Staying in a dorm at hostel is a popular choice for backpackers throughout the world. However, up until recent years, there weren't any backpacker hostels in India as the concept hadn't caught on. Travelers preferred cheap guesthouses over the dull and restrictive youth hostels that existed in India.
That's changed now though -- and how! Groovy backpacker hostels are rapidly popping up all over the country.
Some are chains, while others are stand-alone brands. You can expect most of the facilities of world-class backpacker hostels including fully-equipped lounges, games, activities, free wireless Internet, lockers, dorm rooms with hot water and attached bathrooms, washing machines, and air-conditioning. Many properties also have communal kitchens or cafes, female-only dorms, and private rooms. Rates vary depending on location, and start from about 300 rupees per night for a dorm bed.
Not surprisingly, these hostels are very popular with young Indians and foreign travelers alike. Here are some of the top options.
Zostel, launched in 2013, is India's oldest and biggest backpacker hostel chain. It has successfully implemented a franchise model and Entrepreneurship Development Program, which has enabled it to open nearly 30 properties in key locations across the country (plus one in Kathmandu).
Each is designed to have a youthful, vibrant atmosphere. Zostel has also started offering immersive local experiences to guests in some places, as well as package trips to various traveler circuits in India and Nepal.
- Locations: Agra, Alleppey, Bir, Chennai, Chikmagalur, Coorg, Dalhousie, Delhi, Goa, Gokarna, Jaipur, Jaisalmer, Khajuraho, Kochi, Leh, Manali, McLeod Ganj, Mumbai, Ooty, Pushkar, Rishikesh, Spiti, Udaipur, Varanasi.
- Website: Zostel.
The Hostel Crowd
The Hostel Crowd is a dynamic group of people who want to make a difference and bring about social change. The chain's hostels each have their own very distinct character and are housed in unique premises, such as heritage properties and a jungle environment. The first one opened in Goa in 2013. Sustainability is a core value and the hostels are all staffed by members of the local community. Providing guests with a wide range of experiences is also a focus, and the hostel chain offers interesting and affordable tours. Other added extras are possibly the best coffee in Goa, complimentary breakfasts, and hair dryers and straighteners in the female dorms. A novel concept in hostels, their Prison Hostel takes fun mug shots of it's inmates...err, guests!
- Locations: Jungle Hostel (Vagator), Prison Hostel (Anjuna), Summer Hostel (Palolem), and Old Quarter Hostel (Panjim) in Goa. Maritime Hotel in Kochi, Kerala.
- Website: The Hostel Crowd.
Moustache Hostel (so named because nothing is more Indian than a Rajasthani mustache) aims to be India's trendiest chain of hostels, and it's certainly doing an excellent job of it. The properties are beautifully decorated, with elements that bring out the cultural heritage of each area.
After being founded in Delhi, Moustache relocated to Jaipur in 2015 and opened a plush designer hostel created from scratch. The hostel chain's activities are based on sustainable tourism, and focus on giving guests offbeat experiences while positively helping local communities.
- Locations: Jaipur, Udaipur, Jaisalmer, Agra, Pushkar, Rishikesh and Varanasi.
- Website: Moustache Hostel.
Vedanta Wake Up!
Vedanta Wake Up!, established in 2011, calls itself a chain of budget hotels for the sociable explorer. However, it also fits into the hostel category as some of the properties offer dorm accommodations, in addition to private double rooms. The environment of these properties also very much like a backpacker hostel with common lounges, and fun activities for travelers to interact with each other. Creating an energetic atmosphere was one of the main goals of the chain's two owners.
They were inspired by the ambiance (as well as the comfort, cleanliness and amenities) experienced at hostels in Australia on a backpacking trip in 2009.
Unfortunately Vedanta Wake Up! scaled back its operations recently, and now only has a few backpacker properties.
- Locations: Varkala in Kerala, Pondicherry, and Madikeri in Coorg.
- Website: Vedanta Wake Up!
GoStops is another chain of boutique hostels that's expanding across India. The focus is on "social and experiential stays". Numerous activities are arranged including Bollywood nights, Indian cook-outs, local music events, and vibrant festival celebrations.
Stops Hostels launched its first property in Varanasi in early 2014, and it immediately became a hit with travelers. The hostel is a welcoming social space with library, balconies and verandahs, a fully equipped kitchen, and Indian street food bar. Travelers who prefer to get off the beaten track will love the many Stops properties in mountainous Uttarakhand. A couple of them offer camping in remote areas.
- Locations: Agra, Bir, Dalhousie, Delhi, Jodhpur, Udaipur, and Varanasi.
- Website: Stops Hostels.
Founded in 2014 by a group of schoolmates, Roadhouse Hostels caters primarily to students and young Indian entrepreneurs. The properties have an arty feel and guests are encouraged to decorate the walls with their own paintings. The hostel chain also operates an Artist Residency Program, whereby artists can apply to stay for free in exchange for contributing their creative skills.
- Locations: Arambol and Anjuna in north Goa, Palolem in south Goa, Jaipur, and Varanasi.
- Website: Roadhouse Hostels.
Founded in September 2015 in Pune, Maharashtra, this hostel chain has a mission to "escape the ordinary". It quickly scaled up its operations, and focuses on providing the cleanest backpacker accommodations at an affordable price. The Mumbai branch is conveniently located in the Colaba tourist district.
- Locations: Goa, Agra, Jaipur, Mumbai, Udaipur, Pune, Manali, Delhi, Jaisalmer, Pushkar, Bangalore.
- Website: Backpacker Panda.
A cross between a hostel and a hotel, Crashpad is a step up from the rest. It provides stylish and modern accommodations for backpackers and other travelers (even families) who don't want to spend too much on their stay but still be comfortable. Guests can meet other travelers and participate in organized activities but still have their privacy. All rooms have been tastefully designed and decorated with individual themes. The Jaisalmer branch is particularly noteworthy -- it's in the middle of the desert, with tents and huts!
- Locations: Jodhpur, Jaipur, Jaisalmer, Pushkar, Ghanerao.
- Website: Crashpad Hostotel.
The Hosteller first opened in Jaipur in 2014 before closing and moving to Delhi a year later. The call themselves "social hostels for the social animal". Their focus is on creating memories for travelers who are looking for a bit more than just a vacation, and they run fixed-departure trips to offbeat destinations.
- Locations: Delhi, Kasol, Rishikesh.
- Website: TheHosteller.
The Madpackers Hostel, Delhi
A place for "community, friendships and stories", The Madpackers Hostel opened in late 2014, and has a trendy south Delhi location just a few minutes from Hauz Khas Metro station and Hauz Khas village. Its rooftop terrace even has real grass. How fabulous! This is possibly the best hostel in Delhi. It's super popular.
- Locations: Delhi
- Website: Madpackers Hostel.
Jugaad Hostels, Delhi
Jugaad gets its name from the Hindi term "jugaad" -- loosely meaning to improvise, using limited resources to overcome restraints. The hostel opened in early 2015 and is located in R K Puram, not far from hip Hauz Khas village in Delhi. It's an intimate place with four rooms, including one private double. The look is contemporary yet rustic, with whitewashed brick walls and plenty of wood. The hostel's ambient rooftop terrace is equipped with hammocks and swings, making it perfect for relaxing. And, conveniently, there's a large grocery store right next door. The hostel also offers Himalayan village homestays.
- Website: Jugaad Hostels.
Electric Cats, Bangalore
Bangalore's most popular hostel, the curiously named Electric Cats is situated in fashionable Indiranagar. It has one mixed dorm and one female-only dorm above the Dream Catcher Cafe & Bistro (guests get a free breakfast there and can enjoy the social spaces). The hostel also has an annex a block away, with a private room and dorms. The owner is a passionate foodie and guests are taken out on all sorts of excursions.
- Website: Electric Cats.
Udaipur's best positioned backpacker hostel, Bunkyard is situated in the Lal Ghat area and has lake views. It's a really social and interactive hostel, where you're guaranteed to meet interesting travelers from around the world. The graffiti and murals on the walls, and tangle of untamed plants, add to the appeal. There are plenty of chill-out spaces, rooftop restaurant, and free chai at sunset.
- Website: Bunkyard Hostel.
International Travelers' Hostel, Varanasi
The International Travelers' Hostel is a hostel with a difference. Almost like a homestay, it's located in the owner's ancestral home that's been in the family for more than five generations. As well as dorm rooms and private rooms, you can even pitch a tent in the garden for only a couple of hundred rupees a night! Of course, there's the wonderful community environment that you'd expect from a backpacker's hostel too. A bonus is that healthy and fresh food is prepared and served there. However, do note that it's vegetarian only.
- Website: International Travelers' Hostel.
Wanderers Hostel, Goa
Situated about a 10 minute walk away from pristine Morjim beach in north Goa, Wanderers is definitely not your average hostel. It's a revamped Goan bungalow with a swimming pool! Along with dorm rooms, the hostel offers private eco-friendly tents with attached western-style bathrooms in the back garden. They're excellent value! There's also pool table and library.
- Website: Wanderers Hostel.
Jugaadus Eco Hostel, Amritsar
This popular hostel also gets its name from the Hindi term "jugaad". A jugaadu is a person who is good at improvising, and the well-traveled owner has attempted to do this in various ways to keep the budget low, make the place eco-friendly, and help people know about Punjabi culture. The hostel occupies an air-conditioned two story building, with four dorm rooms and outdoor terraces. It's located about 10 minutes from the Golden Temple. The hostel arranges their own tours in and around Amritsar. It's also possible to stay in a traditional Sikh family home in a village.
- Website: Jugaadus Eco Hostel.
While Zostel is situated further up in the Tapovan area of Rishikesh, Bunkstay is closer to Laxman Jhula. It's a peaceful hostel with a fantastic view over the town from its rooftop cafe, which serves healthy vegan and vegetarian food. Staff help organize local activities, and yoga is held on the rooftop too.
- Website: Bunkstay.
Mumbai is short on decent budget accommodations, so Basti is a very welcome addition to the city. It has a suburban location in Santa Cruz West, not far from the airport, and the trendy neighborhoods of Bandra and Juhu. Travel time to south Mumbai and Colaba, where most of the tourist attractions are, is about an hour. The hostel has well laid-out common room, great vibe, and organizes activities such as bar crawls.
- Website: Basti Hostel.
Horn Okay Please, Mumbai
Newly opened in September 2017, Horn Okay Please is conveniently located in the midst of the action in Bandra West. This "sociable" hostel aims to create a community-oriented space for travelers. It occupies a 100 year old heritage bungalow that's been stunningly renovated in vibrant, quirky style. All rooms have air conditioning, comfortable mattresses, and long beds for tall people. There's also a travel desk and private rooms are available.
- Website: Horn Okay Please.
Artpackers.Life, Alleppey, Kerala
Artpackers is an "art hostel" that's housed in an interesting heritage building near the beach at Alleppey. (It has previously been used as a police station, All India Radio station, and a primary school). This destination is where people go to hire houseboats in Kerala, and watch the famous Nehru Cup Snake Boat Race in August. The hostel attracts a diverse crowd, some of whom are artists and writers, and offers mixed-dorms and private rooms. Want to create your next masterpiece? This hostel is for you!
- Website: Artpackers.Life
HOTs (Heart of Travellers) Hiking Hostel
HOTs has a novel concept -- it opened in 2017 and is India's first "hiking" hostel. As the name suggests, this hostel encourages people to enjoy the great outdoors by going on treks and hikes. The properties are surrounded by nature, and you'll need to walk about 500 meters through the jungle to get to the one near Nainital. Guests love the yummy food and fresh air!
- Locations: Nainital and Almora, Uttarakand.
- Website: Hots Hostel.