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5 Tips to Finding Budget Hotels and Hostels in Central America, South America and Mexico That Don’t Feel Icky

hostels in central america south america mexico


Are you scared of hostels? Do you fear pre-booking a budget hotel, only to walk into the bedroom and find stains on the sheets and cockroaches in the corner?


I’ve been traveling Mexico, Central America and South America for 10+ months straight, staying in every type of accommodation - hostels, guesthouses, airbnbs, as well as budget and boutique hotels. I’m happy to say I’ve never once felt the “ick” factor.


lake atitlan guatemala

View from our budget hotel on Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. Hotel Jinava - from $25/night

hostels in central america south america

Cute courtyard at our hostel in Quito, Ecuador. Casa Agua Canela - from $20/night

Another pretty courtyard at our boutique hotel in Guadalajara, Mexico. La Fe Hotel & Arts - from $50/night. Click photo for full review!


I owe this to a few simple steps I use when researching and booking budget hotels and hostels in Central America, South America, and Mexico.


1. Get Started Searching


Depending on what your travel style is - you can start browsing accommodation on an aggregate site or platform.


For Hostels try:


For Hostels, Guesthouses, Budget and Midrange Hotels try:


For Apartments:


cute airbnb guanajuato mexico

Our adorable Airbnb in Guanajuato, Mexico. 2 Bedroom apartment from $54/night.

2.  Cross Check With Tripadvisor Reviews


I’ll gather up a few accommodations I am interested in and then Google the names followed by “Tripadvisor”. I follow these reviews religiously because they are the most up-to-date info on any hotel/hostel/guesthouse. If there was a recent change in management, cleanliness issue, or staff problem, you will immediately be able to tell!


Keep in mind that there will sometimes be a high-maintainance, difficult to please, or downright crazy person leaving a review. Take the reviews as a whole, and listen to the majority. If there is one bad review in a sea of 100 fantastic reviews, you know that the place is a safe bet.


This obviously doesn’t work for Airbnb listings, but their internal review system serves the same purpose. I very rarely will book an airbnb that doesn’t have any reviews yet.


*My number one rule is that any accommodation I choose must have 4+ stars (out of 5) in their overall rating.


If for some reason I’m desperate, I may choose one with 3.5 stars, but usually there is no reason to do that. There are plenty of budget hotels and hostels in Central America, South America and Mexico that keep a high rating.


If you stick to places with a 4+ star rating, you can never go wrong


The view from the front of our hostel in Colombia. Mamallena Rincon del Mar - from $20.50/night for a private room. Click photo for full review and guide!

3.  Cross Reference with Booking.com


  • The best thing about Booking.com is that almost every listing has tons of photos. Usually anywhere from 10-20+. This is a great way to get to know accommodation. You can get a good feel for the grounds, common areas, room options, etc. by flipping through these.


  • Sometimes hostels or hotels will list their rooms on Airbnb. If you can tell that it’s a hotel or hostel, you can google it separately to find its listing on Booking.com or Tripadvisor to check it out further.


The lush grounds of our boutique hotel in Tulum, Mexico. Huitzical - from $69/night. Click photo for full review!

The ocean view balcony from our hotel in Puerto Escondido, Mexico. Hotel Buena Vista - from $30/night. Click photo for full review!

Our bright courtyard in Oaxaca, Mexico. Casa de los Abuelos - from $45/night. Click photo for full review!

4.  Never Book Accommodation that Doesn't Include Bedroom Photos


  • The surest way to be sure that you’ll feel safe and comfortable sleeping in a hostel or hotel’s bed is to make sure you see photos first. Look at their listing on their site, Booking.com or Tripadvisor to make sure you like the look of the bed and room.


  • Booking.com usually has so many photos that room photos are included


  • Tripadvisor has sections for both “Management Photos” and “Traveler Photos”. If the hotel has anything to hide (such as unsavory beds) you’ll almost always find traveler’s posting photos there to warn other guests.


5.  Search Travel Blogs for Recommendations



  • One of my favorite ways to find the best budget accommodation is to see what other travel bloggers recommend. They are usually seasoned and expert travelers, so they know how to pick a good place and evaluate it reasonably. Google search for keywords like “travel blog hostel in Central America” or “travel blogger budget hotel in Mexico” or even simply “travel blog Guatemala”


  • Many travel bloggers are longterm travelers, so they tend to stick to budget accommodations.


  • I find I can trust their opinions because they have an online presence and personality, rather than the random Tripadvisor reviewer who sounds disgruntled and possibly a little crazy.


  • Travel Bloggers will often post lots of photos of the place they stayed and give you any other tips like which room to choose, or if the on-site restaurant serves good food.


quito hostel

Watching the sunset from the rooftop lounge at our beautiful budget hotel in Quito. La Casa Toleña - from $30/night.

hostels in central america and mexico

Another gorgeous sunset view from our budget hotel rooftop in Puerto Vallarta. Villa del Mar - from $20.75/night.

hostels in central america south america

Waterfall gazing on our rooftop deck in Baños, Ecuador. Hostel Chimenea - from $10/per person a night.


And Then...To Save the Most $$

Once you’ve finished all the above steps, you should be left with at least one hotel, guesthouse or hostel in Central America, South America or Mexico that you feel good about it. Here’s one last step to ensure you get the best price!


Find the Accommodation’s Actual Website



  • If you’ve found the hotel or hostel on an aggregate site, Google their name with the city they are located to find their official website.


  • Search for a rates or availability page to make sure you are getting the lowest rate! Many times I’ll find the rate slightly lower by going directly through the hotel, rather than one of the aggregate sites above. Booking directly is usually better for the owners, as well, as they won’t have to pay commissions to the listing sites.



Most of all, don’t be nervous to try out hostels or budget hotels. There are some really well decorated, beautiful, clean and fun options out there. It just takes a little research to find them.


hostels in central america

Lovely light and shapes in our hotel in Managua, Nicaragua. La Pyramide - from $59/night 2 people.


Traveling in Latin America can be so affordable! Even if you’re on a tight budget, you can experience the gorgeous beaches, lush jungles, ancient ruins, colonial architecture, vibrant culture, and delicious food that can be found all over Mexico, Central and South America. Go!



What methods do you use to find budget hotels or hostels in Central America, South America or Mexico? Comment below!


15 Responses

  1. Ann Fisher
    | Reply

    Susan, Great post! I think this post will be helpful to many travelers considering whether to try hostels. Whenever I’m budgeting for a trip, I try to balance more expensive & less expensive accommodations — it can really drop the average price-per-night the trip is going to cost. Your tips are great. I think cross-referencing reviews is particularly important.

    • Susan Ripley
      | Reply

      Thanks for the comment! I agree – I love to have a mix of accommodation – boutique hotels mixed with more moderately priced hotels or hostels + apartments are a nice mix for me, and I think they each give you different perspectives on a place too.

  2. Julie
    | Reply

    You are always finding the cutest places! I’m just going to follow all your hotel reviews once I head down to Central and South America! Great tips honestly. Pictures are definitely really important and I always look for good ratings!

    • Susan Ripley
      | Reply

      Thanks, Julie! I love finding cute places to stay – whether they’re nice boutique hotels or cute hostels or guesthouses – there are so many good options out there if you look hard enough. 🙂

  3. Juliann
    | Reply

    These places look more like boutique hotels than hostels! I will definitely refer back to this post when I book my next trip to south America. I always like staying in places that let me meet other travellers.

    • Susan Ripley
      | Reply

      I love finding budget hotels or hostels that can double as boutique hotels – and there are a surprisingly large number of them in Latin America where the American dollar can go far. Glad you found the post helpful! 🙂

  4. Jenn and Ed Coleman
    | Reply

    Icky and moist are two words that just kind of stick with you. You don’t want icky. It’s amazing how you have been travelling so long and you are able to avoid that icky feeling regularly now. One of the tricks we use is to not only look for the star rating but also the number of reviews. I just don’t trust lightly reviewed properties or restaurants. We’ll have to remember the bedroom picture suggestion. That sounds like a real gem.

    • Susan Ripley
      | Reply

      Haha! Those are two unpleasant words. 🙂

      I totally agree about the number of reviews – that’s a great point. If a place only has a couple reviews I’m suspicious, or at least know it hasn’t been around long enough for there to be a balanced opinion. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Cat
    | Reply

    It has been many years since I stayed at a hostel, but many tips apply even for general hotel booking! I agreed to always check Trip Advisor, especially for the photos that travelers took (so you don’t get fooled by staged hotel photos)! And like you, I usually book on the hotel’s website to avoid any handling issues 🙂

    • Susan Ripley
      | Reply

      Agreed! Think these tips work for any kind of accommodation booking. 🙂

  6. Allison Wong
    | Reply

    I’d been doing most of your tips suggested here and will always check Tripadvisor for the real recent pictures posted by the travellers. That’s probably the most important step to avoid disappointment.

    • Susan Ripley
      | Reply

      Totally agree! Travelers photos are the most current and honest description of the hotel.

  7. These are some rock solid tips, thanks for sharing! Brilliantly titled piece too, I think a lot of people who’ve traveled far in the developing world will catch on that one right away. I especially like the tip for only booking for places with a bedroom photo. I’ve been shafted on this one myself in the past!

    • Susan Ripley
      | Reply

      Glad you found it helpful! To me the bed is the most important part of the hotel – if it doesn’t feel clean and welcoming, I’m not going to be comfortable. And if there are no photos of the bed, it feels like the hotel must have something to hide!

  8. […] How to find the best budget hotels and hostels in Central America, South America, and Mexico. […]

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