Welcome to our weekly series Hotel Tip of The Week. Being on the road every day of the year means we stay at countless hotels along the way. For all the dingy, disappointing budget digs, there are as many budget accommodation gems. We post one hotel tip of the week, every week, of places we feel confident recommending after having tried and tested them ourselves.
Much to our surprise, we arrived to the island of Bocas del Toro in Panama just in time for the annual Carnival celebration. While this made for an unending supply of cheap beer and celebratory mood, it also revealed a temporary disregard for anything relaxing whatsoever. We suffered through one of the loudest nights of our lives at a dingy hostel (to remain unnamed) and the next day we headed straight to Hostal Hansi where, for exactly the same price, we had peace, quiet and comfort.
Named after her beloved black cat, Hostal Hansi’s owner runs the place in just the efficient and organized manner you expect from a German. The rooms are clean, comfortable and spacious. Private double rooms with an ensuite bathroom, TV and balcony are available for $30. We stayed in a triple room with private bathroom for $36, and while there was no TV, the three single beds felt brand-new and were a dream to sleep on. The en-suite bathroom had three cups, three towels, three hooks to hang the towels, plus hot water and even a toilet brush. See Stand Out Features for more raving about attention to detail, but the fact that the German owner cleans the entire hotel herself each day means that she personally guarantees cleanliness.
Hostal Hansi is the perfect place for both short and long-term visitors to Bocas del Toro, particularly because of the comfort of these communal areas. Both upstairs and downstairs have tables and chairs, and the fast and free wi-fi reaches all levels and even (to a lesser extent) into the guest rooms. There is a carefully curated trilingual library available for guests, who can borrow books in German, English and Spanish for beach days or quiet evenings in (should you visit the island during the 51 remaining weeks of the year during which Carnival does not turn the world upside down).
Surprisingly, the main town of Bocas del Toro does not offer visitors access to great beaches, which means that Hansi is not a hotel tucked away on a hidden private beach, but rather a practical town center hotel. It is located three blocks from the main arrival dock, one minute from the town’s largest supermarket, close to all the restaurants and three minutes walking distance off the main drag.
Stand Out Feature: Attention to detail
The attention to detail at Hostal Hansi is remarkable. Each guest is provided with a lock and a wooden locker inside the room – large enough to hold all your valuables, plus a small backpack. The key, which comes inserted into the padlock, is attached to a key ring along with the room key and main house key. Revisiting the hook issue – not only does the bathroom have hooks to hang towels, the room itself has sets of three hooks for each guest, plus shelves with hangers underneath long enough to hang all your clothes. Why budget accommodation owners so often fail to put in hooks is unclear, but the fact that Hansi has just the right amount of hooks and hangers puts the hostel in a class of its own. Likewise, it is not customary for accommodation in this price range to provide towels, but Hostal Hansi not only provides guests with fluffy fresh towels, but also replaces them on a daily basis.
Hostal Hansi is clearly a hostel, not a B&B. There is no promise of breakfast here, but the kitchen is so clean and organized we could barely wait to make our own food. The refrigerator has a glass door similar to those in the supermarket, and each guestroom is assigned a clearly labeled shelf number which fairly allocates space and reduces food theft. All appliances, cutlery, plates and cups are provided to cook up any meal. For those who do not cook, there are several cheap restaurants on the main street just two minutes away where you would be hard pressed to spend more that $4 to stuff yourself silly!
Hostal Hansi does not take reservations online or over the phone. We have developed quite a nose for good accommodation, and after discovering Hansi’s website, it was our top choice for our stay on Bocas del Toro. However, unable to make a reservation, our first night on the island was spent in utter agony. Luckily the next day Hansi had a free room and we moved right in, but our island getaway would have been better had we been able to stay there from the start.
Compared to the hostels in the same budget range, Hostal Hansi is a dream. After a few nights at the hostel for between $11 and $15 per person per night, you begin to ask yourself how, for the same price that others run chaotic roach motels, Hostal Hansi is able to run a place where everything is done just so perfectly right. Even travelers accustomed to three or even four star mainstream hotel chains would find comfort in this clean and very favorably-priced hostel.
Location: Ave. D & 2nd. Street, Bocas del Toro, Panama
Price: $30 for a double room with private bathroom, $25 for a private room with shared bathroom, $12 per person in a triple, $13 for a single room with shared bathroom.
LGBT Friendly: Yes
Amenities: Kitchen, wi-fi, towels, communal area, books & games