South America is a continent for the adventure traveler. For people who never stay in hostels, it seems to require a certain adventurous spirit to travel in this style.
Hostels in Europe typically cater to the younger, “gap-year” crowd who want to party & tick countries off of their list as fast as possible. Hostels in South America cater to the adventurers & outdoor enthusiasts.
Hostels, particularly South American hostels, are about community. They are places for sharing, meeting people, & forming friendships.
Here are 5 things that I was surprised to learn about hostels in South America:
#1 Hostels in South America are typically small & family owned with a tight-knit, community vibe.
In European cities, hostels are usually large, crowded, & focused on partying. Many are part of a larger chain of hostels. They offer activities like pub runs & happy hours.
In South American hostels, it’s easy to feel like a part of the local culture & a community.
For example, a few weeks ago in Antofagasta, Chile, I showed up at Hostel EiLe with a plan to stay 2 nights. I ended up staying there for 6 nights because the place was so small & cozy & the people so friendly.
On my last night in Antofagasta, the owner of the hostel, a 36-year-old Chilean woman, hosted her own birthday party. The 4 guests staying at the hostel were all invited, along with her friends & family.
I was amazed by the elaborate party she threw for herself, in true Chilean fashion. She prepare a huge spread of food & even provided all of the alcohol. My new friend, Phil, & I had fun making sushi for the party together.
Another hostel owner I met in Bariloche, Argentina hosted an asado — a typical Argentinian BBQ — every weekend. All of the guests gathered around the grill on Saturday night & fought over sausages & steaks. Meanwhile, the beer & wine were being passed around. It was a delicious experience!
Of course I could never experience these cultural activities in the same ways if I were staying in hotels.
#2 Hostels in South America are for all people, of all ages, & in all walks of life.
Earlier this week at a hostel in Arequipa, Peru, I met a couple in their mid-60s from Australia. We became friends & they invited me to stay with them when I travel to Australia.
In hostels, I have met college kids who are studying abroad in South America, travelers in their mid 20s to 40s who are taking sabbaticals from “the real world,” middle aged adventurers, & retirees. People from all stages of life can enjoy the hostel life.
#3 How long I decide to stay in a hostel depends on the vibe & how easily I click with the other people staying there.
I use two websites to book my initial stay in a hostel:
I typically only book one night in advance so I have a place to land when I arrive in a new place. From there, I decide if the place “feels right.” Whether I stay for 2 days or 6 days in a town may largely depend on the people I meet & the atmosphere of the place where I’m staying.
#4 In Chile & Argentina, hostels are more expensive than I imagined.
As expected, a bed in a dorm room in Peru is cheap! A normal price range is about $5-$10 per night & to pay $15 would be expensive.
Venturing south into Chile & Argentina, I found the hostels to be much more expensive. I paid, on average $20-25 per night. I also found that you get what you pay for. In Northern Chile, I was excited to find a bed in a dorm for $12/night so I booked a night there. When I arrived, the place was dirty, noisy, & inhospitable. After one night, I packed up & moved down the street to a much cozier place that cost $22 per night. It was worth it!
#5 The hosteling community in South America is small.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met a person in a hostel in one town, only to unexpectedly reunite with them at a hostel in a city on the other side of the continent.
I even witnessed 2 people meeting for a second time in hostels after meeting a few years earlier in Southeast Asia.
Many travelers I have met have expressed how often feel– once you stay in hostels, it’s difficult to travel any other way.
The people I have met in my hostel adventures have become some of my favorite, like-minded adventuring friends.
For the solo traveler, it is the easiest way to meet people. You might trade hot showers & personal space for the opportunity to meet people to have adventures with & to experience the local culture.
& if you are having difficulty making human friends at a hostel, there are often hostel pets to befriend. 😉