We had read plenty of travel blogs prior to coming to the decision to form our own, and the gravitation towards hostels amongst couples travelling together has always caused us a bit of pause. A traveler vibe is the logical reason why anyone “backpacking” would seek out such digs. Considerations regarding the budget also come into play and sway during this choice. Your Drifters are here to tell you there are some major considerations to keep in mind if you should find yourself passing through Mexico and Central America and are looking for a cheap bed: Look into hotels.
Hostels tended to be of much worse value than hotels for a couple sharing, at least. In the past hostels were much more austere and quite a bit cheaper. These days they seem to fall into the “Boutique” category and have become much more flashier, very often reflected in the price. Still, that traditional notion of the bare-bones hostel with nothing more than gender-specific dorms filled with bunk-beds is what is conjured up in most people’s minds when they think of backpacking. Upon our return home after traveling, many people were surprised to learn that we frequented hotels in Mexico and Central America and that they were the cheaper option.
The Real Deal
As mentioned, there is a certain idea that springs forth when it comes to travelling as cheap as possible; hostels, cooking your own meals, group tours, and “networking” with other travellers. Those things are all fine and dandy, but in the long-term one must recognize that hostels alone cannot define your each and every accommodation choice.
It is perfectly fine to seek out a hotel without having read about it online or in a guide-book. Many of the budget hotels do not even have websites, so there is no need, or way, to reserve beforehand. Prices are almost always listed and haggling for a lower price is acceptable. The hotels I am speaking of tend to encapsulate all the things we travelers love and thrive upon; they are locally owned, authentic, affordable, and filled with locals.
What Do You Get?
On the average we spent $7 each for accommodation during our year on the road. So for $14 total (in much of Mexico) you get a room with a private bathroom, quite often cable television, air conditioning, and all the wi-fi your device can handle. Wi-Fi is everywhere, so much so that it is just about guaranteed no matter where you are. There were plenty of times we spent $8 total (Hello Nicaragua!) for the same type of room, along with all the mod-cons. That is $4 each!
Cooking facilities were lacking, however eating where the locals eat will keep costs low. Gathering the components for meals in order to cook for yourself, like rice or pasta, often add up to more than the price of a meal from a comedor. Living off the instant noodles that come in the cup is a bad idea due to all the MSG they are loaded with. That is enough to slow anyone down. It is a cheap way of eating, though.
Are They Clean?
Overall the hotels we stayed at were clean and quiet. On the rare occasion we dealt with the sagging mattress or the odd smell coming from the drain, or just the room itself. Daily maid service was rare, but during extended stays someone popped by now and then to make the bed.
Bath-towels were frequently rationed on many occasions for some strange reason. Several times we were told that we would be given one towel per room. There must be something to the situation with the towels.
As we are on the topic of budget rooms, if you choose an hourly hotel you can negotiate a sweet rate for the night, complete with a few extra channels on the television!
Budget digs can often be found centrally located, which makes them safe as well. Twice we had doors that would not lock. In Cahabon, Guatemala, we were given a room that had no lock, just a piece of twine to open and close the door, which we were told of before we handed over our money. It was not a problem, for we were really only crashing for the night.
In Chihuahua, Mexico, we stayed at a great hotel for 6 nights and only became aware that the lock mechanism was not working on our final night there. Nothing was disturbed in our room, even though anyone could have pushed open the door from the hallway.
Noise can pop up from time to time, however this seems to be often due to the fact that very loud music, whistling, shouting and sound effects from vehicle exhaust is tolerated South of the border just a bit more than I am used to.
A Few More Benefits
Staying at hotels is another way of getting closer to the locals. Often, they are pleasantly surprised to see gringos with backpacks and this often leads to conversation. You may find yourself hanging out with the locals who are staying there or even the hotel owners, alongside families who are patronizing these hotels around holidays and festivals; this is a great way of getting to know where it is you are. By staying where the locals stay you wind up paying what the locals pay, and that is a wonderful thing!
At The Hotel Andina in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, I was as sick as a dog (again!) for a few days. The name of the game was a fever of 103° along with aches and diarrhea, and I was losing in a big way. Fiona stepped out of the hotel to get me some medicine and asked at the hotel restaurant for some hot water.
The staff brought me up tea and soup on the house, and told me that a visit from a doctor (should I want one) was included in the price of the room. Not bad for a room that cost $12 per night, huh? This hotel, aside from having a restaurant, had a doctor making house calls! That is an astounding value in my opinion. I look forward to your opinion.