There's a lot to be said for luxury bath products, high thread counts, and, ahem, privacy, but today's hostels are in a class all their own. Here's a short list of hostels that might make you forget why you love big suites.
Yesterday's hostels: multi-legged pests, apathetic hosts, questionable hygiene.
Today's hostels: free Wi-Fi, delicious local breakfast spreads, knowledgeable staff offering concierge-style services.
The ante has been upped: Hostels these days are so much more than budget accommodations for grungy drifters. From boutique guesthouses to sprawling campuses (
read more about up-and-coming hostel chains here), modern hosteliers are setting new standards in design, cleanliness, and amenities. To say nothing for culture: Hostels are the manifestation of the free-spirited travel ethos, fostering connections between like-minded travelers, who are always happy to share great travel stories and recommendations, and who may or may not have a backpack in tow. No longer just "youth" hostels, I've met travelers of all ages and families of all sizes, who were drawn as I was by unbeatable locations, a community feel, hyperlocal experiences, and, yes, even private rooms.
These seven may forever change your image of hostels.
The view from the shower at Zephyr Lodge. Photo by Cath Shelton.
Where: Lanquin, Guatemala
What's to Love: Travelers come to Lanquin to see the tiered limestone pools and caves of Semuc Champey, a remote destination with surprisingly few lodging options. Enter Zephyr, the ultimate middle-of the-jungle playground. Gigantic windows in every dorm and room open into the canopy overlooking the jungle below, as do the paneless windows in the shower stalls. The view is nothing short of breathtaking. Book a day trip to Semuc Champey, where you'll swim in the pools and take an adrenaline-pumping tour of an underground cave. The Cost: Dorm beds from $13; private rooms from $45.
The riad's interior courtyard at Equity Point Marrakech. Photo courtesy of Equity Point Marrakech.
Equity Point Marrakech
Where: Marrakech, Morocco
What's to Love: All the Andalusian charm of a classic riad, without the luxury hotel price tag: Welcome to your oasis in the middle of the historic center of Marrakech. You swim in the courtyard pool and dine on the terrace to the sound of live Moroccan music. You'll journey into the desert, take a Moroccan cooking class, and let local experts guide you through the markets. Not headed to Morocco anytime soon? Equity Point, one of many emerging companies with multiple properties, has hostels in Barcelona, Lisbon, London, Prague, and Venice (coming soon). The Cost: Dorm beds from $11; private rooms from $58.
Relax in Jungle's open-air common lounge. Photo courtesy of thehostelcrowd.
Where: Vagator, Goa, India
What's to Love: Beach meets jungle at the sanctuary in North Goa, the trance capital of the world. Let me tell you about my days here. I greeted each morning with rooftop yoga, then devoured to-die-for complimentary homemade samosas for breakfast. I rented a scooter from the hostel and rode to the outdoor cafe Artjuna to read and make new pals, then got a little lost on my way to the beach for afternoon sun. Parties rage nightly on the beach during peak season, but I always found folks to share a low-key evening back at the hostel. The Cost: Dorm beds from $7; private rooms from $22.
Photo courtesy of Fabrika Hostel.
Fabrika Hostel Where: Tbilisi, Georgia What’s to love: The up-and-coming travel destination has a design hostel in the old city that caters to tapped-in travelers and locals alike. The overhauled alternative lodge, formerly a Soviet sewing factory, is more than just a place to rest your head. It’s a cultural center, music venue, art gallery, watering hole, co-working space, and general place to meet like-minded people.
The Cost: Dorm beds from $8; private rooms from $40.
The hostel that feels like home. Photo courtesy of The B.I.G.
Where: Cape Town, South Africa
What's to Love: So stylishly decorated it's easy to forget where you are. Like most highly-rated hostels, the owner drew on her extensive backpacking experience when creating hers, thinking of everything from a well-stocked kitchen to personal outlets next to each dorm bed. Guests eat like locals by grilling on the braai (South African BBQ) and escape the summer heat in the swimming pool. The hostel is within walking distance of the city center, as well as Camps Bay and Clifton Beach, placing heaps of activities and destinations a ten-minute walk or a twenty-minute bike ride away. The Cost: Dorm beds from $26; private rooms from $87.
It's all pinks, yellows, and blues at Caveland in Santorini. Photo courtesy of Caveland.
Where: Santorini, Greece
What's to Love: A complex of caves and terraces as authentic as it gets. True to the site's original architecture and design, the grottos of the the 18th-century winery-turned-hostel are carved into 3600-year-old volcanic pumice. Lemon, pomegranate, orange, pear, vanilla, and pistachio trees grow around every corner, lending a lushness to the stone and woodwork painted in hues of aqua, salmon, and yellow. Relax by one of the island's largest swimming pools as you plan your local excursions. The Cost: Dorm beds from $16; private rooms from $25.
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