Room Reaction For $40 per night (the rate in the low season), the desk clerk handed us the key to a spartan, but clean room that contained one double bed and two twins (the place caters to families during the high season), an air-conditioner, cable television and a bathroom that contained some basic amenities.
At first I was surprised the rooms at a beachfront hotel wouldn’t contain exterior windows—ours face the courtyard, which made the room fairly dark—but then we remembered that we were on the ground floor and it was better that passerby couldn’t see in. This wasn’t exactly the best night of sleep I had—the beds were firm and the air-con had two settings, freezing or off, but otherwise I was decently comfortable.
We were told that hardly any of the showers in Santa Marta spit out hot water—ours was lukewarm—but it's steamy enough throughout the year that you won’t really need it.
We were right about getting more attention. The hotel staff definitely took care of us at every step, going above and beyond what I’d typically expect from a low-budget hotel. When our AC went on the fritz the first night, they immediately changed our room and offered to transfer our belongings. When we took home a doggie bag from the restaurant up the street, the reheated it for us the next day and served it to us along with plates and utensils (and a bottle of wine we'd bought) in the courtyard the following night.
When our shuttle bus back to Cartagena never showed, they tracked down another one on our behalf and made sure we’d departed safely. These transactions all necessarily had to be conducted in Spanish—and my comprehension is at a kindergarten level—but both of the women working the desk applauded my feeble efforts at conjugation. Even at luxury hotels, I have never felt so well taken care of—at least, without paying through the nose for it.
What we liked
The Bahía Blanca is located smack in the middle of the main beachfront area in Santa Marta, so you want have far to walk to get your suntan on. The doting staff treats you like a member of the extended Colombian family, and won’t let you lift a finger while you’re under their roof. And the best part: they're happy to pass along the password for their free wi-fi, which means you really won't ever have to go without the most important comfort of home.
What we didn’t like
The rooms, particularly our first one, were too dark at night with insufficient lighting to brighten up the place. And don’t be surprised if you’ve got ants in your pants—we saw more than a few roaming the floors during our stay.
You’ll get your money’s worth, provided you’re okay with no-frills lodging. If your Spanish is as rusty as mine, you can head over to the hotel Miramar a few blocks away to book tours and commune with other English-speaking backpackers.