street art in Lima near our apartment

How We Rent Apartments While Travelling: South America Edition

Occasionally, when other travellers we meet learn that we are or have been renting an apartment in a given location, instead of staying in a hotel or hostel, as they perhaps expect, they get a look of awe on their face that seems to say either “wow, I wish I could afford that” or “right, so you guys must be rich”.

It surprises us that more people don’t rent apartments while travelling, either because they assume it must be much more expensive than the more traditional types of (paying) accommodation available to travellers or because they simply don’t know how to go about finding places to rent.

So how, and why do we rent apartments while travelling?

Why?

In an apartment, we have a comfortable place to work (something which most hostels and a surprising number of hotels lack), our own kitchen to cook in (thus saving us money on eating out), a space of our own where we can invite friends over for dinner or coffee (can’t do that so easily in a hostel) and a quiet place to just be by ourselves.

How?

In South America, we’ve used several approaches to finding apartments as we’ve travelled around the continent. For each place we rented, I’ve detail how exactly we found our apartment, how long we stayed, what it cost and then compare the price to hostel dorms and private rooms in similar areas, according to Hostelbookers.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

How we found the apartment: Craigslist
How long we stayed: 39 nights
How much we paid: £731.41 / £18.76 per night (paid partly online through Paypal and the rest in cash in USD)

some street art in San Telmo, round the corner from our apartment

some street art in San Telmo, round the corner from our apartment

I spent a long time on various sites before we arrived in Buenos Aires the second time trying to find an affordable apartment to rent for a month, and it was on Craigslist that I had the most success. We struck on one add that lead us to an agency that specialised in apartments in San Telmo, who were very professional and easy to deal with.

The apartment itself was lovely, with a mezzanine bedroom and bathroom, separate downstairs toilet and compact kitchen, as well as a weekly cleaning service included in the price. The only downsides were that because it shared a courtyard with several other apartments, we sometimes heard the neighbours and their music, and the wifi often didn’t work and so we had to go work in Starbucks around the corner.

Compared to hostels (prices per night)

Average 4-6 dorm bed in Buenos Aires: £8.20 per person
Cheapest dorm bed in Buenos Aires: £4.40 per person
Average double room with private bathroom in Buenos Aires: £33.80 per room

This apartment cost us almost half the amount of staying in an average private room in a similar location in the city, and was only slightly more expensive than paying for two dorm rooms. Of course, we also had the benefit of our own kitchen (which in turn saved us money on eating out) and having a space of our own. Overall, a win. If we go to Buenos Aires again, we would consider using the same agency, but would opt for a quieter apartment with more reliable wifi.

Salta, Argentina

How we found the apartment: Google-fu
How long we stayed: 4 nights
How much we paid: £106.04 / £26.51 per night (paid in ARS changed on the blue market rate)

the view from Cerro San Bernardo, Salta

the view from Cerro San Bernardo, Salta

It didn’t take much Googling to discover a couple of sites aimed at tourists wanting short term apartment rents in Salta. We contacted one by email, reserved the place we liked and paid in cash when we arrived; very straightforward!

The modern apartment was well equipped, and even had heating. There was a large balcony and access to a shared hot tub outside, though we didn’t use as the weather wasn’t warm enough. The bedroom was large and had lots of storage space and the building was extremely quiet.

Compared to hostels (prices per night)

Average 4 dorm bed in Salta: £6.30 per person
Cheapest dorm bed in Salta: £5 per person
Average double room with shared bathroom in Salta: £25.20 per room

Even though we got a good deal on this apartment because we paid in pesos that we’d exchanged on the blue market, we were still paying slightly more than a private room in a hostel would have cost us. No doubt if we’d stayed longer than 4 nights, we could’ve got a better deal, but given that at the time we arrived in Salta, we really needed a place to just be alone and catch up on work, it was worth it for us. If we ever return to Salta, we wouldn’t hesitate to rent this place again.

Arequipa, Peru

How we found the apartment: Couchsurfing
How long we stayed: 31 nights
How much we paid: £358.30 / £11.56 per night (paid in cash in PEN)

a common view of the ever-present Volcán Misti from near our apartment

a common view of the ever-present Volcán Misti from near our apartment

In our failed/abandoned search for an apartment in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, we’d tried contacting people through Couchsurfing who may have rented us a place, and decided to try it again, but in anticipation for our arrival in Arequipa. I received a response from someone in the Arequipa group pretty quickly who had an apartment to rent and she sent me pictures and details. We had some back and forth for a while, and on the day we arrived, we went directly from the bus station to see the place and stayed the night…and the next month.

The apartment was in a modern building, in a clean and safe but uninteresting residential neighbourhood about 25 minutes walk from the centre of Arequipa. It was a duplex with a large living area, kitchen and toilet downstairs and two bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs plus fast wifi. The downside was that the neighbours were extremely noisy, playing unbelievably loud music at all times of night and day, and the lack of proper insulation didn’t help at all.

Compared to hostels (prices per night)

Average 6-12 dorm bed in Arequipa: £6.30 per person
Cheapest dorm bed in Arequipa: £3.80 per person
Average double room with private bathroom in Arequipa: £22.60 per room

Considering that we paid less for this apartment than two dorm beds in a hostel, I think we got an excellent deal. Of course, we compromised with the location and had to deal with troublesome neighbours, but dealing directly with the owner definitely saved us money. I don’t think I’d stay in that particular apartment again, though.

Lima, Peru

How we found the apartment: Airbnb
How long we stayed: 42 nights
How much we paid: £813.12 / £19.36 per night (paid online through Airbnb)

lima_street_art

After the problems we’d had with noise in our Arequipa apartment, we knew we wanted a reliable guarantee against such things for the place we picked in Lima, so we opted to go through Airbnb, one of the largest apartment rental websites that covers destinations all over the world and relies on a system of reviews between hosts and guests, similar to Couchsurfing. This time, because we knew we wanted to stay for over a month, we asked potential hosts for a discount rather than simply reserving the first place we liked at the asking price. Some said no, or wouldn’t negotiate to within our budget, but it didn’t hurt to ask.

The one bedroom apartment we rented in the end was very bright, clean and well managed by its owners. Though it was definitely the smallest of the apartments we rented in South America, it was well laid out and had almost everything we needed, and its location more than made up for its size; it was round the corner from a weekly organic market and just a 10 minute walk from the centre of Miraflores, Lima’s most popular middle class and expat neighbourhood.

Compared to hostels (prices per night)

Average 8 dorm bed in Lima: £6.30 per person
Cheapest dorm bed in Lima: £3.80 per person
Average double room with shared bathroom in Lima: £22.60 per room

Again, we were paying less than we would have for a private hostel room, partly because of the discount we managed to negotiate with the owners for our long stay. Considering the location and facilities of the apartment, we were very pleased with this rental and we’d certainly recommend it.

What’s the best way to rent apartments while travelling?

It depends on what is important to you

Location specific rental companies often have a bigger choice of apartments available and obviously know their city well, so can advise on which area of town might be best for your requirements. And since they specialise in renting apartments in that city, they usually provide an efficient and well organised service and should be easily contactable, especially if they have an office.

Asking through Couchsurfing and other social networks will probably lead to you finding the cheapest deals (as you’ll likely deal directly with owners), though you may not get much assurance of standard of the apartment and/or area, and the owner may not be used to dealing with short-term tenants.

Using an online service such as Airbnb will assure you a booking before you arrive (as you usually pay a deposit) and means the owner or manager will be more accountable in case of problems (since they rely on good reviews to get future customers).

So, if you want cheap rent: go with Couchsurfing; if you want a reliable and contactable human being: look for a location specific rental agency; and if you want to book in advance: use an online apartment rental service.

Where next?

We definitely plan to continue renting apartments as we travel, and once we’re in Europe again, there’s no doubt we’ll find ourselves wanting to do so again. Perhaps in Lisbon, Budapest, Berlin or Paris; we’ll see how the plans go!

Zab in the first apartment we ever rented together, in Prague

Zab in the first apartment we ever rented together, February 2006 in Prague

What tips do you have for renting apartments as you travel? What’s you’re favourite rental service?