Prior to leaving for South America, we spent quite a bit of time poring over travel guidebooks to gather information about which regions and cities to visit and, equally important, which hostels and hotels were of good quality, friendly, and convenient. What a lot of time this took! And who knew how long ago the review had been written!
We could have saved a lot of time had we known that English-speaking, web-savvy individuals had already put together an online network of quality hostels, each of which had been inspected by travelers. We would have been equally surprised to find that we could reserve online AND that we could even pay in advance to ensure we had a space when we arrived. And we certainly would have appreciated the time and footwork this would have saved us, lugging packs around.
We learned about this website in Colombia from René, the owner of the delightful El Maco in San Agustin. Concerned that our late arrival in Popayan might make it hard to find accommodations in a good hostel, we told him we had heard about Hostel Trail as a good place to stay but wanted to be sure of a room. He mentioned the online reservation site which is operated by the same people who own the hostel. And it worked beautifully; we did arrive after dark, our beautiful room was ready for us, and the very accommodating owners were even able to recommend several restaurants that were not only still open but excellent and well priced. Now that was appreciated!
Finding out there is no room in a small town in Colombia (or anywhere in South or Central America) seemed a bit more challenging to some of the late arrivals we met. There really were not simple alternatives. Travelers ended up having to: continue on late at night, sleep on a porch during a rainstorm, or sleep in a chair with a blanket. Not very agreeable! Therefore, once we learned about www.HostelTrail.com, we used it.
The good: Knowing we could arrive in the evening and find a quality bed, a warm shower, and hospitality. Accommodations were always clean and comfortable, the hostels well staffed. Mattresses were almost always top notch, except for one place where they were being changed out and we ended up with an older, somewhat solid model. Staff members were familiar with tourists with Western habits (for example, eggs and toast for breakfast rather than stewed fish and rice…) so our stay was relaxing. And like-minded travelers stayed there, exchanging delicious bits of travel gossip, particularly about where to eat, what to see, and experiences in other regions, other hostels.
The bad, perhaps too strong a word: Occasionally, the language spoken at a hostel would be primarily English and not Spanish. When this occurred, we noticed immediately that we had a more difficult time understanding and speaking with the local population. However, for travelers learning English such as the couple from Barcelona that we encountered a few times, this was indeed a bonus.