The importance of accommodation to the experience of a place, or, How Salento nearly sucked

Now that I’m more flashpacker than backpacker, I’m starting to realise the importance of good accommodation when it comes to travel.

When I travelled from Holland to Singapore in 2004 conserving money was my prime objective and I stayed in some dire holes. The grottiest was probably a 3m by 1.5m cell made of plywood in a long, dark corridor of identical cells in Bangkok. Inside was a grimy metal-framed bed with a limp mattress. There were smears of god-knows-what on the wall, and that wall didn’t even reach the ceiling. The floor was sticky. Back then, my only thought was, “Great, only £2 a night!”

I still enjoyed Bangkok but now I know I’d get far more out of the city if I stayed in a quirky boutique hostel, or a hotel with a fantastic view of the skyline, or one that served up incredible pad thai – something that complements or enhances my time in the destination rather than just allowing me to be there.

Nowadays, a hotel/hostel needs to excel in at least two, preferably three, of the following four areas for me to be happy staying there:

  1. The Room must be comfortable with plenty of natural light and, above all, clean.
  2. The Staff should be professional, helpful, pumped with local knowledge and whilst they should be friendly this shouldn’t extend to trying to make best friends of their customers. Equally, their welcome can make or break a place.
  3. The Location, if in a city, needs to be central; if in the countryside the hotel must have a rural appeal. Safety is essential, as is relative ease of access, unless remoteness is a selling point.
  4. The Atmosphere is achieved through the architecture and the hotel’s suitability to its surroundings. Spaciousness, a thoughtful layout and a welcoming, calming environment (staff, that includes you) are crucial.

Salento, in Colombia’s Zona Cafetera, could have been a big fat let down. We arrived from Cali with high expectations. Many of those expectations were built on The Plantation House, a hostel that received rave reviews in both the Lonely Planet’s South America on a Shoestring and Bradt’s Colombia: hammocks, well-tended gardens and great views across the hills. We booked in advance – it’s Colombia’s peak season with plenty of Colombian tourists hitting Salento, one of the country’s top domestic destinations.

When we were shown to our double room with shared bathroom we both visibly sagged, rather like the bed. The room was dark. A double and single bed took up most of the floor space. The sheets hadn’t been changed. We asked to be shown another room, with bathroom if possible. Fifteen minutes later and we were gingerly examining splattered mosquito carcases smeared on the wall, curtains hanging off the rails, wads of toilet paper in the bin (toilet paper is put in a bin in South America, not flushed) and someone’s curly pubes on the toilet seat.

All this would have been bearable (just) if the hostel’s grounds had provided a pleasant area to hang out in. A brief inspection revealed one hammock, small, overgrown lawns and a path littered with a slat of wood complete with rusty nail.

We went into town to find an alternative; there was no way we were putting up with that level of service. The Plantation House had only Location going for it, and even then there was no way to properly enjoy the view.

We looked at four other places: the first, Hostal Ciudad de Segorbe, was very inviting but expensive and full, another had one room which had walls that didn’t reach the ceiling, the next, Hotel Las Palmas, had a room in the worst part of the house and another, Hotel Parqueadero, offered us a room at a cut price provide we took it for three nights. Bargain! It had a television, two clean beds and a sparkling tiled floor and was run by a delightful young family; the kids, hanging around reception, wanted to know what ‘hotel’ is in English (it’s the same, with the ‘h’ pronounced). It had Staff and Rooms on its side. We agreed to take it.

Relieved, we went to collect our bags and returned to Hotel Parqueadero, only to find that they had given the room to someone else who offered more money in the ten minutes we were gone. To add injury to insult, the two boys of the aforementioned “delightful young family” forced an electric-shock giving toy gun onto my fingers, as we were trying to ascertain that we’d understood them correctly and they no longer had a room for us, and it really hurt! We retreated to the pavement and I leaked a few tears. It was the disappointment, and I was tired, and possibly hormonal.

Now we’d have to swap shitty room for another shitty room, and pay more money for it. We checked into Hotel Las Palmas, which at least had clean sheets although the room buzzed with hornets and the shower is probably still draining now. The main part of the hotel looked nice – a gentlemanly Atmosphere with wood-panelled walls and pleasant Staff. We hooked up the mosquito net and made the most of it, mostly by making sure we were out as much as possible.

To make ourselves feel better, we went back to Hostal Ciudad de Segorbe, the hotel that was full and too expensive, and booked ourselves in there for the following two nights. The co-owner, Enrique, took pity on us and offered a cut rate. Checking in there was the best thing we could have done. The Rooms centred on a sun-filled courtyard full of Atmosphere with a top-floor balcony overlooking both quaint Salento and the rolling hills – the perfect Location to watch the sun set with a glass of wine from the hotel’s attached restaurant, Vino & Tapas, incidentally also with lovely Staff. Our room had a small balcony, television, excellent shower and comfortable bed. The hotel had only been open for six months so everything is in top condition. Enrique helped us arrange transport to Cocora Valley, sorted our laundry and volunteered to recommend bars in Salento.

Hostal Ciudad de Segorbe: Staff? Check; Atmosphere? Check; Rooms? Check; Location? Check. Salento’s saviour? Check!

Going to Salento?
Hostal Ciudad de Segorbe
Calle 5 No. 4-06,
Salento
Tel: (57) (6) 759 3794
Mob: (57) 320 283 6973

Comments
2 Responses to “The importance of accommodation to the experience of a place, or, How Salento nearly sucked”
  1. Bobby says:

    Morning I was just poking around the internet, looking for some entertaining blogs to read and found your site.

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