Spring Newsletter: Twenty-Six Fab New Digs!

5 June, 2012 (12:32) | Budget Travel, Recommended Digs | By: darngooddigs

Summer is just about here which means it is time to get your vacation on! We at Darn Good Digs are doing our part by slowly but surely adding extraordinary, and only extraordinary, digs to our website.  As a fan recently commented online at the New York Times, Darn Good Digs is “how I find great places to stay when I travel far from home. The recommendations are solid.”  Cheers! Let’s toast to that.

Since our last newsletter we’ve added twenty-six traveler reviews. Some of our favorites include:

Bueng Pai Farm

Bueng Pai Farm, Pai, Mae Hong Son, Thailand

Bueng Pai Farm, Pai, Mae Hong Son, Thailand:
Surrounded by rice paddies in a gorgeous mountain valley, the farm has private bungalows overlooking a quiet fishing pond where guests can fish right from their hammocks.

The Motor Lodge, Prescott, Arizona: Just three blocks from Prescott’s town square, the Motor Lodge has been lovingly rebuilt, restored, and funkified by its new owners.

The Shady Dell, Bisbee, Arizona: Stay in your own vintage trailer decked out in a retro theme, complete with authentic interiors, period tableware, and mid-century appliances.

Juniper Lane Guest House

Juniper Lane Guest House, San Juan Island, Washington

Juniper Lane Guest House, Friday Harbor, San Juan Island, Washington: Beautifully restored house with gorgeous rooms and a perfect location within strolling distance to Friday Harbor.

Skapo Apartments, Vilnius, Lithuania:  Three apartments clustered around a lovely cobblestone courtyard smack dab in the middle of Old Town Vilnius.

But the good times don’t stop there. We’ve also added reviews for digs in St. Lucia, Joshua Tree, Hawaii’s Big Island, Mexico City, Normandy, Lisbon, Phnom Penh, Singapore, South Africa, Belize, Southeast Florida, and many other fabulous locations throughout the world.

As always, please nominate your favorite digs (with rooms under US$150) and spread the word about Darn Good Digs to your traveling friends and family. We need you to make our website as awesome as it can be!

All the best,

Allison and Michael

P.S. Don’t forget to subscribe to our blog, like us on Facebook, and follow our tweets.

Best Small Hotels in Mexico on a Modest Budget

19 March, 2012 (13:57) | Budget Travel, Recommended Digs | By: darngooddigs

We are on a mission to find the world’s best independently owned hotels for budget-minded travelers, and so far we have put together a pretty solid hotel list for Mexico – from the Yucatan to the Pacific coast, Mexico City to the Lake Chapala region.  We always seek out owners with unique visions as well as a sense of style and an eye for comfort.  These digs are places where you feel welcome, you feel happy, and you sure don’t want to leave. What’s more? Prices start at US$39 for a double room. Here is a taste of some of our Darn Good Digs in Mexico:

Hotel Cielo Rojo

Hotel Cielo Rojo in San Francisco/San Pancho, Nayarit

Hotel Cielo Rojo is a simple, yet stylish hotel decorated in mellow Mexican colors and folk art lovingly collected by the owners on their world journeys. The hotel’s restaurant surely must rank among the best restaurants in the state of Nayarit. The chef uses organic, locally-sourced ingredients including fish caught that morning by village fisherman in small boats. What’s more, this eco-friendly hotel uses biodegradable detergents, makes their own natural hand soaps, and has an active recycling program. Rooms start at US$85.

Secret Garden Hotel Tulum

Secret Garden Hotel in Tulum, Quintana Roo

Just a short walk from Tulum’s bus station and lively Avenida Tulum, the Secret Garden Hotel consists of nine cabanas surrounding a beautiful and peaceful garden decked out with hammocks and sofas. The hotel’s owner, Joshua, is wonderful, kind, and uber-generous with his heaping knowledge of all things Tulum.  Rooms start at US$40.

Villa La Bella

Villa La Bella on Isla Mujeres, Quintana Roo

Villa La Bella is a colorful six room bed and breakfast on the small island of Isla Mujeres, a short ferry ride and a world away from Cancun. The Villa offers a peaceful adults-only getaway with a low-key vibe away from the tourist crowds. Ashley and Curtis, the on-site owners, are gracious hosts, not too intrusive, but available for any questions about the island or your stay.  Rooms start at US$110.

Balamku Inn on the Beach

Balamku Inn on the Beach in Mahahual, Quintana Roo

Balamku Inn on the Beach, an eco-friendly hotel on Mexico’s beautiful Costa Maya, has been nominated by the World Travel Awards as a Leading Green Hotel in Mexico and Central America two years in a row. Balamku is powered by solar and wind energy and its ten beachfront rooms are situated to maximize natural ventilation. The airy rooms are tastefully turned out with tile floors and colorful Mexican art.  Rooms start at US$75.

Adobe Walls Inn

Adobe Walls Inn in Ajijic, Jalisco

Painstakingly restored by its new American owners, and only three blocks from Ajijic’s main plaza, Adobe Walls Inn is an atmospheric Spanish-style hacienda furnished throughout with Mexican antiques.  Rooms starting at US$55.

We have many more amazing small hotels, bed and breakfasts, and inns included in our Mexico Guide.  If you have any places to recommend from your travels in Mexico, please use our Nomination Form to let us know – we’re adding new hotels all the time based on your suggestions.

Baltics Itinerary: Three Weeks from Helsinki to Vilnius

3 February, 2012 (18:21) | Travel Itineraries | By: darngooddigs

Windmill in Gauja National Park, Latvia

Windmill in Gauja National Park, Latvia

This past summer we spent three weeks traveling around the Baltics with our six year old boy.  We look for non-stop flights whenever possible, so we naturally appreciated Finn Air’s non-stop NYC-Helsinki flight – not to mention that it happened to be one of the cheapest flights to Europe at the time. After three nights in Helsinki, we took the ferry to Tallinn where we rented a car.

We loved our trip, but we’ll add that it was pretty fast-paced.  If we were to do it again, we might slow down a little bit.  Here’s what our three weeks in the Baltics look like.

Helsinki, Finland: Best Western Premier Hotel Katajanokka (3 nights)
Tallinn, Estonia: Classic Apartments Sugise Studio Apartment (2 nights)
Lehemaa National Park, Estonia: Palmse Manor (1 night)
Tartu, Estonia: Looming Hostel (1 night)
Cesis, Latvia: Hotel Katrina (1 night)
Sigulda, Latvia: Hotel Pils (1 night)
Riga, Latvia: Homestay Riga (3 nights)
Ventspils, Latvia: Hotel Juras Brizas (2 nights)
Palanga, Lithuania: ?? (1 night)
Juodkrante, Lithuania: Hotel Kurenas (2 nights)
Kaunas, Lithuania: Daugirdas Old City Hotel (1 night)
Druskininkai, Lithuania: Hotel Credo (1 night)
Vilnius, Lithuania: Skapo Apartments (3 nights)

We’ve added reviews for two hotels from our trip, Homestay in Riga, and Skapo Apartments in Vilnius, on Darn Good Digs.  If our six old had his say, he would’ve added the converted prison Hotel Katajanokka in Helsinki and the Hotel Pils in Sigulda with its suited knight in the stairwell.  The reason why we left Palanga blank is because we don’t remember where we stayed; the Info Hotel overbooked us and sent us to a pension further out from town center.

Stay tuned for more posts about our Baltics adventure.

Building a One-of-a-Kind Guide to the World’s Best Budget Hotels

12 December, 2011 (16:52) | Budget Travel, Recommended Digs | By: darngooddigs

In his blog post earlier this year, Arthur Frommer challenged us to find and review 500 Darn Good Digs around the world, and we think we’re well on our way.  In a few months, we’ll have published over 200 reviews, and we’ve added even more colorful photos than ever before. You can help by nominating your all time favorite digs!

If you haven’t visited Darn Good Digs recently, please stop by and check out our new logo!  We sponsored a web design contest, and Alvin Rasay from the Philippines won hands down.

In the past few months, we have researched many more nominations and selected new digs from all over the world – including right here in Brooklyn, NY to Bisbee, AZ; from Niagara Falls to the Normandy coast.  Here are some of the highlights:

Shack Up Inn

Shack Up Inn

Clarksdale, Mississippi: Shack Up Inn – “You can find Mississippi’s heart at the Shack Up Inn. I’ve slept in hotel lobbies in Havana, pontoons on the Mississippi River and a bordello in the Dominican Republic, but I’ve never stayed at a place as cool as the Shack Up Inn.” – Dave Hoekstra, Chicago

Selous River Camp

Selous River Camp

Tanzania: Selous River Camp – “I’ll never forget the excitement of being awakened at night by a stampeding elephant or a whooping hyena while staying in a mud hut overlooking a river full of hippos! Not only this, but the entire camp is run so efficiently. Meals were punctual (and delicious) and the safaris were well organized, with good vehicles and extremely knowledgeable guides and drivers.” – John Strain, Chippenham, UK

Homestay Riga

Homestay Riga

Riga, Latvia: Homestay – “Diga and Ric’s fabulous all-timber home in Riga’s Mezaparks neighborhood was a true highlight of our three week trip to the Baltics. When normally we would be rushing out to see the sites, here we lingered, enjoying Ric’s huge, delicious breakfasts and the good company of hosts and guests alike.” – Allison and Michael, Brooklyn, NY

Puerto Rico: Maravilla – “My husband and I stayed in the ‘luxury’ cabin for six nights and chose the luxury all-inclusive option, which includes an unbelievably amazing breakfast, lunch, and multi-course dinner each day. The view of the lush rainforest during breakfast is spectacular, and our dinners by candle-light were very romantic. Maravilla’s owners, Margo and Mark, along with their staff, are so welcoming – we can’t wait to go back some day!” – Stacy, Hamilton, New Jersey

As always, please help us spread the word about Darn Good Digs to your traveling friends and family, and if you stay at any of our digs, make sure to let the owners know how you heard about them.

Finally, we send out a big “Thank You!” to all of our readers and contributors for helping us build a one-of-a-kind guide to the world’s best independently owned accomodationsfor budget-minded travelers.

All the best,

Michael and Allison



Best Small Caribbean Hotels for Budget-Minded Travelers

31 October, 2011 (12:52) | Recommended Digs | By: darngooddigs

One of the reasons we originally launched Darn Good Digs back in 2008 was because we found it hard to find cool places to stay in the Caribbean on a budget. There are so many large impersonal hotels and all-inclusive resorts, but the small spots full of character are hidden away and can take some serious time trying to “discover” them. We started DGD with a few reviews of our favorite hotels where we stayed over the years, like Mary Lee’s by the Sea on Puerto Rico’s southern coast and Jake’s Resort on Jamaica’s Treasure Beach. Now we have Caribbean reviews for sweet spots on eight islands – and we’re adding more all the time. So if you’re looking for colorful cottages or a quiet b&b by the beach, jungle cabins or a little guest house in the mountains – make sure to visit Darn Good Digs first. We feature the best independently owned Caribbean hotels for budget-minded travelers.

Jakes Resort

Jakes Resort in Treasure Beach, Jamaica

And as always, if you know of any amazing places we should add to our guide, please nominate them today!

Rural Thailand Villa – Delicious Food, Gracious Hosts, Rice Paddies Everwhere

19 September, 2011 (15:40) | Recommended Digs | By: darngooddigs

One of the first traveler nominations we received back at Darn Good Digs’ launch in 2008 was for Gecko Villa – a beautiful rural villa way out there in northeast Thailand, as far from Bangkok as you could imagine. We were excited then to learn about such a cool vacation spot, and we’re even more excited now after rave reviews keep being published online. Here is our Darn Good Digs review of Gecko Villa:

What makes Gecko Villa so Darn Good? Located bang in the middle of rice paddy fields and sugar cane plantations, Gecko Villa is a green oasis far from Thailand’s tourist trails. The two things that truly made our stay were the superb food, and the kindness and welcoming nature of the local host family and villagers. Having our own pool was a definite plus!

Location: Gecko Villa is located in Northeast Thailand’s Isaan region, fifty minutes by plane or nine hours by train from Bangkok, and not far from the Laos border. The province, Udon Thani, is home to the UNESCO World Heritage archaeological site, Ban Chiang, and its national museum which displays locally excavated artifacts and pottery dating as far back as 7,500 years. If that doesn’t float your boat, guests at Gecko Villa can take a boat ride among lotus flowers in the nearby lake, and all around are opportunities for exploring the villages, temples, and farms of bucolic Thailand.

Rooms: Gecko Villa is a northern Thai-style country house with a pool that you rent all for yourself! The Villa’s three bedrooms, large living and dining rooms, and fully equipped Western and Thai kitchens are in separate buildings and are connected by covered wooden verandas surrounding a garden. Traditional wooden furniture and artwork adorn the rooms and outdoor areas.

Food: Excellent and very zingy Thai food is cooked for you three times daily by Ten and Euang, the Villa’s caretakers and chefs, who live in a small village a couple of kilometers away. Ask to try local Isaan dishes such as spicy beef salad with mint or their wicked barbecue chicken with papaya salad. Make sure to say upfront what your chili factor is! Thai cooking lessons are also included in the price.

Vibe: Guests could just chill by the pool and eat well, but definitely take the plunge and ask to get integrated: the locals are very friendly and definitely enjoy a good time! Gecko Villa is owned and run by local villagers, and all revenues stay in the community.

Things to Keep in Mind: Take any personal necessities with you because the nearest banks and major shopping areas are 45 minutes away!

Price Range: 6,800 Baht – 8,900 Baht (three meals included, entire villa)
# of Rooms: 3
Kid-Friendly: yes

Make an Inquiry/Book a Room at:

A big thank you to James for nominating this very cool getaway. As always, if you’ve stayed at any extraordinary independently owned accommodations for budget-minded travelers, please let us know and nominate them today on Darn Good Digs!

Gorgeous Bali Countryside Hotel Near Ubud: Balam Bali Villa

7 July, 2011 (15:32) | Recommended Digs | By: darngooddigs

Every now and then we receive a hotel nomination that makes us want to drop everything and GO THERE immediately. Balam Bali Villa is one of those places. Here is why:

Balam Bali Villa

Balam Bali Villa

What makes Balam Bali Villa so Darn Good? Having lived and traveled overseas for twenty years, I can say without hesitation that Balam Bali Villa is the best of the best! I cannot praise Adi, the manager, and Hubert, the owner, enough on their personal attention to every detail and the extra care that they show every guest to ensure a memorable experience. The location is stunning, the villa and its rooms are gorgeous, and the food is fresh and delicious.

Location: Balam Bali Villa is surrounded by lush green rice paddies in the heart of Bali’s serene and beautiful countryside. The sacred temple of Taman Ayun is close by, and the town of Ubud, considered by many to be Bali’s cultural center, is a half hour away. While guests could easily wile away the day lounging by the pool or getting an in-house massage, Balam Bali offers several excursions around the island for when the mood hits.

Balam Bali Villa

Rooms: Balam Bali has three rooms in a genuine seventeenth century pirate’s lair imported from the island of Sulawesi. The house is built of native teak and its soothing teak-furnished rooms are beyond exquisite. In addition to the House of Pirates, Balam Bali offers five stylish rooms surrounding a pool in its Villa of Marbles.

Food: Balam Bali serves fresh, made to order French and Balinese cuisine. Meals can be enjoyed on the terrace overlooking the rice paddies or in the Villa’s on-site restaurant.

Balam Bali Villa
Vibe: Peace out. This small, intimate villa is totally chill, and the gracious staff is very accommodating to couples, singles, and families alike.

Keep in Mind: For two hours of bliss, don’t miss the complimentary rice paddy and village walk with Adi or Hubert!

Price Range: US$40-$145 (includes continental breakfast)
# of Rooms: 8
Kid-Friendly: yes

Make an Inquiry/Book a Room at:

A big thank you to Francine Fischl for nominating this sweet getaway. As always, if you’ve stayed at any extraordinary independently owned accommodations for budget-minded travelers, please let us know and nominate them today on Darn Good Digs!

Bocas del Toro Hotel – Secluded Jungle Lodge and Chocolate Farm

1 May, 2011 (11:58) | Recommended Digs | By: darngooddigs

When we first launched Darn Good Digs in 2008, we pressed all of our friends to reveal their favorite secret spots around the world. La Loma Jungle Lodge, a small three-’room’ hotel in Panama’s beautiful Bocas del Toro region, was on that initial list. The jungle lodge and chocolate farm receive only rave reviews, and we are so excited that we now offer direct bookings for our readers. As our review states, this Bocas del Toro hotel is “the place to just chill out and get back to nature.” If that sounds like your thing, then keep reading:
La Loma Jungle Lodge
What makes La Loma Jungle Lodge so Darn Good? The total experience!

Location: La Loma Jungle Lodge is located on the quiet and secluded Isla Bastimentos in the beautiful Archipelago de Bocas del Toro off of Panama’s northwest coast. Guests at La Loma can tour its working butterfly farm and gardens, hike its rainforest trails, and row traditional wooden cayucos through the mangroves. White sand beaches are just a five minute boat ride away. The lodge provides boat pick up and drop off from Bocas, the island chain’s busiest town and transportation hub.

Rooms: Hidden among trees and vines, each of La Loma’s three ranchos can be reached by footpath through the jungle from the main lodge. Inspired by traditional Ngobe architecture, the ranchos have been built using sustainably harvested wood and consist mainly of open platforms with roofs. The ranchos all have mosquito nets on their beds, bathrooms with hot water showers, and well-worn hammocks. The real deal is that you are actually sleeping in the jungle with all the amazing nocturnal noises to lull you to sleep.

La Loma Jungle Lodge
Food: What can we say! A total miracle! Every dining experience is different from the last, and all meals are home-made on site using totally fresh ingredients. We loved sitting outside at the lodge’s bench-style table with total strangers who soon became friends, relating travel experiences, and soaking up the wonderful ambiance long into the evening.

Vibe: La Loma is laid-back enough to be horizontal. This is the place to just chill out and get back to nature. Margaret and Henry, your tremendously knowledgeable hosts, know their business well, and filled our minds with information on butterflies, cocoa, and the indigenous Ngobe families that they are helping through their community program, Hooda Chi. Really, this place is one out of the box!

La Loma Jungle Lodge, Bocas del Toro
Keep in Mind: The lower rancho has enough electricity to run a small fan and a light, and while the two ranchos further up the hill are not connected to electricity, they do have a natural breeze due to their higher elevation. The climb from the lodge’s dining area to the ranchos is a fairly steep 5 to 7 minute climb, and torches and gumboots are provided. It can be a bit hot and sticky here but, hey, you’re in the jungle!

Price Range: $100 per person (includes three meals)
# of Rooms: 3
Kid-Friendly: yes

Make an Inquiry/Book a Room at:

As always, if you’ve stayed at any extraordinary independently owned accommodations for budget-minded travelers, please nominate them today on Darn Good Digs!

Goa Beyond the Beaches: Chill Eco-Cottages at Olaulim Backyards

29 March, 2011 (00:39) | Uncategorized | By: darngooddigs

Last year we blogged about our other Goa guest house, Casa Susegad, recently included on the Lonely Planet Hidden Gems list. Today I’d like to share our newest Goa retreat, the chill and spectacularly beautiful Olaulim Backyards. Yvonne Gray from Cardiff, UK gave us the heads up about this very cool spot.

Olaulim Backyards

Olaulim Backyards

What makes the Olaulim Backyards so Darn Good? We were collected from the airport and greeted at Olaulim Backyards by Pirkko, Savio, Manuel, and Shameena, as well as the dogs, horse, and donkey. We immediately felt at home and as if we had known everybody for years. The food and drinks are outstanding, the setting is spectacular with beautiful views across the lake and infinity pool, and the wildlife is incredible – a must-see for any twitcher!

Location: Olaulim Backyards has a peaceful location on the banks of the Mandovi River in tiny Olaulim village, just a half hour but a world away from Goa’s busy markets, beaches, and nightlife. Sitting by the river early every morning, we saw Brahamani kites, wild peacocks, great hornbills, and kingfishers in all colours and sizes. We also loved our morning walks and bicycle rides around the garden and village, where we were shown indigenous trees, given tastes of spices, and taught about the history of the area with its strong Portuguese influence.

Olaulim Backyards
Rooms: All three of the eco-cottages at Olaulim Backyards are beautifully thought out and individually designed using reclaimed building materials. We stayed in the Sun Bird cottage which has comfortable beds and an open air shower heated by solar panels. We also peeked at the other two cottages, the Horn Bill and the Golden Oriole, and they were both lovely with fantastic views of the coconut groves, paddy fields, and swimming pool.

Food: The food and drinks are outstanding! Breakfast features tropical fruits such as pomelos, bananas, and coconuts fresh from the garden. For lunch and dinner, the traditional Goan cuisine is cooked on a wood-fire using seasonal vegetables from the local market as well as fresh fish and prawns straight from the lake. FAB-U-LOUS!!

Olaulim Backyards
Vibe: Chilled, chilled, chilled. Our stay was so relaxing that four days felt like two weeks. This is truly a special place run by a special family.

Keep in Mind: Olaulim Backyards has kayaks, canoes, and bicycles for guests to borrow.

Price Range: 2500-4000 Rs (more or less US$50-$90)
# of Rooms: 3
Kid-Friendly: yes

Make an Inquiry/Book a Room at:

As always, if you’ve stayed at any extraordinary independently owned accommodations for budget-minded travelers, please nominate them today on Darn Good Digs!

Exceptional Siem Reap Bed and Breakfast – Journeys Within B&B

27 February, 2011 (22:52) | Recommended Digs | By: darngooddigs

Since our 2008 launch of Darn Good Digs we have been receiving nominations for different kinds of “budget” accommodations in Southeast Asia. For backpackers and truly frugal travelers, we have reviews for amazing guest houses and inns that cost under US$20 a night. Many of our readers at Darn Good Digs, though, are willing to spend a little bit more to get some additional luxury and comfort. Journeys Within Bed and Breakfast in Siem Reap, Cambodia is one of those exceptional digs that merits the extra cost. A lovely swimming pool, delicious breakfast, free tuk tuk rides to and from town, and complimentary laundry service are just a few of the details that make Journeys Within so special. Read our review, first submitted by Selin K from San Francisco, to find out what else makes this B&B stand out:

What makes Journeys Within Bed and Breakfast so Darn Good? Journeys Within overflows with warmth and friendliness. From its owners, Andrea and Brandon, to its tour guides and receptionists, the entire Journeys Within staff took care to ensure that we were happy and comfortable throughout our stay. The B & B partners with Journeys Within Our Community, a non-profit dedicated to improving living conditions in Southeast Asia through well construction, language schools, and a host of other local projects. I was really amazed to see how Journeys Within gives back to the community in so many ways.

Journeys Within Bed and Breakfast

Location: Located on the outskirts of Siem Reap, Journeys Within is on the road between town and the awe-inspiring twelfth century temples of Angkor Wat.

Rooms: Journeys Within has four deluxe bungalows and one family suite. All are modern and filled with Cambodian touches, such as the traditional Cambodian scarves left on the beds as gifts for guests. The bathrooms are divine with fancy rain shower heads, and each room has AC, free drinks in the mini-fridge, and balconies overlooking the ridiculously inviting pool and garden oasis.

Food: I just can’t say enough about the food at Journeys Within. The chef is tiny in size, but big on taste! She uses many local ingredients and everything is always delicious. Her chicken coconut curry was so incredible that I even tried to recreate it when I got back home. Breakfast is included, and the B & B offers full lunch and dinner menus.

Vibe: Staying at Journeys Within is like staying with friends. After exploring Angkor Wat, we were all about lying by the pool and having a restful and relaxing visit.

Things to Keep in Mind: Journeys Within is ten minutes from town, so you can’t just walk outside and wander about, but tuk tuks are readily available and are a great way to get to the heart of Siem Reap.

Price Range: US$75-$160
# of Rooms: 5
Kid-Friendly: yes

Make an Inquiry/Book a Room at:

As always, if you’ve stayed at any extraordinary independently owned accommodations for budget-minded travelers, please nominate them today on Darn Good Digs!