Travel is the spice of life, but the bed where you lay your head can often make or break your vacation. Here are the Hotel/Hostel reviews from Cartagena for Cartagena Beach Hostel (a.k.a. Hotel Playa Club), Hostel Mamallena and El Viajero.
Cartagena Beach Hostel: This was a weird one because it was somewhat misleading. Basically Cartagena Beach Hostel is Hotel Playa Club moonlighting as a hostel probably to bring in extra money when they aren’t full. This comes with good and bad results. Overall I would give them 4/5 stars in spite of the downside.
So lets talk about the good. It’s a hotel, they have a concierge/reception desk that is very helpful, valet’s to help carry your stuff, the accommodation comes with towels, toiletries and breakfast. The breakfast was absolutely scrumptious: eggs, meat, bread, arepa, fruit, fish soup, coffee, juice, and chocolate! The staff are friendly and helpful. I enjoyed their pool, its clean, the pool deck is very nice to relax on and to get to the beach you walk out the back door, across the street and you are there. If you enjoy hotels but want to pay hostel prices you can find them on Booking.com or Trip Advisor.
The bad. This is a hotel masquerading as a hostel. It was a bit difficult to find because the name “Cartagena Beach Hostel” is not prominently displayed (a small sign in a door to one side of the hotel). The second problem was a good/bad thing. I registered for a 6 bed dorm and they upgraded me to a private room. This was great because I would never have paid the regular room rate and I had A/C. It sucked because they put another couple in the private room with me and I was kicked to a set of mattresses on the floor while the other couple was there. The couple were friendly Europeans and I had no problems. If they had been party animals or even a couple of guys this would have been a very awkward and potentially dangerous situation due to the privacy. Plus I had no way to lock my stuff up while I was gone.
So if you are traveling in a group, trying to save money and find a spot close to the beach I totally recommend this. If you are a backpacker or solo traveler and you want companionship and a more typical “hostel” atmosphere you might be disappointed cause the typical hotel guest does not want to “catch up and go do stuff.”
Hostel Mamallena: The second part of my stay I went here. Overall I liked it however it’s a bit on the rough side which explains why it is cheaper for the accommodation. I would probably give this one 3.5/5 stars.
The good. They clean the rooms and bathrooms every day, they have a free pancake breakfast, wifi, a small bar area and the companionship to be found is great! The staff were extremely nice and helpful, no complaints there. Having A/C and ceiling fans in the rooms is also really nice. Also it’s good to note that they are low priced and very well situated between the Fort, Bocagrande beach and the Old City where most of the tourism happens. Another advantage is there is a large supermarket nearby and lots of restaurants that are inexpensive if you are on a budget.
The bad. The beds were really uncomfortable. Maybe it’s because I am pregnant but I have definitely slept on better beds in similar priced hostels. If you are on a non-gluten diet you better buy stuff to fix or pay for your breakfast cause pancakes exclusively can be a bit of a downer. The other issue I had was wifi and the courtyard area, I would love it if the staff invested in better cushions for the lounge chairs and better wifi connections. There really wasn’t a comfortable place to sit anywhere in the whole place, the wooden chairs and tables are nice but due to lack of air movement you basically just sit there and sweat. Some fans would probably compensate a lot for the lack of comfy seating. The wifi. Sad puppy, if you are traveling but need to do some work don’t go to Mamallena for this. The wifi connection was weak and often it just dropped off completely.
In conclusion, Mamallena is a great utilitarian, bare bones hostel. You will get the basics at a low price and it is well situated. I did meet lots of interesting people there and had no problems with my reservation even though I had to cancel and reschedule at the last minute. Compared to other hostels in Colombia that fall into that price range it was not as comfy as I hoped it would be and the lack of good wifi was a pretty big deal breaker.
El Viajero: (reviewed by a friend the same week) I found El Viajero to be all that I had hoped it would be; two great outside common areas, (one with bar), always a must for those travelling alone, very spacious dorms, (with aforementioned lock-boxes), and clean, comfortable beds, numerous toilets and showers, (all cleaned regularly throughout the day), and AC in the foyer and all rooms. The bar/common area offered great space for socializing both day and night and the mix of travellers meant I was never short of great company. True, the wooden seats could get a little uncomfortable after a while, but this was always a good excuse to get up and participate in the salsa or bachata lessons on offer most nights. Or, just dancing the night away to the Latin beats emanating from behind the bar was another option. Failing this, one could always hang out in a hammock or a deck chair sipping one of barmaid Alexandra’s infamous (and deadly) mojitos, and playing with the hostel cat.
If I had to make one small complaint, it would be the breakfast. Standard hostel fare, there was plenty of it – fruit, cereal, bread/toast, juice and coffee – more than enough to fill you up for your morning’s activities, yet somehow rather uninspiring. Even a small change to the choice of cardboard-like bread would have lifted it to another level.
All in all though, I would have to rate this hostel very highly. It seems to attract a great mix of travellers, of all ages, from all over the world. The hostel staff does its best to promote a relaxed, comfortable, yet fun atmosphere. Best of all though, the bar is closed at 12:30am, allowing for a great night’s sleep – this coming from a very light sleeper! And if you want a party? Well, there’s always a group heading off to the Media Luna when the bar closes.