Hall of Fame Hostels

I seek to stay in hostels everywhere I go, not just to save money and maintain on the cheap, but to meet other travelers in a more social setting than a hotel. The communal habitat promotes more interaction and communication, and the exchange of vital information, pointers and tips can be priceless. I’ve met some terrific folks on the road, and many of us prefer places such as these. Keep in mind, however, people move, places change and sell, get worse or improve, so nothing lasts forever. So this compilation will be dynamic, and always changing, and definitely not static. An example is a hostel I would include on this list, if only it hadn’t gone out of business. RIP 41 Below in Bariloche, may you rise again like a Phoenix. So dig, if you will, and may the hall expand and extend……

The Buddha, Laureles, Medellin, Colombia

I was lucky enough to find and book this place before landing there, and even after I later moved to Medellin and got an apartment nearby, continued to frequent the place for a beer and meeting other wanderers. Spacious interior and stellar garden with a lot of places to relax, and a location that provides easy access to the dining and entertainment stretch of Carrera 70 towards the stadium. Super cool staff with lots of ideas and a collective feel to the big casa.

http://buddha-hostel.hotels-in-medellin.com/es/

La Terraza del Centro, Cordoba, Argentina

There are very few cities that have as vibrant a zone of restaurants and assorted entertainment as bodacious as Cordoba, and so proximity to that Guemes neighborhood is always a factor for me. The Terraza is located in a favorable part of the center, with everything close, and the vibe is friendly as all hell. Once again, it’s the people who make the difference, and the staff here are about as good as it gets, in all categories. The digs are snug and clean. and the rooftop patio and parilla is a congenial spot to watch the sunset and toast your new friends. Everything worth seeing is within walking distance, and one of South America’s best bar scenes is an easy15 minute stroll away. The only real negative is tied to its’ ‘close to everything good’ location, so traffic noise outside makes earplugs almost compulsory. Never the less, I won’t stay anywhere else in Cordoba, one of my favorite cities in Argentina. https://www.booking.com/hotel/ar/hostel-la-terraza-del-centro.es-ar.html

La Humahuacasa, Humahuasca, Argentina

I stayed two nights here exploring the vast quebrada and it is cozy, convenient, everything works, and the hosts, Paola and Juan, are ultra helpful and generous with their time and suggestions. Breakfast is tasty, the wifi solid, and the fully equipped kitchen and outdoor grill are ready to go. The casa feels like it grew out of the ground here, rustico, autentico, and truly relaxing. Two blocks from the plaza, and three from the bus station, it’s a fine base for exploring the supernatural far north of the country.  http://www.humahuacasa.com.ar/

La Casa del Viajero      El Bolson, Argentina

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The main commmunal cabin at El Viajero

Agustin Aporro built the first hostel in El Bolson, a couple of kilometers from the town center but much closer to great hiking trails, such as the stellar Catarata Escondida. His funky compound of private and communal cabins is on a big lot with a trout pond, organic garden, and greenhouse, a little slice of heaven on the other side of the river. He is likewise a wealth of vital info regarding the entire region not to mention El Bolson itself. It’s a cheap taxi or a leisurely walk to town, and it’s my base whenever I get to Patagonia, which isn’t often enough. http://www.lacasadelviajero.com.ar/

Hostel del Gualicho    Puerto Madryn, Argentina

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Big lockers, comf beds, individual reading lights and all the intangibles

Four blocks from the beach, and five from the bus terminal, a prime location isn’t the only thing Gualicho has going for it. Sparkling clean, organized and spacious common areas inside and out, along with an excellent breakfast buffet. But again it’s the people that make the difference, and the staff here is a great example. Always friendly and ready to share the ‘inside’ information, the Gualicho gang puts guest service into the A+ category. Individual reading lights in each bunk bed is indicative of doing the little things that add up big. http://www.elgualicho.com.ar/

Secret Garden, Cotopaxi, Ecuador

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The Secret Garden is one of those places that I found out about through the grapevine and it lived up to the hype 100%. A couple of hours outside of Quito, it’s actually closest to the small town of Machachi, but the imposing legendary volcano is front and center, offering a sensational view. The Garden offers a bunch of different lodging options, from trippy Hobbit Homes, to birdhouses in the trees, to small cabins with wood stoves. The prices include 3 meals a day, free coffee and tea, a wood heated hot tub, free maps and picnic lunches, and a complimentary two hour hike to a beautiful waterfall right out the backdoor. There are lots of tours offered at very reasonable prices, including a hike to the snow line on Cotopaxi at 5000+ meters altitude, which is $ very well spent. The food on offer is healthful, nutritious, and delicious, and the international staff is super cool, always accommodating, and fun loving. The Secret Garden makes for a tremendous stop for travelers looking for the absolute best of Ecuador.  http://secretgardencotopaxi.com/blog3/

Punto Verde Eco Hostel, Montanitas, Ecuador

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One of the locals that hang around the Ponto Verde

This was another surprise that exceeded expectations after arriving on the Ecuador coast during the mayhem of New Years. This hilltop hacienda is the creation of Joos, a dynamo from Holland who traded her houseboat for this property sight unseen, an amazing leap of faith. She built several new additions to the original cabin, and completely created an astonishing oasis just a 15 minute walk into the heart of party central. She really learned by doing, using local materials and indeed constructed an outstanding lodge at the end of a dirt road just a short walk up off the highway. The beach is closer, and the distance from the nocturnal commotion is a blessing in terms of peace and quiet. Solid bunk beds, lockers and hammocks, a couple of sensational sunset patios and a setting that just puts you at ease. With a place this unique, the visitors likewise are uncommonly cool.

Good local breakfast, solid wifi, and Joos and the staff do everything to make you feel at home. I stayed almost a week here, more than I had planned, just because it was so chill. Tell Joos I sent you-  https://www.booking.com/hotel/ec/punto-verde-casona.es.html

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That’s Joos’ place up on the hill to the right

Montanitas

The surfer statue marks the north end of Montanitas, Ecuador

That 6am bus came a few minutes early, before sunrise, and after consulting the driver to make sure I was on the right bus, I loaded up. Of course, it was the wrong bus, which took a very circuitous route, picking up lots of mountain folk, before arriving in Riobamba at 8. Here, the conductor made an exchange with a driver from another company whose bus was indeed bound for Guayaquil, just not direct, or even close, as what I had paid for. So began a lengthy, slow, but very scenic crossing of the Ecuadorian Andes, with vast, deep valleys and beautiful steep landscape. We made about 30 quick stops en route, picking up and dropping off passengers, many of whom were indigenous with emblematic hats and dress. Eventually we dropped down out of the highlands and traversed a couple of hours of lush tropical terrain, the last section being miles of banana plantations, and shortly thereafter we rolled into the massive dusty sprawl of Guayaquil.

The bus station was modern, adjacent to the airport, full of shops and food like a mall, and packed to the gills with people trying to get to Montanitas, my destination too. The lines to buy tickets were so long that it was hard to tell where they started….just a couple of hundred people that way. Once I found the single ticket window selling the route I needed, the waiting began. South Americans are used to waiting, so people obediently stand in line as long as it takes. And it took a while, over an hour and a half, until a bus company employee came up and solicited passengers for the 4:30 bus, still 2 hours away. I jumped at the chance, thinking that the desired 3 pm departure would sell out. So 10 minutes later I was freed from the line and ready to kill some time.

                            Downtown Montanitas

That 4:30 bus was packed and semi cush, blasting a stupid American movie and racing the sun to the coast. Upon arrival in Montanitas, after a few questions I found Hotel Sumpa, where I had a reservation. Of course it was New Years Day and the town was overflowing, so the hotel was sold out. After some interrogation of an employee I got the owner on the phone and he came to meet me in minutes. Nice enough guy, name of Aristede, and he had had a few problems with booking.com., along with others, and later, myself. He offered to put us up in the TV room, free of charge, and since I was saving $75 I didn’t mind. Especially since the place was swarming with assorted surfers and millennials, and was nowhere as nice as it looked on the web page. Ensued a night of sleeping on the sofa, getting up to turn off lights and close doors after knuckleheads obliviously leaving them open and on, and finally passing out into a deep idiot sleep.

The Punto Verde eco hostel from the beach, a fine place to stay on the cheap

Up and out next morning and up the hill to the eco hostel Punto Verde, high on a hill on the way out of town. The owner, Joos, is a Dutch woman who traded her Amsterdam barge boat for this property, sight unseen. And she is a trip, running around doing all sorts of chores and construction, laughing, smoking, and drinking. She has plans to enlarge and improve the place, and she’ s already done a ton, including building one big dwelling from scratch which holds all the bunks, a real nice deck, and her place and kitchen downstairs.

She had a Slovenian volunteer named Greecia, a real good dude who was a surfer and quite a music freak and hound dog to boot. Most of these hostels work on the system of very few paid employees, but always a traveler or two willing to trade some labor for a couple of weeks of lodging and meals. Here, all the bunks had mosquito nets and the floors creaked like crazy, but the sound of the surf 10 foot minutes away was always there. It didn’t take long to figure that this was the place we had been waiting to find, close enough to get to town and the playa quickly, and far enough to lose the incessant pounding of the disco scene. I highly recommend this place.

The neighborhood around Punto Verde is seeing lots of development

The next days followed a pattern of beach time early and a walk through town for a licuado breakfast and a look around. Then it was a wander around and a bus ride someplace close. Then a siesta, shower, and session to get into the night mood. One solid day trip was a ride up to Puerto Lopez an hour north, along with a visit to pretty Playa Frailes, a reserve that was the best beach of Ecuador for me. The terrain all along this coast is reminiscent of Baja California, dry with heaps of cactus and a few iguanas.

Frailes Beach has a small coral reef off that point in the distance

After the initial inundation, the town cleared out but then seemed to get busier again every day. lots of wandering, sunburned vagabonds, along with hordes of tatted out gypsies selling trinkets and their typical shit. Some nights were totally dead with nothing going on, but the scene was a late one, not happening until near midnight. At that hour I was usually back on the hill, unconscious on the top bunk. Not a lot to offer but the beach, killer ceviche and a chill vibe, but if that’s what you’re into, you could a lot worse than Montanitas.

    My daily meal in Montanitas, ceviche and a banana smoothie