South America Living

Travel, Dine, Live… Like A Local


Is a Hostal Really a Hostel in South America?

by Molly McHugh, Former Editor/Publisher of South America Living.     About the Author

Either South American countries don’t understand the concept of a “hostel” (in British English spelled “hostal”) or they’ve simply gone ahead and created their own upscale version.

Case in Point: A $50 USD Per Night Hotel in Peru Calling Itself a Hostal

After arriving in Sucre, Bolivia awhile back I spent a couple of hours walking the central area near the market searching for the best hostel deal. Time after time I’d chase after a sign up ahead only to get a bit closer and then view the gold-plated glass doors and plush carpet inside. A low-cost hostel? Obviously not.

A few blocks away I walked into a similar place and asked prices… as was beginning to think maybe I was the one who was a bit off and Sucre just happened to have more elegant hostels than the rest of the world. “Fifty dollars a night?” “This isn’t a hostel sir, it’s a hotel!” As if they didn’t know… or maybe they don’t.

We have run across the same hotel versus hostel confusion in Peru as well. Seems the poorer the country, the more common it is for this mix-up to occur.

Note to South America:   Hostels are different than hotels. Simply using the word ‘hostal’ or ‘hostel’ in your business name to entice tourists doesn’t make it one.

The hostel concept of housing backpackers originated in Germany (early 1900’s) and spread throughout the world in the years following as its popularity grew. Hostels are different than hotels in that a community environment is encouraged with shared dorm rooms, kitchen and common areas. Many have evolved to include private rooms as well to meet the needs of tourists but these are offerred in addition to the above, not exclusively as you would find in an average hotel.

If your business does not have low-cost beds available in a shared room, common area for travelers to meet and interact and in most cases a kitchen for guest use as well… you are not a hostel and should not be calling yourself one.

Photograph by Molly McHugh, all rights reserved.

4 to “Is a Hostal Really a Hostel in South America?”


  1. Rachel says:

    Hello! I love your site! I’m planning a move to Central or South America in the next year and I’m so glad I found this! Its awesome to get the perspective of someone who’s already made the move. Good luck and I look forward to reading more!

  2. Yeah, I have noticed that hostels in South America are not always cheap places for backpackers like they should be!


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