When Vincent Garnier wanted to open a backpacker hostel in Costa Rica, he knew that a social core would be important.
After all, at the heart of a backpacker’s journey is meeting new people. So in 2001, Garnier opened Costa Rica Backpackers in downtown San José, becoming one of the first backpacker hostels in the country, he said.
It easily became a social place.
Most of the rooms are dorms, enough to lodge 120 people.Music plays through speakers placed out of sight in the pool area. There are free movies and community kitchens.
Parties under the sun? Check that, too. But a couple of years ago, Garnier began to hear that some people, especially couples, wanted more privacy than what a dorm room provides.
So, last August, Garnier began the remodeling of a large house he purchased across the street from his hostel, with the goal of offering guests large, private rooms. He called his new venture the Costa Rica Guesthouse.
Eight rooms out of a planned 28 have been completed, and each is named after a national park. Nine of these rooms, Garnier said, will keep a little backpacker spirit in them. However, 15 rooms are planned to be, as he put it, “posh.”
Construction is under way.Walls are being stripped, paint chipped away, and outlines of what will become paintings of palm trees are visible, as Garnier moves to a complete opening some time in May of next year.
Prices for rooms at the guesthouse will range from $28 a night for a room with shared bathroom to $40 for the posh ones.
One will have a view of the San José Supreme Court.
“We’ll charge extra for that one,” Garnier joked.
Like its counterpart across the street, the guesthouse features a social area with chairs equipped with bamboo armrests and computers with Internet access. Painted in bright greens and oranges, the area is lively. A restaurant and bar will also be constructed for the guesthouse, along with a terrace.
Helped by mentions in popular travel guides such as the Lonely Planet and featured prominently on Web sites such as www.hostels.com, Costa Rica Backpackers has become a popular destination for those traveling to the country on a budget.
Many stay for just one night, Garnier said, while others linger longer. A lot of people come back to the hostel in between travels.
“They just come here to meet people,” he said.
Garnier, a former DJ and native of Paris, backpacked around the Pacific Rim more than 10 years ago. He funded part of his journey by working in backpacker hostels, and he loved working in that environment, he said. Among many countries, he visited Australia, Peru and Costa Rica.
When he saw that Costa Rica had a need for a backpackers’ hostel, he decided to open one – the first one in the city, he said.
He opted for the city locale because he feared he might get bored at the beach. It’s more convenient, too, given the proximity to everything.
At the original hostel, the “soul” is the pool in the backyard, where bands play or street artists perform for guests during the dry season, Garnier said.
A bed in one of the 17 dorm rooms goes for $10 a night. A locker with a lock is available for a $4 deposit.
Twin rooms with two beds go for $22. To accommodate everyone, 15 bathrooms are scattered throughout the property, along with two community kitchens and computers.
Wireless Internet is also available free of charge.
A restaurant serves food ranging from chicken curry to gallo pinto, with prices ranging from $3 to $5 per plate.
Both locations have parking for the occasional rented car and 24-hour security. Bus schedules are conveniently posted near the lobby, along with telephones for international calling.
A shuttle service is available for airport drop-off and pickup; the cost is $16 for one or two people, $18 for three and $24 for four or more.
What started as a continuation of a style of traveling he loved has become a good living for Garnier.
“It obviously was a good idea,” he said.
Getting There, Info
Costa Rica Backpackers and Guesthouse are in San José, on Avenida 6 between Calles 21 and 23. Directions for taxis: from the northeast corner of the San José Supreme Court, 100 meters to the east.
For information, call 221-6191 or 223-2406, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.costaricabackpackers.com.