Travel Warning to Backpackers in Santa Teresa: Avoid the Pura Vida MINI Hostel, Or Be Scammed
I don’t typically take to my blog to slam businesses I don’t like – after all, The Happy Talent is about playfulness, mindfulness and other leisure skills.
But since so much of what I’ve been doing (and writing about) lately is travel, I thought it was worth mentioning that I had a terrible experience at the Pura Vida MINI Hostel, located up a (very steep) hill from Playa Carmen in Santa Teresa/Mal Pais, Costa Rica.
First of all, if you book on HostelWorld, a website I usually highly recommend, Pura Vida MINI Hostel will try to rip you off. It will say very clearly in the HostelWorld confirmation email that a $12 (or however much) deposit has been charged to your card, and you owe the cost of your room minus that deposit upon arrival.
I show up and, no, they won’t take my credit card. That's fine. Inconvenient for me, but whatever. But then they tried to tell me that since there is a 13% tax in Costa Rica (which the confirmation email from HostelWorld says was included), I owed a $13 tax per night on top of the $103.02 quoted in the email. They insist that, no, they also won’t count my deposit towards this balance, even after I showed them the confirmation email from HostelWorld -- and point out to them that it says clearly in their own CRM software that $12 has already been paid.
When I explain to the woman that 13% and $13 are two different things, and that tax was already included in the price, according to their own confirmation email, she continued to insist that I still owed more money. She also claimed that they were "out of paper," so I would be unable to get a receipt from her.
I'd booked several other places through HostelWorld, including the beautiful Hotel Dorothy in La Fortuna and the delicious, breakfast-and-dinner-and-smoothies-included Arena Y Sol in Dominical, and none had ever given me any trouble over the HostelWorld's policy of taking a deposit, and then deducting that deposit from the cost of your room upon checkin. So I'd assumed it wouldn't be a problem at Pura Vida. I was wrong.
So finally I was like, maybe it's because this Sabrina woman doesn't really speak English. Maybe if I come back later, the guy who speaks English will be here and I can sort it out with him.
So I went out surfing and ATVing (these are some of the top activities in Costa Rica) for a few hours… and when I got back to the hotel, the English-speaking dude was back -- and before I could ask him any questions about the payment, he told me that I needed to pack up my stuff and leave, because Sabrina “didn’t like my vibe.”
I was shocked.
I didn’t complain when everything in the kitchen that wasn’t oily was sticky. I didn’t complain that the whole place smelled like cigarettes. I didn’t complain about the fist-sized holes in the bathroom and shower doors that seriously interfered with my modesty.
I didn’t complain that the pool water wasn’t clear. I didn’t complain when the entire place ran out of water, both for showering and for drinking. (I felt bad for the guy was had just put shampoo in his hair.) I didn’t complain about how excruciatingly hot my room was. I didn’t complain about the people partying all night. I didn’t complain about how crowded and congested everything felt. I didn’t complain when I was unable to use my rental car because it was completely blocked in by other cars (well, okay. I complained about that a little – but only because I’d told two people from the lineup that I would drive them to a party, and I knew they were standing by the dustiest of Costa Rican roads waiting for me).
I didn't even complain that my "private" room had holes drilled into the wall next to my bed, looking into the room next door.
Because I’m a pretty good sport – it’s Costa Rica, I’m traveling, and things you book online don’t always look like the photos. Sometimes you go to a place and it's full of spiders and cockroaches and scorpions. That's Costa Rica.
However, I wasn’t about to let this woman take advantage of me. I work hard for my money, and if someone tells me I owe $12 here and $13 there that I don’t, I stand up for myself. I patiently explain that you don’t figure out 13% by adding $13, but by multiplying the total by 1.13 (not that it was even relevant, because I’d already paid the tax).
Maybe someday I will be soooo rich that it just won’t matter to me anymore. Maybe someday I’ll be all:
But then again, maybe not. I don’t think people who are rich got that way by throwing money into the wind every time someone tried to scam them or take their money away or steal from them.
When I explained this to the manager guy, he said, “Yeah, but customers overheard you talking and we don’t like the bad vibes.”
Let me be clear: I was by no means making a scene. However, the MINI hostel is indeed mini. You’d be hard pressed to have a private conversation anywhere in that place – even my “private” room with all those holes in the walls.
Was I just supposed to not say anything about the scam because someone might maybe hear? Because someone might find out they didn’t need to pay the extra $25 you charged them? You don’t want them to know that the woman at reception is trying to rip people off?
“Bad vibe,” indeed.
So yeah. If you’re traveling to Santa Teresa, Mal Pais, Montezuma or Cabo Blanco, don’t stay at the Pura Vida MINI Hostel.
Stay at Tranquilo Backpackers. That’s where I ended up after I got kicked out of the other place. For the same amount of money ($35 -- actually including tax), I got a much bigger room with better beds, an in-room sink and two private hammocks on the balcony.
And the room was cool, unlike the Pura Vida Mini Hostel, which was about a million degrees.
There was a giant mango tree on the property, so I always had plenty of juicy fruit to eat – and I didn’t need an alarm clock, because howler monkeys sang me awake each morning. The people were super nice, the bathrooms were clean (and no holes in the wall!), and you don’t even have to walk up a giant hill to get there.
View from my hammock. Breakfast on the left, alarm clock on the right.
Another option – especially if you want to pay with your credit card – is to check out Airbnb. They have private rooms in Playa Carmen for $20-$33 (and, obviously, more than that) per night, and if you sign up using my link, we’ll both make $35.
(And if you sign up to rent out your room/house/apartment while you’re traveling, you’ll make even more money! I used to travel for profit, because I could make so much money renting out my apartment on Airbnb.)
So yeah. If you don't want people to scam you, watch you poop and keep you up all night, avoid the Pura Vida Mini Hostel. Stay in Tranquilo or an Airbnb, instead.
Last thing: right now, Santa Teresa is super dusty. Like, dusty enough that many of the people who live there walk around in bandanas or dust masks. Dusty enough that the trees and the people are covered in dust. Dusty enough that it even looks hazy at the beach. Dust will be in your lungs. It will cling to your skin. It hasn’t rained there in Nicoya/Guanacaste/Puntarenas a long time, and none of the roads in Santa Teresa are paved.
This is something important to keep in mind if you have any sensitivities or respiratory issues – maybe hold off on Santa Teresa/Mal Pais until it rains.
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Eva is a content specialist with a passion for play, travel... and a little bit of girl power. Read more >
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