Are you looking for a hotel in Quito or Cuenca? Are you sure you’re not looking for a hostal instead? But, don’t confuse hostel with hostal or you may be in for a surprise.
Are you looking for a dorm room with 3 other bunks besides your own? If you don’t like staying in hostels unless they have a private room then you need to be sure you understand the difference in all these terms.
I’m pretty sure you know what a hotel is, but, just in case, here goes. A hotel typically rents rooms to guests you are expecting a private room with a private bath and quite a few amenities. If you stay for a couple of days or more you probably expect to have the room cleaned, the beds made and maybe even the bath towels changed. You might even expect things like soap, lotions, shampoo, etc. Probably your own TV and with a little luck, maybe even free wifi, although it seems the more expensive the hotel the more likely you’ll pay a premium for the internet connection.
But, what in the world is a hostal. Well it is not a hostel (often called a youth hostel, although that using seems to be dying out with travelers of all ages electing to stay in them.) In Ecuador, at least, a hostal is typically a small family run hotel. O.K., so it’s a hotel. Well, let’s get to the differences. If you’re staying at a hostal in Quito or Cuenca here is what you can expect. How about a breakfast cooked to order? There may not be a wide selection, but it will be prepared to your preferences. Chances are there will also be freshly squeezed juice, maybe orange, guava or some other exotic beverage. Your room may have a private bath or you may have to share a communal bath, but this will be compensated with a difference in price.
I think the biggest difference, in most cases, is the level of personal attention from the staff. As you might imagine, the staff is usually the owner and family and that makes for a feeling that is hard to find in the larger hotels. When the owner takes you to your room it is shown to you with a certain level of pride. Not only does if feel like he/she is inviting you into their home, but, in reality that is precisely what is happening because the chances are they live their, too.
Let me relate some hostal (certainly not hostile) experiences I have recently encountered. In Quito the family I stayed with (and that was the feeling I had) greeted me and showed me to my room. Even though the website (Booking.com) through which I found the room indicated that I was to pay 50% in advance by wire transfer I did not do so because of a lack of time. When I was greeted at the hostal and shown to my room the question of paying was never mentioned. I did end up paying the bill when I left but I was never asked to “swipe my card for incidentals,” before checking in to my room. They did ask me if I would need a ride to the airport upon departure, this being done with a bit of humor since they spoke almost no English and I with the same fluency in Spanish`. They then made all the arrangements, figuring out how long it would take to get the airport, get my ticket and boarding pass, clear security, etc, including calling the taxi. Then, when it was time for the taxi to arrive waited outside on the street corner with me to make sure the taxi driver knew where to take me and how much I was to pay for the ride. I should probably mention my bill was $13 a night, including all taxes, breakfast, wifi, etc. in a private room with a balcony with a pretty nice view.
In Cuenca, my last minute booking required me to pay about $22 a night for what was to be a single room – turned out I was given a double room with private bath, flat panel TV and free wifi. I also get my individually prepared breakfast every morning and have made great friends with their one year old boy who gives me a great smile every time he sees me. In Cuenca, the airport is in town unlike the 60 to 90 minute drive in Quito to their new airport. That may account for the fact that in Cuenca the owner picked me up in his personal auto and will also take me back to the airport when it is time to leave – no additional charge, of course. As you might guess, I’m writing this from my room on my third night here – two more to go – and I can also tell you that the mention of payment for my room has not yet been broached.
So, you may be thinking that a hostal is something like a Bread & Breakfast. You would be right, except there are a few little differences that can make a big difference on one’s budget. Most hostals allow access to the kitchen. That means you can keep things in the fridge and fix some of your own meals if you like. I haven’t seen anyone actually cooking, but it is certainly easy enough to make sandwiches, prepare fresh fruit (I had some fabulous fresh strawberries I bought at a market yesterday) and have cold beverages if you wish.
When you make your visit to Ecuador I hope you’ll remember the difference between hostal and hostel. A hostal is a lot more fun than a hotel. If you’re wondering about the two great places I stayed I’ll give you names – you can find both of them if you check out Booking.com, a service I luckily discovered on this trip. In Quito I stayed at the Hostal San Gabriel and here in Cuenca I am at the conveniently located Casa Reyes.
My next stop will be overnight in Quito at the Hostal San Gabriel and then into the Amazon Jungle for a couple of nights at an eco-lodge in a Huaorani village. If you want to come along for the ride be sure and subscribe to this column (it costs nothing) and . . .
Keep on Traveling!