I was going to write up a single post summing up my experiences in Colombia with Airbnb, but it got quite long. So I’m turning it into a two part series. Seriously, there’s that much to say. Here’s what I’m going to cover:
Part 1 – Airbnb in Colombia – the good stuff (this post)
Part 2 – Airbnb in Colombia – the problems
When choosing to use peer-to-peer rental lodging there are two main points of value over hotels, hostels and other lodging options: price and the host. At least that’s my opinion, and according to a recent Finnish/American study most people agree with me.
The price question is easy to compare. When looking for places to stay in Colombia I found that Airbnb offered significantly cheaper lodging (with better amenities) than hotels or hostels in both Medellín and Cartagena. In fact dorm beds in hostels were about the same price as a private room in an Airbnb house. And private rooms in hostels were quite a bit more expensive. Price is my primary driver in choosing lodging. But this trip gave me some really good insight into other reasons why you might want to (or not want to) use Airbnb when traveling.
My experience in Medellín was delightful from the start. The host was super responsive and helpful, assuring me that I could check in early in the morning after my overnight travels (something I probably couldn’t do in a hostel or hotel). She included a delicious breakfast every morning in the very cheap price for a room ($50 for 4 nights!). And she offered great suggestions for things to do, and help accomplishing a few tasks like mailing my drugs.
The place I stayed in Medellín wasn’t actually a spare room in my host’s home. My host lived downstairs and I was staying in a room in an apartment upstairs (which had 4 rooms, all for rent on Airbnb, along with a few in her main apartment). This points to the growing number of peer-to-peer lodging businesses that have arisen with the existence of websites like Airbnb. People can acquire apartments and houses, and then rent out rooms. My host in Medellín had turned this into a full time job. And she loved it: she really enjoyed talking to all her visitors, and cooking is a passion for her so preparing breakfast (and sometimes other meals) was an easy addition to her hospitality services.
The place I stayed in Cartagena was run in a similar way, with a central management office offering multiple rentals. I never actually met the host who had the listing there, she owns 8 apartments in the area, all listed on short term rental sites. With at least a few of these she is renting rooms in apartments separately, creating hostel-like settings where the bathroom, kitchen and common areas are shared. But unlike a hostel, there is no host on site, just other random travelers sharing the space. My friend and I selected a room in a 2 bedroom apartment, though in the listing it was not obvious we weren’t staying in our host’s house.
The Cartagena owner has someone subcontracted to help all her renters. Eduardo, a super friendly and helpful local who spoke only Spanish (possibly an issue if you are not fluent in Spanish) met me there for check in, and came over when I asked for help or reported that something was broken. There was another traveler in the apartment during our stay, and for most of the time this was a very nice French law instructor. For a very reasonable price we got a big bedroom and use of the full apartment, with washer/dryer, kitchen, etc, for less than the cost of a private hotel room or hostel room. But we had to share it, with a stranger who we could not vet in advance.
For me this isn’t a big risk. I find most travelers who stay in hostels or peer-to-peer rental lodging are quite friendly, open minded, and interesting. So really odds are I’m going to meet someone I like. And in the case of our Cartagena lodging we got along so well with our flatmate that we went out for some late night dancing with him two nights in a row, and I expect we’ll stay in touch and maybe even visit each other in the future.
For me the bottom line of peer-to-peer lodging is that I book it for the price, but I really benefit from the people. Both the hosts and the other travelers are generally folks I want to get to know. The benefits of a hostel (meeting travelers, having the aid of a local host for tips about what to do and where to go) are combined with more private lodging often at a cheaper price.