Hostel truths

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A hostel in Bogotá by Abby Stanglin
A hostel in Bogotá by Abby Stanglin

There is no such thing as a free lunch, so it is said. However, in a number of Bogotá’s ubiquitous hostels, you can get a ‘free’ breakfast. Of course we’re not that naive to actually believe this. It’s included in the price, no more, no less. Still though, it’s a little extra not to be scoffed at – or to be scoffed as the case may be.

And with so many hostels vying for your custom – in La Candelaria alone every second establishment appears to be offering accommodation – little things such as a token breakfast can make all the difference. Not that many of the ‘desayunos’ on offer will set you up for the day, but it’s the thought that counts, right?

So what else sets the various hostels apart? Why should you pick one over another? Well, the answers to those are case, and indeed time, dependent.

We all have different needs and wants. What one person might regard as an ideal spot is another one’s nightmare. However there are certain basic requirements that practically all of us look for, regardless of the price you pay.

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For a lot of people, security, in terms of the building and for your personal belongings, is crucial. Secure and decent-sized personal lockers are a must together with 24/7 reception. While some people like to get a personal set of keys to enter and exit their temporary residence as they wish, in the interests of all guests, a buzzer system is more secure, ensuring staff must always monitor those who come in. From my experience, the majority of La Candelaria’s hostels score high in this regard – you really shouldn’t expect anything less.

Having sufficient bathrooms for a booked-out hostel certainly helps keep everyone happy. If you are in a private room with a toilet and shower, then this isn’t a problem. However if you’re ‘dorming’ it, this can be an issue if the facilities are lacking. Three bathrooms between a potential twenty or more guests is pushing it. It helps if the actual toilet is separate from the shower, as you’ll find in some, but not all, of the more established places. Plus, we are speaking about Bogotá and not the Caribbean, so hot water when you do shower is a more than reasonable expectation.

Free internet access is a pleasant extra. The majority of hostels have WiFi which is great if you have your own laptop or smart phone. However, having free-to-use in-house computers is a nice touch that, surprisingly, not all of the better known places provide. If you’re trying to keep costs down, not having to pay for internet use is a help.

When it comes to the ‘party hostels’, La Candelaria is best described as tame on this front, especially compared to what’s on offer in some of Colombia’s and indeed, South America’s, other cities. This is not really a negative. Many of the popular spots organise nights out on a very regular basis in the city’s happening haunts. So why party in a hostel when you can get out and about and mix it with the locals? Another benefit of this is that if you’re not in the mood to boogie, you can get your night’s sleep in relative comfort – save for a few of the drunken revelers stumbling back into your dorm room. If you can’t beat them, join them, eh?

If your budget is tight, there is plenty of value to be found in Bogotá’s historic centre. Basic dorm rooms can be got from as little as $17,000 pesos per night up to $25,000. That’s an $8,000 swing for more-or-less the same facility. So if you’re planning on spending more than a few days in the city, a healthy saving can be made if you shop around. It’s well worth checking out if your hostel can offer you a discount for a longer stay, something that many – but not all – are willing to consider.

Now with so much choice of establishments available offering in essence the same product, does it really matter which one you opt for? Well it’s always nice to feel welcome and wanted, especially when you happen to be paying for a service. Some hostel owners appear to think that because it’s budget accommodation, a service-with-a-smile is not required – a ‘take the money and run’ kind of attitude. This we don’t like.

Perhaps though with some, a smile is an additional extra. With others it might be – alongside the breakfast – included in the price. Or maybe it’s just free. Do ask before you commit. Questions should cost you nothing.

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