We almost missed the blackboard with ‘MaPatagonia Hostel’ scrawled hastily on it hanging from the front door of a historic home on a quiet side street called Purisima, which, roughly translated, means ‘super pure’. What was a chance booking at a Puerto Varas hostel turned out to be a ‘purely super’ accommodation experience.
The French owner, Pierre, is a former travel journalist and photographer who has been able to nail down exactly the kind of hostel experience we are always on the look out for but rarely find. The space he has created and his staff maintains is organized and controlled, yet with the comfortable ambiance that allows travelers to relax and enjoy time together.
After checking in, we were taken on a tour of the hostel and then Pierre sat down with both a town map and a topography map of the surrounding region, proceeding to lay out how to do a quick two-hour walking tour of town, followed by a full explanation of the types of tours and activities that are easiest to do from Puerto Varas using the other map. MaPatagonia Hostel runs tours for guests, including sunset kayaking and hiking tours, or guests can grab one of the new, sturdy mountain bikes perfect for making the full-day cycle trip to the German town of Frutillar or other independent trips. Our three days in Puerto Varas were planned out within minutes thanks to his expert advice and maps. While the staff could be friendlier, they helped with anything and everything we needed during our stay.
There are seven private double rooms and two four-bed dorm rooms on two stories of this well-preserved colonial home on Chile’s Patrimonial Hertiage list. The well-lit doubles are entirely adequate in size, with comfortable beds in sturdy wooden frames and the rooms have desks, chairs and power strips to plug in several electronic devices at once (hostel/B&B owners worldwide: please invest in power strips like Pierre – we all have multiple devices and one outlet just doesn’t cut it!). The only thing we found missing was that there were not enough hooks in the room. Dani’s theory is that this is a historic home, so making holes in walls is frowned upon. Speaking of the walls, they are thin and noise does carry, but this wasn’t a problem during our stay as the average age of the guests was around 35, so there were no gap year backpackers shouting over bottles of beer late into the night.
Taking in the vibe of the house, I immediately noticed how grand it feels, nothing like your average hostel. I wondered why Pierre didn’t go the ‘extra mile’ and make it into a Bed and Breakfast. We later discovered why, when, on our last morning at the hotel, Pierre asked why he didn’t see us watching the movie last night. We had passed out early after a full day exploring town (and, maybe, eating too much cake…).
In his lovely French accent he explained, “Oh, what a shame. It was beautiful last night, you know, with everybody gathered around the TV in the living room, drinking wine and watching a black and white film from 1942 together.” He went on to explain how much he prefers the energy of hostel life, the togetherness of a hostel you just don’t have with a more sophisticated Bed and Breakfast. It’s true. The living room would be filled with five or six small tables if this were a B&B, but instead there is one long wooden table where everyone eats meals together or relaxes on an oversized couch (the most comfortable in Chile, Pierre proudly claimed) on rainy evenings to watch one of the 300+ films available together. We later learned that the noncommittal chalk sign outside is on purpose – the former name Margouya 2 was inherited but it will change soon (and has been updated in this review to MaPatagonia Hostel).
Years of hard-earned travel experience plus love of hostel life means that Pierre brings together all the best parts of other hostels and keeps away those that give ‘hostels’ a bad reputation. Guests here receive loads of local information, tour information without any pressure at all to take part, a communal environment great for couples and travelers over 20 years of age, plus coffee and tea available all day and dependable, plus super-fast Wi-Fi.
There is a spacious garden in the back with a grill, hammocks, and a grass volleyball court for good weather, while inside there are stoves and heaters original to the house that keep everyone toasty warm on the chilly nights. The location is an additional plus. The street is quiet, but just around the corner from the main drag and is a five minute walk down the hill into town.
Stand Out Feature: The kitchen
Unlike cheapie hostels requiring one-pan pasta meals, this kitchen is made for cooking. With room for roughly half the hostel to prepare meals at once, the spacious kitchen is fully stocked with stacks and stacks of pots and pans, more than enough silverware, including razor sharp knives and several full sets of dishes (and fresh, clean sponges to wash them with when you’re done). There is a new blender, a coffee press and a coffee machine, an electric kettle to boil water, a toaster and a large table in the center of the kitchen with large cutting boards for everyone to stand around and prepare their food together. During our time there, people were making lovely stews, an interesting baked chicken, cheese and endive meal, and big, leafy salads. Two large refrigerators keep guests’ food separate and easy to find, with markers and bags in a basket on top to label food so nothing goes missing and, when checking out, guests leave any leftover ingredients – fresh fruit/veg, oil, spices, bread – on a designated table for anyone to use. We particularly loved this feature as we not only hate seeing food we buy go to waste, but also dislike having to buy new oil / salt every time a hostel has a kitchen!
Small talk and wine drinking ensue as people talk over and under others in a myriad of languages, with just the sort of energy that we assume Pierre had in mind when he opened the place.
Room for Improvement: The showers
The bathrooms are cozy, with extra toilet paper rolls, soap and fresh towels, but the showers are original – which unfortunately means they are a bit shabby and in need of a refurb. I’d like to see modern plexiglass shower cabins, rain shower heads and shelf space for toiletries inside. Truth be told, the bathrooms are fine for your typical backpacker hostel, but as the rest of MaPatagonia is that wonderful step up from such an experience, why not invest a bit here to match the high level of all around quality.
Overall: MaPatagonia Hostel
This is a hostel for grown-ups that gets the whole experience just right. With the same rates as other hostels in Puerto Varas, the value for money here is off the charts.
Details: MaPatagonia Hostel in Puerto Varas
Book & read recent reviews here: MaPatagonia Hostel on Booking.com
Location: Purisima 681, Puerto Varas, Chile
Price: Dorm beds CLP8,000 (US$16), single room CLP15,000 (US$30), double rooms with shared bathroom CLP20,000 (US$40), double rooms with private bathroom CLP26,000 (US$52)
Digital Nomad Friendly: Yes
Amenities: Kitchen use, lounge room with TV and comprehensive DVD library, tour desk, bike rental, free wifi, garden with sun chairs and BBQ