Set high in the mountains of Minca, Colombia lies one of the most unique hostels we’ve found on our round the world journeys. Unbeatable views from treetop bedrooms, rain showers that let you wash alongside nature, yoga classes and international films shown in an open-air studio space, and nightly family-style dinners that make it easy to get to know your fellow bunkmates. Welcome to Casa Loma Hostel!
We were so thrilled to have stumbled upon such a gem that we decided to sit down with Jay, founder and co-owner (also run by Annie of Germany), of the hostel. Originally hailing from England, Jay is completely thrilled to now call Colombia home and share this little slice of perfection that he has found with other travellers!
What brought you to Minca in the first place?
I was attracted to Minca first off because it’s so close to the Caribbean, but it’s in the mountains, and the people are really special here. Good people, nice food, in one day I can start in the mountains and then by afternoon be sat at the beach, it’s a great place. Plus I lived in London before this so I was really keen to live in a small town.
The lovely view from the hostel overlooking the mountains of Minca
How did you know that there was potential here to build something amazing?
I came to the town and within 30 seconds I had a feeling that this would be an amazing place to be. Already with the location being so close to Santa Marta (just 30 minutes away), I knew tourists were nearby so thinking in a business mindset I knew there was potential.
Travellers who have been on the coast going from beach to beach, up here we offer something different in the same area, they can switch things up while they’re travelling without having to go far. Many travellers only come to the coast when they are in Colombia, now in Minca they can visit the original coffee zone of Colombia and the mountains, this makes it very unique.
One of the hostels’ dorm room structures which contain hammocks for guests.
How did you find the structure that you decided to turn into the Hostel?
The story goes, I was writing for Hostel Trail (an online blog) and I met a guy in Taganga setting up a tour company in Minca and he asked me to write an article for them. At the time I was working and studying in Santa Marta, during the week I had Spanish classes in the morning and classes to teach in the afternoon, on the weekend I was tired and hot, hugging my fan all day Saturday trying to find some sort of reprieve from the heat.
Then I came up to Minca and I found this structure and right away I knew it was a perfect balance. It wasn’t so much for me about where I was going to make money, it was about where I wanted to live. So I knew that even if things didn’t work out, I would be happy living in this place that was both indoors and outdoors.
What was the building process like?
Structurally we didn’t have to do much to it, we have remodelled the rooms giving them more space and views. We’ve added terraces, bathrooms, the yoga and massage terrace. The process needs a plan, everything that comes up the hill comes up on someone’s shoulders. So first, you order the materials then how you’re going to use it then bring them from Santa Marta, then get them up the hill, then use them quickly so they don’t litter the space, we’ve gotten quite good at it now.
Did you ever have doubts about what you were getting yourself into?
No never. I love this place and this country with all my heart. I may actually love Colombia more than my own country (England)! I sometimes feel more patriotic about this country than my own, to be honest.
Jay explaining his unwavering love for the country of Colombia
What kind of place is the hostel today?
The hostel today is a magical place (we totally agree), where people make lifelong friends. One of my favourite stories is about a couple that met here, they are now living in Australia and are about to have their first baby!
This is the kind of place you come to appreciate the simple things in life; sunsets, toucans, hummingbirds, traveller’s stories, and simple connection. It’s a place where you can get back to nature, live closely with others, swing in a hammock and watch the squirrels.
The hostel today, a place of community and tranquillity high in the mountains
What does a typical day for you include?
I wish I had a typical day, that’s the first thing I’d say in response to your question! For example, today I am working with you guys (South America Backpacker) in the morning and then tonight at six I’ll be talking to a Colombian radio station about tourism in the region.
Another day I might be working through Excel spreadsheet getting the accounts in order then spending the evening talking to guests. More recently I have been supervising new construction at the site, which often finds me in Santa Marta pricing out materials. At the end of each day, though I’m so happy to climb back up the hill to Casa Loma and crack open a beer, this place is home.
What is your favourite part about doing what you do?
Watching the sunset, I always make a point of having a beer for half an hour and stepping away from the work. I also love chatting with the guests. My favourite part of owning a place like this is bringing like-minded folks together, when you have a place as magical as this I believe you should share it. I could close it up and live here myself but what would be the point? When you find something this special you have to enjoy it with others.
A hostel guest enjoy the fantastic view over the town of Minca.
What is the interaction between the town and the hostel like?
Really, really good they more than accept me, they help me. On our third birthday, this past year, more than 80 people from the town came in and celebrated with us. I made a big drunken speech dedicating the night to them and everything that they have done for the place. A lot of people here thrive off of tourism and they know that Casa Lomo bringing responsible tourism into the town is good for the livelihood of Minca.
What are your plans for the future?
We have loads! We are going to continue with our yoga and massage services, and then the plan would be to create a Spanish school with a twist on the classic classroom setup. My background is in training people, so I would make things more natural and less classroom based.
The idea is to have things be more about interacting with the people, and including cultural lessons which enhance the language learning. The school will incorporate things that are happening here and in town, lessons will be in exotic destinations using the world as our classroom.
We are also finishing constructing more services at Casa Loma; new bathrooms and cabanas with private bathrooms. We are also putting in outdoor tropical showers, I’m really excited about these!
Possible plans for the future include hiking trails and tree house hideaways!
And, finally, what would you be doing if you didn’t own Casa Loma?
I think I would be doing something else in Colombia, connected to travel. At the moment I couldn’t picture myself doing anything else, but I know that I would make sure it was people based. Maybe I would want to run a backpacker magazine like you guys!
Oh wait, I know I would want to work on bringing international music to Colombia, but I would make sure that it still celebrates and respects the good music that is already here. If I was to DJ over here I would play a cross-section of stuff from all over the world mixed with local favourites. That would be my dream job.
To find out more about Casa Loma Hostel and the lovely town of Minca – check out our Minca destination guide!
You can also get a better feel for Casa Loma by watching this great video about the daily life of the hostel.