Sociable, affordable and full of character… Boozey Backpacker Matt Freemantle gives the lowdown on his choice of South America’s best hostels
El Bolson, Argentina
Located in the hikers’ paradise of El Bolson, Patagonia, La Casona De Odile has an instantly unfair advantage over it’s rivals; not only is it straddled on either side by two towering mountain ranges, but it’s also surrounded at all angles by vst grounds, full of lush green grass and flowing freshwater rivers.
Hand-built by German owner Marcel and a group of his travelling friends over a number of years, this place can feel more like a resort than a hostel at times. It’s equipped with its own micro-brewery, beach and log fire, where you can (and will) spend many an evening sipping Malbec and getting to know fellow travellers of all ages until the early hours.
It’s easy to spend as much time here as you would in the surrounding Patagonian countryside, with an activity menu that includes daily hikes, riverside yoga, or short saunters down to the local river.
Should you decide to go exploring the countryside and mountains nearby, knowledgeable hostel staff are on-hand to give you detailed advice on exactly where to go.
La Casona de Odile is an extremely difficult place to leave, so make sure you give yourself a few extra days leeway, just in case.
It’s difficult to find words that truly do this place justice. Arriving in Minca, you’ll jump on the back of a Moto Taxi which takes you far civilisation, up into the mountains. Once you finally arrive, you’re greeted by incredible views, looking out into the Sierra Nevada valley, from possibly the worlds largest hammock.
Built by an energetic team from all corners of the world, the surrounding area is like a mountainous adventure playground for adults, equipped with all sorts of mini trails and activities.
The volunteers at the hostel are always up for taking you on a hike to a nearby waterfall or lookout point too, which is a fantastic way to explore the Sierra Nevada mountain landscapes. Big group meals in the evening and campfires, added to the fact that there’s no Wi-Fi, make for a very refreshing communal atmosphere about the place. It’s a perfect respite from the heat and occasional madness that the nearby Caribbean coast provides in abundance.
The small Chilean town of Pucon is known as one of Chile’s adventure capitals. When a group of friends and I were visiting around Christmas time, we could only find space for us all at one relatively new hostel: French Andes. As it turns out, fate had brought us to one of the best hostels in town.
A five-minute stroll outside of the town, you find yourself walking down an inconspicuous side road towards a quaint house with a French boules set-up in the front terrace area, just the first of many quirks that this fantastic home away from home has in store.
French owner Vincent - a proper adventure sports & outdoors enthusiast - and his staff are ever helpful, and handily also run one of the best tour companies in town, so it’s almost impossible to find yourself at a loss for something to do. The hostel’s equipped with a big communal dining space, a small but perfectly formed kitchen, and a ladder at the back garden that leads you to a rooftop view of the elegant Volcan Villarica - a great place to relax after a busy day of climbing, rafting or just exploring the local area.
It’s also worth mentioning the ultra modern pod-style dorm beds, equipped with power points, meaning you have privacy in your own personal space as and when you need a break from the travails of backpacker life.
Rio De Janiero, Brazil
Much to the frustration of local taxi drivers, Santa Tere is set up in the hills of bohemian Santa Teresa, only accessible by tackling a series of steep, winding cobbled roads.
An oasis of peace away from the usual hustle and bustle of Rio, this homely boutique hostel feels more like an exclusive hotel, but at seriously budget prices. The low price and high quality means it attracts a real mix of South American holidaymakers, as well as Western backpackers, which makes for a unique atmosphere.
Managers Maria and Ricardo are two of the best hosts I’ve ever met. I stayed during Carnival, a time where the entire city comes to life with hundreds of street parties (blocos), and there wasn’t a day where we left the hostel without an itinerary of where to go and how to get there.
If you fancy a break from the madness, the generously sized hostel pool is available. Taking up a large swathe of the sun terrace in front of the main building, it provides the perfect place for a spot of sunbathing or swimming. Add to all that a very high standard of cleanliness and a hearty breakfast, and this is a hostel I would happily visit again and again.
Commonly referred to as the 'Ibiza of South America', Florianopolis is located just off the coast of Santa Catarina State. It tends to be a very hard place to leave once you’ve got your feet in the sand. During my time at Tucano House, which is located in the Barra de Lagoa district, I felt like I’d become part of the hostel family, rather than just a paying guest.
It’s a relatively no frills hostel, compared to others on this list, but it’s the staff that make it so hard to leave. Welcomed from the minute you walk through the door to the moment you leave, big group meals cooked by the in-house chef are the order of the evening, followed by an en masse trip to a local bar or club, although this isn’t forced down your throat like many ‘party hostels’ you may encounter on your travels.
There’s also a daily calendar of activities that take place all over the island, making it easy to to explore. Owner Caio and his sister are very helpful and add a personal touch to your stay. So many people I met here were visiting for their second or third time, and it’s easy to see why.
Bogota can be a daunting city for those that haven’t spent much time in South America; even for those that have, it can feel slightly edgy at times. Not so at 12:12, who collectively take away all of that big city anxiety by welcoming you into their stylishly designed home on a quiet suburban street around a 20-minute drive from the city centre.
12:12 tends to attract a more mature crowd, being situated away from the main tourist areas, which is no bad thing if you’re on the hunt for a bit of escapism. You will have to occasionally remind yourself to actually go out and see the city, so serene is the hostel, but when you do the staff will be on hand to load you up with information on where to head.
The dorm beds are some of the most comfortable I’ve experienced on the continent, and the large kitchen is well equipped and very clean. The term ‘home away from home’ rarely fits a place so accurately as it does here.
Punta Del Diablo, Uruguay
Punta Del Diablo is the more rustic, alternative option to it’s more built up Uruguayan sibling, Punta Del Este.
Chilling is very much the order of the day at Tranquillo, an ubër zen backpackers’ retreat, just a short walk from the beach and nearby dunes.
On arrival, you’re greeted by friendly, helpful reception staff, as well as an instantly homely living room style setup in the reception. Dorm rooms are pretty basic; don’t expect too many mod-cons here. It’s a place that has the feel of a rustic laid-back surf lodge in this little known bohemian coastal town. It’s the communal areas that make El Diablo Tranquilo; an upstairs balcony is home to the kitchen/dining area, where seemingly all of the guests congregate over a beer or two in the evening, after which the owner occasionally turns up to transform the reception area into a relatively non-intrusive disco, a considerate one that finishes at an acceptable hour if you want to get some shut-eye.
Your stay is operated on a tab system, and the front desk provides everything, including towels, beers, tours and snacks. Activities on offer include exploring the nearby Santa Teresa National Park on horseback, visiting a turtle preservation centre, or borrowing a surfboard and hitting the waves.
Hammocks adorn the front porch from end to end, providing the perfect place to chill after a trip to the beach or a stroll to the nearby village. If it’s two or three of days of battery recharging you’re after, there are few better places in South America than ‘Tranquilo’.
Matt runs The Boozey Backpacker travel blog. Check out his website for more stories about life on the road. Follow him on Twitter: @boozeybackpack and Instagram: @theboozeybackpacker
Main image: El Diablo Tranquilo, Uruguay (Matt Freemantle). All photos by Matt Freemantle.