We’ve written a lot about hostels previously on the Colombia Travel Blog: our Top 5 in Colombia, the best ones to stay at in various cities…I’ve even declared my favorite in the country to be the Casa de Francois in San Agustin…Hostels are the lifeblood of the travel industry for budget travelers (and, increasingly, for the growing number of ‘flashpackers’, who want the hostel experience, but with a little bit extra). A bad hostel can taint your memory of an entire city, or, in an extreme case, country: I can say that from personal experience – a rubbish hostel experience is still the first thing that pops into my mind when I remember my visit to Siem Riep in Cambodia; rather than, say, the majestic temples of Angkor Wat! Therefore, the hostel is not simply a place to lay your head at the end of the day: it’s where you wake up, meet other travelers, relax or even, in my blogger capacity, work.
The criteria for a good hostel is wholly subjective; but one thing that makes a hostel special for me is an incredible view – it’s a brilliant bonus when the place you’re staying feels like an additional part of your travel experience…think the Plantation House in Salento with it’s own coffee plantation, or the Parklife Hostel in Popayan, attached to the cathedral of the city. It just makes the experience that little bit more special if you ask me. One such hostel is the Casa Elemento, near Minca in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, which I’m going to go ahead and declare has the best hostel view in the country…
I say near Minca because Casa Elemento is, in fact, another 45 minutes or so up the mountains, which is partly why the view is so incredible. And it is incredible: panoramic vistas stretch out from the communal gardens of the hostel, taking in the vastness of the Caribbean, the jungles of the Sierra and the faint glimmering lights of Santa Marta in the distance.
And the folks behind Casa Elemento have clearly recognized that this view is their major selling point and acted accordingly: hanging over the drop at the edge of the hostel grounds is the largest hammock you’re likely to see; a huge net contraption that allows at least 10-15 backpackers to simultaneously relax and soak in that magnificent vista. Just look at the photos: there’s no way I can truly do it justice!
The hostel itself is a different kind of hostelling experience in Colombia as well: the communal thing is much more prevalent here than elsewhere, which has it’s downside, but mainly it’s a great way to increase interaction among hostel guests. Meals are served communally (manly dinner) along a large banqueting table (it’s not the place to be a fussy eater!), and there’s no wi-fi or computer for guests. With a few dorms and private rooms, and the option to rent a tent as well, it’s a wonderful place to unplug and drop out for a few days. I spent Christmas at the hostel, and it was a wonderful base for hiking in the mountains, and birding my way through the Sierra’s massive endemic list.
But it’s really all about that view: lying on the that huge hammock in the pleasant warm sun of the Sierra Nevada, feeling joyously insignificant as the distant Caribbean shines, still as you’ll see it, and the bright green forests of the one of the world’s most ecologically important mountain ranges, snakes it’s way up from the coast, right into your back garden. Toucans and parrots skimming over the nearby treetops, and a cold beer in hand – this is one hostel that’s worth staying at just for the view…