Would you pay to have sex in a garage? No? Well if you lived in Central America you might.
Meet the auto hotel. It’s Central America’s version of North America’s pay-per-the-hour highway motel, except instead of cheating spouses slinking off to Motel Six to do the dirty, they pull into a roadside auto hotel and get it on in a parking stall.
When I first saw an Auto Hotel in Guatemala I thought it was some sort of overnight parking garage. But then it was explained that although the auto hotel is part-parking garage, it’s main purpose is to provide couples a discreet and private place to go for some alone time. Young people here often live in close quarters with their parents (even after marriage) and privacy is tough to come by.
How it works apparently (I haven’t experienced one personally so I’m not sure of the details) is that you park in an enclosed garage or a parking spot (where a curtain is drawn that shields your car from view). There’s usually a room connected to the garage or parking spot that includes the normal hotel amenities (a bed, a TV, bathroom and a phone) but sometimes there’s just a mattress on the garage floor. Your only interaction with the staff at the hotel is either via phone conversations or a slit in the wall, where the hotel staff place beer, food or condoms (which may or may not be included in the price of the room).
Although Auto hotels have a sleazy reputation because of the prostitutes and adulterers that frequent them, some of the auto hotels actually look pretty classy. And they’re cheaper than the average cost of a bed in hostel dormitory too. I was reading in the Lonely Planet though that if you show up in a group or with a member of the same sex, they might not let you stay. Mexicans, Guatemalans and Nicaraguans don’t use Auto Hotels for cheap travel accommodation, only for cheap sex.
Auto hotels are a lot like the ‘Love Hotels’ that you can find in Japan and Korea (it’s borrows the exact same concept except love hotels are more technologically-advanced and there’s not the same negative stigma attached). You can often pay for your hotel stay via a vending machine in the lobby and hotel rooms come in different themes. They even have a Christmas-themed love hotel in Osaka where your stay comes with complementary Santa pyjamas.
You probably couldn’t find two places in the world more different than Japan and Guatemala and yet when it comes to creative solutions to the problem of live-in in-laws and thin bedroom walls, they’re surprisingly similar.