South America Hotels International
Hotel Barcelo (San Jose, Costa Rica)
The Barcelo San Jose Palacio Hotel, San Jose, Costa Rica We arrived at about 5pm local time and were taken to our hotel Barcelo San Jose Palacio just outside the main city centre of San Jose. The Reception area was large and airy and staff very pleasant, welcoming and efficient. There were a number of efficient lifts and ... there were also stairs to all floors.
Our room was very large with plenty of storage space 10 drawers, huge wardrobe, bathrobes, safe, coffee maker and fridge with mini bar. The bed was a large queen sized one and was VERY comfortable with 5 huge plumfy pillows and over the bed lights so that reading in bed was easy rather than struggling with fiddly dull lights. There was also a radio alarm clock, iron and ironing board plus a trouser press. Furniture in the room beside the enormous bed included a table and two comfortable chairs plus a settee that made into a double bed too for a third person or child.
The bathroom had a bath and shower over the bath, basin and large mirror behind plus a basket of such exciting toiletries - conditioner, body lotion and bath gel in little bottles, a shaver and cream, a toothbrush and tooth paste, shoe horn, comb, sewing kit, shoe cleaning sponge and shower cap all in small plastic packs. Also over the bath was bath/shower gel with a nice fresh smell, shampoo and conditioner in dispensers. This hotel certainly wins the prize for offering the most toiletries and bits to their guests. There was also a hairdryer attached to the wall in the bathroom and we had large fluffy and white towels and plenty of them too.
Our room air conditioning didn't work at all but my sister and her husband were next to us and theirs worked perfectly, had we been staying longer than two nights we might have made more fuss but we opened the window and it wasn't too bad.
Breakfasts were buffet style and there was a great choice. Fruit juices and champagne too so it was a shame that I thought a day of sightseeing was probably not best started with a champagne breakfast!, cereals, a huge choice of fruit both whole and cut up and a fruit salad, Breads and pastries, cold meats and cheeses, cooked sausages, burritos, rice and beans, eggs cooked in various ways and so much more. It was an excellent breakfast as we were all happy with what was offered and everything was really nicely presented and looked fresh. I have since looked on the internet as we wanted a hotel for our last night in Costa Rica and thought this was so nice that we could do worse than return here. The night's stay was about $180 and then breakfast was a huge $68 on top. It was a good breakfast but you would have to eat a huge amount to justify that price and I certainly didn't get my money's worth!
The evening meal was also buffet style. The first night I had a huge plateful of about 20 different salads, cold meats, cheeses, and some fish and seafood. There was also cooked fish meat and vegetables but I was quite full after my salad splurge. The desserts were also numerous, nicely presented and varied from a choice of ice creams and sauces to fruit salads and cut fruit to beautiful looking chocolate, lemon and many other cake and mousse looking tasty looking treats. Both my husband and brother in law went for the cooked selection and went back for more saying how tasty it all was.
There was a beautiful tropical garden to wander though on the way to the pool and poolside bar area. The pool was quite large with a shallow part under a bridge leading to a very shallow beach like section for sitting in or for children. The prices in the bar were slightly less than in the UK a total of £8 for a beer, a coke and two Cuba Libras which we thought wasn't a bad price. The pool was quite fresh and too cold to be pleasant for me and my sister but my husband and brother in law braved it. There were plenty of sun loungers and you had a pool card to get pool towels which you exchanged back ready to hand in when you checked out of the hotel.
There were several areas where you could sit and relax and enjoy a chat as well as at least one other restaurant and bar within the hotel. There were a number of conference rooms available for business meetings and an internet room where you had to pay $5US for an hour. If you wanted to use your own laptop wifi then it was $10 per day, $15 for 2 days or $20 for 3 days. It was free on the 5th and 6th floors but I didn't test to see if anyone could get on if they went up to those floors or if you had to be checked in to a room/suite on one of those floors.
All in all this was a very comfortable hotel and the rooms had everything you could possibly want, Shame that our air conditioner did not work but it was not too hot with the window open. The selection of food offered in the restaurant was excellent and very tasty and well presented too. The hotel is a little way out of the city so if you wanted to be in the city then this may not suit you however I would certainly stay here again if we ever returned to San Jose as it offered everything you could possibly desire except perhaps free internet.
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Yachana Lodge (Quito, Ecuador)
***Background*** We stayed at Yachana Lodge in January 2010 during our trip to Ecuador. We wanted to do something that was a bit different....a bit of an adventure.....and when I came across the Yachana website during my research, I thought it looked ideal for what I was looking for. I have to admit that I'm not someone that ... just likes to turn up in a country and play it by ear.....I like to research and plan it so that I know what I'm going to be doing and when!
***What is Yachana Lodge?***
The website told me a little bit about Yachana Lodge and how it came into
existence. This story was then repeated by the staff shortly after we arrived as the premise behind the existence of the lodge is fundamental to the experience you will have there.
Yachana Lodge is intricately linked to the Yachana Foundation. The Yachana
Foundation (which I will describe in more detail later) has invested $6.2
million into the Ecuadorian Amazon, which has included the opening of the
Yachana Technical High School and the Mondana Medical Clinic, helping in the
construction of 21 community schools throughout the Ecuador Amazon, creating 16 community banks throughout the area, assisting local farmers in agricultural and technical assistance , and purchasing areas of forest to protect them against deforestation and commercialization. The Yachana Lodge is one of the principle ways that the Yachana Foundation is funded, and so therefore you can go to the lodge knowing that you will be contributing to the local community - as well as learning something not only about the Amazon rainforest and river itself, but also about the people and communities that are living within the forest.
I was drawn to Yachana because of the feedback reviews from Tripadvisor, but also because of the awards that had been awarded to Yachana. For example, in 2004 it won the Conde Nast Best Ecotourism Lodge in the World, in 2007 the Conde Naste Skål Ecotourism Award in Education, and it was also awarded a grant from the National Geographic Society for continuation of its preservation work.
So, Yachana Lodge is an Eco-tourism lodge that allows their guests to learn more about life in the Amazon direct from the local population and at the same time to help support the work of the foundation.
Now, getting to Yachana was not the easiest of journeys because of where Yachana is located, but having said that it was a well planned journey by the lodge and so it went without any hitches.
Yachana is situated between the Amazonian cities of Coca and Tena along the Napo River, which is one of the largest tributaries of the Amazon River.
Most people, me included, start their journey to Yachana from Quito, the capital city of Ecuador. So the first part of the journey involves traveling from Quito to Coca which is situated about 107 miles east of Quito. We opted for the easiest way to reach Coca, which is to take a 30 minute flight direct from
Quito, although we did meet people who had taken the arduous ten hour bus trip which really didn't sound like a whole heap of fun!! However the flight was a very civilized option. There are several airlines that operate daily flights to Coca, but we opted for VIP Airlines, simply because the times fitted in best
with us. The flight cost us about $120 return - but despite the cheap price, the small aircraft was efficient, comfortable and felt very safe and secure. A word of warning though.....if you are traveling with VIP Airlines and you are
thinking about getting some last minute items at the airport then think again
because the whole terminal in Quito consists of a room where the only facilities are some toilets and a place to make tea and coffee!
When we got to the airport in Coca, our guide "Freddie" was already waiting for us. He had a Yachana Lodge Tshirt on so he was immediately identifiable. He had a taxi already waiting to transfer us to the port area where there was a motorized canoe waiting for us. I was interested to see what Coca was like as I had considered staying a night or two here, but the brief little I saw of Coca made me decide that I'd made the right decision in not staying. I'm not saying Coca is horrible, just that it didn't look like a very interesting place to visit as it is predominantly industrial, largely associated with oil and mining.
The taxi ride to the port took approximately ten minutes. We arrived at a comparatively modern port where our canoe was waiting. The canoe was has two plastic seats on either side and was about twenty seats long - and each seat had a mandatory life jacket on it that had to be worn at all times. Our guide was joined by another guide on the canoe called Juan (who I recognised from the website). Before starting off, we were handed a packed lunch, which consisted of sandwiches, crisps, chocolate and a fruit juice drink to keep us going until we reached Yachana.
Our guides estimated that the trip up-river from Coca to Yachana would take about 2.5 hours, although in reality it took a lot longer - about 4 hours. As soon as we left Coca behind it became clear that we were heading deeper into the Amazon and away from civilization as we new it. As we travelled up the Napo River we saw many small communities dotted along the riverbank, local people washing and fishing in the river, as well as many people that stopped what they were doing to wave to us as we whizzed by. Freddie and Juan pointed out to us any points of interest along the way, as well as any wildlife. We did briefly see a crocodile and a monkey and several species of bird. To be honest, the wildlife was too far away to be of any great interest to me, but I very much enjoyed the scenery and seeing the communities and people along the river bank. There were several places along the way where the river was too shallow and our canoe got stuck, much to all of our amusement! However, the driver and guides were well versed in this and simply rearranged us on the boat in such a way as the weight distribution altered and allowed us to become unstuck and be on our way. About 2.5 hours in, we had a little break where we stopped on a sand bank in the middle of the river and got out to stretch our legs - which was much needed! The canoe was comfortable enough, but after that long sitting it was nice to stretch out.
Just before we arrived at the lodge, we passed a small rural community on our left hand side where Juan points out is where the high school and clinic are located. The jetty where the canoe docks is on the edge of this village - and as we pulled up we were greeted by about ten local children who seemed very excited to see us.
From the canoe we had to walk up some steps and then up to the meeting area of the lodge - which was about ten minutes walk and was quite steep and just about finished me off after the journey there!!
My first impressions of the lodge were very good. As we walked up to the meeting area, we passed through very pleasant gardens with exotic flowers and plants, and along the left hand side were the wooden cabins that blended in happily with the surroundings. As we arrived at the meeting area (which also doubled up as the dining area) we were presented with warm towels, a fresh lemonade drink and an assortment of snacks. We were then all invited to sit and we were given a brief talk about lodge facilities and lodge activities and about what would happen during the rest of the day.
I was particularly struck by how the lodge seemed to sit happily in its surroundings and did not stick out like a sore thumb as of the cabins and community areas were constructed from natural and renewable local sources. The staff were very welcoming and seemed organized and efficient in helping us get settled in.
Our cabin was located about 5 minutes walk away from the communal areas. As we walked up to the cabin we saw that we a small porch that had two small chairs on it and a hammock (which I took to lying in at every given opportunity!!).
The room was pretty basic but more than adequate. I think the idea of the lodge is to take its guests "back to basics", so although it is not luxurious in any way, it is perfectly comfortable and has everything you really need for your stay. In the room were two twin beds, a small table with two chairs, and a area to put your suitcases and hang some clothes. There is a small bathroom with a toilet, sink and shower.
The lodge is keen to reserve energy and largely uses solar energy for its energy needs. There are two small lights by the bed don't give off a lot of light, but it is enough to read a book at night. There is no air-con in the room, again an energy saving measure, but at night the room is cool enough with the open windows (that have mosquito grills on them) - and in the day we were mostly outside anyway. The shower is not very powerful but the water is clean and warm-ish and is considered a luxury anyway in this part of the world.
There is a maid service every day where your bed is made up and the cabin cleaned, but they will not change sheets or towels unless requested (again part of the eco-tourism experience!).
The cabin areas are very quiet and, in the afternoon between activities, there was nothing nicer than lying in the hammock on the porch and reading a book. Literally all you can hear are the sounds of the jungle around you which is very soporific. Its wonderful lying on the porch and watching and listening to one of the inevitable downpours that occur during the day - and managing to do so while staying dry!
***The Dining Area and Bar Area***
The dining area and bar are situated next to each other and are both al-fresco and afford breath-taking views over the Napo River and Amazon Forest, particularly at sunset. Both of these areas double up as meeting areas also.
All packages at Yachana include breakfast, lunch and dinner that are served at set times every day. The times may change depending on the activities for that day, but everyone eats at the same time and it is a social affair. While we were there there was a large group of American students there and we were seated with them, which at times felt a little uncomfortable and we would have liked the option of dining separate to them at least some for some of the meals we were there. All guides sat and ate dinner with us also - and so we were able to continue any discussions with them over dinner.
Each meal is table service and you are usually given a choice of two dishes for each course (usually three courses). The food is largely prepared and served by high school students (or graduates of the high school). The food was okay, but basic. I can't say there was anything bad about the food because it was always fresh and always edible, but it was very bland and seemed like it was without seasoning. They did use local plant and vegetable products to prepare the food and I get the impression that the focus is on providing a high carbohydrate and protein diet to fulfill our energy requirements for the lodge activities. I certainly wouldn't call the food gourmet, and I have to admit by the end of five days I was very much looking forward to something a little tastier!
The bar had a decent variety of drinks, both local and international. Cocktails were also available if you wanted them. I found the bar area was rarely manned - except by the local terrorist parrot! - and so I generally helped myself to drinks and then filled out one of the honesty slips that were available.
There is a small shop that sells local handi-crafts which is only open for a few hours every day - and it seems to be a bit hit and miss when its going to be open. However, if you talk to the manager he will open it up for you at any time.
There are three free computers with internet access - which are also run by solar power. I have to admit they are pretty slow, but they're good enough for looking up email. You're in the middle of the Amazon, so what do you expect! Sometimes I had to wait a short time for one to be free, but people were pretty unselfish with their computer use and would be willing to share the computers around in our spare time.
There is a small library with second hand reading books in it were you can swap a book for a book. There is also some books which give information on Yachana, the rainforest and wildlife which can be interesting to read during one of the few rest periods.
There isn't a pool of any description, but guides will show you safe areas in the river where you can swim if you chose to. We did take a dip in the river a few times which was refreshing, but we weren't really able to swim because the current was pretty strong.
There is a butterfly house which has several indigenous species of butterfly and moth. If you go in there you can see some of the species in every stage of their development which is actually really interesting. Our guide took many of the caterpillars out for us to hold and examine - which were very colourful and vibrant and nothing like the caterpillars we have here! I spent an hour or so trying to get the perfect photograph of the owl butterfly - and eventually succeeded in at least getting it in focus!
When I booked the lodge, I got the impression that the activities took up a few hours every day and so I was concerned what we were going to do for the rest of the day. However, I needn't have been concerned because during daylight hours, most of the time was taken up with various activities that were arranged by the lodge.
There was usually one activity after breakfast between about 08.30 - 12.30 and then another after lunch between about 2.30 - 4.30. The times and activities available did differ every day, but you were always briefed after dinner the night before so you knew exactly what you would be doing the following day. Every activity was done with your guide and so we were able to build up a relationship with him over our five days at the lodge.
There was a wide variety of activities on offer - all of which were actually very good. However, I was a little disappointed that we didn't actually get the option of deciding what activities we wanted to do as we were with a bigger group most things seemed to be fitted around what they wanted to do. However, having said that, the activities were enjoyable. Here is a synopsis of some of the activities we did:
- TUBING / FLOATING DOWN NAPO RIVER:
We were taken out in the canoe a short way up river - and then given the option of "floating" downstream in our life-jackets or sitting in a tube and floating on that downstream. I chose to go downstream in my life-jacket which involved getting into the current and letting the river take us downstream. It wasn't as easy as it looked as it meant being a strong enough swimmer to stay in the current - which I just about managed! I would recommend anyone who is not a strong swimmer to do the activity in a tube.
- CLEANSING, BLOWGUNS AND SPEARS:
We took a short hike into the rainforest to the local medicine man - who performed a cleansing ritual on us which basically consisted of chanting, blowing smoke over us and then swishing the badness away with leaves. It was interesting and seemed very authentic.
While we were here, we also learned how to use blowguns and spears - which we did in a fun competitive way. During this, the heavens opened and we were stuck in a rainstorm where we had no where to hide, so we carried on our activities despite the rains and got completely and utterly soaked - which was really fun.
We went out into the rainforest in order to discover the prehistoric hoatzin bird which is indigenous to this area. I'm not a great bird fan, but it was okay to do for a short time - and it did allow us to get deeper into the rainforest.
- TOURING THE HIGH SCHOOL / MEDICAL CLINIC
We had the opportunity to tour the high school and the medical clinic which are part of the Yachana Foundation.
Our guide explained the role of the foundation and the aims of the high school which is to provide meaningful education to children of the Ecuadorian Amazon. The children are able to gain an education and experience in eco-tourism, agriculture, animal husbandary, IT, craft manufacturing, micro-enterprise etc. We had the opportunity to talk to the students and to learn about their lives directly from them.
As we are nurses, our guide also arranged for us to visit the local clinic and speak to one of the medics and nurses about the facilities they provide for the local population. It was interesting to see how basic the clinic facilities actually were, and yet they are regarded as high-tech for this area of the world.
- BASKET WEAVING:
A small group activity where we used local plant materials collected from the forest to make a very unsuccessful looking basket! It was fun though - especially as we were doing so while sipping cocktails and looking out over the Amazon.
VISITING A LOCAL MARKET:
We took the canoe to a local market where we were able to mingle with the locals. The market was more about purchasing necessities than local handicrafts as it was a market predominantly for locals, but it was interesting. Because people travel from over a large area to this small market, it becomes a somewhat social affair with a party atmosphere. We felt very welcome and safe walking around here and people were very willing to be guinea pigs for us practicing our terrible Spanish.
- JUNGLE COOKERY:
We had a jungle cooking lesson which taught us how to cook some of the local vegetables and plants found throughout the jungle. As part of this we also got to taste witchity grubs which, I have to say, tasted quite nice and not unlike bacon! We then sat down and ate what we'd cooked for lunch.
- AMAZON FOREST HIKES:
You have the opportunity to hike within the preservation area of Yachana Lodge deep within the Amazon Jungle to have a look at the plants and wildlife close up. Believe me, these hikes are pretty tiring and I personally wouldn't do another one because I'm just not fit enough, but they do give you a unique opportunity to experience the jungle close up.
All staff are taken from the local Amazon communities - and many of whom are graduates of the high school. Their predominant first language is Kwichi (unsure of spelling!), but they most speak good English and Spanish. They are willing to try to make activities geared towards what you want, although we were somewhat limited in this because we had to largely abide to what the larger group wanted.
The larger group were American and were in Ecuador to learn Spanish. As myself and my traveling partner did not speak much Spanish we did get a little fed up with all the original instructions being given in Spanish and the translation just being made to us. We were sometimes made to feel by the staff that we were the afterthought while the bigger group were catered for. I did try to bring this up with the co-founder / head guide who I felt very much rejected my feelings on this and left me feeling quite frustrated and angry. I do feel we had been very flexible with fitting in with the larger group, but I do feel that this was sometimes to our detriment and the staff seemed unconcerned about that when I addressed it with them. This was really the only fault I have about this trip - which was a shame because for a day or so I did have a somewhat sour taste in my mouth.
Having said that, on the final night (the night after I voiced my concerns), myself and my partner had a very good night with the staff where they introduced us to the local and very lethal drink! I can't remember much about that night but the bits I do remember were a lot of fun - and I also managed to speak again to the co-founder about my feelings about the way we'd been treated sometimes, and he did seem to take this more on board on this occasion.
The other co-founder was there while we were there (Douglas Meekin) and I have to admit that unbeknown to him, he did manage to rub a few guests up the wrong way. It is true that he's done a lot of good in the area, but when he's talking about it talking about the cause / foundation itself seemed secondary to talking about himself! It did get a little tiresome by the end of the trip and so my advice would be to steer well clear!
Overall the staff really did try to make the trip worthwhile and memorable - and they did manage to do this. Our guide Freddie was very conscientious and thoughtful.
Overall, this lodge is great as a jungle experience. I would advise that the four day package is enough time - and so don't bother with the five day package. Don't go expecting luxury and don't go expecting to see loads of wildlife - because if you do you'll be very disappointed. But if you want a more genuine jungle experience where you learn about the local culture from the locals, then this place really is worth considering.
A four day package from Gap Adventures costs around £400 (all inclusive of food and flights and transfers).
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Hotel Quito (Ecuador)
I stayed here for 4 nights prior to taking a trip to the Galapagos. This was booked through my tour operator and so I didn't really select the hotel because it came as part of a package. However, we did stay in Hotel Amazonas the night before and I have to say that this hotel was paradise compared to that! To get to the hotel ... from the airport was very easy. The taxi fair which took about 20 minutes (it was late at night) cost $6 and because the hotel is a city landmark the taxi driver knew immediately where it was and we got there without any hassle.
The hotel is fairly well located, except for the fact that its at the top of a hill and given the altitude in Quito it can be fairly exhausting climbing up that hill after a day sightseeing. I have to admit that because the taxis were so cheap we did tend to opt for a cab so that we could avoid this climb at the end of the day. It also seems to be in a safe area which has a lot of restaurants and bars within walking distance, and we walked around without any problem at all. At night, as in everywhere at Quito, I would recommend that you don't walk around the area because muggings are fairly common in Quito - and this area is no exception.
To get to the Mariscal area, which is the very touristy area (Gringo Land) with lots of bars and restaurants its about 30 minutes walk - which in daylight hours is perfectly safe. Alternatively a cab would take 10 minutes and cost you about $2. To get the the historic centre, you need to take a cab - and again this will take about 10 minutes and costs about $2 - $3. There is a taxi rank right outside the hotel so its not difficult to get a cab at any time of the night or day.
The reception of the hotel is perfectly okay. Its not anything special, but its clean and efficient and plainly decorated. The rooms are also more than okay by Quito standards and although they are basic, they are clean, well maintained and perfectly adequate as a base to exploring Quito. The outside of the hotel looks very 1960's and so dated, but the upkeep seems adequate and its holding its own in the modern world.
Because of where the hotel is situated, the views from the rooms and the restaurant are fantastic and unsurpassable!
The hotel does have a casino attached to it, but to be honest after walking through we didn't feel very inspired to stay there. It was fairly quiet and not very expansive - but the facility is there if you want to use it.
There is a restaurant and bar on the top floor of the hotel which I was quite impressed by. The food was very good - particularly the lunch time buffet which I highly recommend. In the evening they have live music in the form of a pianist which helps provide a nice ambience. The food was good and the cocktails delicious - and although this was more expensive than if you ate out of the hotel, the views were breathtaking, particularly at night. The service in the restaurant was good and all of the waiters made a good effort to speak English and provide you with whatever you wanted. They were very attentive and polite and I could not fault service. The only negative thing about the restaurant was that, as with the rest of Quito, it was frequently affected by powercuts or power surges and so many of the lights constantly flickered - which could be a bit distracting!
There is a large pool in the gardens - which was heated, although it never seemed warm enough to lie out by the pool except between noon and 2pm. After that the pool area went into shadow and it was too cold. There was a poolside snack bar but this seemed rarely open. There is also a small gym which is free to use and a small jacuzzi and plunge pool.
When we left the hotel we safely stored our luggage there without any concerns - and when we came back to the hotel we actually opted to stay there another 2 nights rather than moving on to the much more expensive Marriott down the road.
There are several shops on the ground floor of the hotel - all of which are very expensive and I advise you to look elsewhere!
If you just want a base for Quito that's clean and has all the necessary amenities then I would recommend this. There are probably nicer hotels in Quito, but our extra nights at this hotel only cost us $60 which is pretty good going even by Quito standards.
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South America Hotel International
Hotel International /
Hotel International /
Address: Blvd. Kukulcan / Hotel International / Km 9 / Manzana 50, Lote 5, Zona Hotelera / 77500 Cancun / Quintana Roo / Mexico
Address: Av. del Libertador 420 C1001ABR / Hotel International / Buenos Aires / Argentina - A luxury hotel conveniently located in Buenos Aires for business travellers and leisure travellers.
Address: Ave Santa Maria 1742 / Hotel International / Santiago / Chile
Address: Madre de Dios / Hotel International / Peru - The lodge is located 9 miles downriver from Puerto Maldonado, in the Amazon basin. It is surrounded by an ecological reserve.
Address: Isla Esteves s / Hotel International /n / Lake Titicaca Puno / Peru - 5 star hotel located on Esteves Island on the shores of Lake Titicaca.
Address: Santa Domingo 259 / Hotel International / Cusco / Peru - Just a short walk to the centre square.
Hotel International / Address: Cost Miguel Aleman No. SN , Col. Magallanes, C.P. 39670, Acapulco, Guerrero - Rooms include small kitchenette. Hotel is close to beaches, restaurants and entertainment centers.
Address: Paseo Xaman-Ha Manzana 1 / Hotel International / Lote 1 / Fracc. Playacar / Playa del Carmen / Quintana Roo / 77710 México
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