Apr 28

What Makes a Great Hostel? Our Top 5…

Casa Elemento Minca Colombia


Following on from yesterday’s post about Casa Elemento hostel in Minca, which I declared has the best hostel view in Colombia, I got to thinking about what it is that makes a really great hostel…sure, there’s things like value for money, good service and an easy booking procedure, but these are standard requirements in most service industries. I’m talking about those extra things that turn a good hostel into one that you recommended far and wide, the kind of hostel that becomes an attraction to see in a town, not just a place to get some sleep. So here are my personal top 5 requirements for a truly great hostel…


La Casa de Francois
The dorm room at La Case de Francois, San Agustin


1. An amazing communal area…

This might seem like an obvious first choice, but you’d be surprised how many hostels seem to think this just means a couch or two, and perhaps a dining table. These things are important, but I’m talking about a truly memorable area where visitors can make the most of the social benefits that come from choosing to stay in hostels. Good examples include Parklife Hostel in Popayan, with it’s large open communal area, filled with beanbags and illuminated by amble light from overhead windows. Or places like Santa Marta’s Dreamer Hostel with it’s pool/bar/games area. Hostels are meant to be sociable and an excellent communal area greases the wheels of conversation and helps make making new friends easy.


Parklife Hostel Popayan
Parklife’s excellent common area

2. Pets!

Not to get all “Instagram-cats-are-super-cute” here, but having animals in a hostel can really improve people’s perceptions of the place. Loads of studies have shown that people relax more around animals and one of the keys to a great hostel experience is relaxation, right?! So a few lazy and friendly dogs and cats around the place is a great bonus. Think La Pinta in Bogota with their 2 friendly labradors, Parklife’s insanely fat cat Sushi, or the menagerie of cats, dogs and horses at La Casa de Francois in San Agustin.


Parklife Hostel Popayan
Sushi the cat from Parklife (looking less fat than I remember) [Photo: Parklife Hostel]

3. Food and Drink

I’m not asking for a nightclub/5* Restaurant here, just the option to have a few beers and perhaps a sandwich or breakfast. This doesn’t apply to all hostel – location means a great deal, so a place surrounded by good food places doesn’t need this as much; however, for many people it makes a huge difference to be able to grab a simple bite to eat in the evening, especially after a tiring day-trip for instance. The bar speaks for itself: it also can help people to relax and socialize more freely…


Dreamer Hostel Santa Marta
Enjoying a game of pool by the bar at the Dreamer [Photo: Brigid Fox]

4. Activities

OK, so this isn’t a holiday camp, we don’t need group bingo and kid’s clubs; but it’s a nice touch to offer guests communal activities at least a few nights a week to help to add more value to their stay. El Viajero in Cali offers free salsa classes and dance nights, The Dreamer has a full programme of pool tournaments, quizzes and football games, La Pinta has a good weekly BBQ…things like this just make hostel evenings a bit more of an event, and can be a blessing for solo travelers.

5. Hammocks!

It’s just that simple prospective-hostel-owners: string up hammocks every which-way, and I’m yours! There is nothing more pleasant after a long day of doing touristy stuff than relaxing with a book/beer in a well-strung hammock. Please take not – 1 hammock to support 30 backpackers is not sufficient! A ratio of 3:1 of people to hammocks is desirable at least! Or take note from Casa Elemento and build one really gigantic one…


Casa Elemento Minca Colombia
The giant hammock…need I say more!



4 thoughts on “What Makes a Great Hostel? Our Top 5…

  1. girlshostelinindore on

    This is an incredible blog post. I believe living is a hostel is a great fun and a lot of enjoyment.

  2. Miguel on

    Thanks for this list, I was just writing about this myself when I found your site and I have to agree with all of your points. I like the ‘pets’ point, didn’t add it to my list but I have felt more relaxed with a cat or two around. It also allows you to break the ice and be more social.

  3. Lord Future on

    Ambience is one thing that you felt in love, second is the money. There’s some expensives places (although beautiful) can be a bit disgusting. Colombia has a lot of beautiful places to know, thanks for showing as a simple way.


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