Today’s post on apartment rentals in Colombia comes from Courtenay Strickland from the Barranquilla or Bust blog. Read more about her family’s adventures in Colombia below the post.

If you’re traveling with one or more small children, you may have experienced a scenario like this:

9:30 PM – Attempt to put toddler to bed in your hotel room. Your room is not a suite and therefore the portable crib is a few steps from your bed.
10:00 PM – Feel desperation creeping in as toddler looks at you, bright-eyed and ready to play, from said crib.
10:30 PM – Sit with Significant Other on step just outside your hotel room door, or worse, in the room’s bathroom, in an attempt to get toddler to sleep.
11:00 PM – Climb in bed and try to relax. Toddler screeches periodically from his all-hands-on-deck position.
1:00 AM – Realize that this is not going to work. Toddler is ready to PART-TÉ (exclamation point).
2:00 AM – Pull toddler into bed with you and your S.O.
3:00 AM – Pry toddler foot from your ribs while trying not to fall off your tiny slice of bed.
6:00 AM – Struggle to wake up for packed day of amazing touring.

For people whose children usually sleep in a separate room, the one-room hotel thing can lead to serious sleep deprivation in the middle of what’s supposed to be a vacation. The more kids or adults involved, the more disruptive – or frighteningly expensive – the situation. But there’s good news! Even if you are traveling abroad, you may be able to stop the suffering for a lot less money than you think.

My husband and I experienced the “party all night” scenario during our first trip to Santa Marta, a beautiful town on Colombia’s Caribbean Coast. The truly lovely boutique hotel in which we stayed would have been perfect for a romantic couple’s getaway, which this wasn’t. We had picked a place that didn’t match our needs. Contrast that with our next trip to Santa Marta: we rented an apartment on the beach for less money than the cost of the hotel (in both cases, we stayed for two nights) and had the benefit of two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a full kitchen, a living room, and a balcony with a water view. My dad and his wife had their own room in the same place, and at night we were able to put our son to sleep in an empty bedroom (with baby monitor) while the adults kicked back in the living room. Since I’m among those made crazy by sleep deprivation, I enjoyed the second trip exponentially more than the first. My husband agreed. Since that trip, unless it’s “just us,” we go for a private apartment rental rather than a hotel every time.

Fortunately, there are plenty of reputable websites that will allow you to rent private apartments online without renting your own home in return. These rentals, which can be for as little as one night, are almost as easy to arrange as a hotel room and often the same price or cheaper – which is saying a lot given that you’re almost assuredly going to get more space. My family has rented apartments four times in Colombia: twice in Cartagena, once in Santa Marta, and once in Medellín. Here’s what you should know, based on our experiences:

1 – Want the right apartment? Ask the right questions.

Since this isn’t a hotel, there can be a lot of variation, and some things that you might expect to be standard may not be. For example, some apartments on Colombia’s Caribbean Coast, where it’s so hot that the cold water is not very cold, may not have hot water. One of the Cartagena apartments we rented didn’t, and I really missed it. Also, depending on the age of the kids traveling with you, you may want to pay particular attention to safety concerns – such as whether that chic floating staircase is going to look dangerously fun to your two year-old, or whether you’ll be able to enjoy that balcony given the spaces between the railings. Also, you may want to ask whether the rooms, or at least the bedrooms, have air conditioning (central air is very rare due to high energy costs). If not, do the windows have grates? Leaving the windows open on a high floor can be a big hazard for young children. Lastly, if you have back problems or otherwise want a cushy mattress, ask about that too. In Santa Marta, the thin, super firm foam mattresses that are fairly common in Colombian households were a problem for my dad who has back problems. The point is to find a space that works for you. Give yourself a few days to allow for email Q&A’s prior to reserving.

2 – Find out what “extras” you need to bring.

During our Santa Marta apartment stay, I realized that I hadn’t asked basic questions like: Are there towels? Soap? Toilet paper? The Santa Marta apartment was awesome, but not fully stocked. We ended up getting over-priced soap, toilet paper, and scratchy towels at a nearby quicky mart. I could have packed those things if I had realized we needed them. Oh, and if you’re a coffee drinker, find out if there’s a coffee maker – usually there is – and bring your own coffee and fixings. For our next trip to Medellín, I asked the right questions and we arrived fully prepared.

A beautiful beach and a fishing boat at Parque Tayrona

The natural beauty of Parque Tayrona

3 – Look for listings with a lot of reviews, and read them.

The reviews will help you avoid problems. In one Cartagena apartment, many of the light bulbs were either burnt out or missing. Eventually, someone came by to screw a few in, but it cost us a lot of time. On another Cartagena trip, the very beautiful apartment we rented had roaches in the kitchen. Ick. Also, both Cartagena apartments were in very large, high-rise condo buildings where “check in” took forever. Nothing we experienced was something that I haven’t also been through with a hotel, but the minor blips did teach us to look for places with ample good reviews. Speaking of which, do your fellow travelers a solid and write reviews of the places you rent, especially if your experience is exceptionally good or bad. The rest of us will thank you.

A train that's part of Medellín's impressive integrated transit system -- which includes rail, buses, cable cars, and free bicycles -- cuts through the city.

A train that’s part of Medellín’s impressive integrated transit system — which includes rail, buses, cable cars, and free bicycles — cuts through the city.

Of course, sometimes the best thing about renting an apartment is meeting nice people, and the bonus is getting a more local experience. During our most recent Medellín trip, we got a taste of what it might be like to live there by staying in a residential area – something that would have been harder to do if booking a hotel. And believe it or not, we ran into the apartment owner not once but twice among the thousands (millions?) of people who descended upon our city of residence, Barranquilla, for Carnival. It was a reminder that apartment renting can lend a personal touch to your stay that most hotels just can’t. If you’re planning a trip to Colombia or elsewhere, put it on your list of options. You’ll be glad you did – especially if you have kids and like to sleep!


About the Author

Courtenay Strickland is awesome!Little did Courtenay Strickland realize that becoming a parent would mean more travel adventures, not less! Almost two years ago, Courtenay relocated with her husband and toddler son to Barranquilla, Colombia – a move that was featured on the HGTV House Hunters International episode, “Reconnecting family ties in Barranquilla, Colombia”. In between consulting for a variety of nonprofits that promote social justice and better communities for all, Courtenay runs (and sweats) in the coastal heat and writes about her family’s cultural adventures on Barranquilla or Bust! International Relocation and Other Leaps of Faith. More than anything, she enjoys showing her son as much as she can of the world around him and creating community among others who seek to make the most of life’s journey.


Courtenay Strickland explains how to find the best short-term rental properties in Colombia... and beyond.