Cape Town - The Backpack, in the heart of the Cape Town City Bowl at the base of Kloof Nek Road, is a “hostel with all the facilities of a hotel”. But what really makes it stand out from other Cape Town backpackers’ is that it has recently been awarded the title of “best-value hotel in the world” by the world’s largest publisher of travel guides – Lonely Planet.
The news came with very little fanfare, via e-mail. Co-owners Toni Shina and Lee Harris said they “just about fell over” when they saw it.
“The problem is once you win awards, you’ve got to keep at it,” said Shina.
That didn’t seem to be a problem for them though, with awards for best hostel in Africa from Hostelworld, Velo awards for social economic empowerment and waste management, along with several others already under their belt.
The Backpack is four houses joined together on New Church Street, offering 34 rooms – including a tent in the garden, four or eight-bed dorm rooms (mixed, or women only), single, twin or double rooms (with or without en-suite), family rooms, as well as a fully-equipped flat with mountain views.
Prices range from R200 to R1 000 a person a night. But its value is not just in the low prices, as they say there are cheaper places to stay. The value lies rather in what’s on offer – the quality of service, the way staff are treated, the way profits are used to make a difference, and the way the business does its bit for the environment.
What The Backpack offers its guests includes free wi-fi (as important as a pillow, they say), communal areas with comfy sofas, TV with DSTV (although the staff don’t encourage watching TV when there are so many beautiful things to see), books, magazines and bongo drums. It also has a swimming pool, a bar, breakfast café, sandwiches throughout the day, a pool table and a vending machine with beer and cigarettes.
Guests Tim Majoras, Richard Smich and Derick Messenger, chefs at Disney World in Florida, spent their two weeks in Cape Town at The Backpack. Smich saw a documentary on The History Channel when he was 13 years old and said “one day I’m going to go see where the two oceans meet”. Despite the owners pointing out that the two oceans really meet at Cape Agulhas, not Cape Point, the men had an “outstanding” stay in Cape Town, and loved their accommodation.
“They really will do anything for you. This is hands down the best hostel I’ve ever stayed in,” said Majoras, adding that he had stayed in hostels all over Europe and Asia, and that nothing compared.
Shina and Harris decided to open a backpackers’ hostel when they both returned to South Africa from extended travels, and realised they’d seen the world, but were “pretty much unemployable”.
“So we created a little bubble,” said Shina.
“It was just the right place and the right time,” Harris added.
They have come a long way since almost turning away their very first customer on the night of their opening party (he ended up joining the party). Now, the hostel is certified Fair Trade, has a team of happy staff who receive training in a number of fields and medical care, various eco-friendly and community projects and, of course, it has a number of awards on the wall.
Barman Lucas Mlungu says he loves it. “There’s nothing better than hearing different stories every day and meeting new people.” - Sunday Argus