One of my favorite spots in Leon Nicaragua, Hostel La Tortuga Booluda
on a 3 month Central American trip with my, then girlfriend, Tracie, Spring 2015.

Is there a difference between a hostel and a hotel? Yep. There’s a difference. Hostels are one thing and Hotels are another. That being said, you still come across some that are both. They usually start out solely as a hostel, then open more locations, but are able to maintain an “upscale” hotel feel at each new location, but keep a hostel vibe. Selina is a good example of this. I’ve hit them in Cartagena, Bogota, I’ll miss them in Quito, but see them in Lima, Peru and La Paz, Bolivia.

I don’t think I have to spend a lot of time telling you what a hotel is. If you’ve never stayed in a hotel… well, write me off line and we can talk. For the rest of you, you already know what you are getting. Not all are the same, of course. Big difference between a Hilton and a Motel 6, but you know you want something private, safe, clean, and affordable.

Isla Verde, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala 
Here’s the thing with Hostels

Hostels are not the backpacker’s paradise with noisy dorm room accommodations; not all of them anyway. They do aim to cater to travelers, though and they are often much less expensive than a hotel. They are often a Mom and Pop enterprise who don’t really get rich off their business, but they can have a comfortable living to say the least.

Here are the different hostels I’ve run into during my travels. I’ve done plenty. When Kristi and I set out during the month she was with me last Jan, I think we did close to 10. In 2015, my girlfriend, Tracie (in all these photos) and I traveled for 3 months. We hit about 20 places throughout 5 countries. I stayed at my first ever hostel in 2012, La Terreza in Antigua, Guatemala. I have been gone almost a year so far I’ve stayed in plenty, to say the least. Here’s what I’ve run into during my research and travels.

Tracie at Chaltunha Hostel, Flores, Guatemala

Party Hostels
This is one of the top things people know about hostels. Party-time. And they do exist everywhere. You’ll likely see a much younger European crowd. I avoid them! Nope, not doing it. They may have “Backpacker” somewhere in their name. There will be loud music. Not for me. I’d be out of place there. I’m old enough that I like my peace and quiet at this point in my life and I’ve had my fill of drinking games. Nonetheless, these tend to be a bit cheaper with a focus on dorms… $6 to $15 a night.

Boutique Hostels
If I see the term “boutique” in the title, I’m usually going to check it out. It depends on the theme of the place or what exactly they mean by boutique. I find these are a bit more pricey, but if you have a model with you, they can be interesting interiors to shoot in. There will be some attempt at interior design with a focus on an art, modern or antique themes, or some feng shui concept that may be be beneficial to your energy/spirit flow or whatever they call it.

Tracie at Chaltunha Hostel, Flores, Guatemala

For those concerned with the environment, Eco Hostels are they way to go. If they are not implementing solar power of some sort, they I don’t think they can call themselves Eco anything. You may see them advertise a low carbon footprint, use organic, locally harvested materials and food, ask you to help with water conservation, etc. These will not usually be a budget place unless they also get you to help in their gardens or to do volunteer work with the locals.

Homestyle Hostels
Simply put, homestyle hostels will be virtually that… a hostel in someone’s home. The owners may build on additional rooms or remodel a large house with several rooms into rental spaces. Chances are, they live on the premise. Prices will can range from down right cheap to the upper limits, probably no more than 5 rooms and some will need to share a bathroom down the hall.

Waking up at Paradise Cabins, Tobacco Caye, Belize

These are those that are going to be a little different than anything you’d come to expect and in some cases they may not call themselves hostels. Case in point… Island bungalows made of driftwood and recyclable materials. The term hostel doesn’t lend itself to the unique island experience nor the inexpensive connotation that a hostel name may garner. Nonetheless, by definition, they are hostels and can usually charge much more. I’ve paid upwards of $100 a night and would gladly do it again.

Yeah…these hostels can usually provide a more complete experience with not only accommodations but a bar/restaurant, more private rooms, BETTER private rooms which usually mean larger with a view, and come closer to the hotel experience. Sometimes its just worth it. I’ve paid maybe $150 a night for the most expensive I’ve had the pleasure to visit.

If you can remember Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book”, okay…or the several films based on his book, then you’ll recall the most perfect analogy of the budget hostel. If you can “look for the BARE NECESSITIES, the simple BARE NECESSITIES and forget about your worries and your strife… that’s why a bear can rest at ease with the simple bare necessities of life”. If you can literally keep that mindset, you’ll be fine and pay $100 for a week’s stay someplace. I’ve done about $13 a night for a private room and private bathroom once in Xela, Guatemala.

Tracie, outdoor shower, Farm Peace and Love, Little Corn Island, Nicaragua 2015

So here are a few things you may have to compromise on.

1. Accommodations can be basic. Likely no TV!

2. It might be a bit noisy at times. Walls may be thin or there’s a party hostel close by. Couples…keep that in mind! Just saying…

3. You may or may not have hot water…depending! In tropical areas you’ll be grateful.

4. You may have to share a bathroom.

5. The wifi may suck.

Hostel Holistica, Antigua, Guatemala 2015

On the PLUS side

1. You’re usually going to have a more personable experience. Yes, HOTELS can be experienced in hospitality with managers and staff being educated and trained. But how often do you get invited to the owner’s kid’s birthday. Or going to dinner at THEIR house and meeting the whole family.

2. You’ll likely meet many more travelers from varies countries just like yourself with whom you can swap stories and experiences.

3. Hostels, in my opinion, tend to be more grateful that you chose them and thus will go out of their way to make sure your stay is comfortable, safe, and enjoyable. This has been my experience in particular where the owners are running the show and the staff is family.

4. You’re going to save a ton of money that can go towards doing tours and experiences which is the reason for your visit anyway.

5. Personally, I think there are overall more stories, good and bad, that get rolled into your journey. Nobody returns home talking about hotel stays. But I can tell some hostel tales about a busted bed in Belize; bringing back an ineffective itch cream from the pharmacy, til Ismael advised me that it was made for vaginal itch in Guatemala; or being awoken at 6am by Dona Lucia for breakfast in the morning even though she knows you came in from drinking all night at 4am in Nicaragua.

Busted bed, Resort in Hickatee Cottages, near Punta Gorda, Belize.
Oh…never drink shower water no matter now nice the accommodations are!

In more cases than not, it’s usually going to be what you make it. I listened to a chick at the front desk in Cartagena complain that there was a blond hair in her shower. She was pissed. Now me, I’m easy. I came across a tarantula in my shared bathroom. Yes, I screamed like my little niece, Courtnee when she sees a tiny spider. I did momentarily jump on the toilet seat. BUT, I took a second to compose myself. Walked up to the front and advised them of the situation. I didn’t ask for my money back or demand to see the owner. I did insist they not kill the thing. We took it outside and released it.

Asleep at Chaltunha, Flores Guatemala after a full day

Just do your research. Read the reviews. Check the pics of the rooms. You’ll be fine. As I mentioned in the last post, I do most of my research and reservations through I usually find everything I need there and have only had maybe 2 or 3 problems with a booking. To date, I’m just over 50 bookings. Stay as long as you want. I’ve been here in Bogota at Hostal La Candelaria for a month now and its costing me right at $500. That’s just over $16 a night. The owners and I sit and talk every day. They help me with my Spanish. I help them with English. I get advice about the city of Bogota and Colombian culture and cuisine.

So what are your questions about hostels?

Labeha Drum Center Cabins, Excellent place, Hopkins, Belize
Another Big Fave, Hotel Anahuac, (its a hostel!) Juayua, El Salvador