South America Hotels International
Sol Ipanema (Brasil)
I stayed at the Sol Ipanema Hotel in January 2010 while I was in Rio de Janeiro for 7 nights. It cost me £1200 for the 7 nights in a beach view room on a bed and breakfast status. ***The location*** The massive draw for this hotel is its location. It is situated on the world famous Ipanema beach and so literally you just ... need to walk across the road to be on a very safe part of the beach. Ipanema, although probably not as famous as Copacabana, is actually a much nicer and safer area of Rio de Janeiro. However you are within 20 minutes walk along the beach to Copacabana beach although we didn't feel particularly safe doing this walk at night and so I'd recommend taking a cab after dark.
The rooms are fairly small and basic - but clean and functional. They are certainly not luxurious in any way, but if you just want a base from which to experience Rio then they're perfectly adequate. After all, you don't come to Rio to sit in your hotel room!
The rooms did have air-con and windows which slid all the way along, which was kind of nice to have open when there was a breeze. There was a minibar with reasonably priced drinks and tea / coffee making facilities. There was also a TV in the room but this just showed basic terrestrial channels and had no entertainment package.
The bathroom was clean and basic and featured a bath with a shower head attachment. There was complimentary shampoo, conditioner and body lotion which was restocked every day.
Room service was good and the maids were quick and efficient. If we asked to not be disturbed we were not disturbed but the maids got into the room at the earliest opportunity.
***The Bar and Restaurant***
There is a restaurant on the first floor where we had breakfast. Breakfast consisted of a hot and cold buffet but was not terribly inspiring. However, the juice was good and the view across to the beach was nice. We only ate in this restaurant at breakfast time so I cannot comment on the food other than breakfast.
There was a small bar area and casual food area on the roof of the hotel which provided a lunchtime menu which was perfectly nice. The club sandwich was delicious and the cocktails prepared by the barman were always good. The caiphirina is highly recommended.
There was a small bar in the lobby of the hotel, but to be honest this was a bit of a non-event. The only time people seemed to sit here and have a drink was when they were waiting to be picked up to go out or if they wanted a final drink before retiring to bed.
***The Roof Area***
Because of being in an area of a prime real estate due to the beach front location, the hotel is very narrow - and as such the roof area is tiny. However there are a few chairs up there and it affords wonderful views of Ipanema. We sat up there on a few afternoons to enjoy a cocktail (or two) and to soak up the sun.
There was a very small pool on the roof of the hotel - but it was more of a large plunge pool than a swimming pool. However, it did the job of cooling you down when you needed it - and the water seemed clean.
As I said, the beach is just across the road and you really couldn't have a better location for Ipanema Beach. The hotel will loan out sun chairs, beach towels and umbrellas for the beach at no cost.
A clean and basic hotel in a good location. I would recommend this hotel to anyone who simply wants a base.
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Hotel Playa Pesquero (Cuba)
We stayed at this hotel in February and we couldn't have picked a nicer hotel and I wish I was still there :( Overview My mum and dad stopped at this hotel in 2007 and absolutely loved it and they didn't have a bad word to say about it so my boyfriend and I decided we would book to go to Cuba and stop in this hotel. ... After looking photos of the hotel on the internet I was really excited as it looked lovely and really couldn't wait to go but I soon made the mistake of looking on the dreaded Trip Advisor. Don't get me wrong it is a great website but some times reading some of the reviews on the hotel you will be stopping at isn't a good idea and lets just say there were a few not so good reviews and this worried me a bit, but I shouldn't have taken any notice of them as we couldn't find anything wrong with the hotel.
I will try to outline as much as possible in my review with regard to the hotel so hopefully you will pick to go there yourself :)
The hotel is a 5 star all inclusive in Playa Pesquaro, Cuba.
The hotel is located in Playa Pesquero on the white sand beach and is about 17km from Guardalavaca a little local shopping village. The transfer time from Holguin airport is about 1 hour and you will be taken past lots of little villages and the scenery throughout the journey is amazing. Playa Pesquero has a natural beach and isn't man made like Varadero I would also say that it isn't as touristy as Varadero it is more of a relaxed location. When you are driving to the hotel it looks like you are in the middle of nowhere and when you arrive it is hard to believe that such a large hotel could be so neatly tucked away.
There isn't really much to do outside the hotel you can get the train to Guardalavaca to do some shopping but that is about it so if you want a nightlife etc then Varadero is more for you. We just wanted a relaxing holiday to chill out so the location was perfect for us.
Arriving at the hotel couldn't have been easier, when we stepped off the bus they told us to let the bellboys unload the luggage off the coach and to go check in and leave our cases by the coach.
When we walked in to the lobby to check in we were greeted with a welcome cocktail, I can't remember what it was called but I know it had orange juice and Cuban white rum in it and it was lovely!
When we got to the check in desk we were greeted straight away and they just asked to see our passports then gave us our room key and a map of the hotel (believe me you need one!) and then told us to go to our cases and we will be taken to our room. They weren't messing about they were getting through people really quickly to keep the lines down which was really good considering the Cubans being known for their very laid back personalities :)
When we got back outside our cases were waiting on a golf buggy and the bellboy took our key and drove us to our room, it was so hassle free and exactly what you need after being on a 10 hour flight. You might be thinking why do they use golf buggies to take you to your room, well the hotel is so big and spread out that if you don't know your way around you could easily get lost and end up walking in circles. Once we got to the room the bellboy carried our cases up for us and showed us to our room.
We were in room 1117 and this was close to the front of the hotel and overlooked the pool and pool bar. I am not 100% sure if we had an upgraded room as we did send an email before we arrived which I will explain later.
The room was wonderful and very spacious. As we walked through the door on the left there was a large built in wardrobe with slide across doors. There was lots of space to hang your clothes and they did provide some wooden hangers for your clothes, I would suggest taking some of your own in your case as there aren't enough available to hang up all your evening clothes. There is also a big section of draws in the right hand side of the wardrobe so you can fold up your vest tops, underwear etc. You will also find an ironing board and iron in the wardrobe so you don't need to take a travel iron with you also there are some extra sheets and pillows etc.
On the right is your bathroom which is fairly big and has a bath/shower, large sink with a large surrounding area for all your toiletries and obviously your toilet. You get quite a wide selection of towels, 2 large bath sheets and about 4 different sized hand towels. Also next to the sink you get a box of tissues and large bottles of shower gel, moisturiser and shampoo which is good, we took our own toiletries as we didn't expect the hotel to provide them and I prefer to use my own shampoo on holiday as your hair does get quite damaged from the sun exposure. The toilet roll isn't of great quality but it is fine for using for just a couple of weeks, they struggle to get hold of toilet roll out there so you should be happy you have it in the hotel!
In the main room you have your large double bed which is really comfy and decorated with a yellow bed sheet. Next to the bed you have two bedside cabinets with draws and lamps etc. You get a dressing table and chair with a large mirror opposite the bed this also has a draw for your items. Towards the balcony doors we had two separate wicker chairs with big comfy cushions and a long wicker foot rest, opposite is a TV cabinet with your TV with multiple satellite channels and a CD player. The TV has a wide range of English channels like BBC News, CBS, Cartoon Network etc so when getting ready in the evening you have got a bit of choice, the TV also has a DVD slot so if you want to take a couple of DVD's you can. In the bottom of the cabinet behind some mesh chicken wire door is your mini bar, people may think the chicken wire is strange but you have to remember they are a poor country and they try their best to make the rooms look as appealing as possible. You also have a coffee machine in your room and they supply you with sachets of coffee. On your balcony you have a table and chairs and the balcony is quite spacious there is room to sunbath on their later in the day if you wish.
The floor throughout the room is all tiled and the walls are covered in a dark yellow wallpaper and there are pictures painted on the walls, they are decorated really nicely and look lovely and tropical.
The air conditioning system works brilliantly and we just left ours on low all day when we weren't in the room.
Safety Deposit Box
This is situated in the wardrobe and is a digital safe. It is quite roomy and inside we fit: 2 passport holders, my purse full of English money, Nintendo DSI, ipod touch, 2 cameras, 1 blackberry, 1 i-phone and holiday tickets etc. So as you can see it is quite spacious. All you have to do is set a four digit code before you lock the safe for the first time (there are instructions on the safe) then you just use your code to open the safe whenever you need to.
This is stocked up daily with a large bottle of mineral water, 2 cans of Cuban coke and 2 cans of Cuban beer. The coke is lovely way nicer than our coke here, it isn't as gassy and is really refreshing. The beer is also really nice and refreshing as it is ice cold out the fridge. We usually took out our cans before we left for the day so the fridge would be fully stocked up when we got back :) they only replace what you have used.
We had the same cleaning lady the whole time we were there her name was Baby :) I am not sure if that was her real name but who knows. She was lovely and cleaned them room thoroughly from top to bottom every day. Every day we returned to the room after it was cleaned it smelt lovely and fresh and the bed sheets were changed every day along with the towels. Every day we had a different towel figure on our bed and these always had fresh flowers incorporated in them. We didn't leave her a tip every day just at the end of our stay.
The pool is huge and there are two separate pools I think they are both heated but they were still quite nippy but it was quite cloudy some days while we were there so that could be why. To be honest they were both always quite empty considering the amount of people in the hotel there really wasn't many people in the pools at all. There are hundreds of sun beds available so you haven't got to worry about saving a sunbed first thing in the morning as you will be guaranteed to get one whatever time you turn up during the day. They also have an activities pool which they play volley ball in etc at about 2:00pm every day. The pool is really clean and the surrounding area is kept looking lovely there is an island in the middle of the main pool and the flowers are all kept trimmed back and looking nice.
I love pool bars! you can't beat sitting in the pool while it is hot sipping on a cocktail :) You can enter the pool bar from both sides either from the path area or from the pool and there are about 5 stalls in the pool around the bar. You can have any drink you want and they are served in plastic clear cups obviously due to them being served by the pool etc. From what I can remember the bar is open from 10:30am - 5:00pm.
The beach is lovely and there is so much space to pick from. I would suggest walking to the left near where the beach bar and pizza hut is this is where we always sat and it was more quiet than the middle of the beach. If you go down about 8:30-9:00am and get a sunbed you can choose a spot under an umbrella they have people giving out the sunbeds that work for the hotel so you tell them where you want it to go and they will drag it over there for you which is nice, we gave them 1 peso each day and they really appreciated this. We spent most our days at the beach instead of by the pool it was just a lovely relaxing area and I do prefer beaches.
The sea is a gorgeous blue and it isn't warm when you first step in but you soon get used to it :) I would definitely suggest going snorkelling it is great out there not as good as Egypt but you still see quite a lot of different fish so if you like snorkelling I would definitely have a go!
All the water sports at the hotel are free and every day we took a pedalo out at about 2:00pm, you have to book these at the towel kiosk and they give you a little card with your room number and time on. You get to take them out for an hour and I would suggest going left towards to local camp and follow the sea round in to a little private mangrove it is amazing and so pretty you might even see some very large crabs near the trees, they are so cute and won't come near you! You can also take the pedalo out a bit deeper and go snorkelling you have to take life jackets which is good.
When you check in you get a towel ticket which will have the number of towels you are allowed on it this is permitted to one towel per member of your party. You take the ticket to one of the two towel huts either the one by the pool bar or at the beach and they will give you your towels. They then keep your ticket and will give it back to you when you return your towels for the last time before you leave. You can take your towels back every day to get fresh ones they just give them straight to you. Make sure you get your ticket back at the end as you have to hand it in when you check out otherwise you will get charged a 10 peso surcharge per person.
Leading up to the beach you will walk through the boulevard and in here you will find four shops a camera shop selling film, disposable cameras etc, a drink shop selling Cuban rum, liquor etc they also sell some biscuits, sweets etc, a toiletry shop that sells your every day toiletries but this is very expensive as toiletries are very expensive in Cuba so I wouldn't recommend using the shop.
You will also find 2 restaurants there the Caribbean a'la'carte and one of the lunch restaurants also at the bottom is the beer garden which sell drinks and snacks. Try the pork and pineapple it is gorgeous I could have eaten about 5 plates of it :)
There is an ice cream parlour at the bottom that has homemade ice cream. You can either have the ice cream in a cone or cup and there are a choice of sauces and toppings. The ice cream is so nice and you have so many flavours to pick from including Rum and Raisin, Chocolate, Vanilla, Strawberry, Mandarin, Cookie, lemon and so many more. I used to have a scoop of chocolate and rum and raisin yum yum :) The girl that works there is lovely and gave me a present for giving her a tip which was so nice, she was so friendly and at the end of the holiday I gave her about a 5 peso tip and some old make up etc she also has a 2 year old little girl so I gave her some crayons!
There are two buffet restaurants available for breakfast, lunch and dinner. These are located near the lobby.
Breakfast is great and you have so much choice there is a hot section full of pancakes, sausages, bacon, eggs etc and there is someone making fresh omelettes for you, you just let her now what filling you want and she makes it while you wait. There is a wide selection of pastries and fresh cold meats and cheese etc and obviously your usual cereals and milk. You have so much choice and can have something different every day, I loved the pancakes especially with maple syrup :)
Dinner is brilliant they have so much choice again and the desserts are so nice there are too many to pick from I was like a child in a sweet shop. There is a lady that cooks kebab skewers for you or any fresh meat or fish that you want. The meat is very nice and she seasons it with garlic and red wine, you can pick from chicken, port, steak, salmon, tuna and so much more, she also grills vegetables for you and these include peppers, onions etc.
The food is lovely it is all fresh produce grown on the premises or nearby and I can't find one bad thing to say about the quality or choice of the food.
There is loads of choice for lunch you can go to the buffet restaurants and pick from a choice of food including salad, fresh fish, burgers, hot dogs etc. There is also a restaurant in the boulevard that offers lunch and you order from a menu and they offer fresh pizza, salads etc.
There is also a restaurant on the beach that offers salads, hot dogs, burgers, fresh fish you also order this from the menu. This is also the seafood a la carte restaurant at night. They also offer ice cream or fresh fruit for dessert. I would definitely recommend getting the fish of the day!
There is a pizza shack on the beach that opens from 12:00pm till 2:00pm and offers fresh slices of pizza these are made to order and are very very nice. The queues do get very big though as it is very popular so I would suggest going later on.
Next to the pool is a little burger and hot dog cart and they open from about 12:00pm till 4:30pm and you can have fried onions etc the burgers are very nice and you can tell they are 100% meat and not crappy ones.
The a la carte restaurants are lovely and I think there are about 8 in all, make sure you book these in the conference room the day you get there though so you can get the ones you want as they do fill up very quickly. You are allowed to go to 4 per week so if you are staying for 2 weeks you can go 8 times.
Unfortunately most of our reservations were for 9:00pm and we found these too late so ended up going to the buffet instead but we did get two for about 7:30pm which was good. You can pick from seafood, Italian, steak house, Caribbean, Asian, The Gondola (which is the fancy restaurant) I can't remember the rest.
We wanted to book the seafood restaurant on the beach but this was fully booked but they said the Caribbean offered seafood so we decided we would go there instead. This restaurant is located in the boulevard and is really nice, it is a set menu so if you don't like lobster then don't book this restaurant. For your main you get a platter of fish, steak and lobster it is lovely and I really enjoyed it the lobster was huge but there isn't any other option for your main so if you don't like lobster you are a bit stuck.
We also went to The Gondola and this restaurant was amazing it is very quaint and there is a pianist the plays in the corner while you are eating. I really would recommend you go here the food is lovely and I had chicken in parma ham and that was nice.
All your drinks are free in the a-la-cartes and you can have a bottle of wine with your meal but ask for house wine as they can charge for the more expensive wines and you won't find out until you get your bill at the end!
The Italian is supposed to be lovely and I wish we had gone but we were starving by 8:00pm and didn't want to wait until 9:00pm.
The bars offer every drink you can think of and most of the drinks are Cuban but you can also ask for branded drinks but you can't obviously get brands like coca cola etc because it is an American brand.
The range of cocktails they offer is endless and if you can think of one they can make it, they know of nearly every cocktail going. There isn't a cocktail menu so you have to know what you want but they will explain to you what they have. I used to look at what other people had and ask for that I found that was the best way. The Pina Coladas were lovely and two of my favourites were Miami Vice and Heaven, give them a try.
There is also a coffee bar in the lobby a bit like Starbucks they offer tons of different drinks and pastries.
Cubans don't expect tips but they are very grateful if they receive one. They say if you want to give a tip to give about 1 cuban peso which is 50p in our money. We gave tips to the barmen, sunbed guys on the beach, ice cream lady and at the a la carte restaurants oh and some times to the ladies cooking the omelettes etc. They were all really grateful and appreciated them a lot, a little goes a long way out there.
They also love old toiletries, make up, pens/pencils, notepads, tampons etc as these are so hard to get out there and are very expensive. I took a bag of old make up in my case and some crayons etc to give out to someone and like I said I gave them to the ice cream lady as she was so lovely and you would have thought you had given her the world!
You don't have to give tips but remember that their monthly wage out there is £25.00 so giving the odd tip helps them quite a bit.
Also if you have any cans of beer in the mini bar chuck one to one of the gardeners every now and again they don't get many drinks and really appreciate it when it is hot.
There are so many trips to choose from including swimming with dolphins which may I add is only £50.00 I paid £150.00 to swim with dolphins in Florida I was surprised to say the least :) You can also go on a day trip to Havana or an overnight trip which I wish we had the money to do but it was quite pricey at about £200.00 per person.
You can also go on day trips to cigar factories etc there are some really interesting trips.
I would really recommend going on the speedboat trip it only lasts half a day but you get to go through the mangroves and on the ocean. It is amazing and really thrilling you go very fast and it is bumpy but the adrenaline is great. You and your partner both get to drive if you want and it is so fun. It only costs £30.00 each and is about a 20 minute coach trip from the hotel. Well worth doing :)
We really wish we had taken more money for trips but at least we will know for next time.
The Cuban peso is a closed currency so you can only get it in Cuba and can't take it back out the country. As you go in to the lobby to the left you will see a currency exchange where you can change your pounds I would suggest just changing a little bit for tips and use your card for the trips. You can change virtually any currency apart from US dollars.
The don't accept American Express cards or any cards associated with the USA like MBNA etc so check before you go, bank debit cards are fine as long as the bank isn't American.
You will be ashamed when you see the people in Cuba they hardly have any money but are the happiest and most content people you will ever meet. The children are so happy and do things children should be doing like climbing in trees and making fishing rods out of sticks and plants, they put us all to shame. They have no money yet they are so house proud and proud of what they have got it really makes you think. They are very kind and friendly and love children we didn't meet one person we didn't like. They don't hassle you in the shops and just leave you to your own devices which is nice I hate it in places like Egypt where they hassle you constantly, its a nice place to go on holiday but I hate being pulled in to shops I don't want to go in etc.
We read a lot of comments about large spiders etc but we didn't see one actually we didn't see any insects other than a few ants on the beach. I didn't get bitten once while there which was good! Believe me I am petrified of spiders and was so scared about seeing one but I didn't even see a small one so I was very happy. Just don't walk through long grass and you will be fine :)
Please don't listen to the bad reviews about this hotel it is amazing, yes it may not be like other 5 star hotels in other countries but they are a poor country and you can't expect the hotel to be absolutely perfect looking and like those in the Maldives, Dubai etc.
I cannot find a bad thing to say it has got everything you want nice food with a brilliant choice, tons of drinks, great facilities and lovely beach and pool, the rooms are clean and spacious and the people are wonderful.
If you want a relaxing holiday with perfect weather then this is the place for you!
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Hostal Chimenea (Baños, Ecuador)
Baños is a spa town a few hours from Quito, and we spent a number of days there during Carneval, a public holiday that left my mother with a few days off work. Knowing that during a long weekend a place like this (which is popular at the quietest of times) would fill up fast, she asked a Quito travel agency she'd used before to recommend ... a hotel to us, and this was their suggestion. It's quite a new place and doesn't feature in many guide books yet, but is a little gem of a place I would highly recommend.
Arriving in Baños by bus places you front and centre in the town. From here it's 5 blocks up and a 5 blocks over to the hotel, and just as you start to wonder whether you're actually about to walk out of town, it appears. The location is, in fact, excellent - and better than we initially realised. For one thing, while it's close to the main Plazas (where you'll find the church and museum, its restaurants and bars and the supermarket) it's not directly in the centre of this small town, which can get rather noisy at night, especially during a festival like Carneval. What's more, the main draw of Baños - its thermal baths - are literally on your doorstep. If you think of the town as a square, the important / larger baths are all in the top left hand corner, which is exactly where this hotel is too. The town's small enough that nowhere is a real trek, but when you're wandering around in flip flops and with wet hair, perhaps just with a towel over your swimsuit, being that little bit closer is actually quite a bonus.
We arrived about 2pm and after our reservation was found, scrawled in a notebook (no fancy computer systems here) we were shown to our room. This might have been because there were no signs pointing out which rooms were in which part of the building, but it was a nice, personal touch too - he could just have pointed us in the vague direction, after all. The hotel offers 3 categories of room at 3 different prices. You're quoted a per-person rate and this is $6.50, $7.50 or $8.50 per night - ridiculously cheap by any westerner's standards. We had the most expensive and, for our combined $17 per night, got a large twin room with en-suite. Other cheaper rooms had more beds - some had bunks - but all were en suite.
Our room was on the first floor at the back and the only thing I wasn't a huge fan of was the fact the only windows looked onto the interior courtyard. With stairs right outside you could, in theory, worry about people reaching in through an open window to grab belongings (though safety catches made climbing in impossible). When we wanted to leave the windows open while we were out (which was some, but not all of the time) we made sure we left the curtains drawn and also moved the table away from the window, so nothing would have been within pinching distance.
Aside from this, the room was excellent. The beds were large and extremely comfortable, not to mention colourful - think mismatched flowered sheets, cartoon character pillows, bright Aztec print bedspreads and so on. We had a joint bedside table with a small lamp, and the aforementioned table, plus two chairs. These were made of plastic, garden-furniture style, and while they were a bit of a contrast to the nice wooden bedsteads, the patterned tablecloth plopped on the top did bring a touch of character to the furnishings. Though there was no wardrobe, we did have a series of hooks and coat hangers. The overhead light was not very strong (Ecuadorian electricity and energy saving light bulbs are not the best mix), so we tended to use it in conjunction with the bedside lamp, or simply open the curtains when we were in the room.
The shower room was well equipped with a large shower cubicle and the most powerful shower I came across in Ecuador. It also had masses of hot water - a real bonus for Latin America - and I felt they were justified in advertising "constant hot water" as one of their features since it never let us down, and we showered more than normal thanks to our various spa trips. The toilet and sink were modern and white, while the shower had a tiled base and walls and a wall mounted spout that belied its power. The bathroom definitely had character, and there was no mistaking the fact you were somewhere a tad exotic. The main room, too, was attractive, and I particularly coveted the shiny hard wood floors.
We slept well in the room and had no troubles with comfort or noise at any point. In this respect, it was the perfect place to stay for a nice, relaxing break if you're willing to go rustic for a few nights (no air con - not that we needed it - and no TV etc) You do get all the absolute essentials, and the odd extra as well - the second mirror in the bedroom was much appreciated and quite unexpected.
We didn't spend too much time in the hotel except in the evenings but did briefly explore the other facilities. Having checked out their website in advance I knew they claimed to have a pool and while this isn't a total lie, at present it is lacking in water which is quite an important thing for a pool to have, when you think about it. The owner explained that this was because pools were very expensive to maintain, but from a health and safety point of view I thought it could have done with some kind of cover or barrier. While the owners' young children seemed well trained enough to stay away from the edge, I'm not sure the same would have been said for any kiddies in residence (or tipsy adults for that matter), and the deep drop to the bottom had broken bones written all over it.
The hotel harps on repeatedly about its "Early morning steam baths" which, they helpfully point out, "Can replace you morning shower" but even so I had no desire to try these out having seen them. They look like small wooden boxes, the size of a washing machine, and the idea is you sit in one with your head poking out of the top while the steam does its stuff. To say they looked dated and dubiously Eastern European is no overstatement and I didn't see anyone in them at any point during our stay.
Around the (empty) pool were some hammocks and sun loungers. Others could be found on the roof top terrace, which was a real sun trap and a place I hung out several times while my mother was resting or changing in our room. Behind reception was the internet area, including 3 free PCs for guests' use. You were supposed to reserve a time in advance, but if one was free you could also just jump on and have 30 minutes at any point. Wifi is also available for travellers with laptops, but this is only advertised as being on offer in the reception area, so I guess the signal strength is less good in the guest rooms. The internet I used was ok but a little slow, and the age of the computers didn't help this. For something free it was more than adequate, but you wouldn't want it to be your main access to the web for any length of time.
This area had a few sofas and comfy chairs, and a book exchange, though nothing of any interest was currently on their shelves. Their sofas, however, were another story, and one morning I came down about 7am to find the whole place covered with sleeping bodies. I'm not sure who they were or how they got there (though I did know the place was fully booked that night) but it was almost like walking into some kind of disaster relief zone, such was the state of disarray, with people curled up in twos (and the odd three) on the seats and on the floor. We went out for breakfast and a walk and when we came back a little later they were still there, though I know some had woken up as we passed the first time. They had disappeared by lunch time, and did not return on subsequent nights, but it was still a bit odd.
The hotel boasted a roof top breakfast café but we found plenty of other places to try when we first arrived. On our last day, however, we decided to go for a dip in the nearby pools before breakfast, and thought it might be easiest then to stay on site for some food prior to checking out. I wasn't expecting much, but was pleasantly surprised. For one thing, the service was excellent - the best I experienced in my whole stay in a country not known for its speed or smiles in food service places. The menu was extensive - more so than in a famed café where we'd eaten the day before - and the food freshly prepared in what seemed an impossibly small kitchen (in one corner of the place, entirely open so you could see everything that was going on). My mother ordered their signature double fruit pancakes which showed up as a veritable mound of food - thick, American style pancakes with masses of fruit layered between, and granola and yogurt, plus more fruit, on top. I had their French toast with sugar cane syrup (a local delicacy, and a great variation on Maple). We had two fruit juices and one hot drink between us, and the whole thing cost under $6 / £4. The café is open from 7.30am until 11.30am daily: after this time the space is still open and you can get drinks, but no food is available.
While it wasn't much to look at generally, the restaurant area did have one stand out feature, a beautiful hand painted chimenea that served as a centre piece to the room. This could be where the hotel got its name from, but my impressions of the county as a whole made me think it could also have been an after-thought - a sort of, "Oh crap, we've called ourselves Chimenea...better get one in here somehow".
The hotel operates an honour bar system, which struck me as a little too trusting given the other guests we came across. On check out the group before us were asked how many beers they'd had and seemed to be calculating the smallest number they could get away with paying for, coming out with a hesitant "4 or 5?". We, on the other hand, received a bill with drinks on that were not consumed by us, and weren't asked the question of how many or what we'd helped ourselves to (answer: nothing). When I queried it, they took the item off the bill but it's worth bearing in mind since the prices are so low you might not notice a discrepancy, especially as it was marked as something else, I think "extras", not as "Drinks from the honour bar"...
The hotel had rooms on 3 floors and while no lift was available, there were quite a lot of ground floor rooms that could be requested if needed. The path up to the hotel is also nice and smooth, though it's through their small car park and into the garden, so who was parked up at the time would dictate how easy it was to get through - on several occasions while coming and going we had to squeeze ourselves round big SUVs. The gardens are colourful in an over grown way, and this theme continues inside where plants can be found all over - growing up from floors, down from ceilings, out of walls - literally everywhere. It certainly gave it a nice, tropical feel but what thrilled me most was the medium sized pot we had in our room which added a touch of colour and life to the place.
The rooms do not have phones but you can receive calls for free on their main line if you can somehow communicate this number to those trying to reach you. Another quirk is the fact they offer free video rental, though I have no idea what you would watch a VHS on unless you happened to be travelling with a TV/Video combo stashed in your backpack.
You can book the hotel through various online sites including hostelbookers.com Advance reservations are not always essential, but highly recommended during peak periods.
We very much enjoyed our stay here, with no complaints. The price is lower than many other places in Baños but in those you're paying for a slightly more central (= noisy) location and maybe TV in the rooms, something we certainly didn't miss. The hotel had all the facilities we could want and an excellent location and seemed safe and secure at all times. Highly recommended, this place offers great value for money and friendly, personal service.
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South America Hotel International
Address: Tocuyeros 566 / Hotel International / Cusco / Peru / Telephone: 51 84237900
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