I don’t normally write reviews. Yes you’ll often find a few lines of practical information at the end of my articles regarding where I stayed or where I ate in a particular town or city, but I’ve never dedicated an entire blog post to providing a review of a specific hotel, hostel, restaurant, or cafe.
Having been a guest at the Mama Simona hostel in Cusco (on three different occasions) and also at the new edition in Ollantaytambo (on only one occasion, but we stayed in three different rooms), I felt compelled to spread the word.
The husband and wife partnership responsible for bringing Mama Simona to fruition wanted to create a comfortable and welcoming refuge away from the standard “just another hostel” kind of place.
As a result, in both hostel offerings a bar is notably absent, there is little noise to speak of after 10pm, and the common areas/chill-out lounges simply contain a few guests snuggled into bean bags, or curled up on the sofas enjoying the complimentary tea and coffee, exchanging travel tips, browsing through books, or quietly tapping away on their laptops.
Whilst Mama Simona may not be lively, it is a comfortable and welcoming place in which you will be made to feel at completely at home. The rooms are charming with coordinating pine bed frames and bedside tables, or spacious lockers in the dorm rooms, the duvets are some of the fluffiest, most snuggly ones I’ve slept under in the whole of Peru, and the bedsheets are bright, modern, and colourful.
Guests are provided with a complimentary breakfast every morning, the showers are reliably hot regardless of the time of day (a huge bonus in my book) and there are a myriad of facilities and services on offer.
So who is Mama Simona?
That was certainly one of the first questions on my lips. Was Mama Simona a real person? A mother or grandmother who was regarded very fondly by her family members? Someone who is no longer with us but was greatly loved by all those who knew her?
Well, no. Not exactly. Mama Simona is a mountain spirit; a deity. In fact she’s the only female mountain deity among twelve others surrounding Cusco. Known as an ‘Apu’ in quechua, mountain spirits are generally considered male nature energies, with the notable exceptions of Mama Simona in Cusco, Veronica in the Sacred Valley, and Putukusi in Machu Picchu.
So what can I expect from a Mama Simona hostel?
Both Mama Simona hostels have either private rooms or dorm rooms available, with either private or shared bathrooms. Towels are provided free of charge in the private rooms with private bathrooms, or are otherwise available to rent for a fee of 3 soles per towel (64 pence)
Breakfast is free of charge and is served between 6-10am. It consists of:
- Coffee (milk always available if you ask), several varieties of tea (including coca tea), and a glass of juice (usually pineapple or papaya)
- Chaplas (Peruvian bread, similar to pitta bread – hollow inside)
- Butter and jam/marmalade
There is also the option of purchasing omelettes (with cheese and/or ham) and hot sandwiches for a small fee. We did this on quite a few occasions and found that it was enough to fill us up for the majority of the day. The following services/facilities are also available to guests:
- Free wifi (although connection speeds vary between the two hostels – see individual descriptions)
- 24-hour fully-manned reception
- Fully-equipped kitchen (although I have to confess we didn’t use them much, as we were spoilt for choice by tempting cafe/restaurant options in the immediate vicinity)
- Chill-out/common areas
- Free coffee and tea throughout the day on a help yourself basis (although the milk is only available during breakfast hours)
- Reassuring security. The outer doors are always locked, and there is a buzzer system in place in order to gain entry.
Mama Simona Cusco
Address: Calle Ceniza 364, Barrio de San Pedro, Cusco / (51) 984 630 149
Location: Despite being tucked away in the San Pedro neighbourhood of Cusco, it’s just a 5-10 minute walk from Cusco’s main square, the Plaza de Armas, and a fraction less to the Plaza Regocijo, which is the meeting point for the free walking tour every day at 12:15pm. Here you’ll also find the Chocolate Museum, a lovely (and very reasonably priced for Cusco) coffee shop and bakery called Pantastico, and Chicha, one of the city’s best restaurants. San Blas, my favourite neighbourhood, is just a few minutes further – albeit uphill – from the Plaza de Armas. There’s also a great little lavandería literally a few doors down the street, and San Pedro market is only a few minutes away on foot. I couldn’t have asked for a better location.
Amenities: Aside from those already mentioned, free luggage storage/lockers, free book exchange, photocopying and printing service, you can borrow heaters, hairdryers, alarm clocks, and a guitar (fantastic idea if you ask me!), 10% off at selected local restaurants (I’d recommend Greens Organic), and a tour desk on site.
Pros: Beautiful rooms (we stayed here for four nights before our Inca Trail trek, two nights afterwards, and then one night on route back to Lima, in order to transfer to Paracas, so we have experience of a double room en-suite, a four-bed dorm room with private bathroom, and a double room with shared bathroom), comfortable common areas, individual lockers in left luggage area (each of which will comfortably house 2 x full 65 litre backpacks), a myriad of services available, reasonably fast wifi, helpful staff, coffee and coca tea available free of charge at all times of day.
Cons: Wifi does not reach all rooms. Your safest bet is to get one that overlooks the chill-out lounge/inner courtyard. The kitchen is quite small.
Room tip: If you want to use the wifi in the room, choose one around the central inner courtyard/common area. If you want a private room, personally I think the ones with private bathrooms are more spacious, airy, and offer slightly better value for money.
Price: This does vary slightly depending on which site you book through. The following prices quoted are based on booking through Hostelbookers. 8-bed dorm rooms (with shared bathroom) are £6.98, 6-bed dorm rooms (with private bathroom) are £7.80, 4-bed dorm rooms (with shared bathroom) are also £7.80, 4-bed dorm rooms (with private bathroom) are £8.44, private double (with shared bathroom) is £7.44, private twin (with private bathroom) is £8.27, and a private double (with private bathroom) is £9.30. All prices quoted are per person, per night.
Mama Simona Ollantaytambo
Address: Avenida Ocobamba, S/N Camino a Willoq, Altura Puente Jancarachaca, Ollantaytambo
Location: It’s approximately a 5-10 minute walk alongside the river to the Plaza de Armas, or you can walk through Ollantaytambo’s maze of quaint cobbled streets.
Amenities: Aside from those already mentioned, luggage storage/lockers were being constructed during our stay, and the owners were toying with the idea of bicycle rental. Basically the property was only 2 months old when we visited, so many of the amenities that will become available were still in the early stages of conception.
Pros: Beautiful setting. The hostel is located within lush gardens, complete with hammocks, and is situated right beside a babbling brook, with mountains either side. Spacious, well-equipped kitchen, and breakfast tables, coffee and coca tea available free of charge at all times of day, helpful staff, and charming rooms – most of which have a mountain view.
Cons: Wifi! Ok, so it did work but connection was incredibly slow and it didn’t reach to any of the rooms. In the hostel’s defence, we had the same problem everywhere in Ollantaytambo. I’m sure as the tourist infrastructure improves, the wifi will eventually!
Room tip: From what I could gather, there are a very small number of private rooms available. When we first made a booking, we were placed in a 4-bed dorm (as all the private rooms were taken). Even though we were then moved into a private room after a no-show booking, we only saw one other couple there for the first two nights of our stay. So if you want a private room, book ahead!
Price: The only booking partner for this hostel at the moment is Booking.com. A 4-bed dorm room (with private bathroom) is £6, a private double (with private bathroom) is £9, or £15 for solo occupancy in a private double.
But what really makes Mama Simona special?
They say it’s the people who truly make a place what it is, and yes the hard work of Mama Simona’s owners and staff have made the hostels what they are today. However it’s the continuing efforts of these people that contribute largely to a memorable stay for their guests.
I for one will remember the kitchen staff at Mama Simona Cusco who never stopped smiling, even when we troubled them for “un poco más de leche” time and time again, or asked for more cups, more coffee or more butter. They were patient when we tried to explain things badly in broken Spanish, and didn’t ever rush us if we still happened to be drinking coffee at gone 10am.
The reception staff were also consistently friendly and helpful towards us. They assisted Stu’s quest to find a replacement battery for his mobile phone, (drawing the exact location of an appropriate store on a map and telling him how much he should be paying for said item), they made sure we had breakfast before we left for the Inca Trail trek, even though it meant serving it a little early and asking our guide to wait while we finished our juice, and they offered to give us a 4-bed dorm to ourselves after the Inca Trail trek because we’d left it too late to secure a private room.
During our first evening at Mama Simona in Ollantaytambo, there was a festival on in town, and the owners had laid on some food and drinks for the staff by means of a celebration. However, the invitation was also extended to us as their paying guests. We were presented with a large glass each of quality Pisco, along with a variety of local snacks.
The lovely Italian gentleman on the reception desk also offered to phone ahead to a couple of hostels in Pisac in order to secure an onward booking for us, which saved us a lot of time struggling with the slow internet connection.
I honestly can’t fault these two hostels, and I only hope that they will continue to be run as well I found them to be during my stay.
So, if you’re looking for a little pocket of tranquility and relaxation, somewhere you will be welcomed and can feel comfortable and at home, look no further than Mama Simona.
Have you ever stayed somewhere that you felt you just had to write home about? What made your stay so special?