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Backpacker Hostels in South America
In South American hostels you will not only have a bed and bathroom, but you will be meeting the world. You will meet other travellers from your own country, from the rest of the world, and even from other parts of South America; plus travellers from other parts of the same country you are travelling in. Although quality of hostels are standardizing around South America, the prices for a nights stay varies from country to country. By far the cheapest country is Bolivia where a bed in a shared dorm will cost you around u$6/u$7, Peru and Argentina will offer the same bed for u$10/u$15, while a booming economy in Brazil has set prices between u$15 and u$25 for a shared dorm. An included breakfast is also common around South America, but with small differences. All offer breads, spreads, fruit and cereal, but you are more likely to find eggs offered in Peru and Bolivia, Argentina gets sweet with croissants & duce de leche, while Brazil gets fancy with ham & cheese toasted sandwiches and breakfast cake.
The number of hostels in South America has exploded in recent years. Whereas 10 years ago you would have struggled to find 15 hostels in Rio de Janeiro, today the count is somewhere closer to 200 and the majority of them are thriving. The amount of backpackers visiting the continent has obviously impacted on this growth, plus now backpackers are exploring further into previously isolated areas bringing with them hostels. The world-wide trend is that the more adventurous backpackers usually find a place first and then word gets out and it becomes a backpacking destination for a while, before mainstream travel sets-in. Local entrepreneurs quickly set-up at this transition stage and almost as soon as they do, they have travellers staying.
No matter where you are backpacking in South America you are likely to find a hostel. South American locations are varied, and landscapes and climate change not only from country to country but city to city. You will find hostels on beaches, in jungles, ski resorts, around deserts, at trekking hot spots and scattered around metropolitan cities. These hostels now provide many rooming options to suit every backpacking style; from dorms of 15 beds to dorms of 4 beds, from private singles, twins, matrimonial, triples, and even quadruples, and some will even give you a hammock or a couch to sleep on if they are full. All options are available with either en suites in the room or shared bathrooms in communal areas.
Even if you have your own bathroom, this idea of sharing facilities in other areas is what makes a hostel a hostel. If you want to travel cheaply, then get used to sharing kitchens, lounge areas, computers, and most of all your travel stories. These days you don't have to know anything about a destination before you travel there, because more than likely you are going to find out the crucial details from other travellers in the hostel; especially those who have come from the places you are heading to. On top of this, a good hostel will have free information, either displayed on walls, gathered and collated in folders, in pamphlets or brochures or easily extracted from staff who know the area.
Information about the local area is a must in any South American hostel, along with other basics which every hostel should provide, such as a kitchen with fridge, Internet, 24hr staff, included breakfast, socializing areas; plus security and cleaners who keep the place safe and regularly sanitized. Nowadays to complement these basics, hostels are devising ways to set themselves apart from other hostels. You will now find hostels with pool tables, adjoining bars or nightclubs, pools, travel agencies, bike or surfboard rental or they offer them free, book exchanges, and hammocks to name a few. The backpacking culture has changed; long-gone are the days when a hostel in South America was somewhere to sleep and where occassionly you may have had to battle cockroaches from carrying away your belongings; today some hostels even have Jacuzzi's and mini-theatres.
These changes have come about via a number of modern day factors. First of all we now have websites for booking hostels, which rate them and allow greater competition because anyone can advertise their hostels through them. This phenomenon alone is responsible for a new professionalism in the hostel community, because hostels are now pitted against each other in an online rating war. The type of traveller has changed, from pioneering backpackers who would travel with a mud-map etched into the back of a beer coaster, to the modern backpacker who will pinpoint the location of their hostel using Google earth. There is a new breed of what is termed the flashpacker, who travel isolated jungles with their ipod, and regularly connect to hostel Internet with their laptop; it is the way things are done now, and there is even a new type of traveller who are able to make a living as they work via the Internet while backpacking around.
But although a hostel may offer you resort style accommodation with all the trimmings, they can still fall short of being a great hostel if they lack the most important ingredient: a good atmosphere. Of course travelling is about seeing places and experiencing new cultures, but at the same time it is about enjoying yourself, and meeting people from all over the world who have come to the very same destination, at the very same time as yourself, but from another corner of the world. There is a reason why these days travellers who would have once stayed in a hotel are converting to booking hostels, and this reason is because they can socialize rather than returning to a hotel room and locking themselves away from the rest of the world, and modern hostels still allow them the luxury of a private room.
Realistically, opening a nice hostel and filling it with backpackers doesn't always make it a fun environment. The most basic hostel sometimes has a better atmosphere than a big hostel with all the facilities. Some hostels lack something, which make them sterile environments in need of a few things to facilitate an agreeable atmosphere and here are two things which promote this atmosphere:
1) The number 1 important thing for a hostel is its staff. If your staff is dull and grumpy, then it makes for a dull and uncomfortable environment. The best hostels have staff that will get to know the people staying there. They will want to help you, give you free advice without even having been asked. People feel more attached to a hostel where the staff will party with you, and take you out to the best places in town.
2) A hostel can create an environment if they try to get people doing things together. Whether it is by having a BBQ or group dinners, hosting theme nights and parties, or even just by providing areas which force people to mingle, like lounge areas facing each other and activities as simple as a pool table where it facilitates people to meet each other. Plus, of course having a bar and getting alcohol involved can make for memorable nights.
The number of hostels in South America will continue to grow as the world realises how great this continent is for backpacking. All ready we are witnessing hostel franchises in South America emerge, such as El Misti in Brazil, The Point and Loki in Peru and Bolivia, and Che Legarto now in five countries. The Green Toad Bus has recognised how hard it is to choose between hostels and have made a list of our recommended hostels to help you with your choice. We see our bus passes as facilitating your travel around South America and realise your experience with us should be complemented by good hostels!