The places you stay in while travelling long term quickly become like a home away from home and you end up spending more time in them than you planned, meeting people and forging strong friendships. We found that the best places weren’t necessarily the ones that were rated top on booking.com or HostelWorld, but rather the places people travelling in the opposite direction recommended for their character or the staff who stood out. With that said, here are our favourite places we stayed while in South America:
This place is legendary. If you’re anywhere near Santa Marta, you’ll hear people talk about it. Sat atop the nearby hills above the town of Minca, Casa Elemento is famed as a hippy hangout, somewhere to disconnect (no wifi!), enjoy a bit of cool after the sweltering heat of Colombia’s north and above all, just enjoy lazing in the world’s largest hammock*. The food is also fantastic, the bar has one of the best views around and hell, you can see toucans flying through the trees from the showers if you’re lucky!
*not sure if this is official, but I reckon it’s got a good chance of being it!
La Serrana is not your average hostel. It’s an old estancia on the outskirts of Salento and has retained all the old world charm of the estancia. It’s nestled among coffee plantations and is just far enough from the centre of Salento that you only really get the more intrepid, less party-focused backpackers staying there. That said, it’s definitely walking distance from town, so when you’re coming back after dark having spent your evening playing tejo in Salento’s famous Los Amigos, you won’t mind the walk.
We glamped while we were there, which we would highly recommend, but they also allowed camping, jeep tents and had dorms. The glamping tents are beautiful, complete with wrought iron beds, dark wood chest of drawers and plenty of blankets should the temperature drop after dark. For some reason this little feature sticks in my head, but after a month or so in hostels that didn’t quite nail it, you start to appreciate these sorts of things – La Serrana had the best showers. Massive, beautiful copper shower heads, way more hot water than we could all use in an evening and plenty of space for changing. Glorious.
On a side note, we also cooked Thanksgiving dinner at La Serrana with some lovely Americans we met and had the best time doing it. The kitchen was well stocked enough for us to do it and between various North Americans, some Brits and the other travellers we met, we managed to cobble together pretty much everything you need for a great Thanksgiving!
Eco Quechua Lodge, Santa Teresa
We’ve already written a full length piece on this place, but suffice to say, if you’re going anywhere near Machu Picchu you need to visit this place. It’s a beautiful eco lodge sat on a river in an Andean valley and has saunas, massage therapists and is very close to the Cocalmayo hot springs. It’s not a hostel, that’s for sure, but it’s so worth a visit.
I think we spent more time here than pretty much any other hostel in South America. In no small part due to the fact that it basically turns into a Spanish language school everyday and the lovely Faby kept us busy for most of our time there trying to improve our broken Spanish.
Not only is this the place to learn Spanish in Sucre, but it’s also a fantastic hostel, based in a beautiful old colonial building, close to the main sites and conveniently close to nearby supermarkets. Oh, and it does the BEST breakfasts – huge bowls of porridge, honey, granola and fruit, among other options. I honestly don’t think we had a better breakfast anywhere in seven months. I’m getting slightly hungry just thinking about it in fact.
If you’re going to Valparaiso, then this is the place to stay. Jonathan is Swiss/Chilean, speaks excellent English and runs tours of Valparaiso in French. The place is cosy, homely, has multiple bedrooms all with locks on the doors (not that you’ll need to use them) and a great kitchen.
It also happens to be located in the best, most vibrant and colourful area of Valparaiso, a short walk from a wide range of great restaurants, bars and also the historic centre of Valparaiso. The Airbnb is great value for the area and way more interesting than most hostels you’ll encounter.
Honestly, this hostel and Futaleufu (nope, still not quite sure how to pronounce it – everyone just calls it Futa) might have been one of my favourites from the whole trip. First off, Futa is a long way from nowhere and requires quite a bit of travel to get to, but is just so worth it I can’t begin to tell you. Second, Las Natalias is run by a lovely American couple, often graced with the presence of Nate’s mum, who is wonderful. It’s sat in the most beautiful valley in just the most god damn awe inspiring spot in the Andes. Seriously, other places are more impressive, other places are more dramatic, but for just pure, unadulterated beauty, Futa takes it for me.
We planned to stay for two nights and ended up staying for five. Mostly, I’ll admit, because the buses are so unreliable, but we weren’t complaining. This is where we began our hitch hiking adventure down the Carretera Austral and for that alone it stands out in my memory. To top it all off, it’s also home to the third best river in the world to white water raft and kayak on, which should probably have convinced you if you aren’t already. The Futa river apart from being that blue that I’ve only ever seen in Patagonian rivers, is also home to some amazing fly fishing, so if you’re into that then it’s your place.
Top tip – walk the couple of kilometres up the road after dark to the river and just sit and gaze at the best skies you’ve ever seen. I promise you, you won’t regret it.
Run by Lizzie (Kiwi) and Jose (Chilean), Fundo Panguilemu is a working perma-culture farm, complete with three yurts you can stay in. They’re a damn sight better value than most similar operations in the area and pretty fancy while they’re at it.
The farm is spread across about 1000 hectares ‘from that fence there, to the top of that mountain in the distance’ and is home to anywhere between 2 and 10 workaway volunteers, Jose, Lizzie, Sarah and impending child number two (to the best of my knowledge, as yet unnamed), as well as about a dozen dogs, the bulk of whom spend their whole lives with the 1500 sheep, a dozen horses, somewhere in the region of 10 cats at last count and 800 chickens.
If you happen to be in the region, stop by and pay them a visit as a guest. You’ll have a great time. As a workawayer, only go if you really, really want to get some experience on a perma-culture farm. It is hard work but you will get to experience real Patagonian rural life and eat some good food fresh from the farm.
This hostel has got bucket loads of cosiness with wood fires burning in every corner and comfy sofas all around variety, is tucked away in the woods miles from the centre of the nearest ‘town’ – El Bolson and has lovely staff. On top of that it’s got a yoga deck, plenty of hammocks and oh, its own micro-brewery and fantastic kitchen in the barn/bar next to the main building. If you time your visit right like we did, completely by accident, then you might find yourself in the middle of an IPA festival from all the local micro breweries.
Not only all that, but El Bolson has some fantastic walks all around it and is a short bus journey from some beautiful lakes. If you’re not going to go to Futa, then you really, really have to come here and just enjoy the perfect rural idyl.
We spent a week on Chacrita del Sur doing a workaway and fell in love with both the place and Sole, our Uruguayan mum.
First things first, you should go to Uruguay. Don’t have it on the route – mistake. Change that map and add it on. Trust me, you’re going to want to. Second, if you’re going anywhere near Montevideo, you should go and spend a day or two in one of Sole’s beautiful rooms on the farm, either as a workaway or as a guest. You can stay, drink delicious Uruguayan wine from the nearby bodegas, play with the dogs and probably reach a level of relaxation previously unheard of. We planned to spend five days with Sole and ended up staying seven, but could easily have spent a month if we’d had the time. She is, honest-to-god, the kindest, warmest, most lovely person and became a real second mother to us both.
That’s it. We stayed in a lot of other places and although none of them were really bad, they just didn’t stand out quite as much as these. We hope they’ll be of use to you and if you do end up staying at one of them, please let us know!
Where’s the best place you’ve ever stayed while travelling? We’re always looking for recommendations for our next trip!