So, you’ve heard that the days of grimy hostels with smelly bathrooms and bedbug infested sheets are over. But somehow, you can’t wrap your head around the idea that you’d be able to pay £9 a night for anything more than that. Well, stop right there. Yes, those kind of desolate hostels do still exist (and yes, they are awful), but as long as you look hard enough/aren’t staying in La Serena, Chile (where the concept of an inspiring, warm, relaxing hostel doesn’t seem to exist) there are some real GEMS to be found.
Colombia, the first country in which I was properly backpacking, was full of said gems. From Cartagena to Bogotá, I really lived the sweet life hopping from lovely hostel to lovely hostel. This is not what I expected at all: Colombia is still synonymous with all things danger/drugs – whenever I told someone at home that I was heading there, eyes filled with shock and fear – despite a much calmer atmosphere and, well, see above for the general take on hostels.
After a stomach-bug diseased stay in the boho town of Minca, I decided to branch off from my friends for some quality R&R to counteract said illness and the toll taken when you spend every minute of every day with other people. I decided to head to Palomino – one of the less raucous towns on the Caribbean Coast (my stomach was certainly not able to cope with any form of alcohol intake) – and located about 2 hours east of Santa Marta.
Having arrived on a bus with my bursting-at-the-seams backpack, I asked a tuk-tuk to take me to Casa del Pavo Real, a hostel 5 minutes walk from the beach. I had booked the hostel online – it looked clean and calm and like everything I needed – but was still expecting there to be some rough edges and unpleasantness that wasn’t pictured on Hostelworld, much like the dress you saw on ASOS but returned due to it’s UNBELIEVABLY unflattering cut around the boobs.
The tuk-tuk sped (as much as a 20 year old scooter can when hauling a makeshift back seat with a human being and a 23kg rucksack sat on it) down some dirt stone roads. Every hostel I passed looked ok. Just ok. Then, we rounded the corner into Casa del Pavo Real. Or, should I say, heaven.
The receptionist, a lovely half-colombian, half-swiss lady, checked me in and showed my to my dorm: a long room with 8 bunk bed. I was then fed some very plain food by the incredibly obliging staff. And then I had the BEST night’s sleep!
The People really couldn’t have been more amazing – it was 5* service in what is a hostel/a very reasonably priced hotel. From the half-Colombian/half-Swiss lady who checked me in, to the cooks who catered to my, at the time, very sensitive stomach to the manager who organised my tubing trip, I couldn’t have been looked after better. Unprecedented service. Oh, and of course I can’t forget the gorgeous hostel dog – he was the perfect company for a solo traveller!
The Food was delicious – yes, for the first day or so I lived off white rice due to my stomach upset, but I managed to graduate to their normal menu, which changes each day. Local food, made in the kitchen right before your eyes: it doesn’t get much better than that. The breakfast, too, was fantastic: a spread of fruit, juices, teas and breads with the option of eggs. All food was eaten at the communal dining table, a magnificent slab of wood on legs.
The Location was perfect – if what you want is a retreat from the electric life of Colombia, this is the place for you. Casa del Pavo Real is an oasis of calm and peace, literally a 5 minute walk from Palomino beach.What’s more, it was only a two hour bus ride from Santa Marta, whilst it is also possible to get a reasonably priced shuttle to Cartagena in only 6 hours (it’s a great drive, along the edge of the coast). In this way it makes a great stop whilst visiting the nearby area, with the likes of Tayrona National Park mere moments away. Even if you don’t think you need a break from the hustle and bustle, please go. You won’t regret it.
The Room was perfect. Air conditioning, solid beds, each with a personal light, plug and mosquito net. I have to say – the beautiful floor tiling also made it for me (easily pleased…!). The bathroom was large and with a decent shower. You can’t really ask for more.
Whilst I stayed in the dorm room, there is also the option of private doubles – both within the main building or in one of the little casitas. Couples populated this hostel-cum-hotel and all seemed very happy – with the rooms, but not always with each other. I did my early-morning wake-up swim to the soundtrack of one couple breaking up, very quietly it must be said , whilst sat next to the pool. All I could think was how maybe I wouldn’t ever come here with anyone else should it ruin my memories of the place!
The Facilities, of course, were stellar. Whilst there was no kitchen (reflecting the hotel qualities), the pool and sun loungers were fantastic. What’s more, there are many optional activities that the hostel will organise for you, from horse riding on the beach to yoga and tubing down the Palomino river. Hammocks and hanging seats litter the site, which make the perfect reading or journal entry spot.
The Final Word: This place is a peaceful, rewarding and coherent space paving the way for this new kind of hostel. I only wish that I could have stayed longer.
Visit Casa del Pavo Real here to find out more.