Fifty nine… is the number of hostels I counted in my head one night when I couldn’t sleep, laying in our dorm room somewhere in the North of Mexico. Fifty nine… is the number of hostels Jarryd and I stayed in throughout our 7 month backpacking adventure across South and Central America. Fifty nine…different hostel beds, common rooms, communal kitchens, bar’s, hammocks, beach huts and adopted hostel pets. So if we stayed in 59 different and unique hostels, why do I really only remember 5 of them?
When I think about some of our most memorable moments, these 5 hostels jump into my head straight away, and with good reason. Our time at these hostels was more than just somewhere to lay our heads and store our luggage, they truly gave us an an experience! So what were they and why were they so gosh darn exciting? Ok, ok, well let me break it down for you. Also, please know that no-one has paid me or asked me to write this blog. This is simply my way to say a big fat THANK YOU to the amazing owners, workers and volunteers of these hostels who all contributed to my unforgettable backpacking experience during those 7 months.
One of the first hostels we ever stayed at was in a small town in Argentina, right near a little old waterfall commonly known as Iguazu Falls! Not too far down the road is a hostel with some seriously inspiring words painted on the front steps and a warm welcome from the owner when you enter. This place is called Mango Chill Hostel and it is by far one of our most memorable stays. Manu, the owner, is the definition of great customer service with the atmosphere to match. As we were travelling in the low winter season, the pool and the awesome outdoor area was not the most favourable area to chill out and meet people, but this didn’t even matter one bit! Instead, we spent our free time hanging out in the common area, sipping on Argentinian Malbec red wine and getting to know other travellers. Mango Chill also offers up an authentic 2-course Argentinian style BBQ dinner (with their in-house chef…score!), which is served ‘family style’, meaning they pull together all of the tables and chairs and everyone comes together to eat like the awesome adopted travelling family that you are for the night – or two, or three. Seriously, the dinners there are THAT good! And the best part… whatever food is left over from dinner is served alongside the already awesome included breakfast the next day. Adding this to their amazing explanations of the falls and the best ways to check it out, Mango Chill really sets the bar high for an incredible stay and experience. Even if you aren’t overly wow’d by waterfalls, a few days at this place is so worth the trip.
Whoever came up with the line ‘less is more’ probably wrote that while staying at LluLlu Llama’s Hostel in Isinlivi, Ecuador. With a total population of about 19 people, Isinlivi claimed it’s spot on the Ecuadorian map as the starting point for the incredibly awesome, challenging and oh-my-god-I’m-gunna-die-but-oh-wait-check-out-that-view-it-was-so-worth-it’ 2 day hike up to the epic crater lake known as Laguna Quilotoa. The hostel itself is more like an immaculate cottage complete with fireplace and a SPA BATH and the facilities are better than almost anything you would find at a standard hostel. You can really feel the love and good vibes as soon as you walk through the door and if you’re like us and have been backpacking long term, it is one of the closest feelings to being at home you will get. Our one night stay there was everything we had hoped it would be. We devoured a delicious home-cooked dinner and spent the night playing ‘presidents and assholes’ (you know the card game?!) with three German girls, an American guy, a Swiss couple and a bottle of wine. Now if you’ve played P&A’s before, you would know that everyone has their own variation of the rules. So you can imagine how fun and crazy it was playing with 4 countries’ rules. The next morning we started the day off right with a HUGE gourmet breakfast (both dinner & brekky are included in the price… winning!) and were sent on our way with a packed lunch and a good-bye hug. Seriously LuLu Llama’s, you’re giving me all the good feels!
After 3 days in an off-road 4×4, 2 nights in the below zero Bolivian desert and salt flats and 2 bouts of unexpected gastro, we found ourselves in the surprisingly awesome and European-like town of Sucre in southern Bolivia. Having made no attempt to look for a place to stay, we went with our friends’ suggestion to stay at the The Celtic Cross Hostel. He picked this place purely because of it’s name and that fact that he was Irish. Well.. makes sense! This hostel has a number of dorm rooms and a few private rooms which border the outdoor communal area, making it a breeze to meet other traveller’s. Lucky for us, the World Cup in Brazil was on during our stay so the atmosphere was always top notch. On the other side of the scale it was also a good spot to veg out, relax and brush up on some Spanish (Sucre has some of the cheapest Spanish lessons on offer. It’s definitely worth getting involved if you’ve got a few spare days up your sleeve). The weekly BBQ’s were another awesome addition to what was already a great stay and to complete the whole package, The Celtic Cross is situated in a primo location. But don’t just take my word for it… a quick scan on Hostelworld shows these guys with a 9.1 rating, so they must be doing something right!
Tucked away in North Eastern Mexico on an tiny Caribbean island called Holbox (pronounced Hol-bosh) sits a bright and colourful hostel called Tribu. To this day I still have no idea what Tribu means but it’s catchy and memorable, so kudos for ticking that box guys! This was THE VERY LAST hostel we stayed in during our 7 month Latin American backpacking extravaganza. This was a hostel where they really had thought of everything. A kitchen that actually had enough gizmo’s and gadgets to successfully cook a simple spaghetti bol, a rooftop bar and rooftop deck to finish your day with a beer while watching a blissful sunset and a great TV room for those times when you just need a little R&R. By day you could find us at the beach and by night it was either a hilarious game of trivia or something completely left-field like a ceviche cooking lesson (sooo goood!) And don’t worry, what the island lacks in size, it makes up for in activities and adventure. You can go kayaking, fishing, scuba diving or snorkelling and at the right time of year, hang out with whale sharks! Seriously, how does it get any better?
San Juan Del Sur in Nicaragua would just about be on every backpacker’s hit list. Google ‘things to do in San Juan Del Sur’ and a whole array of cool s**t pops up. For myself and my travelling amigo’s, the sun, the surf and the relaxed vibes are what drew us to the place and in true form, we arrived with no plan as to where we would be parking our butt’s and our belongings for the next week. After a brief walk around the place and a quick google search we came across a hostel right on the beach called Yajure. Aside from it being in a primo location, there was a sweet pool, a ping pong table and one of those awesome ropes that you can string up between two trees and practice balancing on it like a tightrope walker. The absolute best thing about this hostel is the owner, Chely, and his amazing team. An ex-pro surfer and ex-chef turned hostel owner, Chely instantly makes you feel at home and shows you that life is there to be lived. He taught us how to surf and offered to cook us up a home-made fish pasta dinner, provided our boys could actually go out and catch some fish, which they did! Our stay at Yajure was more than just a hostel and Chely was more than just an owner, he became our friend. So thank-you Chely and Yajure for playing a part in what was an unforgettable adventure.
It is events like these that make you really appreciate the wonders of travelling. In the end, a hostel that can make you smile, laugh and create a unique experience is definitely one worth staying at. Have you stayed at any of these hostels? What are some of your favourite and must stay at hostels? And what is it that made them so memorable?