Three Keys to Great Short-Term Apartment Rentals in Colombia

Three Keys to Great Short-Term Apartment Rentals in Colombia

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!

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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.

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

Instagram Beach Lust

Instagram Beach Lust

The sun is so bright it sets fire inside your eyelids.

You dig your feet under the scorching sand on the surface to the cool damp layer beneath.

The waves, the birds, the giddy squeal of kids, join in a crashing, ecstatic lullaby.

Ahhhh… if only it were not February, snowing for the umpteenth time this winter. If only you could peel off those many layers of thermals and wool and run splashing into the azure waters of the Caribbean, or Andaman, or Mediterranean Sea.

Until then… there’s Instagram Beach Lust. A few beach photos from our round-the-world adventure.

Be sure to visit some of the other participants in the Instagram Thursday linky, like Destination Unknown. And join the fun with your own Instagram Travel Thursday post.

You can find me on Instagram @alloverthemap.

Instagram Travel Thursday: Sunday Street Baseball in Cartagena

Instagram Travel Thursday: Sunday Street Baseball in Cartagena

We had been in Cartagena for 9 days. We had been on the road for 11 months. We had three days left before heading home and we had absolutely not one drop of energy in us to do anything. But we had to do something. Cartagena is too great of a place to just sit inside surfing the internet in the air conditioning all day, even if the midday sun does feel like it is sucking every last bit of moisture from your insides while roasting your skin to a crisp like the finest bacon.

We read a post someone wrote about playing in a Sunday street baseball league, and going on the vaguest information we could glean from her photograph about where it might be, we set out to try to find it. And somehow we walked directly to it, without even stopping to ask. We found it, we found a seat on the old city wall, a blessed cloud appeared to shield us from the worst of the sun, and we watched.

It took us a while to figure out some of the unique rules of this game. Any ball that was fouled over the roofs of the houses behind was an automatic out, as was any ball that went over the wall. That’s one way to keep from losing balls into the bay behind the wall.

Some colorful houses in the Getsemeni neighborhood in Cartagena.

Some colorful houses in the Getsemeni neighborhood in Cartagena.

The neighborhood gathers for Sunday street baseball in the Getsemani neighborhood of Cartagena.

The neighborhood gathers for Sunday street baseball in the Getsemani neighborhood of Cartagena.

 

A man and his birds perched on a wall to watch street baseball in Cartagena.

Watching a little street baseball in Cartagena. Because birds like baseball, too.

Three women on the street baseball field

The shadows get longer as the ladies take the field.

 

The Divas versus the Bad Girls. I swear, it's on the uniforms!

The Divas versus the Bad Girls. I swear, it’s on the uniforms!

Street baseball rules: if the ball is hit over the wall, or fouled over the roof, it's an automatic out.

Street baseball rules: if the ball is hit over the wall, or fouled over the roof, it’s an automatic out.

 

Perched on the old city wall, just beyond second base, for Sunday street baseball in Cartagena's Getsemani neighborhood.

Perched on the old city wall, just beyond second base, for Sunday street baseball in Cartagena’s Getsemani neighborhood.

A boy flying a kite on the old city wall in Getsemani, Cartagena.

A boy flying a kite on the old city wall in Getsemani, Cartagena.

This post is part of Instagram Travel Thursday, a linked set of posts about travel started by Katja Presnal of Skimbaco Lifestyle. Go visit some of the other links there!

Travel Fatigue

Travel Fatigue

I’ve just run out of Q-tips.

I have 5 ibuprofen tablets left.

I finally threw out my trusty black pants from Uniqlo that I wore every day it was under 75 degrees Fahrenheit. And that was more days than I’d hoped. They had developed a hole in a rather obscene location, and my repairs weren’t holding.

I’m about to toss the semi-cute back flats I bought for $6 in London to avoid wearing hiking shoes to the theater. I’m still not fooling anyone. And they haven’t gotten cuter with age.

John just cut the toes out of my hiking shoes to make them into sandals so that I could bear to wear them for our last three weeks of hot weather.

Photographic evidence of the alteration of Paige's hiking shoes. John cut the toes our of her Chaco clogs to make them into somewhat convincing sandals.

John cut the toes out of Paige’s Chaco clogs to make them into somewhat convincing sandals.

I may not have made much of an effort to speak Spanish this week in Medellin. (Though I did manage to surprise a Swiss family by speaking French to them. Unfortunately I flubbed my subsequent sentences, so their expectations were ultimately met.)

I believe I have travel fatigue. I know I am ready to go home.

After a red-eye flight from Los Angeles, the girls sleep in the Lima airport.

Sleeping in airports.

I’m so glad we decided to take it slow in our last three months in South America. Our three weeks in Ayacucho gave us culture shock in the best way, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Our month in Buenos Aires let us jump in and pretend like we really lived there. No, we really did live there. We made friends, we mastered the bus system, Magnolia went to circus school, I played with Batala Baires, and we even found a local pub (something we don’t even have at home). And now in our last month Colombia has given us surprises upon surprises, and all of them good.

 

The members of Batala Baires take a bow.

Paige with the members of Batala Baires after playing a show together.

 

But I’m tired. And not just of my clothes. (Although I am really tired of my clothes.)

I want to wear my bathing suit all day and play with my nieces and nephews. I want to have grown up conversation over grown up drinks with my girlfriends. I want to wear my pajamas all day. I want to bake bread. And cookies.

I have treasured almost every minute of togetherness with my kids, because I know we’ll never have this much time together again. But I am looking forward to having some conversations, maybe even a few hours, that do not involve them, and I’m sure they are, too.

At the beginning of this trip, I wasn’t sure if we would want to come home at the end of it. But now I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than go home. I’m not saying I wouldn’t do it again, because I absolutely would, or that I won’t do it again, because I absolutely could, but for now I’m looking forward to the comforts of home.

Bogota Bike Tour

Bogota Bike Tour

“Do I have legs in my teeth?” asked Magnolia.

It was a fair question. She had just eaten the hind quarters (or, more accurately, hind third) of an ant, a Colombian delicacy known as hormigas culones (or, ants with large behinds). It was a day full of discovery as Bogota Bike Tours took us all over the center of Colombia’s capital city.

Getting the bikes ready for the Bogota Bike Tour

Getting the bikes ready for the Bogota Bike Tour

HISTORY

The tour gave us a bit of modern Colombian history to help explain the city. One of the first stops on the tour was the site of the assassination of Jorge Eliecer Gaitán, a popular leftist leader who was killed in 1943. After his death, there were riots throughout Bogota, with streetcars burned (which was the end of the streetcars in Bogota). Later in the tour we visited Gaitán’s home, where he is buried standing up, so that his ideas may take root and spread again.

One of our last stops was at the Plaza Bolivar, where leftist militants took the supreme court hostage in 1985. The government, taking a tough stance of not negotiating with terrorists, sent in tanks which went in firing.  11 of the 12 justices were killed, along with most of the militants, and the building was destroyed. Interestingly, the current mayor of Bogota was a member of the militant group at the time. Many young people in our tour group stood with mouths agape when learning of all this complex recent history.

POLITICS

Mike explained that though Colombia is an overwhelmingly Catholic country, its politics lean to the left in many areas. Though same-sex marriage is not legal, same-sex partners have most of the rights of married couples in Colombia. Until recently, possession of “personal amounts” of drugs was perfectly legal. Prostitution is legal in Colombia, but limited to certain areas of town.

Mike took us through Bogotá’s red-light district, where the mid-day traffic was brisk, and the prostitutes were none to happy to see us cruising through the neighborhood. Mike had given us the heads-up before we headed this way, so that we could duck out or prepare the girls for what they would be seeing. Even with preparation, it was a little shocking to see the very young, scantily-clad women displaying their wares on the sidewalk.

From there we went to another site that would provide us with some lively family discussion later. We stopped by the Santa Ana Church, which was surrounded by abortion clinics. While abortion is illegal in Colombia except in cases of rape, incest, risk of life of the mother, or severe abnormality of the fetus, this neighborhood was home to quite a few clinics where illegal abortions could be obtained by anyone, anytime.

CULTURE

A fascinating and scenic stop on the tour was the Plaza de Toros, or bullfighting ring. When we arrived, we found young boys and men practicing their moves with several types of artificial bulls. They were happy to show us some moves. Bullfighting is a controversial sport, but quite popular in Colombia. The current mayor of Bogota outlawed bullfighting, and converted the ring to an ice skating rink last winter, but the bullfights will continue soon after public outcry.

Toreros-in-training at the Santamaria Bullring in Bogota

Toreros-in-training at the Santamaria Bullring in Bogota

Outside the ring there was a statue honoring a famous Colombian fighter. It was impossible not to notice how well-endowed both the bullfighter and the bull were portrayed. Mike told us that the suit worn by the toreros is known as the suit of lights, and that many people point to the torero’s privates and call them the batteries for the suit of lights. Hah.

The torero's suit of lights and its battery pack

The torero’s suit of lights and its battery pack

COFFEE

At another point on the tour we visited a café and coffee roasting operation for a coffee break and a bit of education. Did you know that 90% of the coffee grown in Colombia (and ALL of the high-quality Arabica coffee) is exported? And that 80% of the coffee consumed in Colombia is imported? The remainder is the lower-quality Robusto coffee grown in the country.

FRUITS

At the food market, Mike led us from stand to stand, cutting up strange fruits for us to try. Patilla, or dragon fruit, was utterly unlike the ones we tried in Thailand. The latter had no flavor at all, just a lovely deep magenta color, while the former had a nondescript yellowish skin and a subtly sweet flavor. Uchua, or orange gooseberry, was slightly tart and sweet and delicious. Ica, or cactus pear, which we had come across as tuna in Peru, was a little mushy and flavorless. Guanabana, or soursop, was a favorite with a perfect balance of tart and sweet. One of the oddest fruits was the tomate de arbol, or tree tomato, with a yellowish skin and a savory tomato flavor and firmer flesh than the vine-grown version. Mike told us that you can sometimes find tree tomatoes that have been crossed with mango and raspberry, which is going to be my goal for the rest of the week.

 

A fruit stand at the Paloquemao food market

A fruit stand at the Paloquemao food market

AND FAT-BOTTOM ANTS

Hormigas Culones

Hormigas Culones

Toward the end of our tour, Mike spotted a vendor selling hormigas culones, a delicacy from the Santander region of Colombia, where locals harvest the ants that emerge after heavy spring rains and roast them for snacking. Never one to pass up an opportunity to eat something that might be gross if it were not fried and salted, I grabbed one when offered, and, with just a single thought of “I hope this is crunchy and not gooey,” chomped the big ant butt. Unlike the crickets we had sampled in Thailand, these ants were not crispy, but had the consistency of a boiled peanut. They had a distinctive flavor – salty with a little tang – and I could see how one might enjoy this if one had grown up with it. For me, I probably don’t need to try another one.

Paige eats a big-ass ant

Paige samples the hormigas culones

 

OVERALL

The Bogota Bike Tour gave us a great overview of central Bogota, and we were amazed at how much ground we covered. For the most part, the terrain is flat, though there were a couple of tough hills, including the toughest one at the very end of the tour. But by then I was not ashamed to get off and push my bike up the hill. Mike was a great tour guide, and another man from the bike shop, Fabio, came along to help with any mechanical problems or flat tires. Though it was sometimes a little tricky riding down sidewalks through pedestrian traffic, and intersections were not always easy to navigate with a large group, we felt safe throughout the tour. I would have liked a bit of an introduction and review of traffic safety before setting out, but we all managed pretty well without.

Exploring Bogota on bikes

Exploring Bogota on bikes

Bogota Bike Tours is located at Carrera 3 between Calle 12 and 13 in the Candelaria neighborhood. Tours leave daily at 10:30 and usually also at 1:30. Children’s bikes and baby seats are available, but you should reserve in advance to be sure there are enough to go around.

 

Bogota Bike Tour

Bogota Bike Tour

“Do I have legs in my teeth?” asked Magnolia.

It was a fair question. She had just eaten the hind quarters (or, more accurately, hind third) of an ant, a Colombian delicacy known as hormigas culones (or, ants with large behinds). It was a day full of discovery as Bogota Bike Tours took us all over the center of Colombia’s capital city.

Getting the bikes ready for the Bogota Bike Tour

Getting the bikes ready for the Bogota Bike Tour

HISTORY

The tour gave us a bit of modern Colombian history to help explain the city. One of the first stops on the tour was the site of the assassination of Jorge Eliecer Gaitán, a popular leftist leader who was killed in 1943. After his death, there were riots throughout Bogota, with streetcars burned (which was the end of the streetcars in Bogota). Later in the tour we visited Gaitán’s home, where he is buried standing up, so that his ideas may take root and spread again.

One of our last stops was at the Plaza Bolivar, where leftist militants took the supreme court hostage in 1985. The government, taking a tough stance of not negotiating with terrorists, sent in tanks which went in firing.  11 of the 12 justices were killed, along with most of the militants, and the building was destroyed. Interestingly, the current mayor of Bogota was a member of the militant group at the time. Many young people in our tour group stood with mouths agape when learning of all this complex recent history.

POLITICS

Mike explained that though Colombia is an overwhelmingly Catholic country, its politics lean to the left in many areas. Though same-sex marriage is not legal, same-sex partners have most of the rights of married couples in Colombia. Until recently, possession of “personal amounts” of drugs was perfectly legal. Prostitution is legal in Colombia, but limited to certain areas of town.

Mike took us through Bogotá’s red-light district, where the mid-day traffic was brisk, and the prostitutes were none to happy to see us cruising through the neighborhood. Mike had given us the heads-up before we headed this way, so that we could duck out or prepare the girls for what they would be seeing. Even with preparation, it was a little shocking to see the very young, scantily-clad women displaying their wares on the sidewalk.

From there we went to another site that would provide us with some lively family discussion later. We stopped by the Santa Ana Church, which was surrounded by abortion clinics. While abortion is illegal in Colombia except in cases of rape, incest, risk of life of the mother, or severe abnormality of the fetus, this neighborhood was home to quite a few clinics where illegal abortions could be obtained by anyone, anytime.

CULTURE

A fascinating and scenic stop on the tour was the Plaza de Toros, or bullfighting ring. When we arrived, we found young boys and men practicing their moves with several types of artificial bulls. They were happy to show us some moves. Bullfighting is a controversial sport, but quite popular in Colombia. The current mayor of Bogota outlawed bullfighting, and converted the ring to an ice skating rink last winter, but the bullfights will continue soon after public outcry.

Toreros-in-training at the Santamaria Bullring in Bogota

Toreros-in-training at the Santamaria Bullring in Bogota

Outside the ring there was a statue honoring a famous Colombian fighter. It was impossible not to notice how well-endowed both the bullfighter and the bull were portrayed. Mike told us that the suit worn by the toreros is known as the suit of lights, and that many people point to the torero’s privates and call them the batteries for the suit of lights. Hah.

The torero's suit of lights and its battery pack

The torero’s suit of lights and its battery pack

COFFEE

At another point on the tour we visited a café and coffee roasting operation for a coffee break and a bit of education. Did you know that 90% of the coffee grown in Colombia (and ALL of the high-quality Arabica coffee) is exported? And that 80% of the coffee consumed in Colombia is imported? The remainder is the lower-quality Robusto coffee grown in the country.

FRUITS

At the food market, Mike led us from stand to stand, cutting up strange fruits for us to try. Patilla, or dragon fruit, was utterly unlike the ones we tried in Thailand. The latter had no flavor at all, just a lovely deep magenta color, while the former had a nondescript yellowish skin and a subtly sweet flavor. Uchua, or orange gooseberry, was slightly tart and sweet and delicious. Ica, or cactus pear, which we had come across as tuna in Peru, was a little mushy and flavorless. Guanabana, or soursop, was a favorite with a perfect balance of tart and sweet. One of the oddest fruits was the tomate de arbol, or tree tomato, with a yellowish skin and a savory tomato flavor and firmer flesh than the vine-grown version. Mike told us that you can sometimes find tree tomatoes that have been crossed with mango and raspberry, which is going to be my goal for the rest of the week.

 

A fruit stand at the Paloquemao food market

A fruit stand at the Paloquemao food market

AND FAT-BOTTOM ANTS

Hormigas Culones

Hormigas Culones

Toward the end of our tour, Mike spotted a vendor selling hormigas culones, a delicacy from the Santander region of Colombia, where locals harvest the ants that emerge after heavy spring rains and roast them for snacking. Never one to pass up an opportunity to eat something that might be gross if it were not fried and salted, I grabbed one when offered, and, with just a single thought of “I hope this is crunchy and not gooey,” chomped the big ant butt. Unlike the crickets we had sampled in Thailand, these ants were not crispy, but had the consistency of a boiled peanut. They had a distinctive flavor – salty with a little tang – and I could see how one might enjoy this if one had grown up with it. For me, I probably don’t need to try another one.

Paige eats a big-ass ant

Paige samples the hormigas culones

 

OVERALL

The Bogota Bike Tour gave us a great overview of central Bogota, and we were amazed at how much ground we covered. For the most part, the terrain is flat, though there were a couple of tough hills, including the toughest one at the very end of the tour. But by then I was not ashamed to get off and push my bike up the hill. Mike was a great tour guide, and another man from the bike shop, Fabio, came along to help with any mechanical problems or flat tires. Though it was sometimes a little tricky riding down sidewalks through pedestrian traffic, and intersections were not always easy to navigate with a large group, we felt safe throughout the tour. I would have liked a bit of an introduction and review of traffic safety before setting out, but we all managed pretty well without.

Exploring Bogota on bikes

Exploring Bogota on bikes

Bogota Bike Tours is located at Carrera 3 between Calle 12 and 13 in the Candelaria neighborhood. Tours leave daily at 10:30 and usually also at 1:30. Children’s bikes and baby seats are available, but you should reserve in advance to be sure there are enough to go around.