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Hotel Tip of the Week: Le Gite del Sol in San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico

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Welcome to our weekly series Hotel Tip Of The Week. Being on the road every day of the year means we stay at countless hotels along the way. For all the dingy, disappointing budget digs, there are as many budget accommodation gems. We post one hotel tip of the week, every week, of places we feel confident recommending after having tried and tested them ourselves.

Sun

After a long and hectic night bus ride, all we wanted was to when we arrived at 7am in San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico was to check in immediately at Le Gite del Sol, where we had made reservations. Based on previous budget hotel experience, we figured this wasn’t possible and pulled up a park bench to wait a few hours. Had we known how friendly and accommodating the French-Canadian/Mexican owners were, we would have made our way their immediately, as Le Gite del Sol is one of the few budget hotels in Mexico we came across that made us feel like a valued guest in the way a boutique hotel or B&B does.

Eventually we lugged our packs down the 5 hilly blocks to the hotel, whose location is just far enough out for the street to be relatively quiet. Le Gite del Sol, which means Bed & Breakfast of the Sun in a mix of French and Spanish – just like the couple who run it, is more of a split between a B&B in one building and a budget hotel in the second building just four houses up across the street. The main house offers big en-suite rooms, a shared kitchen and a sunny patio space where all guests eat breakfast. The second building, where our room was, has smaller, bare bones budget rooms with shared bathrooms.
San Cristobal street

While the difference in quality was palpable, both buildings were spotlessly clean (cleaning staff is on hand all day throughout both properties), and over on our side we had no issue at all with the shared bathrooms. The main house has the beautiful patio, and the single and double en-suite rooms (for $20 and $26 respectively) are certainly a step or two above the other house. The cheaper rooms in the second house are basic. Each room has a bed, a desk, a closet and a window which opens to the hallway. The rooms are small, lack good ventilation, but they are cleaned every day by the diligent staff. Doubles cost $16, singles $13. For that price, you get breakfast included (see below in Stand Out Features), a free wi-fi connection that always works, and the kitchen in the second house is big and invites you to cook a meal with fresh ingredients from the market, with 6 tables, a computer with free internet, plenty of space to work, read, cook and hang out. Water is free, as well, and if some sloppy guests don’t clean up, the kitchen is kept clean anyway by staff.
San Cristobal Market

The Mexican woman owner is a no-nonsense boss who is friendly and her attention to detail is spot on. She remembers how you like your coffee in the morning and conversations had in passing about where guests have just been and where they are off to next. Her French-Canadian husband and partner is the perfect ying to her yang. He genuinely wants you to enjoy your stay and you get the feeling that he was a long-term traveller himself and wants to make sure that you have the kind of experience at his hotel that is so often lacking on our travels.

Le Gite del Sol is also an authorized booking agent for tours and buses. The prices were exactly the same as in the offices in town, and they gave you honest answers to questions about quality of tours or buses, leaving you feeling well-informed.

Stand Out Feature: Breakfast

Breakfast is included in the price and served every morning on the patio in the main building. You get a choice of eggs and toast, just toast, or cereal. Although the breakfast doesn’t fill you up until dinner, it is good comfort food and it is great to have so many options, which is not the norm at many budget places in Mexico.

Stand Out Feature: The “above and beyond” factor

We had to catch a very early bus our last morning along with three other hotel guests, and would have missed breakfast, but the owners woke up and served us all breakfast at 6am so that we would leave with full stomachs. They could have easily left us hungry, but offered us this and it was greatly appreciated. This was something we have not had before or since that stay at Le Gite Del Sol. Throughout our stay at Le Gite del Sol we felt this above-and-beyond factor at work, the extra explanations, the ease of booking with them, the little extra tips on what to see and do in town made us feel like special guests.

Room for improvement: The Rooms

The cheaper rooms in the second house lack decoration and could have more heart to them. They are definitely small, though not cramped, and need a bit more effort to feel a bit fresher. However, in Mexico for $13 (single) or $16 a double, plus breakfast and that personal touch, it is hard to complain about the rooms.

Overall

Le Gite del Sol will make your time in San Cristolbal de las Casas an enjoyable one. Though it is no frills it is equally no frustrations, as this hostel is B&B-minded with their guests at heart.

Location: Francisco I Madero #82, Vicente Guerrero
Price: Private single with bath $20, private single shared bath $13, Private double no bath $16, Private double en suite $26.
LGBT Friendly: not un-friendly
Amenities: Kitchen, free wi-fi, tour agency on-site, breakfast included, hot showers
Website: www.legitedelsol.com

To book a hotel in Mexico, check Roomguide.co.uk for accommodation options throughout the country.

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Hotel Tip Of The Week: Little Corn Beach & Bungalow, Nicaragua

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Arriving at Little Corn Beach & Bungalow (LCBB) feels like how Tom Hanks must have felt in the movie Castaway, except we were there on purpose. The remote Caribbean island is either a six to eight hour boat ride from Nicaragua’s Moskito Coast or a one-hour flight from Managua to Big Corn Island, followed by an adventurous 25-minute boat ride to Little Corn, the appropriately named smaller of the two islands. You quickly realize that this is far from a familiar Florida vacation.

Assuming you have called ahead to reserve a room (a must!), you will be greeted at the dock by an English speaking member of LCBB staff, all of whom outside of the owners Kristine and Scott are native Nicaraguans. The owners are from Colorado and only opened Little Corn Beach and Bungalow at the end of 2009, which makes their inclusion into the book 1,000 Things to Do before you die just that much more impressive.

Suitcases belonging to LCBB guests, or in our case backpacks, are loaded into a wheelbarrow and the long trek to the hotel begins along a dirt path which ends at the beach on the other side of the island. The twenty-minute walk snakes between plots of land, past houses and shortly, deep into the forest. No signs indicate your path, just the well-worn grass and it would have been impossible to find the hotel otherwise, which lies just a three minute walk along the nearly deserted white sand beach.

Once we (finally) reached Little Corn Beach and Bungalow the owners welcomed us and gave us a run down of how the eco-friendly island hotel works, from recycling and purifying rainwater to drink and reduced rate water bottle refills to water-saving shower methods and Little Corn’s reduced electricity. The island’s generator is not turned on until 2pm each day, which means no electricity to make the breakfast and no wi-fi until mid-afternoon each day, all the way until the wee hours of the morning, around 3am, when power is cut again.

The LCBB is set up as nine bungalows in a slight U shape, all open onto the beach, with two chairs on a front porch facing the sea. Each bungalow is named after a famous shipwreck – we stayed in the Gilligan Bungalow. The theme in each room is subtle, not cheesy, and the beds are so deliciously comfortable that falling asleep to the sound of the waves, not 60 feet away, couldn’t be more relaxing. We would love to be able to give more information about the rooms, but it was very difficult to nail down the owners for more than a few seconds at a time  to learn more about the place.

The open area between the bungalows and the beach is filled with no less than five hammocks slung between the perfect hammock-hanging palm trees. Although it appears that nature created this amazing setting naturally, watching the way Kristine and Scott spend the day hard at work makes us think that even this area was all part of a master plan to create the most relaxing, secluded space on the Corn Islands. This goal would be an undeniable accomplishment, judging by our sloth-like behavior on our Corn Island vacation. This is all a carefully constructed illusion, indeed, as there is a $10 a night cheapy just next door (no particular name, these cabins are very basic, but the ‘hotel’ also comes with a kitchen, great for saving money on the overpriced island.)

The hotel beach restaurant, charmingly named the ‘Turning Turtle’, is also right out front, with five tables and a games corner. The food left much to be desired (See Room for Improvement below), but Jack Johnson and Bob Marley wafting softly from the speakers  kept alive the perfect beach feeling at Little Corn Beach and Bungalow. Admittedly, breakfast was a treat each morning. Meals start at US$3.50 and are all under US$6. Creative dishes include the ‘Island Benedict’ or ‘Caribbean French Toast’, plus a fairly authentic “Nica”, or local Nicaraguan, breakfast. There is also bottomless coffee for US$1.50 during breakfast.

Stand Out Features

The beach front hammocks

The hammock area at LCBB sits within a well-maintained garden with perfect beach views is ridiculously relaxing. The on-site bar and restaurant makes it too easy to grab  a bite or have a drink in the hammocks as well.

The games corner

The beach front restaurant has a little games corner with couches for those bad weather days, as well as in the evenings, when the secluded beach area offers nothing more than a walk on the beach instead.

Snorkeling equipment for rent

LCBB’s prices are in dollars rather than the local cordobas, making drinks, dinner and snacks very overpriced. One great deal at LCBB is the daily snorkeling equipment rental, available for $5 for 24 hours. Go on a tour, possibly arranged by the hotel, rather than snorkeling alone near the shore. You will see much more this way for only $10, as the water near land is dark and not meant for snorkeling.

Room for improvement:

Vegetarian food options

For all it’s quirkiness and creative name choices, this supposedly eco-friendly hotel does not spread its passion to animals or air miles. There are next to no veggie-friendly meals, and the four-course meal for dinner each night (around $13, not cheap by Nicaraguan standards) just leaves out the meat portion of the main dish (leaving rice, veggies and a little salad) without reducing the price or offering a vegetarian main dish.

The menu is a meat-heavy American menu compared to its remote island location, and while some of the fish is locally sourced, the large list of meat options for lunch and dinner must need to be flown in (the cake, on the other hand, is deliciously and locally handmade). Also, the four-course dinner happens every night, and no other smaller or a la carte options are available, so diners are forced to eat the whole dinner or walk in the dark to another restaruant. Safety isn’t an issue on this tiny island, but it would be more comfortable to be able to order off the lunch menu or maybe just a side of fries with a beer.

Lack of Flexbility

It’s that lack of flexibility that frustrated us the most during our stay. Although they seem to go above and beyond for guests, Kristine and Scott’s adherence to ‘company policy’ came at a terrible time for us. We had been out on a snorkeling adventure since 1pm, and when we returned at 330 the kitchen was closed (it is closed daily between 3-5).  This was a heavy hour of swimming and the windy weather had made the water terribly rough. Seasick and soggy with salt-water, we wanted nothing more than a Cuban grilled cheese before falling into bed for the afternoon. We asked both Scott and Kristine (who organized the tour for us and knew that going out snorkeling was not on our previous itinerary) and although staff was in the kitchen, neither would put an order of food in for us at that time. We were reduced to a slice of cake and fries, not exactly what we needed after what truly was a difficult day at sea.

The bunkhouse

We could only reserve a spot in the bunkhouse for two of our nights, as LCBB is really that popular. The bunkhouse is the ‘budget’ accommodation option at $35-$40. A normal-sized cabin is split in two, and we slept on bunkbeds. The building quality was much worse than the beautiful cabins out front,  the bathroom was so see-through so guests can hear and smell the other guests doing their business. The walls were also so thin you can hear even the slightest bit of ‘business’ going on in the bedroom, too.  We felt immense relief once we moved into our own little Gilligan cabin.

Overall

Little Corn Beach & Bungalow is an excellent Caribbean getaway for any budget traveler who is ready for a relaxing splurge, for families who need a safe place to let their kids run around while relaxing with a book in a hammock, or as a couple looking for a romantic beach-getaway in an off-the-beaten-path destination. LCBB is probably the best spot to enjoy is the perfect Robinson Crusoe island vacation – as long as you are not a vegetarian, not on a strict budget and do not require very personalized attention.

Location: On the South East side of the island, follow the cross-island path through the jungle or get picked up from the ferry boat

Price: Standard cabin with en-suite bathroom US$64 low season/ $74 high season, deluxe cabin with kitchen US$85/$94, bunk bed with shared bathroom US$17.50/$20 per person

LGBT Friendly: not especially, this is a family-oriented hotel and we are pretty sure they thought we were ‘friends’.

Amenities: Wi-fi, games  & books, beach, on-site restaurant, hammocks

Digital Nomad Friendly: The Wi-Fi here is satellite and works great, but only from 2pm due to electricity rationing.

Website: http://www.littlecornbb.com/

If you found this post useful, check out the rest of our Hotel Tip of the Week series.

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Hotel Tip Of The Week: Cabinas El Pueblo in Santa Elena (Monteverde), Costa Rica

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Welcome to our weekly series Hotel Tip of The Week. Being on the road every day of the year means we stay at countless hotels along the way. For all the dingy, disappointing budget digs, there are as many budget accommodation gems. We post one hotel tip of the week, every week, of places we feel confident recommending after having tried and tested them ourselves to show you how budget travel can be possible as well as enjoyable.

As one of Costa Rica’s top tourist destinations, Monteverde Cloud Forest has no shortage of accommodation, ranging from luxurious spa hotels to simple campsites.

High-end hotels are set deeper into the forest on the main road leading to the National Park while most of the budget accommodation is concentrated in the nearby town of Santa Elena, an easy 6km bus ride or enjoyable hike to the park. There are over 20 hotels to choose from in Santa Elena, and most fall within the same price range and offer similar amenities. When looking online beforehand, we instinctively chose Cabinas El Pueblo, which offers all the things we usually look for in a hotel: free wi-fi, private rooms, and a lounge area where we can work. We were definitely not disappointed.

In fact, from the time we arrived into Santa Elena we were pleasantly surprised at every turn. Stepping off the bus after a nine-hour ride from the heat of Manuel Antonio to the chilly mountain town, we were greeted by the friendly hotel owner, who knew our names and led us down to the hotel. Once our packs were stored in our clean and cosy double room, we were shown around the hotel, given a map of the area and all of the hiking and tour options were clearly explained to us so that when we left shortly after for dinner, we felt we had a handle on everything to see and do in Monteverde.

Cabinas El Pueblo in fact doubles as a tour agency, and guests can book all tours and activities onsite: the Cloud Forest tours (including guides), horse back riding, night hikes, zip-lining, butterfly gardens. Prices are the same as through the agencies in town and Cabinas El Pueblo promise a full refund in case of cancellations. This is something that other tour agencies do not promise, apparently, which is made perhaps a little too clear on the signage throughout the hotel (see Room for Improvement below).

We immediately felt right home at the ‘cabinas’, which in Costa Rica usually means a guesthouse. Even basic accommodation in Costa Rica tends toward expensive, so the $20 double rooms seemed like quite a find. There are two clean shared bathrooms with hot showers on the bottom floor, which the five doubles share with a small three-bed dorm ($10 per person). The spacious private double rooms upstairs not only have en-suite bathrooms but also come equipped with a fridge for $35.

The living room has a TV and board games for guests, and the outdoor patio has hanging chair hammocks and a big table. The wi-fi works well both downstairs and upstairs, and those without a laptop can use the three computers upstairs in the office for free. As most visitors to Monteverde spend much of the day and also evenings out on hikes, the hotel stays quiet during the day, and evenings are also quiet as tuckered out guests head to bed relatively early. This peaceful environment and mountain fresh air was perfect to get work done as well – for the workoholics/digital nomads out there.

Cabinas El Pueblo is a three-minute walk from the town center, and the supermarket is even closer, which makes it so easy to find everything you need to cook up a meal or make sandwiches here in the well-equipped kitchen (see Stand Out Features below).

Stand Out Features

A clean & spacious kitchen
This kitchen is kept absolutely spotless and comes fully equipped with an electric kettle, coffee maker, toaster oven, toaster, two stoves and a fridge, which while pretty full, still fit all our items and was also clean.

Free coffee and tea all day
Cabinas El Pueblo not only provides a coffee maker but also delicious Monteverde coffee, and allows guests to put on a new pot anytime. Tea drinkers have an even better deal, thanks to the full selection of teas available, the best we have seen anywhere in Central America, with English breakfast tea, herbal tea, two different fruit teas and Earl Grey. Free milk for both is also provided.

Free Breakfast
Although several of the signs throughout the place say that breakfast is only free if you book a tour with the hostel, breakfast was included every day. Guests sign up for one of two breakfast options written on a whiteboard the evening before. Breakfast varies daily and always includes fresh fruit and either tea or coffee.

Free sloth sightings
There are a couple of sloth families living across the street from the hostel who are frequently seen moving along the electric wires that run alongside the street at night (sad, but true, and these animals are fascinating!). Sitting in the kitchen after spending a good part of a night hike spotting sloths, the owner excitedly ran in and ushered us all outside to watch the sloth make its way along the wires.

Room for improvement: Enough with the signs already

Until this point, everything at Cabinas El Pueblo seems to be set up to cater 100% to the needs of guests. However there was one point that needs massive improvement and is a serious pet peeve of ours. From the minute you walk into the hotel, you are bombarded by information as every available bit of wall space is plastered in signs. Not exactly the commanding military-like signs we’ve seen elsewhere which constantly screech NO in clipped commands, at Cabinas El Pueblo signs are long, drawn-out affairs in very jumbled English explaining everything from what guests are allowed to do, what they are not allowed to do, more information about the town, more information about your breakfast (commission made from booking with the hotel’s agency allows them to make breakfast free for everyone), and a few things we did not understand at all but think there may have been a fine involved for breaking the rule.

Overall

Cabinas El Pueblo is run by friendly & welcoming Ticos who clearly aim to run a clean, well-maintained hostel and keep guests happy. The  tour agency on-site makes info readily available, and the super-clean kitchen, comfortable beds and ample relaxation space makes the hotel a great spot to recharge your batteries for a few days.

The Sloth Backpackers Hostel right next door is run by the same family and comes with similar amenities (including sloth sightings!) should Cabinas El Pueblo be full.

Location: Down behind the supermarket and 50 meters up the road, but if you call ahead, you will be met at the bus stop upon arrival.
Price:
Double rooms with shared bath US$20, Doubles with en-suite bath US$35, dorms $10.
LGBT Friendly:
yes
Amenities:
Wi-fi, kitchen, terrace, lounge, TV, games, tour agency, great location
Digital Nomad Friendly:
Yes
Website:
www.cabinaselpueblo.com
Facebook:
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Monteverde-Hostel-Cabinas-El-Pueblo/143773492965
Email:
[email protected]

If you found this post useful, check out the rest of our Hotel Tip of the Week series.

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Hotel Tip Of The Week: Hostel La Candelaria in Valladolid, Mexico

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Welcome to our weekly series Hotel Tip of The Week. Being on the road every day of the year means we stay at countless hotels along the way. For all the dingy, disappointing budget digs, there are as many budget accommodation gems. We post one hotel tip of the week, every week, of places we feel confident recommending after having tried and tested them ourselves in order to show that budget travel can be both enjoyable and comfortable.

Although we have mentioned this Mexican hostel in our post on Valladolid as well as in our 33 things we love about Mexico post, a full review on La Candelaria hostel is long overdue.

La Candelaria is located directly on a sleepy square in the tranquil colonial town of Valladolid on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, near the famous Chichen Itza Mayan ruins. It is run by a Dutch-Nicaraguan couple whose hard work and love of their hostel, plus their own travel experience, can be seen by the presence of all those miniscule amenities that together make all the difference in comfort and guest satisfaction.

We arrived after a quick ten-minute walk from the bus station, and were welcomed with a full tour of the premises and all public spaces, helping us to immediately feel at home. Next, we were given a map marked with all important tourist sites in town, the path to two cenotes out of town, good places to eat and where to get cash.

On our way to the room, we first spotted the two curious little Chihuahuas and the cat who live in the hostel. These resident pets are always happy to curl up in your lap if you ever feel the need for company and provide plenty of hilarious entertainment.

The private rooms are set up on both levels facing the spacious outdoor courtyard. We stayed in two different rooms at the Candelaria, and both rooms had hard, comfortable beds with fluffy pillows, bright white sheets, cable TV, a small table and Mexican decorations. There are several dorm beds in two rooms in the main building, separated with women upstairs and men downstairs, and large secure lockers for each bed. Two cozy communal rooms with sofas, TVs, musical instruments and games really help the hostel feel like home.

The bathrooms are shared – the ones for the dorms are inside the house and the private rooms share outdoor showers / toilets on both levels outside. The bathrooms are kept spotlessly clean and the showers have great showerheads with consistent hot water.

Perfect for bookworms, the outdoor space has several hammocks hanging in under shady trees, far from the large outdoor kitchen (which along with the smaller indoor kitchen makes up one of the Stand Out features below).

The covered sitting area in the yard is very inviting, with two long tables plus a smaller table and chairs, where guests come together to chat and relax in the evenings. The wi-fi also works the best here, so this is where most Facebooking (and work, if necessary) gets done. For those without a computer, there is one computer inside at reception available for guests to use.

Valladolid, like much of the Yucatan, has excellent roads and the best way to explore is on bike. La Candelaria has eight very cool blue cruiser bikes lined up for rental which are new, in excellent shape and run the same price as the bike rental shops in town.

Stand Out Features

Free Breakfast
Although many hostels advertise ‘free breakfast’, this usually includes watery coffee and dry toast. La Candelaria prepares breakfast exactly how anyone who has been traveling a long time wants it to be but never gets it: Each morning, there are little plastic bowls of fruit, granola and yoghurt made for each guest and set covered in the kitchen. You take one, and then help yourself to one of the fresh big rolls with butter and jam and pour yourself a cup of strong, delicious coffee from a giant coffee maker which holds plenty for a refill or even two.

Not one, but two kitchens
La Candelaria has everything a traveler can ask for – including two, fully-equipped kitchens – one inside and one outside. There is enough room for many people to cook dinner at the same time, plus two refrigerators to hold everyone’s food and beer.  The outside kitchen even makes available basic ingredients like oil, sugar, salt, and spices so you don’t need to buy them yourself.

Room for improvement

We had to stretch to get these two ideas, as La Candelaria is nearly perfect: Hostels and hotels alike have issues with critters when they have spaces open to the elements. There is no way to avoid this in hot destinations like in Mexico, so at La Candelaria, just like countless other places, don’t leave your food out on the counter for long, lest it be invaded by ants and other creatures.

The bathrooms and showers are in the yard, so you have to walk through in your towel to shower. This might not be enough privacy for some guests, but it was honestly never an issue for us.

Overall

La Candelaria is exactly how a hostel should be: welcoming and inviting, great to hang out and meet other guests yet quiet enough at night to get great sleep. Breakfast is delish and bathrooms are clean. We enjoyed it so much, in fact, we stayed a second time for a few more relaxed days before heading to Belize last year.

The hostel offers the best value for money of all of the hostels we chose in Mexico. The private rooms cost less than every other accommodation choice we made in Mexico, and the hotel hostel easily had the best features of them all. La Candelaria is also a hotel near Chichen Itza, making it the perfect place to stay to get to the site early in the morning the next day.Many people stay in Cancun or Playa del Carmen and take the long bus trip over, but staying in Valladolid makes a trip to Chichen Itza easier, faster and more relaxed.

We are not the only ones who are big fans of La Candelaria – here are the overwhelmingly positive Tripadvisor reviews.

Location: Calle 35, at Parque Candelaria
Price:
M$250 (US$21) for a private room, M$100 (US$8.40) for a dorm – including breakfast
LGBT Friendly:
Yes
Amenities:
Two kitchens, high-speed wi-fi, hammocks, garden, lounge, TV, bicycle rental
Digital Nomad Friendly:
Yes, outside only
Website:
We haven’t found one, but we booked through hostelbookers.com

To book a hotel in Mexico, check Roomguide.co.uk for accommodation options throughout the country.

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Hotel Tip Of The Week: El Amanecer Sak’cari in San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala

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Welcome to our weekly series Hotel Tip of The Week. Being on the road every day of the year means we stay at countless hotels along the way. For all the dingy, disappointing budget digs, there are as many budget accommodation gems. We post one hotel tip of the week, every week, of places we feel confident recommending after having tried and tested them ourselves to show you how budget travel can be done in style.

As we enthusiastically outlined in our Seven Villages of Lake Atitlan post, Guatemala’s most popular lake one of the world’s most beautiful, and imagine our surprise when we were able to discover a hotel gem to match this great beauty. El Amanecer Sakcari is located in San Pedro La Laguna, which competes with Panajachel as the most visited of all the lake’s villages.

Well-known as a party town, many budget hotels in San Pedro tend to be run down, no matter how charming the character of the place, but between all the piles of concrete bricks, we found ourselves one morning in the beautiful gardens of Sak’cari hotel, which means ‘sunrise’ in the local Mayan language.

Super shoe-string backpackers won’t find a bed in a hostel here, as Sak’cari is beautiful little hotel with several spacious double rooms in two categories. The most affordable rooms around the yard are $19.50, while the more expensive rooms, at $32, look out over the lake through huge picture windows and have terraces out front.

Each of the rooms has a private bathroom with high pressure hot water showers – no electric showerheads spitting out low-pressure water here. Fluffy towels and soap are laid out nicely on the beds, which are hard, wide, and invite you to spend hours watching the cable TV, which is also included in the budget price.

The hotel is made up of three buildings – one at the back near the entrance, which is where the cheaper rooms are located, and the two at the lakefront, which are laid out around a meticulously kept two-level lawn. The above is open to the sun, the below space is covered by a roof. Rather than being strung between two trees, the hammocks here at Sak’Cari are held up by a sturdy base and two would fit comfortably on these superwide hanging mats. The hotel is right at the lake front, and those who rent kayaks can leave right from the back yard out onto the water. Sak’Cari also has a sauna down at the lower level (see below in Stand Out features). In the backyard area nearer to the entryway, there are two covered sitting nooks perfect for working and the wi-fi works best here.

Stand Out Features

The view
This hotel might fit easily into the budget range, but the views over the lake rival even Atitlan’s most luxurious hotels. The higher-budget rooms all have direct lake views, as does the entire grass section of hammocks.

The Sauna

The best ‘extra’ we’ve ever had in a budget hotel stay is the small on-site sauna here. Budget travel can make you skeptical of extras like ‘free breakfasts’ (might just be coffee and a banana), ‘free wi-fi’ (which only works in a 1ftx1ft square while you stand on your head in the lobby). But for US$6.50, guests can rent out the clean, if small, sauna, which was just renovated when we stayed there. The sauna didn’t get steaming hot because the ceiling was too high, but this is what was being adjusted during our stay and should be even hotter than when we used it. The Guatemalan Highlands can get chilly, and spending a few super relaxing hours in the sauna and then relaxing in your king size bed can’t be beat.

Room for improvement

Sak’cari doesn’t have a kitchen and doesn’t offer breakfast. This is a no-frills hotel that puts all the money back in to fresh coats of paint on the building, replacing tiles, renovating saunas and overall making the hotel as comfortable as possible. It is a hotel, after all, not a hostel and with the cheap and delicious food and giant take away coffees around town, the lack of food facilities doesn’t feel like a true flaw.

The only aspect missing to make this stay a perfect ten is that the hotel wi-fi does not reach the rooms. To be online you need to sit outside at one of the covered tables which was not a problem at all during our stay.

Overall

Visiting a popular tourist area is a double-edged sword when it comes to budget accommodation – while there is bound to be a gem in the bunch of hostels and budget hotels, there are going to be countless other make-shift hostels to dig through in order to find it. We have unearthed this one and can whole-heartedly recommend El Amanecer Sak ‘Cari as a peaceful, relaxing getaway that somehow manages to make a budget holiday feel like a luxury vacation while you eat your way through the international cuisine, hike around the lake, learn Spanish next door at the San Pedro Spanish School and take day trips to other villages around the lake.

Location: 7a Avenida (closer to the Santiago dock than to the Pana dock)
Price:
Q150 (US$19.50) for a double room, Q250 (US$32.50) for a double room with terrace & lake view
LGBT Friendly:
A resounding yes (one of the few hoteliers who understood we were together from the start!)
Amenities:
High-speed wi-fi, hammocks, garden, kayaks, TV
Digital Nomad Friendly:
Yes, outside only
Book this hotel:
Hotel Sakcari on Booking.com

If you found this useful, check out our Hotel Tip of the Week series for more hotel recommendations.

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Hotel Tip Of The Week: Hostel El Colibri in Leon, Nicaragua

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Welcome to our weekly series Hotel Tip of The Week. Being on the road every day of the year means we stay at countless hotels along the way. For all the dingy, disappointing budget digs, there are as many budget accommodation gems. We post one hotel tip of the week, every week, of places we feel confident recommending after having tried and tested them ourselves.

Leon, Nicaragua has quite a few of those uber-cool popular hostels – which have limited double rooms, cavernous always-packed dorms and bars blasting Manu Chao and offering cheap beer to backpackers from around the world. We don’t mind hanging out in these hostels. We went often for the cheap beer and food, and it’s fun to meet the international crowd. In Leon, this means hanging at the Via Via and Bigfoot Hostel right across the street from each other.  But during our two weeks in the city, we were always relieved to go home every night to our secret little Nicaraguan home from home – The Colibri. This hostel won’t be for you if you are looking to party hard, but if you are looking for peace and quiet, this hostel offers everything you need to feel at home.

The clean, if dark, double rooms go for only $15 per night – and you won’t find anything cheaper unless you stay in a dorm either here or at one of the other hostels in town. There are also triple and quad rooms available. Each room has bedside lamps, a fan, and comfortable beds. Some rooms also have outdoor seating – one with two rocking chairs and another with a little breakfast nook. Bathrooms are shared with cold water, which is all you need in the Leon’s 90 degree (35 Celcius) heat. The price per night includes a basic breakfast with toast & jam, juice and coffee.

The Colibri, like most Nicaraguan houses, is built in a rectangle around two courtyards, one in front and one in back. The front space has two high quality glass patio tables with umbrellas and comfortable chairs, while in the back there is a green garden (with hummingbirds) plus a covered patio with two tables and two hammocks. In between is the kitchen (see Stand Out features below) and an eating area with enough seating for a medium-sized restaurant, where the bottomless coffee machine is kept (and kept full!).

Hostal colibri leon nicaragua

Stand Out Features

The Kitchen: No matter how much we like a hotel, we feel most at home when there is a clean kitchen, and the Colibri definitely delivers in this category. The kitchen is spacious, with loads of counterspace for several people to prepare food at the same time, all the utensils, pots and pans to create a tasty masterpiece with all the goods you pick up in Leon’s excellent central market nearby. We also give bonus points for the refrigerator – it is kept spotless.

Internet: The wi-fi connection at The Colibri is excellent. We almost always had maximum reception which was consistently reliable and Skyping was a breeze. For those who need to get work done or call friends from home, this was one of the best accommodation choices we have found for that in Central America.

Location: El Colibri is just a few minutes walk from the Cathedral and Central Park, and a big supermarket (La Union), movie theater (with film in English), Leon’s main market, clothes stores, internet cafés, parks, other hostels, El Desayunazo breakfast restaurant, and lots of other restaurants are within just a few blocks. The hostel could not have a better location!

Room for improvement – The Friendliness Factor

To us, the manager of the Colibri was helpful, talkative and friendly. Unfortunately we heard conflicting accounts from fellow guests at the hotel.  One couple shared a great rapport with the manager and found her helpful as well. However, another couple at first felt she was grumpy and a few days later reported that she had made a fuss with baggage storage after they had checked out, as they wanted to explore for a few hours before they moved on to Laguna de Apoyo. She stored our luggage with an at-your-service attitude and a smile, so hearing this was a surprise. Most relationships are relative, and different people get different vibes from people, but it is the job of the hotel staff to make sure all guests have the same feeling of welcome.

Hostel colibri leon porch & chairs
We felt most welcome at this peaceful budget hideaway in Leon, and even taking the friendliness factor into consideration, we can highly recommend The Colibri to our readers.

Extra tip: The Colibri has a sister hostel two blocks to the west. La Iguana is a brand new super chic hostel. The hostel has a cafe onsite and all rooms have private bathrooms, and is a great deal for $25 a night.

If you do stay at the Colibri, we would love to know how you felt about your stay, what your stand out features would be and room for improvement would be.

Location: The Colibri is located in 1 Ave Norte, 50 meters north of the church La Recoleccion.
Price:
$15 for a double room, $10 single room, $6 dorm
LGBT Friendly:
A resounding yes
Amenities:
Excellent high-speed wi-fi, bottomless coffee, excellent workspace in front and back, hammocks
Digital Nomad Friendly:
See those amenities? Definitely!
Website:
http://www.hostalcolibrileon.com/

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Hotel Tip Of The Week: El Cortijo del Lago at Lake Yojoa, Honduras

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El Cortijo del Lago is the perfect place if you’re looking for a couple of days of solitude and a break from travel and sightseeing. The hotel’s name is means ‘farmhouse of the lake’, which accurately describes the experience. Located directly on the shore of Lake Yojoa, this little hotel offers spectacular views of the lake seen from the large rooms and also from large, comfortable hammocks on a screened-in porch.

With the nearest village, Pena Blanca, 7 kilometers away,  there is almost nothing around to distract you from relaxing – except for the 377 kinds of birds who call Lake Yojoa home. The birds are fascinating and are what make the lake famous. The majority of visitors are in fact birdwatchers.

We opted for the cheapest private room option for US$16 when booking online, and had rather low expectations on arrival. Talk about pleasant surprises – the room was three times the size of rooms in that price range and has a private bathroom with hot water plus a TV and fresh, soft towels. And (not that this distinction should ever have to be made) the windows are actually glass and the door is thick and sturdy, locking out mosquitoes out who would otherwise eat you up.

El Cortijo del Lago identifies as a hotel, but also has dorm beds for $8. For those travelers not on such a tight budget can stay in a larger cabin room for $24 or a lakeside cabin for $26. The family-friendly three-bedroom house on site comes with a filly equipped kitchen for $74 per night.

The owners, John, a US expat, and his Honduran wife Marta welcome you with open arms, and John happily offers boat tours of the tranquil, expansive lake. Kayaks are available for a more active way to explore the lake, and there is a National Park near Lake Yojoa. Ask John how to arrange transport, since travel connections in Honduras can prove mesmerizingly difficult to tourist destinations.

Their small staff of hardworking 20-something students go above and beyond to make your stay as comfortable as possible. The on-site restaurant serves excellent breakfast, large mugs of strong coffee and a varied dinner menu. Not surprisingly, there are plenty of fish options at this lakeside restaurant.

Stand-out features

Out on a secluded lake in under-developed Honduras, to expect Wi-Fi might seem an imaginative leap, but the wi-fi connection on the screened-in porch was speedy and reliable. We managed to avoid total relaxation by getting heaps of work done during our stay at El Cortijo.

Now back to the porch – there are two couches and three hammocks, and all have lake views. It is screened-in, keeping out mosquitoes which thrive in this humid lake environment, meaning you can spend evenings out in the hammock as well as lazing the day away in them, too. The restaurant has loads of English-language books and board games, too, for even more relaxation options.

The other excellent benefit of staying at El Cortijo de Lago is that it is the only hotel in the area with direct access to the lake, so you can just hop in the kayak or on the boat and get going.

Room for improvement

Although we had read somewhere that the hotel is vegetarian-friendly, the restaurant’s veggie options are very limited. This was disappointing considering the isolated nature of the area and distance to the nearest restaurant. We spent a quiet New Year’s Eve with John, Marta and their family, however, and the food, including the vegetarian food, was delicious, – soft long-grain rice, beans, and a few mouth-watering vegetable dishes – so we know they can do vegetarian food well.

Because most visitors to Honduras head out to the Bay Islands, gorgeous places like Lake Yojoa remain hidden gems, but due to low visitor numbers, accommodation can be over-priced or lack basic amenities visitors expect. El Cortijo del Lago manages to supply guests with everything they need for a peaceful (or very productive!) getaway.

Location: Lake Yojoa, 3 km from La Guama, which is on the main highway (CA 5) between San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa. Check website for detailed arrival description.
Price:
starting at $16 for a double room, $8.00 dorms, $74.00 family apartment
LGBT Friendly:
unsure
Digital Nomad Friendly
: A resounding yes
Amenities:
Wi-Fi, cable TV, hot showers, hammocks, lake views, kayaks
Website:
http://elcortijodellago.com

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Hotel tip of the week: Yellow House, Antigua Guatemala

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Welcome to our weekly series Hotel Tip of The Week. Being on the road 365 days of the year means we have seen some of the very best, and very worst, of accommodation options around the world.  For all the dingy, disappointing digs, there are loads of accommodation gems with five-star service and dedicated owners no matter what price range you are looking for. We only feature hotels we feel confident recommending after personally staying at each, having tried and tested them ourselves.

You could easily miss the Yellow House hotel, located just two blocks west of Antigua’s famous La Merced church. A small brown sign above the door is all that marks it, while from the street all that can be seen are the travel agency signs promoting shuttles, flights and tours in and around Antigua. In spite of staying over three weeks off and on at the Yellow House, even we, chatting away, walked right past the doors a few times.

Yellow House Hotel – Antigua’s budget escape

Once through those doors and past the travel agency, however, it is easy to see that this hotel manages to squeeze in every comfort you could want from a budget  accommodation, and nothing you don’t.

Downstairs are two small dorms for up to four people, along with two double rooms and the hotel’s four shared bathrooms. The downstairs rooms are spacious and very comfortable, but if possible, try to snag one of the seven rooms upstairs. All the upstairs rooms (6 doubles and one very small single) either have a view of La Merced church and mountains, or open up to the large terrace space. One room, at only $1 more per night, even opens out onto its own private part of the terrace, which can be roped off with a ‘private’ sign for dinner surrounded by a garden of flowers with a view of all three of Antigua’s volcanoes.

Rooms have new, comfortable beds with fresh white sheets, fluffy pillows and Guatemalan handmade blankets, well-screened windows to keep out insects, bedside tables and lamps, plenty of hooks to hang things and excellent cable TV. Guests range from early 20s to mid-60s, and no matter their age, guests often just shut themselves in their super cozy room at night, enjoying the luxury of a relaxing evening in watching TV.

Antigua tends toward the expensive side for dining options, which is why having a kitchen available at Yellow House is so great. Despite its small size and room for improvement (see below) having the option to cook your own meals, keep food and drinks cold and be able to eat upstairs on the terrace makes Yellow House feel like home.

The kitchen is closed in the morning, as staff prepares breakfast, which is included in the price of the room. Yellow House goes beyond the usual toast and jam included in ‘free’ hotel breakfasts, offering instead either a pancake or porridge, a piece of four fresh fruits (watermelon, orange, a banana and a slice of pineapple), scrambled eggs, black beans, potatoes with peppers and onions, a roll and sweet bread, plus coffee or tea. The first week we stayed there, breakfast was so large it practically spilled over the plate, but as high tourism season approached, the second time we stayed the food was noticeably less as all rooms and beds were completely full every day.

Yellow House Hotel Stand Out Feature: Clean Bathrooms – like, really clean!

The four shared bathrooms (two with showers, two without) are so clean, they actually smell of bleach most mornings and evenings. The whole hotel is kept tidy, with staff constantly mopping, sweeping, and repairing things which didn’t even look like they needed fixing. But back to the bathrooms…. Those who frequent budget accommodations know that one of the main things you give up in the budget range is a fresh clean bathroom. Not here. Each of the bathrooms is a real bathroom, with doors that close and lock and are private. There is always more than enough toilet paper and soap. The solar-powered showers spill hot water out of a real shower head, not those electric, start your day with an electric shock jolt if you touch it shower heads. Shower Tip: time your showers for the afternoon (3-5 if possible), as showers are solar-heated making morning showers super chilly.

Yellow House Hotel Stand Out Feature: The Roof Top Terrace

The roof-top terrace is an absolute plus. There are three tables, a couch, two comfortable arm-chairs and two hammocks under a covered roof, plus two tables not covered by the roof.  At times the terrace is full, while at other times you have it all to yourself. The wi-fi, which is reliable and fast, works best on the terrace, functions in the upstairs rooms and the connection is shaky inside the downstairs rooms.

Room for improvement: The Kitchen

Yellow House is by far one of the best budget places we’ve stayed, which is why it is surprising that in such a well-run and well-maintained hotel, one aspect could be left unattended. The kitchen is just too small to be used by staff and guests, and since the hotel is always booked out with budget travelers saving cash by cooking in, the fridge is also always too full – but not just with guests food. The fridge also holds all the food that the used prepare the breakfast each day – already enough to stuff the fridge.  Staff could pay more attention to how long food sits in the fridge. In the large office behind the travel agency, there is plenty of room for staff to have their own small refrigerator for the breakfast food, and keep the one in the kitchen clean.

Overall

Yellow House hotel was our ‘home’ for just over three weeks in total. In that time, we were not the only return visitors. At least 5 other groups left and came back to stay again during our time there, so make sure you either book beforehand or get there early in the morning as this hotel fills up almost daily. Yellow House easily stands out as our top budget accommodation in Guatemala.

Location: 1st Street West between Avenue del Desengano and 7th Avenue, Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala (two blocks west of La Merced church).
Price:
$21-23 for a double room, $12 for single, $8-10 dorms
LGBT Friendly:
yes
Amenities:
Wi-Fi, kitchen, cable TV, hot showers, terrace with sofa, hammocks, views
Contact:
Yellow House Antigua

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Hotel Tip of the Week: Entre Piedras in Alegria, El Salvador

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This is our first article in a new weekly series Hotel Tip of The Week. Being on the road every day of the year means we stay at countless hotels along the way. For all the dingy, disappointing budget digs, there are as many budget accommodation gems. We’ll be posting one hotel tip of the week, every week, of places we feel confident recommending after having tried and tested them ourselves.

Entre Piedras hostel is set in a small mountain town of Alegria in El Salvador. Like most budget hotels in Alegria, Entre Piedras is a converted family house. What makes the hotel stand out is the way it brings guests the perfect balance of an at-home feeling with all the hotel amenities and services to feel like a valued guest. You won’t find Entre Piedras in any guidebooks yet either, as this near-new hostel opened only at the end of 2009.

Unlike many hostels, Entre Piedras is similar to a cozy bed and breakfast in size and feel. There are only three rooms available – one dorm of 6 beds, one room with a bunk bed for two (both with shared bath), and one master suite with a sprawling double bed and private bathroom.

Roberto, who manages the day-to-day business at Entre Piedras, goes above and beyond for his guests. Up early writing one morning, I had yet to have breakfast, and Roberto brought me a new fruit to try – a zapote, something I would never have tried but am sure glad I did. He also told us about a hike around the Laguna de Alegria, and even joined the guide and us on our hike, teaching us about local coffee history and coffee along the way.

The restaurant has an excellent, if small, menu of international food. Breakfasts for US$3 hit the spot, and this is the only restaurant in town which offers an alternative to comida tipica, or typical food. The public rooms inside are decorated as though you are simply staying in someone’s house, but the knick knacks, antique technology gadgets, stack of 50s magazines and very antique black and white photos are so well curated that this is clearly a subtly constructed living museum of sorts.

In fact, Roberto’s family run the La Casa Mia Hostel & Restaurante in the small nearby town Berlin, which contains such a large collection of artifacts, trinkets and family photos that the space is also officially a museum of both family and local history. This same style spills over into Entre Piedras, and makes for some fascinating snooping around, which is encouraged. (If you visit Berlin but don’t overnight, at least stop in to La Casa Mia for a piece of delicious cake and have a peek around the living room and family room which double as the museum space.)

Stand Out Features: Entre Piedras

At this hotel there are two features that bring Entre Piedras a head above the rest.  The first one is the excellent coffee. Roberto is a true coffee lover himself and has a top of the line coffee bar machine. Indulge in the best americanos, cappuccinos and lattes in El Salvador.

The second absolute stand out feature is the entire family’s engagement in quality tourism development in El Salvador and Central America. In addition to owning the two hostels Entre Piedras and La Casa Mia, the family are a part of ‘Red de Posadas Rurales’ a network of rural hostels and hotels through Central America that are of high quality, eco-friendly and engaged in their community. Roberto himself clearly has good relationships with hostel owners throughout El Salvador and is working together with Alex, the owner of the (also excellent) hostel Escencia Nativa in El Zonte, on a website called El Salvador By Bus. This website will map out the best and easiest routes for getting around the country by local ‘chicken’ bus and will include prices, schedules and journey times. Tourism infrastructure in El Salvador is rough at best and such assistance is sorely needed and much appreciated.

For the digital nomads & travel bloggers out there Entre Piedras offers free fast reliable wi-fi, and the hostel is peaceful enough to get work done. Working at one of the living room or dining room tables inside also feels like working from home, which after spending days in cafes and restaurants, is a really comfortable experience. At the time of our visit at the end of 2010, Entre Piedras was the only hostel with free wi-fi in Alegria.

Room for improvement: The Bathroom Situation

The shared bathrooms are clean and well-maintained, but are located in the back of the property. Guests of the hotel have to walk through the back end of the outdoor restaurant with wet hair and shower products in hand, which breaks up the enjoyable outdoor atmosphere of the restaurant and is a tad bit uncomfortable for guests. This shouldn’t affect your decision whether or not to stay at Entre Piedras, which we can whole-heartedly recommend should you find yourself in Alegria.

Location: Northeast corner of central park in Alegria, Usulutan, El Salvador.
Price: US$20.00 double room with shared bathroom / US$30.00 double room with private bathroom / dorms US$8.00
LGBT Friendly: Yes
Amenities: Restaurant, Wi-Fi, Payment with Cards possible, Hikes
Website: www.hostalentrepiedras.com

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Hotel Tip of the Week: Hotel Diva | San Francisco

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Being on the road 365 days a year means we stay in countless hotels. For all the disappointing digs there are as many accommodation gems around the world. We review one hotel every week, each of which we feel comfortable recommending after staying at the hotel ourselves. This week’s recommendation is a perfect San Fran hotel for any GlobetrotterGirl!


Should there be any problem finding Hotel Diva on Geary Street located just off San Francisco’s Union Square, just look up. The seductive custom window shades show black and white silhouettes of curvaceous females in corsets or fishnets. Still can’t find it? Look down. Diva has a ‘walk of fame’ on the sidewalk in front of the hotel complete with signatures, hand and foot impressions of the hotel’s celebrity guests.

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