels in Minca, but take the extra 30 minute motorbike ride deep into the jungle and stay at Casa Viajes. You won’t be disappointed with the view, the hostel or the friendly staff. And it was the best cooked meal I had had at any hostel. To help you relax even more and switch off from the world, you wont find any wifi, although there is a computer to use if required.

    Make sure you take advantage of the daily organised hikes, yoga, bird watching and the tour of the La Victoria coffee farm. La Victoria is a self sustainable coffee farm that uses the nearby waterfall to power the coffee bean processing and supplies electricity for surrounding inhabitants, including Casa Viajes.

    Costs – 

    • transport from Santa Marta – 15,000cop £4 hostel bus – taxi from Santa Marta 60,000cop/£14
    • motorbike taxi up the hill – 20,000cop/£5
    • Accommodation – Dorms 34,000cop/£8.5 –  private room 89,000cop/£22 – Breakfast 10,000/£2.50 – Dinner 21,0000cop/£5

    top tip – take plenty of money as there are no cash machines 


    3) Water rafting in San Gil

    San Gil is the best place in Colombia to try out all the adventure sports like, rafting, bungee, rappelling, zip lining and mountain biking . Some of the cheapest you can find in South America, so make the most of it. I would recommend the rafting on the class 4/5 river, it was really well organised by Colombia Rafting, the rafting guides are all part of the national rafting squad. 

    It is a half day activity, with three hours on the river and an hour each way traveling, lunch is provided. If you haven’t experienced rafting before, this is the best place to try for your first time, as they use larger rafts so your are less likely to fall out.  However it does still happen so be prepared.

    Cost

    •  130,000cop £36 


    4) Watch a live football match 


    The Colombians are such a passionate nation and no more so than when it comes to their football. One of the highlights of visiting Colombia is going to watch a football game at one of the many stadiums in the big cities. I’m not a football fan particularly, but I loved the atmosphere, listening to the many chants the fans sing throughout the whole match.

    There tends to be a local team and the national team. Both give an incredible experience, although the level of football will differ massively. Oh and the Cerveza is alcohol free so don’t be fooled by the vendors. 

    Buying at the stadium is much cheaper than going on a organised tour

    Costs

    • Entry Price 25,000cop £6 
    • Organised tours 70,000cop/£17

    top tipbuy a football shirt for 25,000/£6 from one of the street vendors, as everyone will be wearing one.


    5)  Take a Salsa lesson in Cali –

    Salsa is the national dance of Colombia and everyone can dance it, all be at differing levels. You will hear Salsa or Regatón blaring from every bar, club and car in Colombia. Dancing Salsa is the best way to meet the locals. So take advantage of the many free Salsa lesson on offer when in Cali or request a private lesson. You won’t be disappointed. 

    El Viarejo Hostel has free salsa lessons for all guests.


    6) Barichara 

    If you get to stay in San Gil, then make sure you do the day trip to Barichara. A beautifully unspoilt village with cobbled sandstone roads, whitewashed single story buildings with terracotta roofs. This is by far one of my favourite villages in Colombia and with very few tourists.  Try and take the bus in the morning and have lunch at one of the cute restaurants around the square. 

    If you feel energetic then take the 5km, three hour hike to Guane and take in the spectacular views of the valley beneath. The road reminded me of Dorothy’s yellow brick road initially, but as we ventured further into the wilderness, it became more isolated and arid from the scorching sun beating down. I had visions of Jesus walking to Nazareth – don’t ask me why….

     You reach quaintest little Colombian village and if you have time, stay the night at the beautiful Casa Misia Custodia Hotel

    How To Get There

    • Catch a bus from the small Contra San Gil bus station on the corner of Calle 17 / Carrer 10. 
    • Ask for Barichara and the bus leaves every 30 minutes. 
    • The bus will take 45. Minutes
    • Costs 6000cop £1.50



    7) Cathedral de Sal 

    If you have a few days in Bogota then the Salt Cathedral is well worth the two hour bus journey 30km. You may wonder, why build a Cathedral hundreds of metres underground in a salt mine. All will be answered by the guide that will take you on a one hour tour. I was totally amazed at what man can still acheieve, an in in such a short time.

    How To Get There

    The B74 from Las Aguas bus terminal to Portal North was simple enough, you buy a plastic bus pass for 6500cop/£1.60 which includes your bus fare. Walk to platform 2 through the underpass to catch the B74, don’t wait under to sign that says B74 as it’s wrong and you will wait like me for twenty minutes before you realise this isn’t the stop. The bus network is pretty impressive and easy to use.

    After about 45 minutes your arrive at Portal Norte, and you go through the barrier to the intermunicipal platform and look for a bus with Zipa in the window. Get on and a young guy will take your fare once you are on the road (5000cop/£1.20). The bus takes about 45 minutes, once in Zipa get off around carrer 10a and then walk the rest of the way to the Cathedral. It’s a small town and easy enough to find the cathedral from the main square.

    Costs

    • Entrance 48,000cop/£11.90 one hour guide
    • Bus 5000cop £1.20 each way 



    8) Guatapé 

    Guatapé is one of those places that is on the tourist trail, but worth taking the two hour bus journey from Medellín. The climb up the 750 steps to the top of Piedra del Peñol (the rock) is worth it. The Stunning view of the Embalse del Peñol, a large lake beautifully sculptured by green peninsulares and home to some wealthy Colombians swimming in their pools. 

    From the rock you can catch a tuk tuk to the town of Guatapé, make sure you haggle the price, as 11000cop seemed a bit steep considering it was only 3km away. 

    Once in Guatapé you can take a boat out on the lake and visit some of the peninsulares or zip line across the water. Or do as i did, and sit and have their local dish of grilled trout while watching the action on the lake. 

    There is much too see in the town, it is full of the most beautifully painted buildings, little shops and cafes to meander around, but not for too long as the last bus leaves at 18:30


    How To Get There

    • Take the metro to Caribe Station – 4800cop/£1.19
    • Take a bus from the North Bus Terminal next to Caribe metro station. Buses leave four times an hour and cost 13000/£3.20
    • Entrance to the Rock – 18,000cop/£4.50
    • Tuk tuk 10,000cop/£2.50 (try and take it with other tourists to share the cost)


    9) Cascadas de Valencia 

    There are many waterfalls to see while in Colombia, some spectacular and some just meh. The dream is to swim under the waterfall and there is no better place than Cascades de Valencia. There are five waterfalls in total, with three that can be easily accessed and each having a clear pool of warm water to swim in. 

    How To Get There 

    • Either take a local bus from Santa Marta or Palomino that goes to Parque Tayrona and ask the driver for the Cascades and he will drop you off at the entrance. 
    • Bus 10,000/£2.50 – 15,000cop/£3.70 depending on where you come from
    • Entrance fee 3000cop/74p 


    10) Medellín 



    If there is any city that should be on your list while in Colombia, this city is it. By far my favourite city in Colombia, and one I would even consider moving too. The place is just so alive and full of energy, it has character, and not too impacted by the western world, unlike the Capital Bogota. 

    I would say that Colombians are probably the friendliest and kindest nationality I have ever met, yet the Paisans from Medellín are even friendlier and will go out of there way to help you.

    I have to admit it’s the not the most attractive of cities, but the people and vibe more than make up for that and in a way masks its ugliness. 

    It’s amazing to hear the stories and see for your self first hand what the city has been through over the last 30 years, and if ever a city has transformed and prospered the most in such a short time, then Medellín can show a lot of cities how its done.  

    Twenty years ago it was the most violent city in the word thanks to the drugs trade and the man that cannot be named ‘Pablo Escobar’. It’s is beacuse of this, the people of Medellín have such belief and determination in their city and own life, that it’s hard to stop or disagree with. It’s quite infectious. 

    In today’s Medellín I couldn’t have felt more safe walking around the City, obviously still being aware of my surroundings and understanding where to avoid, like in most big cities.

    They have a saying in Medellin “dont offer the papaya”. If you offer papaya it will be taken. This basically means dont give someone the opportuibity to take, as they will. It’s a nice way of making tourists think about their belonings and what they do.

    A great way to see the City and understand its past is to take the free city walking tour or visit Community 13, and witness the transformation yourself. 

    • Medeilin Free walking tour – Real City Tours meets at Alpujarra Metro station morning and afternoon. This requires online registration.
    • You pay a tip at the end of the tour, based on the experience – normally 30,000cop/£7 per person

    Where to Stay

    • Sugar cane Hostel – chilled and relaxed vibe – 31,000/£8 for a dorm
    • La playa Hostel – more of a party vibe but not too much –  39,000/£10
    • Airbnb  from 39,000cop /£10 double room – ideal for a longer stay 
    • treat youself  – Dann Carlton Hotel 

    Where to eat

    • Malevo – Argentina steak – really cute and perfect for a quiet dinner for 2 or dinner with friends. The Steak was amazing, with a good selection of Argentine wine. The Argentinian staff were really friendly and welcoming. 
    • Cafe Zorba – Pizza and Humous with a really lively atmosphere, it’s gets really busy at weekends.
    • Lenteja Expresa – great little vegetarian place that does quick and easy food.
    • Verdeo – Vegetarian , with amazing iceream. The resataurnat is set on the second floor, with a great open feal and lots of plants to make you feel relaxed. It has a real scandy feel to it. Amazing food too.
    • Mondongoz – the perfect place to try out the typical Paisan cuisines. Full of locals and a great atmosphere.
    • Chiclayo Cocina Peruana Envigado – the best place for ceviche in Medellin 

    Where to Drink 

    • Victoria Regina – probably the coolist bar/restaurant in Medellin. Tends to have live music at the weekends.
    • Chiquita – little kitsch and camp bar with really fun decor. Good to start the night here for drinks.
    • 37 Park – great place to sit outside amongst the trees drinking sangria – gets lively at night when the music is turned up. 

    Where to Dance

    • Victoria Regina at weekends is perfect – they often have live music and is always full of locals and ex pats. 
    • Son Havana – best place in town to try out your salsa moves – its small and is full to the rafters with locals on Thursdays and Saturday when they have live salsa bands. 
    • Salon Amador – where the hottest people hangout for a night of dancing until 3am.


    Silento 

    Now I never managed to get here, but everyone else that I met had recomended it and said it was wonderful and one of the higlights of their trip. Its full of Coffee plantations and has some of the best trekking in Colombia. 

    ¡Hasta luego! Colombia.. Santa Marta to Cali

    The Dreamer Hostel turned out to be quite a party hostel, with daily games for travellers to play and get drunk. This resulted in me playing Beer Pong for the first time, killer pool and card games in order to just drink more. It was just like being at University again. Also it was a great way of meeting my fellow travellers. All of them shocked when they found out my age.. “I thought you would have been late twenties max” they say lol.

    Sitting at the bar, drinking a Club Colombia and chatting to Scott the Canadian that had a story for everything. I clock the bar girls stop mid pour and stare over my shoulder, I slowly turn to see what has caught their attention. Four guys arrive, the front two ripped and in good shape, and all in their twenties.

    James was the blond with perfectly styled hair, who looked like he had just walked off the set of ‘Made in Chelsea’. It’s turns out he went to Harrow School, need i say more .. The other Ed, had the most incredible blue eyes that dazzled you against his dark hair and tan.

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    It turns out they are from the UK, best of mates that have just graduated and are travelling for a year. They join in on the drinking games with everyone else and once enough is consumes and the bar closes, we all head to a salsa club La Puetra in Santa Marta.

    Boys being boys, they lark about and poor old Max, one of the four ends up with a sprained finger from trying to punch Ed. I sense this will be the sort of antics that will carry on through their year of travels. If they make it that far alive… Hilarious to watch.

    So Hostel life has treated me pretty well so far, but I soon realise that it is a hot bed for germs and god knows what else. All across Santa Marta there is a break out of pink eye, and several in my hostel have it. Apparently it had originated from the ‘Lost City’ four day trek, and from a couple of Gringos. Some travellers coming North from Medellin report of it having made it the 835 km South.

    Luckily I have avoided it – maybe it’s because I never use the gross hand towels. Why would anyone!!!

    One of the good things about being gay in Colombia, is there is little chance of meeting a hooker in a bar. For the straights its just damned hard to avoid it. Prostitution in Colombia is legal and they are everywhere.

    Dancing on the rooftop at La Brisa Loca – the best venue I have been to in Colombia. An attractive woman comes up to me and starts to dance, we speak some Spanish. I find out she is from Medellín and then she grabs my crotch and says “You like Sex”…

    I say “No Gracias¨and move away.

    Now I warn a couple of my new found friends to be careful of the the ladies, that some are ‘ladies of the night’. The majority heed my advice and some do not.. #dontkissahooker.

    Thankfully we all successfully make it back to the hostel together.

    What I love about this travelling alone, is you can do what you want when you want, you have the freedom to choose and just go with the flow. I did exactly this and changed my plans and headed to Minca and stayed at Casas Viejas for two nights.

    Minca lies 650m high in the Sierra Nevada and is a new find on the traveller route for Colombia, so still pretty unspoilt and only 15km from Santa Marta.

    Casas Viejas is thirty minutes further up the mountain and only accessible by motorbike. I hop on the back with both my travel backpacks and make the steep climb sometimes off road. Ouch my thighs..

    I hop off the bike at my destination. The beautiful Casas Viejas is in the middle of a finca – coffee farm. The view from the main dinning area is the best I have seen yet. Looking out across the jungle to the cloud covered mountains ahead with just the birds playing their tunes. Absolute paradise.

      

     

    The mornings are even more spectacular and on a clear day you can see Santa Marta on the horizon. At night your can walk higher up the finca to ‘Sunset point’ with a beer and watch the sky turn red and see the twinkling lights of Santa Marta in the distance. The food is pretty good here too, all cooked by volunteers. It’s perfect for hiking, bird watching over 300 species and seeing a lot of bugs, spiders and butterflies.

     

     

    The Coffee tour at La Victoria, was well worth the 20,000cop £5. This Coffee farm like so many others is completely self sustainable thanks to the nearby waterfall powering everything. The water powers a single generator that powers the farm, the local brewery , the surrounding houses and the hostel.

    A 24 pipe system across 150 hectares delivers the freshly picked Coffee beans to the little processing plant, and then goes through several processes of washing to make a bean ready to sell. Who knew most coffee is sold and shipped to its destination as a white bean, and is then roasted in the final destination.

      

     

    Nothing is wasted, the good coffee beans are sold to international buyers, the less quality coffee is sold locally and the skin layers that are removed from the coffee bean are all used to make fertiliser for the new plants. Too think that this area was a no go zone for travellers just over two years ago due to the fighting that has plagued Colombia for so much of its past.

    Due to my two amazingly chilled nights in the mountains I only have one night in Cartagena. Which to be honest I was fine with, from what I had heard from other travellers and from what I could see when I arrived.

    After the six hour bus journey, I took the 30 minute taxi to El Viarejo in the old town, and just saw a dirty, uninspiring tourist trap, full off ugly hotels. The old town was mildly better with some colourful colonial buildings, but little else. The stifling heat and humidity makes it hard to want to do much.

    Due to Avianca changing my flight to a 10am from a 7pm I didn’t have time to see much more of the city. Cali was my next destination and where my Colombian journey will come to an end.

    Cali is home to Salsa, so I was so excited to be experiencing the city and meeting up with my travel chum Laura. Taking the one hour flight, was far better than the 20 hour bus. I arrived at El Viarejo in the district of San Antonio. I took a taxi from the airport which took 30 minutes and was 45,000cop £11.

    El Viarejo have a few hostels in Colombia and out of the two I stayed in, this was the better of the two. The staff were much friendlier and the layout much nicer than the long corridor of Cartagena. The pool was perfect for cooling down, and the free nightly Salsa lessons were a great addition. The only down side was the bar closed 22:30, but this just forced you to head out to the many Salsa clubs, like Tin Tin Deo a must on a Thursday Evening.

    The area of San Antonio was really pretty, with a great selection of restaurants and cafes. Corrine a particular favourite for freshly baked bagels and coffee for breakfast, Cafe Mocando for some delicious ice cream feasts, La 4ta Pared Cafe for a cheap evening meal.

     

     

    Like many Colombian cities, there are the usual museums and church’s to see. Cali had lots of street art and murals painted on the side buildings that gave it a more youthful influence. Also there was a great indoor market ‘Plaza de Mercado Alameda’, worth a visit to try out the many varieties of fresh fruit and many street sellers selling ceviche.

      

     

    The time has come to make my final bus journey 12 hours South to Ipiales, the closest town to make the final journey across the border to Ecuador. We were advised to book through transipiales, as they were the best operator on this route.

    So glad we did, the bus was a double decker, we had seats at the front of the top deck, and the seats were super comfy and was my cheapest long distance bus journey at 45,000cop £11.

    We arrived at Ipiales at 9am and were shocked by the sudden drop in temperature, from the warm sun of Cali, here I had to search for my warm coat for the first time. Ten minutes from Ipiales is the ‘Santuario De Las Lajas’, a beautiful basilica church that looks like Rivendell from lord of the rings is worth visiting.

     

     

    One thing you notice this far South is how close you are to the border of Ecuador, as the local people change. They have become shorter, rounder and more brightly dressed. Can I say that!!! Oh well I have…

      

     

    Colombia you have been more than I could have imagined, and I am sad to be leaving. I look forward to my many more future visits to your fabulous country and I hope my experience will encourage more to visit.

     

    San Gil to the Caribbean Coast

    San Gil was a perfect fours days of relaxation, adventure sports and nature. There is something to do for everyone here, no matter what your fitness level or lack of enthusiasm for extreme sports. There were less expats than anywhere I have been so far, which makes for a nice change so I can practice my Spanish.

    Forty five minutes away on the bus is the most beautiful little village called Barichara – taken from the Indian word barichala meaning “a good place to rest”. The whitewashed walls and clay tiled single story houses, and stone slabs roads make it idyllic. It is by far the most beautiful little village I have visited and it appears to have escaped the negative impact of tourism that you can find in so many similar places.

    Feeling energetic from our morning run, Laura and I decide to take a two hour hike (5km) to a tiny Hamlet called Guane. The hike had spectacular views of the valley and surrounding mountains and was relatively easy.

    The road reminded me of Dorothy’s yellow brick road initially, but as we ventured further into the wilderness, it became more isolated and arid from the scorching sun beating down. I had visions of Jesus walking to Nazareth – don’t ask me why….

    Arriving into Guane some chickens run past us into the whitewashed house, and we follow the stone road that leads us to the main village square, which was so perfectly unspoilt and Colombian. Some old guys sitting playing games, and local women sweeping outside their beautiful white homes.

    We stumble across a fantastic little boutique hotel Casa Misia Custodia , that would be perfect for a quiet getaway or to book with friends for a special occasion. A central courtyard, has about 10 beautifully designed rooms along 2 sides, and a swimming pool and restaurant along another. 155,000cop £39 per night for a double room when booking two nights.

    Arriving back into San Gil, it is time to say say good bye to laura for now. I leave her watching the Colombian game against Paraguay, and agreed to meet her in Cali in a few weeks, before heading south.

    The Bus journey to Santa Marta is my longest so far at 12hours, but still much cheaper than flying at 60,000cop £15. A quick tip is get the hostel to book your bus, I saved 30,000cop £7.70 compared to the online price. I am so glad it was through the night, as the bus would overtake every lorry on a blind corner as we descend the mountain, and this was a super windy road.

    I arrive at the Dreamers Hostel in Santa Marta along with the other gringos off the bus. Oh and Gringo just means foreigner, nothing bad like it’s made out to be on T.V. Apparently it originates from locals saying “green eyes go”, so I was told by a Colombian.

    I check in and see a poster for a trip to the closest beach in Tayrona Park “Playa Bahia Concha”. I put my name down and take the last spot. My name is called by someone I would say could be the hottest Colombian I have met so far.

    I squeeze into his 4*4 and meet 6 guys from Belgium on their holidays. We drive through a rough part of town to get to this dirt track and drive for 30 minutes through the jungle.

    We arrive and so too have quite a few buses of locals and gringos. We reach the beach and I’m confronted with a row of gazebo style shelters with chairs and lots of locals. Not quite the picturesque national park I was expecting.

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    Thankfully Orlando – the driver takes us to the other end of the beach where it is empty and exactly what I had imagined. After four hours of sunbathing, swimming in the clear very warm sea, playing ball with the Belgium boys, and eating an expensive lunch the rain comes and it is time to leave. Most things in the park are overpriced, so take provisions with you if you’re on a budget.

    As we walk back, I use it as an excuse to practice my Spanish with Orlando and much to my surprise he compliments me on my accent and how easily he understands me. Obviously I’m super chuffed.

    It’s my First night in a 6 person dorm, I have a top bunk, it has a fan and a/c and a cute guy from oz. I’ll be fine I’m sure. Well that changed when I decided to get an early night to prepare for my day of hiking, and I find a guy and girl in the bunk below me.

    Obviously I didn’t tolerate the bunk moving for too long and popped my head over and made it clear it wasn’t going to continue. Thankfully they listened and I went to sleep.

    The hostel is super lively with lots of young Traveller’s in groups, and no surprise there are tons of Dutch. Colombia must be the top holiday destination for the Dutch, as they are everywhere and always really friendly.

    Tayrona Park is Colombias most popular national park. A jungle that hugs the coast line between Santa Marta and Palomeno, and has some incredible beaches. The entry is 48,000cop £12, there are a few hiking options you can take to get to the beaches. I opted for the 2 hour hike along the coast, not the 4 hour up and over the mountain to get to Cabo San Juan the main stop for visitors.

    You have the option to stay the night in the park in tents or in a hammock right next to the beach. I decided to stay in Hotel Chayrama just outside the park and enjoy a private room to myself. Chayrama was perfect, really relaxed and Danny who checks you in and then is your waiter for the evening, also takes you on local tours for free.

    I would definitely recommend staying over at least 1 night and spend 2 days exploring the area. Outside the park their are some great waterfalls like Cascades de Valencia where you can swim and escape the 90% humidity that drips continually down you neck.

    Goodbye Medellín

    So after 3 weeks in this fantastic city that is Medellín, and having met so many wonderful people it’s time to say adiós.

    Although I’m sad to be leaving, I am super excited about the adventures I’m about to embark on and the amazing places I am going visit. So before I say goodbye properly I have a few more tales of Medellin to share with you. I have met some great people and some hot guys while in Medellín.

    Ok – so the boys in Colombia are all, I can say on the most part HOT, all be it a little on the short side for my 6ft. It is amazing how different they can be from one city to the next. Not just like in the UK where it’s the accent that gives there place of birth away. Here it’s the looks, the attitude and just the way they are.

    My guides in Bogota I would say we’re a lot more reserved and just interested in meeting and hanging out. In Medellin, they couldn’t be more different. More open about what they want by getting straight to the point. Basically just skip all the other bits and try and get you straight into bed. Fine if you like that….

    This may have something to do with 25 being the average age of an openly gay guy here. It’s hard to find a local over 30, particularly on the local guide app I have utilised. Maybe they are just a more confident generation and have grown up through more excepting times.

    
    

    The other x pats I have met either through trips or Spanish school have been amazing. Danny and Katie who kindly let me live rent free for a few nights in their spare room made me feel so at home. Asia and Laura my party girls, that I had such a laugh with and danced many a night and morning away with.

    So much so that was a had a leaving night of fun planned for Laura and my departure. Yes Laura decided that 3 weeks of partying was enough and she would join me in some back to nature activities.

    The night started with the World Cup qualifier between Colombia and Paraguay. The preparations for the the national team playing started early on in the day, with every bar, restaurant and house festooned with balloons and the national flag ready for for the fans to cheer on their team.

    Sadly Columbia lost their game, but the beer continued to flow as too did the partying. We decided that a treat would make our Colombian friend Simon feel better. So a good Argentinian steak and 4 bottles of Malbec at the lovely Restaurante Malevo was very welcome.

    Let’s just say, after quite a few pitchers of beer at the game and a whole bottle of wine each, some could stand and some could not. This did not stop us from heading to the Cuban bar at Parque lleras for some salsa and what else – but some aguardiente. It was a great way to end my last night in this fabulous city.

    Feeling better than I should after the last night, I wanted to get a good view of the whole city and see it in its full glory – and where better than at the Pueblito Paisa. A purpose built Paisan town on the top of a hill in the middle of the city, giving you a 360 view of the city.

    As I head to the bus station, I feel there is still so much of the city I didn’t see, an excuse to return for sure. It is finally time to leave and take my first 7 hour overnight bus journey to Bucaramanga and then another 3 hours to San Gil. Actually it wasn’t bad at all. You get a seat that almost goes flat, and you get your own little screen to watch Spanish movies or listen to whale music to send you to sleep. I opted for a zop and slept most of the way.

    The bus stopped with a jolt as the bus driver is shouting “San Gil” trying to wake us from our travel trance. We step out into the blazing late morning sun. San Gil is a little town in the district of Santander, and is the best place for extreme sports in Colombia. Thankfully I have my new traveling companion Laura to explore it it with.

    Having stayed in an Airbnb while in Medellín it was finally time for me to try my first hostel EVER. Airbnb was perfect for the longer stay and was just as cheap as the hostels, just without 7 other people in the same room. I certainly recomend it if you want privacy.

    We lucked out with our room at Hostel Nirvana, as we are only two in a four bed dorm, so I am gently easing myself into hostel life. Who knew that hostels have pools, this is transforming my view on how to travel for sure. Maybe that will change after another four months of hostel world.

    Day one and feeling surprisingly spritely we opt to to the Cascadas de Juan Curi, an amazing waterfall 30 minutes away by bus. After a short 40 minute hike through the woods, you come out to the river and the amazing view of the waterfall that must be 200 m above. By far the best waterfall I have seen in my young 36 years.

    A guide shows us the route up the slippery rocks to the waterfall pool, where you can feel the full force of the water pouring over the cliff edge, the spray cooling us down immediately. Sadly the the water was so fresh, it was too cold to swim in.

    Catch the bus at the end of Carrera 12 near the bridge, and look out for the bus to Charala and ask for Cascadas. The locals will help you where to go.

    Motivated by our small adventure we book white water rafting for the next day. Well, Laura booked it and booked the hardest of the options – class 3-5. Which I didn’t realise until I got to the river and our instructor was talking through the safety instructions. Feeling pretty scared now, what if I fall out – blah blah I managed to get in the boat.

    Well I didn’t fall in and I loved the whole experience, it was amazing. Once the first wave hits you in the face and your told to just keep paddling, all the fear just goes and it just becomes a thrilling 2 hour ride of some really speedy and fierce rapids. We did lose one girl, but we soon hauled her back into the boat.

    It turns out that our instructor is part of the Colombian national rafting team and will compete in the South American championships. We were definitely in good hands at Colombia Rafting Expediciones. 130,000cop £36.

     

    next week for more tales.

    Medellín.. Mucho Fiestas

    I have been in Medellín for two weeks and I love the vibe and the energy of the city. Although in a city that has so much life like Medellín, where it’s just all go go and fiestas all the time, it’s hard to find a place that is quiet where you can sit outside in the sun, away from the smog that lingers in the central areas.

    But alas I found it, as did half the families in Medellín, at the Jardín Botanical. A free park, full of hundreds of differnt species of trees, a butterfly house and some rather large four legged reptiles. Sunday is totally a family picnic day. It reminded me of Victoria Park on a rare hot summers day, minus the east London hipsters. As I sit in the afternoon sun, writing last weeks post, and getting strange looks from the locals all searching for the last spot of shade to sit under, I thought I could get use to this.

    Getting around Medellín is super easy and cheap, as it is the only Colombian city to have a Metro, and thankfully its is dead easy to use. Either Metro A that travels North and South, or Metro B that travels out West. There are some cable cars and trams which I am yet to try. The Metro was built about 20 years ago, at a time when the city was just ending its besiege from the Medellín Cartel.

    I have to say, it has to be one of the cleanest Metros I have ever used. It’s like stepping into a different world from the one outside. Super clean, yet no bins in sight anywhere, not even a scratch on the window or spot of graffiti to be seen. One of my local guides tells me, that the Metro is highly respected by the locals, it is seen as the beacon of hope that pulled the city out of the past. Also, being Piscen (being born in the district of Antioquia) they are just simply proud to be the only city in Colombia to have one.

    But oh my, if you think rush hour in London is bad, it’s nothing compared to the evening rush hours here!! You would think it was the last shuttle to civilisation the way they stampede onto the train. Look out for pick pockets during this time, it’s not someone touching you up, believe me.

    The locals don’t just respect the Metro its self, but those that use it. When it comes to the older generation waiting to get on, a seat is made vacant and an automatic parting of the people is made so the little old lady/man can get to their newly vacated seat. A single journey costs 2,400cop (60p) to most places.

    Spanish school is proving difficult, why didn’t I do this earlier in my life I ask myself everyday, when I look at my tutor Julio and say ¨no entiendo¨. It’s so hard, but I am slowly picking it up. Verbos irregulares can go do one , there are so many and when do know if the word it going be masculino or femenina. As I often say to Julio “español es loco “, but im glad I have made the effort and put the time into learning.

    Julio always asks me at the end of my class, ¨Que haces ahora¨ – what are you doing now, and my response is always ¨Voy para el almuerzo¨ – I go for lunch, which after 3 hours of intense study I definitely need. Lunch is the best time of the day to eat because you get value for money. Anywhere in the city you can find ´menu del dia´, which is a 3 course lunch with fresh juice for 10,000cop (£2.50), bloody bargain, I hope all of South America has it!

    Did I say Medellín likes to party.. well it really does, and the hot spot where everyone heads to is Poblado around Parque lleras or to any of the surrounding streets to find the liveliest of bars and clubs. Chiquita bar is definitely my favourite, its kitsch decor is amazing and its super gay friendly. Followed by a good dance in Victoria Regina, for a Cuban salsa night, a super cool restaurant come club, where you can put your salsa moves to the test.

    This time I plucked up the courage to ask this hot Colombian girl to dance with me. Now I’m not saying that I’m for turning, but this girl certainly could have given it a go. Apparently I need to slow my steps and listen to the music more. After a few more Hendricks and tonics I had it down.

    Off to the club with the prettiest faces in town, Salón Amador to drink and dance some more until the bewitching hour or in my case sunrise. There is so much going on here its hard to know what to do, but thanks catalyst weekly there is no chance of me missing out on any of it, thanks to a weekly email and update on FB.
    Having suffered a pretty epic hangover, my Saturday was a right off as too were my plans for a day trip. Bed and Netflix is all I wanted, oh and a Burger King.. so a day later than planned I made the two hour journey to Guatapé.

    Two hours doesn’t seem long, but when your sat in a seat designed for Colombians who average 5ft5inch, and I’m 6ft1, two hours is a long time to have your knees hitting your chin every time you hit a bump. The bus leaves the North bus station next to Caribe Metro station at least 4 times an hour and costs 18000cop (£4.50).

    However, it was well worth it. The views at the top of Piedra del Peñol (the rock) after climbing the 750 steps was amazing. The Stunning view of the Embalse del Peñol, a large lake beautifully sculptured by green peninsulares and home to some wealthy Colombians swimming in their pools.

    Pablo Escobar once owned a large estate here called ¨La Manuela¨ ranch, where you can have a tour and even shoot each other with paint. From the rock you can catch a tuk tuk to the town of Guatapé, make sure you haggle the price, as 11000cop seemed a bit steep considering it was only 3km away.

    Once in Guatapé you can take a boat out on the lake and visit some of the peninsulares or zip line across the water. Or do as I did, and sit and have their local dish of grilled trout while watching the action on the lake. There is much too see in the town, it is full of the most beautifully painted buildings, little shops and cafes to meander around, but not for too long as the last bus leaves at 18:30.


    Tomorrow is the start of my last week in Medellín and at Spanish school, although I have loved it, I’m looking forward to a non city stop. San Gil is my next stop, for some country air via what will be my first overnight eight hour bus journey. San Gil is in the middle of the country, north of Bogotá in the Santander region, so come back next week and find out how I get on.

    While trying to post this today, Medellín had the biggest storm that I have experienced, thunder so loud it made the house and everything in it shake. Resulting in no electricity for 2 hours, and still no wifi. So I sit in the local supermarket in order to post. All part of the experience I guess.