Posted by: adventuressetravels | October 24, 2010

Hotel, Motel, Holiday Inn

English and Spanish have many similar words.  Quite a few English words can be turned into Spanish by slapping an o, a, or e on the end.  Even if you don’t speak a word of Spanish it isn’t too hard to figure out that banco means bank, that you can order lunch at a restaurante, or that a casino is the place to go for gambling.  Unfortunately there are a few red herrings thrown into the mix, or false cognates to use the proper term.

These can lead to some awkward moments, hilarious stories, and a good deal of red faces.  But girls, be sure not to say you are embarrasado to hide your humiliation.  Rather than embarrassed this means that you are pregnant.  At breakfast make sure you ask for the marmalade rather than turning preserves into spanglish preservativos. These can lead to uncomfortable misunderstandings, but one false cognate that can make a bigger difference is that of Latin America’s difference between hotels and motels.

Hotel, motel, holiday inn, in the US, the words hotel and motel are all but interchangeable.  Though historically hotels are the nicer establishments and motels, or motor hotels, are often the cheaper version found along highways, the easy pitstop on a roadtrip or family holiday, today there are certainly some equally questionable hotels.

In South America, however, you probably don’t want to go to a motel if you’re looking for a place to get a good night’s rest.  Yes, both places have rooms for rent, but the similarities stop there.  Wayward travelers are not the largest market for South American Motels.  Instead, their clientele are generally comprised of a seedier nature.  If the weary traveler stops by a motel looking to rent a room for the night he will find the rates priced not for the night, but for the hour.

Married men bring their mistresses here, young couples go to escape their parents.  However, though they do have beds, in Latin America, motels are not there for sleeping.

These establishments are relatively common throughout South America from Colombia in the north, to Argentina in the South.  More obvious ones with lurid signs are often clustered on the outskirts of town, but in many cities they also found closer to the center.  So traveler be warned, though there are generally warning signs: a playboy bunny as the motel symbol, a name like Motel Afrodite, or the like, to the weary traveler these signs may not always so obvious.  Be careful where you look to hang your hat.


  1. It is true… In Ecuador specially young people visit this places… is a good option to rest with any girl..

  2. Tell us more about what you get a “preservativos.” And are there “holiday inns” in our sense or theirs? The French call words that change meaning “false friends.”

  3. LOL. Good information to have, thanks for the warning!

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