MOST travelers visiting Costa Rica use San José as a stopover point before heading out to explore the country or challenge the surf. Although a few tried-and true hostels have existed for years, budget conscious backpackers have been limited to slim pickings when it comes to accommodations.
An abundance of cheap hotels offer an extremely basic room with four walls, a bed and little else. Many are clean, but often located in the less savory part of town.
Backpackers’ hostels can be a home away from home, as those who’ve trekked the world well know. Australia is certainly aware of how to “do it right mate.” Most guests are young, but if you don’t mind shared rooms, dorms with bunk beds, plus communal facilities – they are the best bet money can buy – and intrepid travelers of any age are welcome.
THREE recently visited hostels certainly met expectations. If you are seeking cheap accommodations in a clean, friendly environment, then check them out.
Two are located in San José, on residential streets near the west end of Paseo Colón, and close to the SabanaPark; ideal for those who enjoy running. The other is in the western suburb of San Rafael de Escazú.
None have a curfew and all offer free Internet access, coffee, tea, cable television, hot showers, laundry services, kitchen facilities, luggage storage, tour information and book exchanges. They are ideally situated only a few minutes walk from bus services, large supermarkets, small sodas (cheap family run restaurants) or fast-food chains.
GAUDY’S BACKPACKERS is a three-year-old family run affair and the oldest kid on the block. Vivacious Colombian owner Beatriz Hernández takes great pride in her delightful residential house with a courtyard full of potted plants, a couple of hammocks and attractive patio furniture.
The other large patio is being converted into a barbecue area for the use of guests. The nicely appointed double rooms that open onto it have private baths. At $20 a night they are a pleasant alternative to the dorms with bunks ($7 per person) that sleep six to eight people.
The spacious high-ceiling lounge overlooking the courtyard is a popular gathering place, furnished with comfortable sofas and dining room table.
“We have a great time. People sit around, exchange travel information, play games or maybe their guitar,” Hernández said.
A large collage of photos on the wall is her memento of many guests – from all over the world – who have visited Gaudy’s.
“People of all ages stay here, including families with young children. One of our favorite guests was a wonderful, adventurous 75-year-old traveler,” she said with a smile.
Only a short walk from downtown and within easy access to the airport, Gaudy’s is located at Av. 5, Ca. 36-38.
For more information, call 258-2937. For reservations, call 248-0086 or e-mail [email protected] or visit the website at www.backpacker.co.cr
THE GALILEO HOSTEL is in the same area of another old family residence that welcomes backpackers. Colombian owner María García and her helpful English-speaking son Juan Pablo Cruz run this basic, friendly establishment. At 23, he’s the same age as the average guest, yet looks after their needs and is full of information about what to do and where to go day or night.
Galileo offers a variety of accommodations. Dorms with six to 10 bunks are only $6 per person and four tiny private rooms that sleep two to four people range from $18 to $30. All the rooms share four spacious bathrooms.
“We don’t advertise, as most of our guests hear of us by word of mouth from other backpackers; what we offer, our prices and location suit their needs,” Cruz said.
You’ll find the hostel on the corner of Av. 2, Ca. 40., just south of Paseo Colón. Contact it at 221-8831 or e-mail [email protected] or visit online at www.galileohostel.com
THE FRIENDLY HOSTEL opened its doors three months ago, but until then cosmopolitan Escazú, teeming with hotels and B&B’s, had little to offer the budget traveler.
Friendly Hostel lives up to its name and takes a lot of beating for the price. It’s housed on the second floor of a spacious, light and airy modern building. Rooms with six or eight bunks all have individual lockers and a private bathroom. Male, female and unisex dorms, plus a private double room with bath is available.
The overall price, $15 per person, includes a continental breakfast served in the charming dining room. Individual tables are set with a vase of flowers, brilliant blue tablecloths and white china.
All the same services as the other hostels are offered, plus parking and a 24-hour security guard. Friendly Costa Rican Arturo Echeverre speaks English and is always on hand to assist with tour information or to store a surfboard.
ESCAZÚ’S many restaurants and fastfood outlets are close at hand and an excellent bus service will get you downtown in 15 minutes.
For those who want to party, the nearby “disco strip” and late-night bars jump with activity ‘til the early hours.
Comfortable, affordable places to stay in a trendy upscale area are often hard to find, but Friendly Hostel certainly fits the bill.
It’s located in San Rafael de Escazú, 50 mts. west of Super Saretto. Call the hostel at 228-5280 or e-mail [email protected] or visit www.friendlyhostelcr.com