When you are traveling, one of the most important decisions you need to make is about where you plan to stay. Most of the time, I prefer to stay with locals. Thanks to Couchsurfing, I have been able to stay with wonderful people and experience the city the way locals do. However, when you are traveling for a really long time, you feel like a little bit of luxury once in a while… some independence… shut your self away from the world ocassionally… those are the times you check into a hostel or a pousada and decide to give Couchsurfing a break. Also, when you are traveling in a large group (typically 3 or more people), finding a hostel is better than looking for a couch… most people may not be willing to host more than 2 people at a time…
So, the first month of my trip, I managed to stay with friends and family in the US and couchsurfers in Sao Paulo and Rio. The past couple of weeks, Ive been staying in hostels as Roy and Picklu have joined me… I book my hostels through http://www.hostelworld.com. The basics I looked for – private rooms with shared bathroom, breakfast included, free wi-fi and security. After a few stays, I realised it makes sense to include 24 hour reception, laundry facility and free linen to that list. There are always tall claims… For eg: hostels mention free internet.. however, they just have one computer and 30 people sharing it. However, free wi-fi has been great. With my small travel laptop, Ive been able to connect from just about anywhere.
You can be as choosy as you want.. but, that comes with a price.
Anyway, after a couple of stays, I decided that it would be a great opportunity to actually review the places we stay and post it here for the benefit of people who decide to backpack in South America in the future. This post will keep getting updates as and when I stay in a hostel.
So, here goes –
Vila Carioca – Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
Home away from home is the best way to describe Vila Carioca. Right from the minute you enter this hostel, the staff make you feel absolutely comfortable. The cozy rooms named after the beaches in Rio, colourful living room and sunny kitchen makes it an extremely cheerful atmosphere. With the hostel run by locals, they really give you a taste of Rio at this quaint place. The owners are Capoeristas (Capoeira is a Brazilian martial art form) and musicians and hence, one can get to experience the local culture even without stepping out.
The hostel has an option of private rooms for those who want to spend and dorm rooms for the budget traveler. Breakfast of bread, cheese, fruits and coffe is included in the package. The common room offers internet access at 3 Reals per hour. The hostel also has an entertainment area where you can choose to watch movies from the DVD collection or play some music, as they have a wide collection of musical instruments.
Located extremely close to the Botafogo metro and just 5 minutes by walk from the Botafogo beach, this hostel is perfect if you want to be in the midst of all the action. In less than 30 minutes, you can reach the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana, tourist attractions of Sugar Loaf, Christ the Redeemer (Corcovado train station), the Botanical Garden, the Centro and Bohemian neighbourhood of Santa Teresa. There are multiple guidebooks and brochures that you can pick up at the hostel for the same.
Other positive aspects include the cleanliness of the hostel and the security. Since the hostel is located in a private road, it has a 24 hour security guard, making it completely safe. Not far away from the hostel, you can also find large shopping malls like Botafogo Praia Shopping, bank ATMs, laundry service, bars, cafes and restaurants.
Inspite of all the positives, there are two things to look out for. First and foremost, double check your reservation before arriving at the hostel. Even if you have made an internet booking, it may be advisable to call and confirm your reservation. With multiple staff at the hostel, there are times that internet reservations get missed. Secondly, the hostel is not equipped with multiple showers and hence, you may have to wait a bit for the shower in the morning. Also, the showers do not give hot water all day.
If you dont mind a cold shower, this is the place to stay in Rio. Apart from a local Rio experience, you can definitely expect to meet interesting travelers as this hostel does attract the culture vultures from different parts of the world.
O Sorisso Do Lagarto Hostel – Ouro Preto, Brazil
O Sorisso do Lagarto Hostel is a spacious hostel managed by a really friendly owner, Washington. Located just 10 minutes by walk from the main square Praca Tiradentes, the hostel is very easily accessible. If you arrive in Ouro Preto by bus, it takes just 15 minutes to reach the hostel by a local bus. Avoid taking a cab as they are expensive. If you inform the owner in advance, he will drive and pick you up from the bus station.
From the time you arrive, you will notice that there is something extremely refreshing about this hostel. The hostel’s airy rooms and balconies offer a lovely view of Ouro Preto city. Staying option includes private rooms and dorms. There are separate dorms for men and women and one can choose a private room if you are a mixed group. The hostel can accommodate almost 70 people and hence, if you like a quiet atmosphere, check with the owner whether it is a crowded time or not before checking in. There are many showers and toilets in the ground floor of the hostel, extremely clean and well maintained. The showers give hot water all day. The facilities are sufficient to cater to a large group.
The breakfast is fresh and homemade by the caretakers at the hostel. Cakes, bread, the famous Minas Gerais cheese and fruits make up the sumptuous breakfast. Definitely try the inhouse coffee, brewed by Fernanda, the caretaker.
The common room has a TV with a DVD player and a well stocked fridge. There are 2 computers where you can use the internet for 3 Reals per hour. If you are carrying your laptop, Wi-Fi is free at this hostel. The owner Washington, who is fluent in English, Spanish and Portuguese is extremely resourceful when it comes to tips about Ouro Preto as well as other cities in the Minas Gerais region.
You will feel so much at home in O Sorrisso do Lagarto that you may decide to laze around in the hostel all day. But, do not miss the tourist attractions and some of the best restaurants serving authentic Minas cuisine as they are a stones throw away from the hostel.
O DE CASA – SAO PAULO
O De Casa Hostel is an old student house converted into a hostel by a group of young students. The hostel feels like a college dorm, with young people hanging out in the common room, kitchen and backyard all the time. The place is actually two houses, connected by a common backyard. There are handmade signs all around the hostel, making it extremely personalised and homely.
O De Casa is located in Pinheiros neighbourhood, which is 15 minutes from Avenida Pualista and 30 minutes from the Centro by bus. It takes 1 hour to get to this hostel from the Rodoviaria (Bus Station) and 1.5 hours from the International Airport. One needs to take a metro to Clinicas metro, which is a 15 minute walk from the hostel. There are no signs outside the hostel and hence, double check the address when you land up.
There are private rooms and 6 bed dorms at O De Casa. Basic stuff but clean. The breakfast is nice with fruits, coffee / tea, bread and cheese. The shower is shared and you may have to battle for hot water.
Mariana, Melissa and Ana take turns handling the reception. They were ex students who decided to run a hostel… They are nice people to talk to and get a perspective about Sao Paulo.
The only issue with this hostel is that the reception is open from 8 am to 10 pm. If you show up earlier or later, you are pretty much locked out.
AYRES PORTENOS – BUENOS AIRES
If you would like your hostel to be a thematic representation of the city you are visiting, Ayres Portenos Hostel is the best choice for Buenos Aires. The decor vibrates with the colours of Buenos Aires, making you experience the city right from the minute you check in.
Located in the lively neighbourhood of San Telmo, Ayres Portenos hostel is walking distance from the historical centre of Buenos Aires. Within 20 minutes, one can reach Casa Rosada, Av. De Mayo, 9 de Julio Avenue, Av. Florida and Puerto Madero. There are bus stops nearby that can take you to other interesting areas of Buenos Aires like Palermo, Recoleta and La Boca. Thanks to the Sunday street market and Tango on the streets of San Telmo, the location is most convenient for backpackers who really want a taste of Buenos Aires.
The hostel has 3 floors and is equipped with huge dorms as well as private rooms. You can identify the dorm by the thematic painting on the doors. Each dorm / private room has security lockers inside or outside, where you can store your valuables. Every floor has a set of clean bathrooms and showers, separate for men and women. There are housekeepers who clean the rooms and bathrooms on a daily basis and hence, hygiene is never an issue here.
The hostel is blessed with plenty of common rooms in every floor. Starting with the large breakfast room, which turns into a bar at night on the first floor, the hostel has a lively atmosphere in the common rooms. The other floors have common rooms with bean bags and comfortable couches and they are also equipped with books and a television set.
There is free internet in the first floor. There are only 2 computers, however, travelers in this hostel are very considerate and share the computers with other travelers. There is also a phone facility to make local and international calls at cheap rates. The entire hostel is a Wi-fi zone, incase you are carrying your own laptop on the trip.
Other facilities in this hostel include laundry and kitchen facility. One can also book tours for Tango shows and Football matches through the reception. The staff at the hostel are extremely helpful when it comes to giving tourist information. Free maps and brochures are readily available at the hostel. The 24 hour reception is a real boon, considering the late nights that one may have in Buenos Aires.
Ayres Portenos hostel is a lovely place for comfort and facilities. However, if you are looking at making friends and bonding with a few people, this may not be the place. The size and sheer crowd makes it slightly more impersonal, though it is a perfect hostel if you are looking for just a place to crash with all the facilities that a backpacker normally misses.
PIRWA BACKPACKER – CUSCO PERU
Pirwa Backpacker Familiar is one of the 4 Pirwa Family hostels in Cusco. Colourful and quaint, with friendly staff, this hostel is a perfect choice for backpackers in Peru.
Located in San Blas, the arty neighbourhood of Cusco, it is just a 5 minute cab ride from the Main Square. With taxi rides costing just 3 Soles for any distance within Cusco, the location is perfect. Tucked away in a street, which has many cafes and stores, Pirwa Backpacker is a well known hostel in the neighbourhood.
There are dorms as well as private rooms in Pirwa Backpacker Familiar. The private rooms have attached bathrooms and are cozy and romantic. The common bathrooms are in very clean condition, as the hostel has caretakers who clean the place on a regular basis. Blankets, sheets and clean towels are provided by the hostel.
The hostel is equipped with a cozy common room, which has a TV, DVD player, a computer and a mini library. With sun umbrellas and tables and chairs outside, the open space in the hostel is a lovely area to lounge around. Breakfast is served in the kitchen, which can also be used to cook by travelers. The internet is free when you use the computer in the common room. There is Wi-Fi on request, however the connection may be very slow.
The staff at Pirwa Backpacker are very helpful in booking tours around Cusco, Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu. They also provide all the tourist information you require in Cusco with maps and brochures. One does not have to plan for any detail if you are staying in Pirwa Backpacker, as they take care of every tour for you. They also have a luggage storage facility if you are going to Machu Picchu for a 2 day trip.
Clean and cozy atmposphere, friendly staff coupled with excellent location makes Pirwa a wonderful backpacker choice. One can always get cheaper options in Cusco, but the few extra dollars you spend here will be well worth it.
INKAS REST – PUNO PERU
Inka’s Rest is the perfect destination for backpackers who are visiting Puno, the gateway town to Lake Titicaca in Peru. Managed by Gilda and Alfredo, a lovely couple, the hostel is a luxurious place to stay in this small town.
Located just 5 minutes walking distance from the main plaza and the tourist streets, Inka’s Rest is very centrally located. A 5 minute taxi ride can get you to the bus terminal as well as the boat terminal. When you reach Puno by bus, the taxi drivers may try to tell you that Inka’s Rest is not a good option for staying and direct you to other hotels. However, do not listen to them. Mention that your reservation is already made and you have t
o go to Inka’s Rest.
Inka’s Rest has options of 4 Bed Dorms, Single private rooms and Double private rooms. The rooms are beautifully lit with paintings on the walls, making it extremely homely.
Every set of rooms has a common room, equipped with comfortable couches, a television, DVD player and free coffee / tea all day. Every traveler is given a set of keys to the private room, the common room and the main door, making the pace extremely high on security.
The common bathrooms / showers are found in every floor and give hot water all day. They are in extremely clean condition thanks to the regular housekeeping by the management of Inka’s Rest.
Breakfast is served in the huge common room in the ground floor from 6 AM onwards. Bread, fruits, lovely Peruvian coffee or Coca tea help you jumpstart your day. The common room is also equipped with one computer, where internet is free. There is Wi-fi for those who are carrying their own laptop and Wi-fi is available from 6 AM to 10 PM. The kitchen is free to use in the second floor, incase you want to cook.
Other facilities include book exchange, laundry facility and tourist information facility. One can book the tours for Lake Titcaca from the reception of Inka’s Rest. Gilda and Alfredo help you select the best option according to your needs. They also help you book bus tickets to other destinations in Peru or Bolivia.
One big advantage of this hostel is the owners, who speak fluent English and have contacts ranging from the Immigration office to the Tourist health clinic. You do not have to worry if you are stuck with Altitude sickness cause the owners will take care of you in a warm manner.
Though Inka’s Rest is every backpackers choice in Puno and it always has many travelers, the homely atmosphere created by Gilda and Alfredo make this hostel a warm and friendly place to make a pit stop. Even with many backpackers, the place has a personal touch and hence, you will land up making many friends in this hostel.
AREQUIPA BACKPACKER HOSTEL – AREQUIPA PERU
Arequipay Backpackers Hostel, run by this lovely lady Evelyn is an old Colonial home converted into a hostel. A bright red house with an open courtyard provides for a homely atmosphere.
Just 10 minutes walking distance from the Main Plaza, Arequipay Backpackers Hostel is located in a very cozy and safe neighbourhood of Arequipa. Reaching the airport or bus station is possible by taxi from the hostel for a cost of 3 – 5 Peruvian Soles.
The hostel provides an option of private rooms or dorms. The private room are located in the first floor. With very basic furnishing of beds and side tables, the rooms are comfortable for backpackers. Do not expect luxury. The dorms are also very basic. There are common bathrooms in the ground floor and first floor of the hostel and they are in a very hygenic condition.
This hostel is blessed with lovely common spaces starting from the reception which also doubles up as a gaming parlour with a Foosball table and some board games. You can always sink into a comfortable couch with a book from the library. The other common room has a TV and a DVD player. There are 2 computers with free internet in the common room as well. If you are looking for some sunshine and a beauttiful view, head to the terrace and lie around in the hammock or the deck chairs. Sunbathing with the view of the El Misti volcano is always an option here.
Backpackers can also use the kitchen and the common dining room. Very basic breakfast is served in the same room, normally with a selection of bread, juice and coffee.
Tourist information is available in plenty with printouts of things to do in Arequipa and around. The owner has taken a lot of effort to put up information about every destination nearby. Tours can also be arranged to Colca Canyon and El Misti Volcano from this hostel.
When you need a break from your backpacker lifestyle and you are looking for a homely place to stay for a while, this is your best choice. Arequipay Backpacker Hostel is a good choice for a quaint accommodation in a quaint city.
CAMPING MIHINOA – EASTER ISLAND, CHILE
Camping Mihinoa is the only official camping in Easter Island. With a view of the sea during the day and the stars during the night, the camp adds to the magical and mystical feeling of the island.
10 minutes by walk from the main street in Hanga Roa, the camp is located right next to the sea. Hanga Roa is the main town area of Easter Island, where one can find restaurants, cafes, supermarkets, pubs, tour guides and souvenir stores. A 10 minute drive can also get you to the airport. The camp is also located extremely close to the mini harbour area, where you can choose to go Scuba diving.
From the camp, to reach the archeological sites of Rapa Nui, one can rent a bike, scooter or a jeep. For the slightly more adventurous, there are options to rent quard bikes or dirt bikes. Armed with a map of the island and your transportation, you can get from the camp to anyplace in the island with ease.
Camping Mihinoa provides different types of accommodation – Tent only for those with sleeping bags, Tent with sleeping bag and mattress, Private rooms and Dorm rooms. The bathrooms however are in a common area, separate for men and women. They are in a hygenic condition and have hot water in the morning and evening for a couple of hours.
With a common kitchen and dining area, the camp is a place where most backpackers prefer to cook. With Easter Island not being a very affordable island for backpackers to eat out all the time, most backpackers choose to walk to the nearby supermarket and stock up groceries. The camp provides you with plates, cups and bowls and other utensils for cooking. There is also a common fridge and shelves, where you can store your groceries.
To laze around, the camp has a comfortable hammock. You can also lie around in the grass in the cool breeze.
The camp does not provide any breakfast or food. The camp also charges extra for charging batteries, using Wi-Fi and renting transportation. They however offer a free airport pickup and drop facility.
Marta and Roger, the owners of Camping Mihinoa are happy locals, who will give you enough information to enjoy your days in the island. Welcoming you with garlands in the airport and bidding Farewell with a Rapanui hug, Camping Mihinoa is the closest you will experience to home in Easter Island.