Why you should care
Because you’ll be on top of the world.
In the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains of Colombia, atop a summit only accessible by motorbike drivers with more skill than sense, hangs a spectacular 30-foot hammock that fits 20 people. This was news to me, as “hammock in the sky” wasn’t mentioned in any of the guidebooks I’d read, but everyone in my Colombian hostel professed this was a must-do experience.
However, checking out the hammock is actually quite difficult — there’s no straightforward method for getting there. My trip involved driving along treacherously cracked roads for two hours, inhaling hard at every pothole, while my friend at the wheel swore under her breath. Higher and higher, past the Colombian coffee plantations of Minca — and right into the sky — there is a point where the road becomes inaccessible by car and is barely navigable by motorbikes.
At night you can watch stars twinkle like fireflies, enjoying the cool breeze on your face.
Once you finally get there, the hammock is worth every nail-biting moment. It’s large, sprawling, and framed by avocado trees and brightly colored toucans. At night you can watch stars twinkle like fireflies, enjoying the cool breeze on your face — the altitude offers a great respite from the scorching 90-degree heat at base camp. By day you can marvel at the lush green and blue valley below.
The hammock’s made of knotted twine, and it’s high enough that you need a leg up to get onto it gracefully — but elbowing yourself on works as well (since I visited, a platform has been added to make this easier). It’s important to be careful of the holey parts, wide enough to drop a water bottle through, which can be freaky if you’re acrophobic. Every spot is spectacular, but try to grab a spot at the furthest end of the hammock, where you can lie above the steepest drop. It’s the most glorious view.
But you can only experience the sky hammock if you stay at Casa Elemento, a $14-a-night hostel that’s perched around 4,000 feet above sea level — it’s part of the amenities. A former military outpost, Casa Elemento was renovated in 2013 and now provides backpackers with natural beauty on a budget. The isolation of the place adds to the magic, and that’s intentional. Not only is it challenging to reach, but the hostel caps guests at 35. Also, it’s a Wi-Fi-free, cash-only zone. “This really is magical,” says Ann Young, a tourist visiting from Los Angeles. “It’s like another world. But I do miss having Internet.”
And while breathtaking, the hammock doesn’t win any awards for size. Created in 2013, when the hostel opened for business, it used to be called the world’s largest hammock (that honor now goes to the Netherlands and New York) — it’s now rebranded as the world’s largest “permanent” hammock.
Casa Elemento co-founder Mr. Ed says he became obsessed with hammocks when he was traveling the world as he wanted “to be as comfortable as possible in the most beautiful places I could find.” When revamping the hostel (it was an abandoned house when he took charge), he says, he put up as many hammocks as he could, culminating in the giant hammock. “The right hammock in the right place makes leaving so much harder,” he says.
During the night I stayed, with beers and the occasional joint passed around, I floated on this paradise in the sky, my body and mind refreshingly at peace with the world, often as the sky fractured into streaks of purple and red. Heaven on earth.