Costa Rica's #1 Hidden Backpacker Gem is Perla del Pacifico

Hands-down the country's best hostel and a must visit for any travel lover!

Located on a four-mile long sand peninsula, Puntarenas is a coastal fishing town that also supports a lot of tourism. While there we happened to stumble upon this magnificent mansion turned hostel on the northern shore, the Perla del Pacifico, my most highly recommended lodging option in all of Costa Rica. This place will shock and amaze you, instantly transporting you to a tranquil environment far from Central America -- you have to see it to believe it, there is no other way to put it.

As Puntarenas is lacking in both hostels and hotels, Perla del Pacifico is the only one you will find without having to taxi it back 30 minutes further deep into the mainland. Even more conveniently, it is located on the same block as the Calypso Cruises office and dock. Right after we came back from Tortuga Island we were able to walk 60 feet and be at our new home.

Balcony of Perla del Pacifico Hostel in Puntarenas, Costa Rica
Outside on the wraparound balcony of the Perla.

Walking through the front doors you are greeted by a beautiful marble staircase that leads you either to the main level with the jacuzzi and outside courtyard, amongst other things, or upstairs to the kitchen and dining room, two guest rooms, and wrap-around balcony.

As if the house itself was not exquisite enough, it is stocked full of artwork and collectibles from all corners of the globe. This is undoubtedly due to the the owners, Michael and Elisabeth, connoisseurs of the world. Be it canvases of Audrey Hepburn, old Asian artwork, rare drawings, original pictures of Salvador Dali and his wife, or any one of a thousand other exquisite -- yet perfectly placed -- collectible pieces of artwork and sculpture, everything seems like it is in just the right spot.

Sound good? Well, it gets better. How do you become world connoisseurs? By traveling the world. And that is exactly what Michael and Elisabeth have done. From the minute we walked in the door the conversation just flowed endlessly! Michael has some of the most fantastic stories to tell, Jared and I frequently got lost in the most random yet intricate conversations with him and his wife. Regardless of whether you are a first-time traveler or cultural enthusiast, travel blogger or gap year adventurer, you will feel instantly at home here, I guarantee it. Make sure to view the many pictures below.

  From the owners, Michael and Elizabeth

We - French/German artist couple - just finished restoring a historical mansion - national patrimony - that has been build in 1920 and graciously combines Venetian & Caribbean architecture. To support the project, we rent two exquisitely furnished bed rooms, each containing a modern bath room. You are going to have free use of our kitchen, dining room, salon, jacuzzi, a lovely garden with grill-pavilion and petanque-court and many other amenities of our palace.

  I took way too many pictures while staying at Perla del Pacifico. This is but a fraction...

  Noteworthy I cannot stress enough how highly we recommend this place. If you are a fellow world traveler and you should find yourself in Costa Rica, I urge you to make a stop by Puntarenas, even if solely to swing by Perla del Pacifico and meet Michael and Elizabeth. The conversations alone are worth swinging out of your way to Puntarenas, we promise. You will not regret it, I assure you. I stake my name and reputation on it. Tell them Derek @ the HoliDaze sent you and you may even get a li'l extra loving ;)

  Are you interested in making reservations or finding out more about the Perla del Pacifico and her fantastic hosts? Bypass the hostel booking sites and contact Michael directly at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

  Also, if you are going to be in the neighborhood, read about our trip to Tortuga Island with Calypso Cruises. Their dock is located one building down from Pearla del Pacifico and its a great way to kill two birds with one stone.

Published in Costa Rica

Thanks to movies like Hostel, I think using hostels when traveling has gotten a bad rep. I can't tell you how many times I have people reference that movie to me when I say that yes, I only stay in hostels while traveling abroad. I personally love staying in hostels! No matter how old I get I will probably never stop using hostels while I travel. I've said it time and again, I'm cheap. I can't stand spending money if I don't have to, which is another reason hostels are a great alternative to pricey hotels when traveling!

Edu Hostel Jogja, the fanciest and cheapest hostel in all of Yogyakarta, Indonesia
This magnificent hostel in Indonesia has a staff of 55 (including two professional chefs) yet costs only $6 USD a night!   See More Photos

Hostels are not only a great way to save money but a fantastic way to meet other travelers. I'm a social butterfly of sorts so any time I get to meet new people, I get a little too excited!

Here's What To Expect When Staying In Hostels

Bunk beds... lots and lots of bunk beds! Unless you're staying in private rooms -- which defeats the f'ing purpose of a hostel -- you can expect huge, well sometimes, rooms packed with bunks. I don't pay extra to stay in private rooms, unless I need the privacy for a night or two, so I mostly stay in the larger dorm rooms since those are always the cheapest ones.

Back Home Hostel in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, has the biggest bunk beds I've ever seen at any hostel in the world
Back Home Hostel in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, one of my favorites!   See More Photos

I've staying in some massive dorms where I felt as if I was the only one in the room, I had tons of space, it wasn't cramped, and there was more than enough room to store all my stuff. Sometime, dorms are smaller but still packed with bunks. This room I stayed in while I was in Rome was one of the smaller dorms where we didn't have a whole lot of room to put our stuff away.

You can expect to meet some stellar travelers just like you! Being someone who is obsessed with traveling, I thoroughly enjoy meeting people from all over the world. I'm always amazed when staying in hostels how I can meet people from every corner of the world but still manage to meet people close to home! At this same hostel in Rome, I met another Gamma Phi from Missouri. It was so cool to meet a fellow sister halfway around the world! I've met people that I'm Facebook friends with and keep in contact with.

First time backpacking? Be prepared to make lots of new friends!
Be prepared to make lots of new friends from around the world

Expect to meet some really awesome staff members that can give you lots of great inside tips for the city that you're in! While I love hitting all the big tourist sights, I also enjoy getting to know the local side of a city! Now, sometimes you may come across a staff member who isn't all that friendly, or one who gives you terrible advice... But 99% of my encounters with hostel staff members have always been positive!

One of my favorite parts of hosteling is the exchange of cultures and experiences you get! When we were in Rome, we finally decided to utilize the kitchen since we were sick of eating out. We went to the grocery store up the street from out hostel and went back to make our dinner. There were a few other people in there making their dinners as well. Once we were all done making it, we went to the dining room to eat, we all decided to share what we had made. One guy was from Slovenia and one was from some other area of Italy. We not only met some really cool people, had fun cooking "together", but then also got to taste some food of theirs from their local areas! You don't get experiences like that staying in hotels!

My first time abroad staying in hostels, I wasn't expecting much. I was thinking I'd get a lumpy bed in a crowded room, and would use it only to sleep and shower. What I got was new friends, really comfortable beds (for the most part), and a great environment to hang out and relax after a long day of sightseeing!

  The best resource for researching and booking your hostels is TripAdvisor. They have millions of reviews from people just like you and I covering literally every hostel in the world, as well as a price comparison tool to instantly find you the lowest price online.

TripAdvisor

Published in First Time Backpacking

When most people think of traveling one of the first things that comes to their mind is where they are going to stay. Some may hire a travel agent to do the booking for them while others may get online and do the research themselves. Either way, 99% of the time their research will lead them to 5 star resorts offering all-inclusive packages. I'm sure that like me, everyone wishes they could stay at these places. The problem is, for the budget traveler, these resorts are super expensive! Of course you didn't need me to tell you that hahaha. Some people may let these steep prices scare them away from their vacation of a lifetime.

The good news is, there is a much much cheaper option called hostels! Until I started traveling I had never even heard of hostels. The more I researched hostels the more I realized how affordable a vacation, pretty much anywhere in the world, could be. When I say affordable I'm talking about $10-20 per night -- or even as low as $2-3/night in some countries! Yeah you read that right.

Now there are drawbacks such as sharing a room with 3-10 other people (male and female), but thats all part of the experience. Most hostels have shared bathrooms, wifi, and a public kitchen for all the guests (which could be anywhere from 10 to 100 people depending on the hostel and the season). Don't get me wrong, hostels aren't for everyone...but if money is the only thing keeping you from seeing the world hostels are perfect for you!

Here are the top 5 reasons to stay in hostels

01. The people you will meet.   When staying in hostels you will meet people from all over the world doing the same thing you are! It's a great way to practice speaking other languages while also learning more about the planet than you ever did in school. You will quickly realize the similarities and differences between your culture and others. If you are outgoing and open-minded, you will end up with plenty of lifelong Facebook friends from all over the world.

First time backpacking? Be prepared to make lots of new friends!
Be prepared to make lots of new friends from around the world

02. You will eat much healthier (and cheaper!)   As I mentioned before, most hostels have shared kitchens where you can store groceries and cook your meals. During meal times the kitchen can become very busy and congested, but it's fun to watch people from different countries making their favorite foods while you make yours! Again if your friendly and outgoing you can usually trade dishes with your new friends and try some great new authentic foods from around the world!

03. You will learn about the hidden and "non-touristy" things to do in the area.   Most of the people staying in hostels are well traveled individuals that can give you great inside information on things to do in the area you are at, or even their homeland (if you ever make it there). Don't get me wrong, guided tours are great, but with the help of other people at the hostel -- both guests and employees -- you can usually find much better, cheaper options to do with your day. I believe hostels almost force you to get to know the area better because they aren't "all-inclusive." Plus it's always easy to join up with other groups and reduce the cost by splitting it amongst everyone.

04. You can extend the length of your vacation.   To some people this might not matter because they only have that one week of vacation time before they have to return to work. But for those who would like to spend more extended periods of time in an area, hostels are definately the best option. In most countries hostels are pretty common and finding them in different cities along your trip will not be an issue. Of course, sometimes it is hard for me to move on to a new hostel because I do not want to leave all the new friends I have just made!

Edu Hostel Jogja, the fanciest and cheapest hostel in all of Yogyakarta, Indonesia
This magnificent hostel in Indonesia has a staff of 55 (including two professional chefs) yet costs only $6 USD a night!   See More Photos

05. Lets face it, it's all about the $$$$$$$   I tried not putting this item one on here.....but the fact remains that hostel prices cannot be beat. They will save you a fortune while also giving you the most authentic experience you could possibly ask for. Like I said earlier, depending on the season and country, hostels can cost anywhere from $2-20 per night. I don't care if I'm sleeping in a hammock, you simply cannot beat a few dollars to stay two blocks from the beach in Mexico or a 30-second walk from all the fun in Thailand. I'll take it!!

Read More   Hostel Life: What To Expect

I'm sure that there are plenty of other reasons why hostels could be the best option for you, but that's just it.... It's all about you!! Hostels leave your entire trip up to you, not the tour guides that are just trying so hard to get your precious money. Everyone will have their reasons why they love or hate hostels, because after all they are not for everyone. So if you're looking to book your next vacation, make sure to do some research on hostels and give yourself more money to explore wherever you are visiting!

Happy Travels Y'all!!

Published in First Time Backpacking

Before I left Mt. Cook, I took one last look at the amazing view. Staying longer was no option, because there was so much more to see in the South. Early in the morning, when my carwindows were still frozen, I decided to drive more south, towards Oamaru. I drove along a few beautiful lakes that New Zealand has to offer: Lake Aviemore, Lake Benmore and Lake Waitiki.

Driving north to Oamaru past the beautiful lakes of New Zealand
The road to Oamaru

Around noon I arrived in Oamaru. Best described as a sweet, little town. I rang the doorbell at the hostel, that was situated just off the main street. A woman in nightgown opened the door: "Love, come on in! It's a bit of a mess (you might say that!) but I decided last minute to go to London, to see the Olympics and my son, who lives in London." She decided to close the hostel for two weeks. "Oh, and you have to take this." She gave me a list of all the backpackers that made reservation in this hostel but were going to the Empire Hotel Backpackers.

Before she send me off for my mission, she gave me some tips about what I should definitely should see here in Oamaru: "You have to go see the penguins tonight, just after sundown, just follow the smell, oh and don't forget to go the farmersmarket, oh and you have to see this en that....." A lovely women but a minor case of ADHD.

Empire Hotel Backpackers in Mount Cook village, New Zealand, is actually a hostel -- a really awesome one!

I drove with my list to the Empire Hotel Backpackers where I also was staying. It took me quit a while to find the hostel. You wouldn't think it would be so hard because it was on the main street. When I arrived, I was one of the few in the hostel, but that didn't matter. It was a beautiful old building from 1867 with a lot of history and I enjoyed the little town and the nice weather. At night, I went to look for some penguins. I smelled the smell, but sadly saw no penguins....

Published in New Zealand

Every Country Has Hotels And Hostels...

What Does Japan Do Different?

The best way to learn about a country is through firsthand experience with some of the things which make that location unique, whether food, festivals, transportation options, or even lodging. Japan, being a country that is simultaneously rich in history but also at the forefront of modern technology and innovation, certainly offers up a seemingly countless supply of unique facets that make visiting the country a must.

Just because Japan is constantly looking towards the future does not mean they have forgotten about the past. Quite the opposite, in fact. One of the things I love most about the country is how they have smoothly and perfectly blended the old with the new, seemingly with such ease. In the big cities it is quite common to see ancient temples and historic structures preserved amongst the modern highrises and transportation systems.

Speaking of history, what better place to start than with one well-known type of lodging that is exclusively associated with Japan -- the ryokan.

 

Ryokan in Takayama

Traditional Ryokan

These are probably the most iconic of all the Japanese structures. If you have ever seen a classic Samurai movie you will immediately recognize these structures, known for their paper walls and sliding doors. While the cost and demand of space has made them less common in many of the big metropolises, they are still a big hit in the countryside, especially in regions near hot springs. You can usually count on them to have spectacular views of the surrounding landscape as well.

Half the fun is in the lodging and room itself, but the other half is in the food. Do not pass up any of the meals offered at your ryokan. The food is always amazing and presented ever so elegantly!

In my opinion one of the best cities to stay in a ryokan is Takayama, long known for its skilled carpentry. Not only is the area gorgeous but also filled with traditional streets and shops that are a joy to stroll through, even if you are not planning on purchasing anything.

Ryokan in Takayama

 

Love Hotels

Another [in]famous type of lodging in Japan is the love hotels, sometimes referred to as fashion hotels, which can now also be found in other Asian countries. For those of you who have never heard of these, this will blow your mind. These hotels will be located only in areas with lots of late night clubs and offer luxurious intimate rooms available in "rest periods" of one to three hours or, for an increased price and provided it is after 10pm, the entire night.

The rooms all have widly different themes but are all done up exquisitely to make you forget where you are and give the happy couple a few hours in paradise. Think of it like a brief stay in a luxurious Vegas suite. However you tend not to spend much time absorbing your surroundings, except in the final few minutes before leaving.

A love hotel room in Tokyo

They are very discreet as well. Rather than booking a room like at a normal hotel, at the love hotels there is a screen with pictures of each of the themed rooms. If the room is available then its picture is illuminated; If not it will be dark.

No worries about having to make eye contact with a judgmental hotel clerk either -- the front desk is more like a movie theater ticket box. You pay through a small slit in a heavily-fogged glass window.

Believe it or not, these places are incredibly packed, at least when I was there back in 2008 and 2009. Especially on Fridays and Saturdays, if it is past midnight good luck finding an open room at one of the nice love hotels.

 

Capsule Hotels

For those on a budget

Many parts of the big cities offer what is referred to as capsule sleeping, and it is exactly as it sounds. The hotels are full of double-stacked pods and offer a very unique form of no-thrills lodging. You literally rent out a six-foot rectangular cube, crawl in and pull down the drape.

These are mostly geared towards over-worked or inebriated Capsule Hotelbusinessmen who missed the last train home, although a 2010 news article reports that due to the ongoing recession some capsule hotels are reporting that up to 30% of their guests are unemployed or underemployed and were renting capsules by the month. I know that sounds exciting, but don't count on renting one just yet; they are very uncomfortable and I did notice that some have a tendency to discriminate against gaijin, immediately saying they are fully booked or some similar excuse. Even towards the end when I went back with my Japanese girlfriend, she tried to get me in for a night but still without any luck.

Staying For A Longer Visit?

Furnished Apartments Are The Way To Go

While this may not be that different from any other country, I spent the bulk of my time in Japan in a flat I rented in Tokyo. There were many upsides to having a fully furnished apartment but probably the biggest was being in amongst the locals, right in the heart of the action. It is not like staying at the Hilton, which you can count on being full of traveling businessmen and tourists -- precisely the types of people I try to avoid during my adventures.

My flat in Ebisu, Shibuya Ward, Tokyo

With very distinct and diverse districts and wards in Tokyo, it took a considerable amount of research for me to determine where I wanted to call home during my leave of absence from the cubicle life. I chose Shibuya, a ward that is home to several noteable districts including Harajuku, the fashion capital of the world, Yoyogi, famous for Yoyogi Park and the Meiji Shrine, and Ebisu, proudly referred to as the area Tokyo locals love to live. And at the center of it all was the aptly named Shibuya district, a shopping hotspot during the day and party mecca come nightfall. That is why I was really there ;)

I had expected to interact with my neighbors more, but it turned out they all worked and were quite reserved, as is the Japanese way. Regardless, having the flat to bring new friends from the bar back to and otherwise slip into the same life as the local Tokyo residents, that made all the difference in the world. That and the fact the flat came pre-wired with super highspeed wifi, which was convienent even though I hardly made use of it. Oh and can't forget about the maid, which came by once a week.

To top it all off, my key was waiting inside of my mailbox, which was located on the main facade of the building next to the front door and accessible via a code I had been given prior via email. (No need to deal with any bothersome staff.) And when I checked out a couple months later? Simply returned my key to the mailbox.

My flat in Tokyo

Shame I don't have better pics. Browsing my remaining photos it was surprisingly hard to find pictures of it and not people...but back then I was just partying and living for the moment, not thinking about being a travel blogger.

  Have you experienced these or any other different/unique forms of lodging during your travels? Tell us about it!

Published in Japan

Normally Hong Kong is not perceived as a cheap holiday destination. However, it can be. Budget travellers from around the world come to Hong Kong to get a new stamp in their passport, explore the city and surrounding it hills, get a Chinese visa or to change flights because Hong Kong airport offers cheap flights to most destinations around the world. It is a busy Asian financial centre, developed by British and then passed over to Chinese. Both cultures, as well as others, have left clearly visible marks in the architecture and culture of this place.

With $100 Hong Kong Dollars going for less than $15 USD, there's a way to get a cheap room, even in this Asian capital of business -- Hong Kong.

Rooms available in Chungking Mansions in Hong Kong

Where To Find Cheap Accommodations In Hong Kong

There is one destination every budget traveller should consider as the first point of call - Chungking Mansions in Kowloon. It is also recommended by Lonely Planet, for the diversity, availability and prices. This building, consisting of 5 blocks (A, B, C, D and E), is 17 stories tall with hundreds of very small hostels. Ideal place to look for a deal.

Location

Chunking Mansions is located at 36-44 Nathan Road. Nearby MTR stations: Tsim Sha Tsui and Tsim Sha Tsui, are a perfect places to start the search for a good deal on cheap hotel or hostel. Many owners will approach you to offer accomodation.

How to get a room for 100 Hong Kong Dollars or less?   Many people feel uncomfortable when approached by shady characters offering a cheap place to stay. However, you can use this to your advantage. Here's the few steps you have to follow to arrive at the right price, i.e. HK$100 or less:

  1. Wait until you're approached. You will be, there's so many rooms on offer and there's always some available. With such a high supply, owners actively look for customers.
  2. Ask for the good price. They will tell you they have a very good room (will specify few "exclusive" features) for 250-300 HKD.
  3. Say it's too expensive. When they ask what price you're looking for say 70-100 HKD (it's not gonna be easy to find anything cheaper than this).
  4. Walk away. After step 3, they will lower their price to around HK$120-150. You need to walk away, saying that someone else will give you room for your price.
  5. If they follow and agree to your price go to step 6. If they don't start again from step 1.
  6. Go with them and check the room. They will find a last minute excuse to get extra HK$20-50, for example the cheap rooms are not available and there is a much better room at discounted rate. Just refuse and go back to step 1. Normally they will say it's ok and they won't charge extra ("only for you my friend").
  7. Always pay when you get a key and never at the end of your stay. They have a tendency to forget the price you bargained to their advantage.

If you want to stay longer you can get a really good deal, but it will take longer to find. I've heard of a guy who stayed in one hostel for a month and had contract in which he paid HK$30 a day.

On the other hand, some owners are reluctant to offer few nights stay at a really low price, just in case they get lucky with customers. After few failures start to say you're only staying for one night and then extend it the following day or find another deal.

If you travel with someone you should not pay more than HK$150 in total. Remember that they charge per person and the more of you travel, the better the price per person will be. Whatever argument they use to convince you otherwise.

My experience in Hong Kong

I have been in HK twice for few days and never paid more than HK$100 by always following these 7 steps. The standard of rooms vary from one hostel to another and the space in the rooms is limited, but I did not need anything more than a sleep and internet connection, which was always available.

Come with me and let's explore Haiphong Road Temporary Market, Hong Kong's hidden foodie hotspot that only the locals know about

  Original article, as well as other useful travel tips, can be found on my blog at etramping.com.

Published in Hong Kong

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