Since returning from my 18-day stay at the Hostel Suites in downtown Mexico City, many of my friends have asked, “How was it?” In a word - “delightful.”
Back Story: When my Mom said she wanted to go to Mexico City to see the Our Lady of Guadalupe shrine early in 2015, I thought this would be a great opportunity for us to go together (we had never before, just the two of us, travelled together). I had also been reading much about the City’s urban renewal. An added bonus was my Mom loves staying in hostels (Blog: Discovering Hostels in your ‘70s and ‘80s) and I have always wanted to give it a try.
The Hostel Suites offered us a private room (with full bathroom) and free breakfast for $38 CDN/night (including the 10% discount because my Mom is a Hotel International member). The location was great, just a few blocks from the Hidalgo Metro station and an easy walk into the Historico Centro (150-block historic district) full of museums, churches and shops, as well as an easy bus ride to Our Lady of Guadalupe shrine.
At the airport, I hopped into a taxi with my Hostel Suites destination and address written on a sheet of paper; however upon showing it to the driver he looked puzzled – not a good thing – but headed out. The taxi ride was like a car chase scene from a movie - he cut in and out of traffic, headed up back alleys and side roads to bypass the traffic jams. Let the adventure begin!
Arriving save and sound at the Hostel Suites, I quickly took note we were across the street from the Plaza Revolucion Hotel (4.5 star) and half a block from Krystal Grand Reforma (4 star) – a good sign!
This Could Work!
The receptionist (located in a tiny space, under the stairs in the long hallway entrance) greeted me with a smile, knew that I was arriving and my room was ready. Good first impression! I was given a quick tour of the TV room, kitchen (with large fridge for guests’ use), two lounges (one with a beer fridge) – all these rooms no larger than what you would find in a typical Canadian home, the exception being the kitchen – it was smaller than you would find in a 500sf condo.
Our room, a barren large concrete box had two single beds, a bunk bed and a small desk; no pictures on the walls. The bathroom was large, with a sink and metal industrial lockers off the bedroom and a separate toilet and shower area next to the sink. This could work, I though!
Heading to the lounge for a beer ($1.20 CDN), I was quickly invited to join in a conversation about current world politics, travel, music and movies with group of six young adults from London, Perth, Amsterdam and New Zealand. We then all headed out for something to eat (found a taco stand where we got 3 tacos for $2.40 CDN) and then back to the hostel’s lounge to continue our marathon discussion until 1 am. For my entire stay, I was treated to wonderful conversations at breakfast, happy hour and late evenings.
Interesting to see how the future of mankind is viewed by 20 and 30 somethings from other countries. There was no talk of golf handicaps, aging parents, health issues or home renovations! Over the 18-days, I realized it was not only an age thing but you view the world differently when you are travelling for 6 months at a time (which seemed to be the average length of their adventures) vs. a couple of nights or weeks vacation. Travelling the world for extended periods of time definitely opens your eyes and mind.
Trip to Xochimilco
I think I cramped my Mom’s style a bit on this trip as usually when staying at a hostel, she mixes and mingles with others, even hanging out with the “kids” at times, but with me hanging around, she didn’t do that.
However, we had one major adventure with a “hostel tribe”, when eight of us headed off for an afternoon to Xochimilco, a quaint village with a wonderful market. The village is known as the Venus of Mexico for its colourful open air trajinera boats that float along canals bordered with amazing fields of flowers, garden centres, homes (large and small) and surreal, naked doll installations.
This involved our first trip on Mexico City’s crowded subway and then transferring to another train. Once there, we walked to the dock (not really knowing where we were going) where the trajinera were. After deciding how long we wanted our boat trip to be, we negotiated a price for the boat and then again for beer and food from the boat vendors along the way. It all happened very smoothly. After our boat ride, we wandered the streets to find a bar for more drinks and to soak up the ambience of the village, before making our way back to the train station for our return trip. A great day!
Day of Dead Party
One of the reasons I wanted to go to Mexico in late October/early November was to experience the “Day of the Dead” festival. Little did I know that one of the traditions of the Hostel Suites is to host a party for guests. The staff (and owner) prepared all the food and dressed up in their Day of the Day attire, hosting all 50 us to what I imagine to be a typical family “Day of the Dead” Party. How authentic is that!
Hostel vs. Hotel
One of the great things about staying at a hostel vs. a hotel is how much more relaxing it is. I think it has to do partly with expectations. When you stay at a fancy hotel, you expect everything to be perfect – room décor, staff and food. As a result everybody seems to be a bit stiff, trying to make a good impression both the uniformed staff and the other guests. When people sit in a hotel lounge, rarely does anybody already in a conversation invite a stranger sitting near them to join in a conversation – yet this is a common occurrence at Hostel Suites.
The hostel is like being at home - people slouching on the couch watching TV, (usually soccer), others on their laptops and still others are in the kitchen/dining room. In the morning, people came down for breakfast in their sweat pants and t-shirts, wet hair and no make-up. I didn’t live in residence at university but I imagine pretty much the same scenario. Everyone was relaxed. Nobody was trying to impress anybody. People mixed and mingled easily.
There was no menu at breakfast. Everyone had the same thing - a bowl of fresh fruit, a couple of pieces of toast (the homemade Black Currant jam was to die for), the daily feature (I loved the quesadillas) and coffee. And yes, you could ask for more if you wished.
There were no fancy omelettes, frittatas or eggs benedict, no espressos either. It was relaxing not having to make a choice. Everyone just seemed happy with what they got.
Unlike a hotel, there were no extra pillows or towels at the hostel. In fact one day (we did have daily housekeeping service) they replaced my towel with something that I would have thrown in the rag bag, but a request for a new towel was quickly answered and we moved on. The bed’s mattress was very firm and to my surprise, it suited my back better than ours at home. The sheets were thin but fine given Mexico City’s warmer climate.
The hostel receptionists did double duty as concierge. Every day we told them what we wanted to see and they would print out a map with how to get there (bus, metro or walk) and suggest what to see in the area or along the way. They arranged our day trip to Teotihuacan with a local tour company. They were as good as any 4 or 5-star hotel concierges I have experienced – always friendly, smiling and helpful.
When it came time to leave, they even had a fixed-price private car service to take us to the airport (35 minute ride) for $18 CDN. Our 18-day stay at the hostel cost us a total of $684 CDN – many would pay that for a weekend getaway.
Safety was never an issue at the hostel with a 24-hr receptionist. We had card key locks just like a hotel. While the streets around the hostel were visually a bit rough, I never felt unsafe during nightly walks which took me off the beaten path to find local street vendors, quaint family restaurants and cafes, as well as small parks and plazas.
I would definitely stay at a hostel again and if I go back to Mexico City, I would stay at the Hostel Suites. It quickly became my home-away-from-home.
Hosteling isn’t for everyone and I am not sure it is for me all the time, as I too love the plush towels, bathrobes, nicely decorated rooms and other frills that come with a luxury hotel. And I am definitely not sure if I could stay in one of the shared rooms with shared bathrooms (what my Mom usually does when travelling alone).
Not all hostels are created equal. Some people moved to Hostel Suites from another hostel because theirs was too noisy from partiers. Though many guests said Hostel Suites had the smallest hostel kitchen they had ever seen, many were able to cook up some tasty-looking meals.
Based on a sample size of one, I found the simplicity and friendliness of the hostel refreshing. There was no pretentiousness at Hostel Suites - appropriate given both my Mom and I agreed that one of the great things about Mexico City is its lack of “pretentiousness.”
If you are curious about staying at a hostel, I encourage you to try it. You might like it and your wallet sure will!
If you like this blog, you might like: