“ Address: Aldama 303 Y 307 Col. Centro Historico Oaxaca / Oaxaca City / Oaxaca / Mexico 68000 „
Since my decision to go to Oaxaca was so last minute, I was limited in my lodging choice to places that hadn't been booked months ago for the upcoming long weekend. I wanted a cheap hotel and, not finding any online, opted for a private room in a youth hostel instead. There were a few on the hostel booking websites, so I went for the most central, since all seemed to be about the same price.
Oaxaca is not a large place, and the driver of the shared minibus from the airport knew exactly where this hostel was. I ended up being the first drop off too, which was nice, since the hostel is a few blocks south of the centre, vaguely in the direction of the airport. On arrival you are faced with a steep flight of stairs up to the reception area - wheelchair friendly this is not. One thing to note is that the hostel has two doors on the same street...but only one is physically propped open. I was told on arrival that they were open 24 hours so was confused when I returned after a quick wander to find a locked door. I knocked, rang what appeared to be a bell and waited, but no one came down, so I decided to go off for dinner and hope it was open when I was finished. It wasn't until the following day that I saw there were in fact two doors (separated by a shop front) and I had been knocking on the wrong one (which is used only as a fire escape from the inside).
The hostel was generally very well located, 3 blocks from the cathedral, and within a few minutes of a medium supermarket, one of the big city markets and lots of food places. You can explore Oaxaca on foot, and I was pleased to be able to pop back to the hostel a few times during the day, to go to the loo or refill my water bottle or drop off my purchases. It really was that close to the action.
I was greeted by a member of staff who appeared from the back of the building and checked me in. Check in time is officially from 1pm, but they will let you check in anytime if they have a room available, which is a nice touch (and something I don't understand why more hotels don't offer). Check out time is 12pm, and though you can leave bags there, there is a 20 pesos (£1) charge for this, per bag per day. I think this is because space is limited, they don't want to encourage people to dump their stuff there and, hey, other, larger hostels often charge for this service.
I had paid a deposit online and paid the rest cash, for which I received a hand-written receipt including my arrival time (4pm). There is a sign up saying you must ask for a receipt if they don't give you one. The woman found me a room key and a locker key, and gave me a choice of two private rooms since neither was occupied. The one I chose was the smaller of the two, but tucked away in one corner and therefore a bit more private. She gave me a grand tour, showed me the facilities I was free to use, and left me to unpack. The service was friendly and helpful without being intrusive, though I can't vouch for their language abilities since I signed in using my Mexico City address (which garnered only the slightest of 'don't you be bringing swine flu to my nice hostel' shudders).
And it is a nice hostel. In fact, this is one of the nicest hostels I have stayed in, anywhere in the world. For one thing, it was so nicely decorated with local tile mosaics, that it felt homely and not like an anonymous hostel. What's more, it had some great facilities (for a hostel) including a massive and well equipped kitchen open all day (so large I struggled to find a spoon at one point). They have two small eating areas, one near reception and one on the other side of the kitchen, both equipped with small tables - none of that enforced sharing-with-strangers malarkey. They have a lounge which boasts a sun-drenched balcony, some super comfy sofas, a pool table and satellite TV with more channels than I've received in proper hotels in Mexico recently. This room also had a make-shift book swap (where I managed to find a highly recommendable David Sedaris title) and a guitar, for impromptu sing-a-longs I guess. The room was again, really homely with the added bonus of being clean (something my real home is not always). The whole hostel had wifi, and since I didn't have my laptop with me, they offered me use of the reception computer any time I wanted. I took them up on this for 20 mins one afternoon (gotta assure the folks back home I've not succumbed to swine flu) and there was no rush for me to give it back, nor did they sit over me, watching as I logged on.
My own room was one of several types they offer, including dorms and privates, each available with ensuite or shared bathroom. The room was small, with a double bed up against one wall (you know space is limited when you can only get out at one side) but this freed up a bit of the floor area - enough for some press-ups and crunches at night (necessitated by my gym going into swine-flu-panic-mode and shutting down for 8 whole days). I didn't have a wardrobe but I had two large lockers which could accommodate a typical backpack, and the hostel provided padlocks for these. I also had a bin (you'd be surprised how often these can be overlooked in hostel rooms) and a window (again, something that doesn't always come as standard in Mexico). The bed was made up with sheets and a quilt, and I was also given a towel and soap (the famous Rosa Venus). I don't mind staying in hostels occasionally, but it do like things like a towel because it makes my bag so much lighter to haul around, and usually lets me stick to just a carry-on, even for a 3 night stay. Also, while I can (and do...occasionally) make my own bed when at home, I really like hostels where your bed is made up on arrival, and you don't have to strip it as you leave: it makes it feel more budget hotel than dorm room.
I had opted for a room with a shared bathroom, but as it turned out the hostel was practically empty so it was like having my own bathroom, albeit somewhat removed from my room. There were two washing areas. A large open one with a row of sinks and mirrors was just off the kitchen. Beside this were 3 cubicles, though bizarrely (for travellers not used to Mexico) these combined toilets and showers. The doors shut properly, but the shower was no more than a nozzle on the wall which sprayed all over the toilet as you washed. Despite the weird set up (which drained - slowly - through a grid in the floor) the showers were powerful and always had hot water. What's more, there was a row of hooks strategically placed just out of the water's reach, which meant that you could keep your PJs and towel dry, even if the rest of the room was rather wet. I was given toilet paper when I checked in, which I initially found odd as you have to lug it back and forth to the loo, but when I had my first shower, it all made sense, and I was happy to port the paper around with me if it meant it wasn't soggy when I needed it.
The fact that this hostel offered a free breakfast - rare even in full-scale hotels in Mexico - attracted me. The hostel booking website over sold this rather, indicating that there was a buffet of choices each day, but I was only slightly disappointed. On my first day I was brought a cup of coffee, a pancake with fruit jam, and a Mexican dish with tortilla chips, a tomato sauce and a dollop of cream, plus some fresh rolls. Unfortunately, I don't drink coffee, nor do I eat tomato, so since I'd not been asked what I wanted, some of that got wasted. The next day I was wiser, and asked for just pancakes, to which the very sweet old lady cook happily obliged. She cooked up two and then offered me more as I made my way through them. If you were a less fussy eater, however, you could pack away a massive amount at breakfast here, with little need for more than a snack for lunch later on. AND, they didn't make you (or even let you) wash up afterwards. The kitchen also boasted a water machine, which I made great use of, filling up my bottle every time I passed in lieu of buying new ones, to save the environment and a few pennies at the same time.
The hostel was remarkably quiet for a bank holiday weekend, but this could have been because many people had changed their minds, or cancelled bookings due to the slight little flu problem. There were a few other people staying, including two Scandinavian girls, and a guy about my age with his young son, but you barely noticed other people, and there was certainly no noise, from inside the hostel or out on the street, at bed time. This is something you often have to put up with in hotels as well as hostels, but my room was tucked away all on its own so it was silent, and the absence of 'please keep the noise down after hours' signs did not even cross my mind. Clearly, these would have been unnecessary.
I paid for a double room which meant I was charged for double occupancy. Even so, I paid less than £50 in total for the 3 nights and, booking through Hostelbookers, I also got a couple of pounds cashback on Quidco. Most hotels in Oaxaca were charging about £60 per night not including breakfast, so the hostel was a great bargain, and I would not hesitate to recommend it.
The hostel does not have its own website, but you can read more and see pictures:
Hostal Del Mercardo
Aldama 307 (between J.P. Garcia and November 20)