Renting a hotel vs. an apartment
When staying for an extended period of time in Colombia there are many lodging options: hostels, pensions, hotels, residencias and apartments. You can rent either for a day or for longer periods of time.
Multi-night stays: I usually book the first night on a sites like booking.com. The pictures, maps and reviews pretty much eliminate the element of surprise and disappointment. Staying longer than one night, always ask the hotel what’s the best price they can give for a second night. The longer you’re staying the harder you haggle. Apartments are usually already priced weekly and the more weeks you stay the cheaper it gets daily. But haggle anyway.
Hotel/hostel/apartment? Many people would only consider staying in a hotel when they travel. Others like the privacy and freedom of apartment living. Which is cheaper?
Hotels – for a pampered stay
Pros: Hotels are nice if you like being catered to. The rooms are cleaned every day. The sheets and towels are always clean and fresh, the bathrooms and floors are swept and mopped and everything tidied and stocked. Breakfast usually served every morning. For a fee, there’s room service, laundry pick up, maybe a restaurant and pool in the building. And no contracts. You can take it day by day.
The cons: there’s always a doorman and/or receptionist keeping an eye on your comings and goings. Anyone you want to bring beyond the reception area has to be registered and the hotel will levy the double room rate.
Maid Service: is great until it isn’t. The maids will want to get in sometime during the day to clean. Usually they start knocking on the door by 9 a.m. asking if or when they can come in to clean. Heaven forbid your floor is where they they habitually start cleaning every day. And few hotels in Colombia have the ‘Do not disturb’ hang tags you can put on your outside door knob. If you find a hotel that has those tags, steal one so you can put it outside the door of your next hotel.
Chatty Kathy: This is my pet-peeve. Other hotel guests will congregate outside your door very early in the morning and/or very late at night talking in loud voices as if they’re the only people booked in the hotel. That’s just how Colombians roll and another reason to ask for rooms far from the elevators and stairwells.
Room with a view: Everyone wants a room with a view and a balcony. Smokers, I get it. But the balconies and windows usually face the busy, main streets. Reception will not warn you of the street noise at night which usually doesn’t subside till 11 at night, starting back up at 6 in the morning. And if you’re in the Zona Rosa or entertainment district, the beat of valentato/salsa music could go on till 4 a.m. You can complain but the only thing they will do is move you to another room which may only be slightly quieter.
The inner sanctum: Most hotels have rooms with windows opening to an attractive inner courtyard or sometimes the window of your room just opens to an airshaft letting in some defused light and a little fresh air. Lousy view – check. But a better night’s sleep – check.
Domestic duties: if you’re on a short trip and want to get away from: cooking, shopping, cleaning, laundry and tidying. Then renting an apartment may not be for you.
Apartments can be cheaper than renting a hotel room, But only if you’re staying for a month or longer. Otherwise they tend to cost about the same or sometimes a little more than a hotel room. If you’re traveling with a family or group of people – renting a big apartment will be cheaper than hotel accomodations.
Hostels – a communal experience: are great if you’re on tight budget. You sleep in a room full of beds. They always have the best price. There is usually a communal kitchen for cooking your own food. It’s easier to meet people. And you encounter the most interesting travelers. I love coming to a new area and staying at a hostel for a night or two just to get the low down on what to see and what’s up to road.
The cons: sleeping in a large room. If you’re a light sleeper, you’ll never get a good night’s sleep. People coming in at all hours, partying, packing to leave in the pre-dawn hours. Sometimes you get lucky and you’re the only person in a dorm room. But for a little more money, there are private rooms to rent in hostels.
The security of your belongings is low. Some hostels have lockers or boxes you can padlock but most don’t.
And the sanitary conditions of the common kitchens is often left to be desired. The guests aren’t cleaning the way they should and management isn’t doing a daily cleaning and organization of the kitchen area.
Pros: Apartments are bigger – more living space. They can come with several bedrooms and enough beds to accommodate a small army with kitchen ware, table, chairs, 1.5 – 2 baths, towels, bedding, t.v. and all the comforts of home. Some big apartments are co-shared by different guests. Everyone has their own room and the kitchen is shared.
If you’re traveling alone, or as a couple, there are ‘apartastudios’ which are mini-apartments with a double bed, 1.5 bathrooms (always a half bath for visiting guests) they also come with kitchen ware, plates, utensils, towels, table, chairs, t.v. and sometimes air conditioning, sometimes just fans. A down-sized apartment, a little larger than a hotel room.
Apartments are usually located in residential areas slightly outside of the city in quieter areas where the locals live.
Apartments offer more privacy: You don’t have to get dressed and go downstairs for a cup of coffee in the morning. You can come and go as you please. There may be a doorman but he’s just there to keep out the riff raff and could care less who comes and goes with you. He’ll even buzz you to announce visitors.
No hotel maids wanting to know when you’re leaving so they can get in your room. In fact, your privacy is so intact there’s a chance you’ll be holed up in the apartment longer than you think – drapes drawn, sleeping in late, watching Netflix and taking uninterrupted afternoon naps.
And think of all the money you can save on restaurants by cooking your own food. Finally make that pasta dish you’ve been craving or try cooking one of those incredible fish you’ve been eyeing at the market.
Checking into an apartment is a lot more complicated. There are contracts to sign, and security deposits levied. The landlord does an inventory of everything when you arrive and again when you’re leaving, just like the hotel does with your mini-bar. Anything missing or broken comes out of your security deposit. You have to pre-pay so if anything happens, like the water being shut off or an electricity grid going for days, it’s most likely you won’t get reimbursed for the inconvenience. If this happened in a hotel you would simply leave and go to another with functioning services.
You have to do your own cleaning. There are brooms and mops there for a reason. Sheets and towels will have to be washed by you. Some apartments have washing machines and clothes line to hang the wet clothes on. If not you have to take your wash, which now includes sheets and towels, to a laundry mat or a cleaners where they charge you by the kilo.
You’ll have to go shopping: if you want to take advantage of the kitchen to cook your own food you’ll have to go shopping at the local market or supermarket. Lug the food home. (Often there are local ‘tiendas’ or small stores that will deliver to your door.) Then there’s the food prep. The cooking, the cleanup afterwards. And few apartments in Colombia have dishwashers.
Cheaper to eat out: I found it to be cheaper to eat out in Colombia than to cook. I love cooking. I spent a lot more money cooking my own food. But I ate a lot better.
Short term apartment stays in Colombia are not cheaper than hotels. Weekly rates are higher than monthly rates or year long leases.
How to find an apartment: Apartments can be found on the hotel web sites and on Airbnb. There are also agencies in town representing apartments to let. And simply walking around you’ll see signs in windows ‘Apartamento en renta’ apartments for rent. Just stop and inquire
Which one is right for you?
Sometimes the daily household chores of apartment living are welcomed if you’ve been traveling for a while. The mundane, ritualistic activity of cooking, cleaning and food shopping can be a refreshing relief. Give you things to do while enjoying a more residential as opposed to touristic experience in you new town.
A travel mix: When I travel for an extended period of time, I like a nice mix of hotels and restaurants with an occasional apartment stay. If I’m traveling hard – Colombian hotels and restaurants are fast, easy, cheap and accessible. Get in – get out. I sleep where I fall.
But sometimes I’m just tired of traveling. I know when it’s time to stop. An apartment can be a more accommodating place.
Please leave your comments, personal experiences or questions in the comment box below and we will get back to you.