3 unique hostels in Colombia to kick back and relax

I am passionate about traveling and backpacking. My usual itinerary is as eventful as possible. As an avid traveller, when it comes to accommodation, hostels are my first option.

What do I look for in a hostel?

In general, I look for a good location, relatively good reviews and a variety of services that the hostel offers free of charge or in exchange for a small fee. After all, you’ve got to make your money count, especially when traveling on a tight budget.

During my recent trip to Colombia, the hostel that combined all three in the best possible way was:

Hostel Masaya in Santa Marta

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© Masaya Hostels

Located in the heart of Santa Marta, the second oldest city on the Caribbean coast, Hostel Masaya offers the most perfect hostel experience you could ask for!

The hostel is situated in a National Heritage listed Colonial house with a spacious inside patio, three floors, and wooden staircases. The atmosphere takes you back in time. That’s not all – you can enjoy the two pools, a rooftop that has one of the best views of the Cathedral, relax-zones, hammocks, deckchairs, and a cozy bar where you can sip on late night drinks or have breakfast in the morning.

A place to gather and to share

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© Masaya Hostels

Masaya aims at being not only a comfortable hostel, but a social place. The hostel offers a different 100% Colombian cultural activity every day. There are salsa lessons, cooking classes, live music and Spanish parties!

The first time I walked in Hostel Masaya I truly thought it was the hostel with the most unique atmosphere I have ever been to. I ended up staying there twice during my trip – once in a dorm, once in a private room. Both are comfortable, spacious, with nearly 5-meter tall ceilings. The private rooms are named after famous Colombians such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Shakira, Carlos Vives, Juan Valdez and more, and there is a catchy colorful theme going on in each one of them.

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© Masaya Hostels
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© Masaya Hostels

My stay at Masaya made me reconsider the way I travel. I decided that from now on I will put aside more time to dive in the local atmosphere and just to relax. Even for as little as two days, I enjoyed every minute of my Masaya experience drinking mojitos at the rooftop and swinging in the hammocks. The staff was friendly and helpful.

No breakfast is usually a deal breaker for me

I would definitely cross off my list a hostel that does not offer free breakfast (Cheap deals are acceptable). No wi-fi would also be an issue. It is the 21st century, right? However, one of the best hostels we stayed in Colombia was a wi-fi free zone and it was just great. If you would like to tune off and relax, I highly recommend:

Casa Loma in Minca

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No Wi-Fi, no problems | © Lina Kirilova

Casa Loma is the place to chill, relax, detox and go offline! It is an alternative hostel with open-air dorms and hammocks situated on a hill overlooking Santa Marta and the Sierra Nevada National Park. In order to reach the hostel, you first have to hike about 10 minutes up cobblestone stairs.

The view at the top is totally worth it, particularly at sunset!

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The view from the top |© Lina Kirilova

The hilltop wooden house is the main building of the house. You will find the kitchen and common area there, as well as a couple of terraces and a few hammocks to enjoy the view. Casa Loma is surrounded by tropical forest and you can hear birds singing everywhere! With no roads, cars, shops or noisy neighbors you will be able to fully enjoy the peace and quiet, reconnect with your inner self, just lie in a hammock, drink a beer or take a nap.

The hostel serves only vegetarian food and it offers a delicious set breakfast menu and a daily lunch and dinner menu. They are famous for their curry and Mexican nights.

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Breakfast | © Lina Kirilova

I was happy to arrive in time for sunset, so I could join the dozen lucky people on the terrace for happy-hour cocktails with an amazing view.  A couple of passion fruit Mojitos later we all watched in awe as the sun set behind the mountains.

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Sunset vibes | © Lina Kirilova

The third place I would like to mention here is:

Casa del Ritmo in Santa Marta

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© Casa del Ritmo

Casa del Ritmo is a typical colorful house located near El Rotadero – one of the famous beaches on the Caribbean coast. I spent only one night there on my way back from Minca. It was towards the end of my Colombia trip but the setting and atmosphere, and especially the friendly service made me feel at home.

The hostel was not busy at the time, so I was pampered by the staff’s full attention and hospitality. Sandra showed me around and recommended dinner and drink options. She is funny and just great! Every room is named after a different music genre – Pop, Jazz, Bossa Nova, Tango, Salsa and so on. I got Salsa!

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© Casa del Ritmo

Talking about food, this is another veggie hostel that offers fresh local food. Don’t miss the happy hour of the Art bar! They use real fruit for their Mojitos, Margaritas and Caipirinhas. Casa del Ritmo is also one of the few places where I was able to find the limited addition coca-infused beer Happy Coca from the Nevada brewery.

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© Casa del Ritmo
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© Casa del Ritmo

If you have an extra day or two, consider joining some of the different activities the hostel organizes. They include sunset yoga on the beach, zumba classes, live music and open mic jam sessions, movie and popcorn, poker nights, salsa parties and many more.

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© Casa del Ritmo
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© Casa del Ritmo

“Life is not what one lived, but what one remembers and how one remembers it in order to recount it.” Gabriel García Márquez

Note: I was not paid to write this review and I did not receive a free stay in exchange. I paid for my room just like you… but I loved it so much that I felt it deserved this write-up!

How we found colour in the grey city of Bogota

We arrived in Bogota on a rainy afternoon to spend the last three days of our Colombia trip.  Looking at the clouds and the grumpy grey sky, I started feeling nostalgia for the Caribbean heat and sun we left behind in Santa Marta that same morning. The taxi from the airport slowly made its way through the 9 million people capital struggling with crazy traffic. Sorry, Bogota – it was not love of first sight. The city didn’t strike with any beauty or typical architecture. It seemed huge, grey and dull. In my opinion, it definitely lacked character comparing to all Colombian cities we had visited so far.

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La Candelaria

It took us one hour to get from the airport to our hostel in La Candelaria. That’s where the picture became a little more optimistic. La Candelaria is the city’s old town. Over the years, it has succeeded in keeping the authentic vibe of Bogota alive. Full of old colorful houses, vintage shops, signature cafes, and French pastries (why French? Because of the large number of French expats). Churches, museums and cozy restaurants follow. What is more, many of Bogota’s universities are located within the old neighborhood giving it a pinch of youth spirit.

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one of the most vibrant streets in La Candelaria

Actually, what made a significant difference in the atmosphere was the widespread street art scene and culture in La Candelaria. We were surprised by the amazing graffiti art gazing at us from every corner. I had read a little bit on the topic beforehand and it turned out Bogota was big on graffiti – one of the world’s hotspots. I sure wanted to learn more.

We found out the best way to get to know the local street art is to join Bogota Graffiti tour. It’s the original and authentic tour that takes place in the streets of La Candelaria. It started back in 2011 when an Aussie street artist and a Canadian graffiti writer decided to share Bogota’s unique urban art scene and help promote local artists to a wider international audience. The tour is run by street artists for free, but like any other free tour – it is based on tips. They’ll show you around the old town where most of the graffiti works are located. You’d be awed by the theme, dimensions and bright colors. At the end if you’re satisfied with the story behind the mesmerizing images, it’s up to you to decide what the tour is worth.

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The tour starts and raps up in the Journalist Park (Parque de los Periodistas). Our guide was a German girl who had been living in Bogota for the past 10 years. Along with the interesting graffiti facts, she was happy to share a lot of information on culture, political scene and history of the city. It was nice of her to recommend good restaurants, bars and cafes that we passed by along the way. She also pointed out street art galleries where we could find more graffiti art or look for pieces of a specific artist. Anne gave me an advice on where to get a haircut in a vintage hair saloon in the old town, but that’s a topic for another blogpost.

I don’t want to give up any spoiler alerts but I would love to share the facts that stroke me the most! There has been a lot of controversy in the last decade whether or not graffiti should be legal in Bogota and Justin Bieber is personally involved in one of the stories. How odd is that?

Back in 2013, the Canadian had a show in the Colombian capital. Right after the concert, he was escorted to 26th street downtown Bogota where policemen guarded him while he was painting the Canadian flag with a marihuana leaf instead of a maple leaf. Quite creative, don’t you agree?

There was a lot of press and photographers to document his act. Can you imagine the street art society’s reaction? “If he can do it legally, so can we” – they thought. The following day hundreds of artist went out in the streets. The police couldn’t do anything to stop them. IMG_9740IMG_9779IMG_8074

First, the crowd set out to paint over Bieber’s art. Of course, they didn’t stop there. In less than 48 hours, the entire 26th street turned into an art gallery. Even before that day, the streets and buildings of Bogota have conveyed the political and social messages of artists from all around the world. IMG_8010IMG_9755IMG_9737

The street art and murals really add a lot of color and character to the otherwise boring urban scenery. Most of the graffiti is made on public buildings or abandon walls, but there is a significant number painted on private houses and apartments.

All the artists need to do is knock on the door and ask for permission. The owners are mostly concerned about the main image and the theme of the artwork. When they find it’s going to be a bird or another animal (80% of the graffiti), they immediately agree.

Don’t get me wrong, the graffiti in Bogota is still a strong form of social protest and cultural expression. However, with the improving way of life and the growing middle class, modern artists have left behind some preach from their paint. They are more focused on creating art that reveals their skills rather than on a cause.

Over the years the designs have become more and more complex. Graffiti artists nowadays use stencil, spray paint, stickers and wheat-pasted posters. And since graffiti is technically more acceptable in Colombia, artists have the freedom to express themselves as they please.

By the end of the tour, we were thrilled and thankful we got to hear the inside stories, see and experience this hidden part of Bogota.