Category Archives: Argentina

The Best Hostels in Latin America

Travelling for a year, constantly on the move, rarely staying more than three or four days in one place, where I end up staying makes a huge difference to my my stress levels. End up in a nice hostel, with things like comfy beds, warm showers, free breakfasts, a good location and a nice atmosphere keeps me far more relaxed and happy than when I’ve been unlucky enough to end up in somewhere lacking some or all of those factors.

Luckily, I’ve been very pleasantly surprised to find the vast majority of places I’ve stayed in have been brilliant. Finding the good ones isn’t too hard either – best of all is to get personal recommendations from other travellers, failing that, a quick look on hostelworld or hostelbookers gives a pretty good (and crucially, up to date) steer on where’s good. One of the main reasons to avoid using guide books is that new hostels are opening all the time, and in many places the best hostels have only opened recently.

Seeing as personal recommendations are the best kind, I thought I’d thank some of the best places I’ve stayed in by giving them a bit of a plug here – I make no apologies for the fact this list is entirely subjective (it’s not like I’ve been everywhere in Latin America, and I only ever stayed in one place in each town). But I reckon if you happen to be a budget traveller in any of these places and choose to stay in them, I hope you won’t be disappointed.

1. Casa de Dante, Guanajuato, Mexico

Me on Dante's roof

This one has pretty much everything going for it – Dante is the perfect host, welcoming new arrivals with a beer and a brilliant explanation of everything to do in the fantastic city. His mother is an amazing cook, and the free breakfasts (including fresh fruit, a cooked breakfast, delicious fresh smoothies and coffee) cooked by his mother are the best I had in any hostel by far. Add to that the peaceful roof terrace with views all over the city, and wonderful personal touches like the fact they fly flags on the roof for every nationality staying there on a given night (although let me know what Dante does if you happen to stay there and come from a small country he doesn’t have a flag for) and you have a real home from home.

2. Hostel Lao, Mendoza, Argentina

The Hostel Lao probably had the friendliest atmosphere of any hostel I stayed in. And it definitely had the friendliest (and possibly maddest) dogs too. There’s a huge garden (with a pool) too, and the weekly barbecue is really not to be missed – I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that much meat (and the salads are pretty awesome too).

3. Casa Felipe, Taganga, Colombia

There can’t be many backpacker hostels in the world that have a chef who cooks posh restaurant quality food. Casa Felipe is certainly the only one I’ve ever come across. Great breakfasts too, and the rooms are really spread out, each with their own hammock, and with a lovely shaded outdoor seating area for chilling in, this is the perfect place to relax and recover after trekking to the Lost City. This is also one of the few where it’s definitely worth booking ahead – it’s always full.

4. Hostel Patapata, Valparaiso, Chile

Hostel Patapata

Valpo was my favourite city in Latin America, and a not insignificant part of my enjoyment was the wonderful Patapata. It’s in a big old 19th century townhouse on the best of the city’s hills, and is another family run place that really has a proper family feeling. Another place with great breakfasts too.

5. Albergue Churup, Huaraz, Peru

Huaraz sunset from Albergue Churup's balcony

Huaraz is a hikers’ and mountaineer’s town, and if you are either of those, Albergue Churup is the perfect place to stay. It’s really popular with the serious outdoor types, which can help if you’re looking to join up with people for activities. Best of all is the top-floor communal area, with huge windows giving perfect views of the mountains (and even better ones from the outside terrace), and a coal fire to keep you warm on the cold mountain evenings. Really hot showers are also an essential after a big hike, and they don’t disappoint. Yet again (bit of a theme developing here from me) the breakfasts are great (I can highly recommend the banana pancakes before a big day of activity).

6. Altons Dive Shop, Utila, Honduras

Alton's Dock

If you’re diving, this is the best bargain in the Americas I reckon. For a start, you get free accommodation if you’re doing a course. Even when you’ve finished a course, divers get a special rate, which was easily the cheapest I paid anywhere (just over $3!). And for that, you can get a room right on the dock, with beautiful views across Utila harbour. Hammocks on the dock are perfect for chilling too, there’s a bar right on the dock too and a weekly sunset booze cruise (more civilised than it sounds) and barbecue too. In fact if they just did decent Baleadas (yummy Honduran street food) I would barely have needed to leave the place the entire time I was there.

7. Camping Mihinoa, Hanga Roa, Rapa Nui (Easter Island), Chile

It’s in one of the best locations on the island, sitting right on the edge of the ocean facing some of the island’s most dramatic waves. The beds are comfy, the showers are hot, and there are not one but two decent sized kitchens. Marta is the perfect host too. And best of all, it’s the cheapest place to stay on what is a pretty pricey island.

8. Medialuna Art Hostel, Cartagena, Colombia

Cartagena is HOT. Ridiculously so. And very humid too. Walking around the city by day is a sweaty and tiring experience. So what you need is a hostel with somewhere to cool down. The Medialuna has two: a pool in the downstairs courtyard, and a nice high roof terrace that frequently gets a breeze that’s missing at street level. Housed in a lovely, whitewashed colonial building, it’s one of the more beautiful hostels I stayed in too. One note of caution – out of all the ones listed here, this is one that can be a bit noisy at night.

9. DN Hostel, Bogota, Colombia

Bogota is COLD. In my first hostel I nearly froze to death, even in my room. The DN, on the other hand, comes with wonderfully warm, thick duvets, atop one of the comfiest bunks I’ve stayed in. It has a really friendly owner too, and is another place that does a great weekly barbecue.

10. Casa Margarita, Creel, Mexico

Margarita’s gets a bit of a knocking sometimes, because the staff can apparently be a bit pushy about tours (although they weren’t to me), and admittedly the rooms aren’t quite up to the standard of most of the rest on this list. But it earns it’s place here for one very good reason – value for money. It was the cheapest hostel I stayed in Mexico, and yet it included not only a two course breakfast, but also a huge three course dinner – unique amongst all the places I stayed in.

That’s it for Latin America now – posts on New Zealand, Australia & Indonesia will be on their way soon as I work through my backlog of posts!

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Highlights of Latin America

I had such an awesome time in Latin America it’s pretty hard to pick out favourite moments. But I’m going to give it a go anyway. Here are the best things I’ve seen and done over the past six and a half months, along with links to what I originally wrote about them.

Favourite City: Valparaiso, Chile

Valparaiso

Runner-up: Guanajuato, Mexico
Hilly cities with lots of colourful houses are clearly the way to keep me happy.

Favourite Capital City: Mexico City

Mexico City Cathedral

Runner-up: Santiago de Chile
Quite a contrast here between enormous, chaotic, slightly crazy Mexico City vs Clean, calm, orderly Santiago. But I could live in ’em both, I reckon.

 

Favourite Food: Mexico
Runner-up: Peru
Best street food in Latin America from the Mexicans, whereas the restaurants were at their finest in Peru.

Best course: Learning Spanish in Guatemala
Runner-up: Learning to Dive in Honduras
Who knew learning could be such fun? Learning Spanish enriched my whole experience in the continent, and diving was way more fun (and way easier) than I ever thought it could be.

Favourite activity: Sandboarding in Huacachina, Peru
Runner-up: Cycling tour of the wineries, Mendoza, Argentina

Favourite Hike: The Huayhuash Circuit, Peru

The Cordillera Huayhuash

Runner-up: The Lost City, Colombia
Again, quite a contrast. The Huayhuash took me to the most stunning mountain scenery I’ve ever come across, and was the toughest walk I’ve ever done. The Lost City was less visually appealling and easier on the legs, but made up for it by being with the best group of people I’ve me on the whole trip.

 

Favourite Natural Wonder: The Copper Canyon, Mexico

The road to Batopilas, Copper Canyon

Runner-up: The Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Sorry Colca Canyon, you may be deeper but Mexico’s is way better. It also gave me my favourite journey, along the Copper Canyon railway. Meanwhile, Uyuni was like a trip to another planet.

 

Favourite off the beaten track place: Mexcaltitan

Calle Venezia, Mexcaltitan

I feel like a bad traveller. I was pretty firmly on the gringo trail the entire time. Except in Mexcaltitan, tough to get to, not a lot to see, but one of my favourite stops so far.

 

Best Night out: Sargento Pimientas, Lima, Peru
Runner-up: Mazatlan, Mexico
My last night in Lima was a chance to say goodbye to two good friends I’d been travelling with on and off since Colombia, accompanied by the best music I’ve heard in ages. Mazatlan on the other hand was an entirely random night out with three Mexican women who I was introduced to by a clown.

Favourite Beach: Tayrona National Park, Colombia

Tayrona National Park

Runner-up: Mazunte, Mexico
Sleeping in a hammock on the beach in Colombia was pretty close to paradise. Meanwhile the waves in Mazunte kept me entertained for hours.

 

Favourite Market: San Francisco El Alto, Guatemala
Runner-up: Oaxaca, Mexico
A pretty small hill town in Guatemala with the biggest, most sprawling market I’ve ever seen. Oaxaca was my favourite of the Mexican markets, especially for the crammed, smokey food section.

Favourite weird religious spectacle: Semana Santa in Guanajuato, Mexico

Semana Santa in Guanajuato

Runner-up: Meeting Maximon in Santiago de Atitlan, Guatemala
Catholicism may have its heart in Europe, but the way they do it in Latin America makes our version look pretty tame.

 

Favourite Country: Mexico
Runner-up: Peru
I’ve probably bored everyone I’ve met on this trip to death by going on and on about Mexico. But I don’t care. I love it.

Argentina (steak) Round-up & Budget

Five days in Argentina is nowhere near enough. But it certainly was wnough to stuff myself with steak, drown myself in red wine, and clog my arteries with dulce de leche.

For if my little jaunt through Argentina on my way from Bolivia to Santiago was about one thing, it was food and drink. Boy do the Argentinians know to how to live. I managed to eat steak in some form or another every day I was there – and they were some of the finest steaks of my entire life. On the first night in Salta, I went out with Jade & D’Arcy, who I´d met on the Salar de Uyuni trip, and we treated ourselves to a Parillada, the classic Argentinian mixed grill, which consisted of two different cuts of steak, two types of chorizo, chicken, pork, kidneys, black pudding and some other unidentifiable (but still delicious) offal. The next day’s lunch saw the best steak sandwich of my life, and the following night’s bus a more than passable steak dinner (which was far better than any airline meat I’ve ever had). My first night in Mendoza I had the best steak of my life – a chateaubriand that was practically the size of my head, perfectly tender, perfectly cooked, nice and brown on the outside and perfectly pink and just bloody enough on the inside. And all for less than $10. My final night, in the marvellous hostel Lao, we had the best hostel dinner I´ve had, with the whole hostel sat round a huge table working our way through a fantastic barbecue and (unusually enough for Argentina) an equally terific salad…

…which gets me onto something I wondered the whole time I was there. How on erath are all Argentinians not fat, or dead of heart disease by the age of thirty? When you order a steak in a restaurant there, that´s what you get. A steak. On its own. Side orders are available, but most people seem to content themselves with chips at best. And then polish it all off with lots of red wine, and probably some dulce de leche (the classically Argentinian gooey caramel) for dessert. Lovely for a few days, but I’m sure if I had the diet I did for much more than five days I´d be dead pretty damn soon. Maybe vegetables are a dirty little secret that people only consume in the privacy of their own home? Answers on a postcard please (or the comments box if you can’t be bothered).

The wines were all pretty fantastic too. I’m not a huge wine drinker back home, but being in the home of Argentina’s finest reds, I couldn’t not try them – and they were all great. I think I must have somehow picked up a certain European snobbery about the Malbec grape (the most common in Argentina) because I’ve never really drunk much before, but I’m a convert now. Sorry to any family reading this – I had planned to ship a case home for you all for Christmas, until I saw it came to $150 just for the shipping. Ouch.

Those five days were wonderful (other than a few struggles to understand the Argentinian accent) and the country is now even more firmly on my list of places to visit after this trip – I have heard so many good things about Buenos Aires while travelling, and Patagonia is up the top of my future hiking plans.

In terms of costs, two things conspired to wreck my daily budget – all that good steak and fine wine meant my food & drink spend was near the highest so far, and that 19 hour luxury bus trip (in all fairness, it was my longest bus ride to date, so I figured it was worth treating myself) meant transport costs were easily my highest yet – nearly double the next highest country.
Transport: $20.40
Accommodation: $7.50
Activities: $3.75
Misc: $0.75
Steak & Wine: $21.10
Total: $53.50

A briefer than usual round-ip of the other numbers:
Buses: 2
Car s: 1
Bikes: 1
Taxi: 4
Postcards: 2
Cash withdrawals: 3
Wineries: 5
Cows eaten: several

..and finally the people I wined & dined with. This is the first country since Mexico where the natives have made up the largest group of people I met, and also the first since Mexico where Brits or Americans weren’t number one, thanks to the large and very friendly Irish contingent I met in Mendoza.
Argentinians: 7
Irish: 4
Dutch: 2
UK: 2
US: 1

Next, and final stop in Latin America, a return to Chile.

Wobbly Wine-tasting in Mendoza

After the camera-death incident, Salta did nothing to improve my mood. After warm, sunny San Pedro, I arrived in Salat to find it in the grip of the coldest spring they’d had for 60 years, with even daytime temperatures barely rising above five degrees (oh, and it was cloudy and raining too). The local camera shop told me that repairing my camera was out of their league and I’d need a proper Canon repair centre (which in my case meant waiting til Santiago). So I was well miffed, and feeling a bit sulky, all plams to visit the stunning nearby canyons went out of the window, and instead I booked myself onto a night bus to Mendoza for the following day.

San Francisco de Salta, by mtchm @ Flickr

San Francisco de Salta, by mtchm @ Flickr

I thought treating myself to the rather deluxe full cama service (near fully-recling seat, free steak, wine & champagne included) would be a good idea, and so it seemed at first, as I had my best ever night’s sleep on a night bus. So good in fact, that I was still fast asleep when we arrived in Mendoza, and leapt off the bus in a hurry while still half asleep – managing to leave behind my only jacket (which had been draped over my legs) in the process. So in the space of just three days, I’d managed to break my most valuable item, and lose the third most expensive. Financial worries aside, that also meant I’d managed to lose both my wind & rain protection and my main warm layer (my fleece) in the space of just two weeks. Considering I never, ever lose things back home, I was beginning to worry what was happening to my mind.

Still, despite my foul mood on arrival, Mendoza refused to let me sulk any more. The good stuff began with me finding myself in one of the nicest hostels I’ve been to in six months (the Hostel Lao – pretty perfect in every way). That was soon followed by the best steak of my entire life at a restaurant recommended to me by the hostel. And then, best of all, was the cycle tour of the local wineries.

This was yet another attraction that I’d heard about many a time from other travellers, and boy was it fun. Starting off in the hostel at 9am, we were dropped off by the tour company in the nearby wine village of Chacras, given bikes, a map, and a timetable – and then we were left on our own.

So we spent the day navigating our way from winery to winery, tasting a fine selection of wines along the way, in most cases for just a couple of dollars, and in some cases, for no charge at all. I really can’t think of a much more civilised way to spend a day then to be gently cycling around (all on the flat, thank god) a pretty little village with a stunning view of the Andes in the background, tasting some of the finest wines in South America along the way.

Mendoz vineyards & the Andes by Ecofotos - Adilson Moralez @ Flickr

Mendoz vineyards & the Andes by Ecofotos - Adilson Moralez @ Flickr

We managed to make it through five wineries (and god knows how many glasses) over the course of the day, and by the end of it we’d had just enough to make us ever-so-slightly wobbly but nowhere near as drunk as I’d feared (I’d heard stories of other cycle tourists having to be given a police escort back). All the wines were pretty damn good, but if I had to pick some out I’d definitely go for the wines of Lagarde, which were some of the nicest reds I’ve ever had (although we were tasting some of the pricier ones, thanks to us arriving at the same time as a much bigger group of rich Americans). The Weinert & Altavista ones were pretty impressive too, and the tours themselves in both places were the best we had. I shall be looking out for all of the above when I get home.

As if the day couldn’t have got any better, we arrived back at the hostel in time for the hostel barbecue – and yet more delicious steak. Thank you Mendoza, you really know how to cheer a boy up!

Seeing as I had no camera for my Argentinian trip, you can see more of other people’s photos of these two beautiful cities at Flickr – click here for Salta & here for Mendoza.