Recently, an insightful article was published in the Independent newspaper of London entitled how “Hostels got Hip” and the author Lucy Gillmore was quick to single out a few establishments of note, in particular in Europe.
In South America it has long been an open secret between travellers that in many cases hostels cater to a well-heeled and more demanding clientele and that hostel owners have pushed out the envelope in order to secure their patronage.
Colombia is no exception to the rule and after years in the wilderness on the international tourism circuit, Colombia is coming in from the cold and the old hostels of yesteryear replete with economic refugees and opt out hippies picking their toenails in the forecourt are long behind us.
The Colombian Hostel Association (www.colombianhostels.com ) is a nonprofit organization set up some years ago when Colombia was crying out for tourists. Theirs was an attempt to entice those few tourists coming to Colombia into their hostels with the promise of good, clean, secure and affordable digs with all of the appropriate information so that those tourists that arrived could then travel on about the country safe in the knowledge of where to go and what to see and do.
Every year a few more hostels are inducted into this Association by invitation and the numbers now close to 30. The requirements are straightforward and include the availability of shared dormitories and all of the appropriate legal paperwork as well as having been up and functioning for a minimum of one year.
These hostels are located about Colombia in all of the major cities and in some lesser known destinations such as San Agustin or Valledupar but what is important is that each of their owners and staff know Colombia and their region intimately and can inform a tourist far more accurately and up to date than any guidebook.
Most of these hostels provide free Wi-Fi, have comfortable dorms as well as private rooms and the clientele now includes flash packers, older couples as well as your just out of school and college backpackers. Service is better yet without the stuffy formalities of a hotel and travel war stories flow freely in hostel gardens and roof terraces. The communal kitchen is usually the place to make friends and many hostels organize activities in order to integrate their tourists with the locals making an effort that they get the true Colombian experience.
Prices are always reasonable and reflect excellent value for money, in particular in colonial houses that require so much maintenance.
And lastly, Colombian Hostels has a Pay Here Sleep There policy that if you are travelling on to another member’s hostel you can pay for your first night’s accommodation in your present location, be presented with a receipt to hand over upon arrival, and be happy in the knowledge that your bed or room with remain unconditionally held for you. This is particularly important during Festivals, Public Holiday and High Season when there is the very real possibility of being left out in the cold should you not book in advance.