By Oscar Maldonado, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – It is not just the low prices, fuss-free check-in or convenient locations. These may be among the main characteristics of Carioca hostels, but there is also a rising trend in Rio de Janeiro in choosing a local hostel on its unique lifestyle experience.
Hostels in Rio, like in many major cities around the world, are an option for travelers seeking more than low prices and informality. “Even though hostels may not be a luxurious option with full-service advantages found in regular hotels, it is the social interaction and tolerance lessons that can be enjoyed and learned at a Carioca hostel,” says Thomas Corbisier, receptionist at El Misti Hostel in Copacabana.
Berenice Barra, Supervisor of Bamboo Rio Hostel, reinforces that idea. “The advantage of staying at the hostel is the informality and more personalized treatment than in regular chain hotels. Plus, there is much more interaction with the staff,” she says.
In Rio, hostels began to open their doors in the early 90s, when the Brazilian economy began to pick up after years of tenacious high inflation and uncertainty. During that period, the new currency (the Real) began to bring stability to the country.
Hence, businesses such as hostels began to thrive, sometimes due to local investments, and also thanks to foreign money. In fact, a number of hostels in Copacabana and Ipanema are owned by expats from countries including Argentina and Switzerland.
The hostel lifestyle aims to promote interaction between people from different backgrounds. For this reason, every hostel in Rio has a community room where guests can kick back, play games, chat, have a beer or exchange travel information.
According to Corbisier, El Misti has received people from places as far away as Zimbabwe and Korea, not to mention from North America and Europe.
Despite its popularity, the hostel style has established itself in Rio as a foreign lodging concept within the local tourism industry. It remains a European influence.
According to Corbisier, “that’s one of the main reasons why many Brazilians from outside the city or the state are surprised by the hostel lifestyle concept.” More formal pousadas and regular hotels remain the lodging model for Brazilians from other states when holidaying in Rio.
Contrary to the popular belief that hostels are the preferred ground for young backpackers traveling for adventure, hostel managers in Rio have noticed that they are beginning to attract a more mixed crowd.
“Once, we had a woman from Argentina staying with us. She was traveling alone and she was seventy years old,” says Che Lagarto’s Copacabana manager Marina Porfírio. She also acknowledges that sometimes minors have stayed at the hostel, but that it is not often, and that the administration only authorizes children accompanied by an adult. Nonetheless, backpackers do account for the majority of guests in Rio’s hostels.
There is a real hostel culture spreading its wings in Rio’s Zona Sul. “I have been here for a while and I already feel I have became a member of a nice little fellowship of backpackers,” says Porfírio.