Probably the Best Hostel in Central America02/11/2013
The Yellow House, Antigua, Guatemala
Christmas in a foreign country. No walnut cake and no mulled wine, no carol singing, no Santa Claus and no snow! Not even on a boring trip organized by some travel agency. How very sad, right? Poor us, when we started looking for accommodation, we couldn’t have dreamt that we would chance upon the most beautiful hostel in the whole Central America!
We had planned to visit Antigua, but we weren’t sure yet on what day we would arrive there. All the recommendations for Guatemala point one to Antigua! Not to be missed, spectacular colonial town, in the UNESCO world heritage, unavoidably touristy, but still authentic. Federico, Our Romanian friend Elena’s Guatemalan friend, recommends it too, so we mark it on our map.
Normally, if it hadn’t been around Christmas, we wouldn’t have looked for accommodation before getting there, especially since Antigua was not the first stop we had planned for Guatemala. But on Christmas we want to indulge in a place we don’t have to take hours looking for, while carrying backpacks. If it happens to be a beautiful place on top of it, we’re lucky!
And we got luckier than we could have imagined. Somebody Up There guided us to the greatest hostel in Central America, and this… after in Panajachel we had happened upon the grubbiest place of our entire trip. (Should I write about it? Should I? I shall!)
As any building in Antigua, Casa Amarilla is low, only one floor tall, with a terrace on top, iron bars on the downstairs windows that look on the street…and the street is cobbled, with old sidewalks that need mending, a few hundred meters away from the Central Park, in an area full of hostels, small hotels and Spanish language schools for foreigners.
You can see it from far away, it really is yellow. If you are haunted by the horror stories about Guatemala, robbed tourists, burgled hotels and so forth, the heavy wooden door and the bars at the entrance may make you think twice. Or they may reassure you, this bunker is impossible to break into! We heard the horror stories about Antigua long after travelling there and we found it hard to believe them, because we had never felt unsafe or threatened or in any kind of danger. But some people have bad luck even in the safest places in the world, don’t they?
So, this is Casa Amarilla. A small courtyard downstairs, enough to fit a table with two chairs and space for doing laundry if necessary (I’ll make a parenthesis, because I won’t be getting to laundry again anytime soon: if you choose to entrust your laundry to somebody else, you can find decent launderettes a few houses away; for 8 libras you’ll pay 48 quezales, so about 3.6 kilos cost 6 dollars – you leave the package at noon and pick it up dry in the evening.)
The bedrooms with more beds are downstairs, where there’s the kitchen too – a small one, but busy almost all the time – and three bathrooms of which two have showers, as much hot water as you need (don’t smile, we’ll have to give separate details about hot water in Central America, it’s worth it, sometimes it’s even funny). But the most beautiful part is upstairs. As in Antigua the houses don’t have a lot of space to spread out horizontally, they grow tall and come up with terraces, adorn them with flower pots, put in some hammocks, and what more could you wish for? The wi-fi is decent, you can buy the beer downstairs…
…and on Christmas Eve, at midnight, the terrace is still the place to be. In the street you would be alone, just you and the police cars that patrol from time to time, and you would miss half of the fireworks madness, a small University Square (Bucharest’s kilometre 0), the Guatemala version. Christmas is so bright in all the countries of Latin America. Silvina, our friend from Buenos Aires, is amazed that the tourists from different parts of the world aren’t out on the terrace, that some people can sleep in the rooms at midnight, on December 25th, of all times! For us, it feels just as important as the passage from December 31st to January 1st. I feel like going out in the street with a bunch of fireworks and light them up with the neighbours, like I did all through my childhood, in our house in a small provincial town in Romania.
And on Christmas morning, there comes a delight for the taste buds of any backpacker travelling low cost: a fluffy omelette, paired up with a delirious garden tomato sauce, embracing blushing pieces of pepper, black bread with seeds which can be seen and tasted, raisin bread, slices of juicy straw-yellow pineapple, just the right amount of ripe, next to which there sit delectable slices of orange sweet as honey, red pyramids of melon and a few strawberries begging for chocolate. Or at least a coffee that really tastes like coffee! (the parenthesis about the coffee in Central America threatens to become kilometres-long, you’re welcome to read it at some point if you reach the food chapter on Tripspotting.net.)
Alright, so the second morning it isn’t Christmas anymore, so we expect a frugal hostel breakfast. Not a chance! The bowls full of homemade jam are brought out into the yard again, pancakes are flipped in the pan right under our eyes, ham is mixed into the omelette, orange juice is poured in the glasses and milk into coffee! Every morning here is like that! And you should see the childish smiles on the sleepy faces of every traveller in the hostel’s yard!
The terrace is like a big smiling sun and we can hardly break away from there. The rooms are nice too, tastefully decorated in wood and stone, with hand-woven carpets, huge colourful throws, the likes of which we dream of finding in the marketplace in Chichicastenango (you’ve guessed right, this is another story).
Now that we’ve had breakfast like in our grandmother’s home on the terrace belonging to the Yellow House, let’s wander through Antigua, scour the shelves of the stores for local decorations, handmade craft work and second hand books in the streets next to churches and museums!
All in all, we’ve had a good time at Casa Amarilla and we recommend it. Maybe it would be better to get a room upstairs, especially since downstairs, right at the entrance, there is a small travel agency and the noise can start at 4 in the morning. It was at 4 that we took the bus to Guatemala City, to catch the 6 o’clock cheap ride to El Salvador.
Address: 1a Caliente Poniente #24, entre Ave del Desengano y 7A, Antigua, Sacatepequez, Guatemala
Prices 2013: 14 USD/pers. in a triple room, 15 USD/pers. in a double room
This includes: breakfast, internet (they have 2 computers in the entrance hallway, next to the mini-travel agency), (good) wi-fi, kitchen, cable TV, room service, drinking water. The bathroom is communal, but clean!
Check-out: 1 p.m., check-in: 3 p.m. (from our experience, negotiable).
Reservation: through PayPal or Western Union, 75% of the total sum (100% if you only stay one night, but generally you can get 50% for more days). PayPal requires a commission of 7%, you don’t have to have an account, the hostel will send you a link and you can pay by card. The commission for Western Union is around 12USD.
You won’t get your money back if you change your mind during the high season, namely: June 15th – August 31st, November 1st – January 31st and Easter days.
Contact: [email protected] (also Messenger), telephone: 502-7832-6646
Facebook: Yellow House Antigua