Where to Stay in Central America: How Our Tastes Have Changed

I used to say that all I needed out of a hotel or hostel was that it had to be safe and it had to be clean. I didn’t care much beyond that. It was simply a place to sleep. But lately, whether it’s due to a string of not-so-great hotels or due to the fact that I’m just getting older, what I want from a hotel has changed.

I want more than just a place to sleep. I want comfort. I want convenience. I want a good location near the things I want to see. I want these things even if it means spending a little more money that I used to spend.

Andy is a pretty simple guy, doesn’t like fancy things. But even his taste in hotels has changed. We’re coming to the realization that our standards are a bit higher than they once were, and if we want to enjoy travel and sleep well on the road, we have to pay attention to that.

This became painfully clear to us during our trip to Central America. Here’s a look at some of the places we stayed during our trip through Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.

Caye Caulker, Belize

Our time in Central America started on the tropical island of Caye Caulker, Belize. We booked a room at the Rainbow Hotel for about US$123 per night, mostly as a way to ease ourselves into travel again since it had been awhile. Belize is also not a super cheap country, so spending that much felt reasonable.

The hotel was across the street from the beach, near tons of restaurants, and the staff were friendly and helpful. The bed was comfortable so we actually slept well. The bathroom was clean, the internet connection was good, and there were shutters over the windows so the sun didn’t wake us up at 6:30am. I would definitely stay here again if we ever return to Caye Caulker.

>>Check out Rainbow Hotel here.

Copan Ruinas, Honduras

This was as far as we had booked before actually leaving for our trip. A lot of the hotel reviews we read mentioned a steep uphill climb in Copan Ruinas, so we made sure to look for a hotel that wasn’t too far up the hill. What we ended up with was much more amazing than the 155.62€ (about US$140, or US$70 per night) that we paid for two nights.

This hotel was one of those that had a pillow menu. The ones they put on the bed were great, but they had several more to choose from. There were shutters on every window so the sun wouldn’t wake us up too early in the morning. And the bed…oh the bed. That bed was one of the most comfortable hotel beds I’ve ever slept on.

where to stay in Central America

A vegetarian breakfast (eggs, toast, fruit, plantains, juice, etc.) was included with the room. The woman I saw most often didn’t really speak English, but we muddled through well enough with my mediocre Spanish. And the Australian guy we met who didn’t speak any Spanish did alright, so even if you don’t speak any Spanish, I think you’d figure things out here.

I’d go back just for that bed…

>>Check out La Casa Rosada in Copan, Honduras here.

San Salvador, El Salvador

We purposely booked a hotel in the nicer Zona Rosa for our stay in San Salvador so we expected something decent. This hotel had big rooms with an almost separate seating area. It’s always nice to have a couch to sit on instead of having to sit on the bed, and the mini fridge was just what I needed.

By this point in our trip, I was feeling the effects of the various foods I really shouldn’t eat (eggs, gluten, dairy, corn) so having a fridge meant I could go to the grocery store a few blocks away and buy some fruit for breakfast. Meanwhile, Andy was able to choose from one of 4 or 5 breakfast options that included pancakes, waffles, eggs, bacon, and yogurt, included in the price.

Some of the staff didn’t really speak English, but others did, so we were able to get by just fine. They helped us set up our city tour one day, and even though we set up our volcano tour for the next day, they were still helpful in letting us know when our guide arrived. They also called and arranged for us to get a ride to the bus for the day we were leaving to go back to Guatemala. At 172.44€ for three nights (about US$191.40 or US$63.80 per night) this place was a steal.

>>Check out Las Magnolias in San Salvador here.

Antigua, Guatemala

The hotel we stayed at in Antigua has become the standard by which we compare all hotels now. We arrived in Antigua after staying in a hotel at Lake Atitlan that was so bad we left after one night not even caring if we got our money back for the remaining 3 nights. (Spoiler: We did. More on that below.)

We booked 2 nights in a guesthouse in Antigua knowing that our Spanish friends we met in Tikal stayed there, but it wasn’t the right place for us. It looked nice from the outside, but our room was “cleaned” each day with a strong aerosol spray that clogged up my sinuses and the bed was tiny and rock hard.

This is why we only booked 2 nights, even though we had 6 nights total remaining until our flight home.

After one night of agony, we woke up the next morning and went looking for something better. One hotel on our list had a locked door and didn’t answer, but the other one had an open door and a friendly man working the front desk. He took us to see a room, it was gorgeous, and the bed was comfy. After mulling it over for a little while, we returned to book ourselves into this beautiful place for 4 nights.

where to stay in Central America

The room was 2 floors. The first floor had the bathroom and a single bed (in case you had a child or other 3rd person staying with you) and the second floor had the main bedroom and a little seating area with 2 chairs and a table. Comfy bed, wonderful shower, pretty yet subtle smelling bath products…really good stuff.

But it got even better.

On our first day there, we were in the room late afternoon resting before going out to find dinner when there was a knock at the door. I went downstairs and opened the door, and there was a woman with a little plate. I asked what it was, and she said “flan.” It was two little bite sized portions of flan! For our remaining days in Antigua, we made sure to be in our room from 6pm to 7pm for what we called Flan O’Clock, and we got little cookies and cakes each day.

where to stay in Central America

A simple breakfast of fruit was included, and the guy who waited on us took our names and remembered them the rest of the time we were there. He saw me in the hall one day in the middle of the afternoon and remembered my name, and that I spoke Spanish. Nice touch!

At 448.25€ for 4 nights (about US$498 or US$124.50 per night), it wasn’t exactly cheap by Central America standards, but we got way more for our money than we would have in Europe. I’d go back to Antigua just for this hotel. Luckily we loved the town of Antigua enough to go back anyway, but we’d definitely stay at Los Olivos again.

>>Check out Los Olivos Hotel in Antigua, Guatemala here.

The Not-So-Good Hotels

As I mentioned before, we started this trip thinking we were still ok with mediocre guesthouses because we didn’t want to spend too much money. But our second hotel in Central America was in Flores, where we stayed to visit the ruins of Tikal, and it was not good.

The bathroom was clean but dingy, and the mattress needed to be replaced a long time ago. The walls were paper thin, and when people party all night and then wake up at 3am to go see the sunrise at Tikal and don’t think to keep their voices down, the result was three nights of almost no sleep.

Our hotel in Rio Dulce looked charming and rustic online, but in reality it was like camping with a rock hard bed. The back wall was a big screen, so the cold night air crept in, and we never really felt warm. Because of that, I didn’t want to take a shower and have wet hair all night. (It was one of the few places we stayed at without a hair dryer.) The bed was only slightly better than sleeping on the ground, and our bungalow’s bedroom wall was connected to our neighbor’s bathroom wall, so the noises combined with the cold breeze prevented us from getting a good night’s sleep. Luckily we were only there for one night.

where to stay in Central America

I mentioned our bad guesthouse in Antigua earlier in the post, and I’ve already mentioned in this post here how horrible our hotel at Lake Atitlan was. What I haven’t told you was how we resolved the Lake Atitlan hotel issue.

We left that hotel after one night, even though we booked four, knowing that we just couldn’t stay. It didn’t matter if we still got charged for the remaining three nights. Our comfort and sanity, and my health, were worth more than the potential loss.

Regardless, we emailed Booking.com to let them know about our experience. None of the hotel staff spoke any English, and my Spanish wasn’t good enough to get them to understand what our problem was. We ended up having to simply check out. I had no idea if we’d get a refund, but we wanted to let Booking.com know what had happened.

They were wonderful. They responded quickly and made sure we were not charged for the remaining three nights on our booking. They didn’t have to do that. It was our choice to leave, though with good reasons due to whatever was making my allergies go insane, but they understood what it must have been like for us to be stuck in that position.

I was so happy to get our money back for those three nights! This is why we use Booking.com whenever possible. That, and the fact that we get their Genius discount on so many hotels when we use their site to book a hotel. I was so impressed with their customer service and their speed at handling our complaint.

So we’ve had to accept the fact that we now have higher standards for hotels. We need to be comfortable and get a good night’s sleep. (Seriously, grumpy Ali is not fun.) We don’t need luxury, but tiny extras go a long way.

And Flan O’Clock? Well, any hotel that does that is a winner in my book.

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Where We Stayed in Central America