THE HOSTELLING INTERNATIONAL CLUB:
Kind of a plug, but only because they deserve it. (I'm not getting paid to advertise for them.)
Hostelling International is a sort of community of hostels that adhere to certain standards; they give discounts and benefits (such as a travel agencies) to their members. (Hooray!)
If you're going to be traveling in South America for an extended period of time and living in hostels, you will want the Hostelling International card. It pays for itself:
To get the Hostelling International card:
The card can be bought at any HI hostel when you arrive for 60 Argentine pesos. ($16 USD) Or if you like planning ahead, you can buy it online, and have it shipped to you. (Keep in mind, shipping times apply, so plan ahead!) Go here: http://www.hihostels.com/web/membership.en.htm
Of course, hostelling International over-advertises, and says there are a whole lot of great benefits, but in reality, it's mostly just cheaper hostel stays and event/tourist discounts. There are HI hostels all over South America.
They've had a free travel agency in all the HI hostels I've been in, and they have significant discounts on some bookings. (Keep in mind, the travel agents get a cut of the price. But the price is usually exactly the same price you would get elsewhere.) All in all, you get pretty darned good deals with the card, and the activities are pretty fun, too. (Pub crawls, full moon parties, tango shows, sky diving, etc.)
The free travel agency (free whether or not you have an HI card) can book HI hostels for you all over South America, bus/plane tickets, as well as activities/parties within the city. Again, you're getting quality (but touristy, naturally) activities at the same price you would be getting if you bought a ticket at the door, but there are probably cheaper options that can't afford to pay HI to advertise for them. The HI card can discount activities by 5-15%.
If you're traveling with a friend, you can most likely get away with buying one card for the both of you.
All the HI hostels I've stayed at (saving one in Bolivia sans hot water in the morning, but which gave me a lovely electrical shock when attempting to turn on the water heater) have been pretty darned decent. (Why anyone would put anything electric in a shower defies logic.
Each hostel has a different vibe, and you can check individual hostel benefits and pictures on the website.
Here is the current Tango Backpacker's HI Hostel Price Chart in Argentine Pesos (divide by 3.7 to get USD) - (Tango Backpackers is reviewed in my previous blog
......................Non-Memebers....HI Weekend....HI Weekday
DORM (4-6 beds).....49.....................43..................41
The current promo is: Pay 4 nights, get the 5th free. (as of April/May 2010)
You can pay in pesos or USD. You get a better deal paying in Pesos, because they give you a lower exchange rates than exchanging money in the banks.
Because these hostels are often fully booked, I would recommend, especially during high season, (Sept/Oct until March/April), booking your hostel in advance online, and paying the teensy-tinsy fee, then paying in full when you get to reception. It's worth it to have a place to crash when you get into a new city. Also, if you're planning on staying in a nicer hostel for a while, make sure you've booked a bed at LEAST 3-4 nights in advance. A lot of people have forgotten to extend their stay, and then have had to move hostels, because their bed has been spoken for. When I was still paying to stay in the hostel I'm in, I would make sure my reservation stretched one week ahead of me.
I've stayed in 3 HI hostels in Buenos Aires:
All included a locked Luggage Storage room from which I've never had anything stolen, computers with internet (usually Windows 98 and functional enough to check email and facebook, pretty OK WiFi, included breakfast, and a kitchen.
Tango City Inn in San Telmo $10 USD a night (dorm price)
The Gringa is in town! When my plane landed in Buenos Aires September 9, 2009, I slept a couple hours in the airport, then headed to my pre-booked hostel. Although check-in wasn't until 2pm, they let me go to an empty bed at 8 in the morning, where I face planted until a much more reasonable hour.
With adorable little rooms, lovely staff, and a downstairs chill-out area with a pool table, bar, and air conditioning, I quite enjoyed my stay here.
Although I love San Telmo, it wouldn't be my first choice as a place to live. But then again, I'm deeply in love with Palermo.
Tango Backpackers in Palermo (prices listed above) $13 USD a night (dorm price)
As I have been living in Tango Backpackers so long (there have been 3 managers), the review for this hostel is much more well-rounded, giving the good, the bad, and the ugly.
When I returned from Bolivia, I stayed with a friend for a little bit, but I wasn't really meeting people, so I moved into a hostel in Palermo. And I have been living here for 6 months now.
The staff here are awesome. If they seem a little tired, it's probably because some old lady named Grisella kept complaining about every tiny little detail. (GO TO A HOTEL!)
The hostel is made up of several connected buildings, and is twisty-cool. The lobby has couches and tables, a bar, and is a great place to meet people. There is an awesome rooftop terrace with chairs and tables. The downside to this hostel is that it's noisy. It's a little bit more of a party hostel, and the traffic is very... trafficy. I was a little overwhelmed on arrival (after having lived on the 12th floor of a nice apartment in relative silence), so after a week, I decided to move to the quieter hostel (Palermo Suites) 4 or 5 blocks away. But when they offered me the breakfast job at Tango Backpacker's, I came back. I've definitely gotten used to the noise.
The hostel is also under new management, and things are improving drastically.
The kitchen is on the roof, and a little bit grungy. It is getting more utensils/pots/pans, and is now much more cook-friendly, although I despised it for the longest time, as it only had one pot, and no knives. Arg.
Tiny problem: this hostel has has a couple cases of bed bugs. Nothing in the last month or so, though. And I only got a couple bites in... what was it... December? They left a happy face and a frowny face on my leg. But in the summer, it's either mosquitos or bed bugs. It's hard to escape being bitten here. (No mosquito diseases in this part of the continent!)
I met some awesome people here, including a group I ended up calling "my family," my two best friends, as well as my rock band.
The best part about this hostel (and Palermo Suites) is location. I. Love. Palermo. It's about 3 blocks from a subte (subway) station, and right by where about a gazillion busses stop, close to about 3 supermarkets, and there are restaurants/take out places galore. I'm going to dedicate a whole blog entry to Palermo, later on.
And the best thing of all: if you get up between 8-10am, I have breakfast waiting for you! And I give beginning tango lessons here in the hostel...
Palermo Suites in..., well... Palermo $13.50 USD a night (dorm price)
I stayed here a couple days. Quiet, clean, with a fairly decent kitchen. I probably would have stayed here if I hadn't scored the Tango Backpackers job. A little more subdued with smaller, separate common rooms for studying/reading. Also very close to another subte station, and lots of busses.
HOSTELS I KNOW ABOUT BUT DIDN'T STAY IN:
Millhouse - central downtown $12 USD a night (dorm price)
Hipolito Yrigoyen 959
I have heard that this hostel is basically "The Party Hostel," and it has been described as the hostel where the teenagers and early twenty-somethings come to get drunk or laid or both. People of this ilk recommend this hostel to their friends with a "You HAVE to stay here." I have no desire to visit, thank you.
Florida Suites - central downtown $11.50 a night (dorm price)
Although I haven't stayed here, I have visited, and seen the facilities. I was impressed. My "Traveling British Friend Emma" has said this is the best hostel she has stayed in in her life, including Europe. Centrally located on a pedestrian street full of shopping and restaurants, hostel has a large travel agency, a number of computers, lovely rooms, and feels very clean.
Well, I think that about does it. I'll update if I think of anything else. I would love to get reviews of other hostels in the B.A. area, if you've got any!