What makes a hostel such a special place? Well, it’s the people you meet from different backgrounds, the ones who challenge your views and change your whole perspective on the world. It’s the sunrise you watch after a night out with new friends, the ones who you feel like you’ve known for years.
As one of the hostel staff we spoke to wisely said, “the possibilities are endless when you are provided with a community and not just a room.” It’s all about being a place where people go with an open heart ready to experience whatever life has to offer, with no judgements.
We love hostels so much it’s hard for us to choose our favourites. Luckily, we have an amazing community of backpackers who share details of their hostel stays, and inspire other travellers to have life-changing experiences. We don’t want to brag, but every year we analyse your reviews (we had 1.1 MILLION this year) and award the best hostels around the world. In case you’ve never heard of the HOSCARs, have a look at our list of amazing hostel WINNERS worldwide.
This year, we wanted to do things a bit differently and ask you guys about the best independent hostels that you have stayed in. We got many inspiring answers and we might have cried a little bit, but after the emotional struggle we came up with a list of 7 best independent HOSCAR winning hostels that backpackers love.
1. Posada del Abuelito, San Cristóval de Las Casas, Mexico
This dreamy hostel has a peaceful garden, where butterflies and birds gather every morning. There’s a social area with hammocks to rest in and meet open-minded people. Eat a delicious breakfast with homemade jam – that has an incredible story behind it. We hope you’re ready for some serious wholesomeness!
It all started 45 years ago in the small town of San Cristóval de las Casas, in the Mexican state of Chiapas, when Rodrigo’s father decided to open a hostel called Posada del Abuelito in honour of his grandfather. (Abuelito means grandfather in spanish, FYI). The town has always been a magical place that attracted travellers from all over the world, but to open a hostel at that time was a pioneering idea, especially with shared dorms. Posada del Abuelito was the first hostel in Barrio El Cerrillo and one of the first in all of Mexico, so it quickly became a famous place. The first part of the story ends here, when Rodrigo’s parents got divorced and he moved to the USA with his father.
After 20 years, Rodrigo felt that his life in America was missing something, so his father suggested going to Chiapas to figure things out. He travelled back, discovering his rich family past and at last felt at home. On the first attempt to reopen, the hostel had some problems with the structure during the rainy season and had to close again. But don’t be sad, because this story has a happy ending! A few years later, Rodrigo met his wife and they got all the help they needed to start Posada del Abuelito again.
In his words: “It seems almost like it was destined to be.” (We are not crying, you’re crying).
The wholesomeness doesn’t stop here. Being such a special place, the hostel has many new stories behind it as well. Two guests got engaged in the beautiful garden and another traveller returned to stay at the hostel again after 45 years. Rodrigo and his family are also active members of a non-profit organisation called Amigos de San Cristóbal that helps the local community and facilitates guests who want to get involved in the projects.
The hostel has been reopened for 10 years now and has achieved all the success it once had 45 years ago. They won Best Hostel in Mexico (HOSCARs 2019 and 2018) and made the top 10 for Best Small Hostel Worldwide in our 2020 HOSCARs! We couldn’t be more proud.
2. We Love F. Tourists – Lisbon, Portugal
Located in the heart of Lisbon, We Love F. Tourists (WLFT) is a family owned hostel that brings portuguese authenticy to another level. It all started when Pedro Oliveira went travelling after finishing his degree and, like many of us, discovered the magic of hostel life. After staying in hostels around the world and working in hostels in both Berlin and Lisbon, he decided to leave his engineering life behind and open his own hostel.
WLFT is a Portuguese hostel that takes contributing to the local economy seriously. The staff will tell you the best places to buy locally made products – like the best pastry made by a bakery that existed before your grandparents were even born.
The staff want to show you what it means to be a Lisboeta. No tourist traps, the deal here is to soak in the Portuguese culture and history and meet some locals. Our favourite local? Definitely Senhor Pep! This charming 96 year old Portuguese man lives in the same building as the hostel and makes sure to pass by the reception every morning to remind everyone what is truly important in life: drink a glass of red wine every day, eat fish, buy good olive oil, don’t smoke, don’t stress, enjoy the small things, laugh and keep moving! You may be lucky enough to enjoy some chocolate and pastries he brings back from his morning walks. After learning a lot about Portuguese culture and getting some inspiring life advice, you can enjoy some of the hostel’s daily events like petisco dinners (portuguese tapas) with locally sourced products and wine, pub crawls to local bars and free walking tours. The staff often take backpackers to music venues to enjoy traditional Portuguese music (fado).
With all this love to share, we are not surprised ‘We Love F. Tourists’ won the Most Popular Hostel in Lisbon for the 2020 HOSCARs and the Best Hostel for Female Solo Travellers in the 2019 HOSCARs!
3. Distant Relatives, Kilifi, Kenya
After finishing their studies, Romain and Thomas felt like they wanted to create a project that could have a positive impact on the planet, but they didn’t quite know how. To get some inspiration, they decided to travel from Ethiopia to Cape Town and ended up finding out just what they were looking for. Their travel experiences made them realise that they would be more successful in creating a lasting positive impact if they came up with their own version of paradise, rather than working for big corporations. Romain was interested in the environmental aspect of their new project and Tom in community building, so they put their dreams together and opened Distant Relatives, an ecolodge hostel located on the beautiful coastline of Kenya.
Since its opening in 2013, many incredible things happened and the hostel now offers permaculture design courses, tango festivals, concerts and Kilifi New Year, Africa’s first carbon neutral festival! The hostel is a hub for travellers from all backgrounds and they focus on creating an inclusive, welcoming and vibrant atmosphere where people can really feel at home. They hope that by creating this platform, they are also giving an opportunity for people to breakdown some of their ideas and stereotypes about other cultures and ideally increase tolerance, respect and appreciation for each other. Many people talked with the owners to say how thankful they were for having the opportunity to change their perceptions about other cultures and that they, as well, felt welcomed and not judged. In this day and age, reuniting people instead of dividing them is so incredibly important for the future of our planet.
The hostel also has a lot of focus on environmental conservation and educates the guests and the community on how to live in harmony with the environment. They have composting toilets and a grey water system to clean the water going through their kitchens, sinks and showers, which then goes back into banana circles or a tank to use to water their food forest. They recycle wine bottles into lampshades, and cut all of their own bar glasses, using the bottom half of wine and spirit bottles, which are currently not recyclable in Kenya. The accommodation is built using the traditional mud style and locally available palm panels for the roofing, as well as bottle walls to reduce the cement usage. They have a salt-water swimming pool, many native fruit and medicinal trees growing around the hostel and even a tree coming through the middle of one of their dorms! Their aim is to work around nature, rather than have it working around them.
As if all this is not wholesome enough, they also work a lot with the community around the hostel – they are in charge of maintaining the road and have worked really hard to improve the water supply in the area. They organise dinners in the village, beach clean-ups, events to promote local artists and have sponsored many locals to join their permaculture courses. BTW, if you need some inspiration for your gap year, we think this course is just perfect!
They give back to the world SO much that we are super excited to award them with Best Hostel in Kenya for HOSCARs 2020!
4. Ô De Casa Hostel, São Paulo, Brazil
Imagine sharing a house with 10 of your best friends and having people over every night, sharing life stories and experiencing new things together. Well, that’s how Ô de Casa, the first independent hostel of São Paulo, started. Being a backpacker herself, Marina decided to convert her own home into a hostel, found the right staff to make all the magic happen and opened the doors to backpackers from all around the world.
Ô de Casa Hostel is the best introduction to Brazil you could possibly ask for. The staff are Brazilian, they only play Brazilian music and their kitchen has the best of Brazilian cuisine. You can also enjoy a daily BBQ cooked by the hostel staff with vegan and veggie options as well. When you arrive there, you feel like you’re entering a universe of welcomeness, which you will later find out is what Brazilians are known for!
The hostel is located in Vila Madalena, the bohemian neighborhood of São Paulo, and has the largest hostel bar in the country. It connects friendly locals, willing to share their opinions about their own country and hear yours too. The hostel events are organised in Brazilian style: there is no plan but to have fun and this normally involves going out to local clubs and bars with the hostel staff.
The owner sees her hostel as a love letter from a backpacker who decided to show her special piece of the world to other travellers. After all, travelling is all about the people you meet, the connections you make and the stories you take home.
Backpackers who stay there will never forget the hospitality and fun, giving Ô de Casa the 2nd place for the Best Hostel in South America, a top 10 position in the Best Hostels for Solo Travellers in the 2020 HOSCARs and the Best Hostel in Brazil in the 2019 HOSCARs. Obrigada pelo amor!
Ah, one last thing! You might be wondering what Ô de Casa means in Portuguese. It’s what you say when you go to someone’s house and ask (normally shouting from the outside) if there is anybody home, instead of ringing the bell. So come in, have a caipirinha and enjoy the best of Brazil.
5. Barbara’s Boutique, Antigua, Guatemala
It all started with a trip to Argentina when Jimena, an 18-year-old backpacker, stayed in a hostel for the first time and fell in love with the vibe. You know the way you feel at home so fast, even if you don’t know anyone, and suddenly you become a family? We know you do and yes, we also want to travel ASAP after reading this.
After leaving her first hostel and going back home, Jimena knew she wanted to open her own and create this amazing community vibe in Antigua. Barbara’s Boutique is an extra special family project created and run by Jimena, her husband Dario and her parents Antonio and Veronica, who make sure they welcome all the guests with that homey feeling we all love so much.
The magical thing about staying in a hostel is that you never really know what will happen. You might arrive solo and end up meeting your new best friend, the love of your life, or have a conversation that will change the way you see things. When you stay in small family-run hostels the chances are you are going to meet many new friends and hear inspiring life stories. At Barbara’s Boutique, every guest is known by their name and the staff hope to see them again someday.
When the hostel had only been open for 3 months, there were a number of solo travellers staying who kept extending their stay as they formed such a strong connection. They were all from different countries, backgrounds and ages, but became a little family.
Jesus was one of these backpackers who decided to buy a bike and start a trip on two wheels, reminding everyone what backpacking is about – travelling without plans, being spontaneous and fully present. Jesus, if you are reading this, the Barbara’s Boutique staff say hello!
They well deserve the title of Best Hostel in Guatemala – HOSCARs 2020!
6. The Hat, Madrid, Spain
Like all good hostel stories, The Hat started with a passionate traveller wanting to create a place for backpackers to share experiences. After quitting his job as a marketer, Alfonso opened a hostel in Madrid where he could look after travellers, show off the city and offer a sociable space where people could meet. We think it worked pretty well, as Alfonso met his wife there!
The Hat is really good at creating opportunities for people to get to know each other and come back home with amazing experiences. Don’t worry if you’re travelling solo, they offer a daily traveller’s meeting where everyone can chat and put into practice the best of hostel life. If you are feeling a bit shy, you should know that free sangria is also involved in this!
They try to be as sustainable as possible and The Hat is the first hostel in Madrid to use biomass as an energy source. The local community gets involved as well and they mingle with the backpackers. The hostel also offers free English lessons for the neighbourhood kids. A great chance for you to improve your Spanish as well! Vamonos?
If you want to learn about the city’s history, The Hat offers a free walking tour where you can get to know the other guests and come back to the rooftop terrace to relax together.
Having a great atmosphere for backpackers, The Hat grabbed a top 10 position in Best Large Hostel Worldwide in the 2017 HOSCARs, as well as WINNER of the Best Hostel by Age Group (18-24) in the 2020 HOSCARs. Felicidades!
7. Casa Verde Santa Ana, Santa Ana, El Salvador
Courtyards with hammocks, a large swimming pool and a roof terrace with a panoramic view are just a few of the GREAT features Casa Verde Santa Ana hostel has to offer. We love all of these things, but we know that what makes a hostel truly special is the people you meet, the love you share and the things you learn. Years after your trip, you will still remember an act of kindness a stranger did for you, someone you met and had a great conversation with and how it felt to be in a foreign city rediscovering yourself.
This hostel is all about living these experiences in the most authentic way. From the moment that you step through the door until the moment you leave, the owner Carlos will make you feel looked after and at home. We had many backpackers recommend this hostel as one of the best they’ve ever stayed in, because the kindness and openness of the staff gave them a great travel experience. Travellers have told us they got a lift late at night to go to a restaurant they really wanted to try, got taken to the bus station to avoid the heat, were invited to the owner’s birthday party and had free access to the open bar and tacos. This is the kind of place you feel so at home, you might even forget that you should eventually leave (which actually happened to a couple of guests – you can read their story on the hostel wall where guests leave messages about their experiences!)
It was hard to choose between so many 10/10 reviews, but we think this one will give you a real feel for this hostel:
“I have been happy to call Casa Verde my home away from home for more than a week. It truly is a great place with super charming and accommodating staff, great infrastructure and some nice local produce for sale. Above all, this is the kind of place where the guests would join in the evening at the big table in the courtyard to eat their home-cooked dinner, enjoy a few drinks together, play a game and talk about traveling and life. The only danger here… is not wanting to leave!”
Backpackers, who’ve become Carlos’ friends, love this hostel so much that Casa Verde Santa Ana has been awarded the Best Hostel in El Salvador in every HOSCARs since 2014. This year, with no surprise, they are the country winner again!
We hope you enjoyed these wholesome stories from some of the best independent hostels and HOSCARs winners, voted by our amazing backpacker community! Have you ever stayed in an independent hostel you really loved? Tell us in the comments! And if you’re looking for more inspiration, you can check out all the HOSCARs winners here.