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The BIG Backpackers in Cape Town
We sized up the Cape Town hostel giving new meaning to the phrase home away from home
Size does matter…especially in an enormous Cape Town backpackers industry that’s only ballooned faster and more furiously in recent years. So, when Amy Kropman, a young entrepreneur with a large personality and an even larger smile, decided to open the BIG (short for Backpackers in Green Point) in 2012, she knew she needed a jumbo plan.
“The idea was to merge a guest house with a backpackers,” she grins, her trusty basset hound, Wazi, at her side, “so people who want to stay somewhere nice don’t have to worry about having to spend five days less in Cape Town due to the high cost of accommodation.”
A seasoned budget traveller herself (she’s survived everything from close encounters of the snake kind to rat-infested mattresses), Amy knows what it feels like to yearn for a bit of comfort and convenience while on the road.
And thus the BIG serves up both at minimal rates, shrugging off the cheap-and-nasty mantra invoked by many Mother City hostels, and rather channelling a boutique hotel-style vibe.
For starters, contrary to what its name might imply, the backpackers is a far cry from a hulking flop house. Its 11 spacious and well-appointed rooms sprawl out across an excellently located property that unravels from a perch at the foot of Signal Hill.
Social areas, like a sizeable pool deck, library and a chill-out room complete with satellite television, intermingle with shady spots equipped with upcycled chairs, providing guests with the privilege to retire to the quiet of a private nook or the option of making new friends and throwing back a few beers near the multiple braais (barbeques).
Speaking of which, every week the good folks at the BIG fire up the coals in true South African fashion, throw on some meat and veg, whip up some sides and invite everyone who’s interested in getting a fix of authentic local culture to come and get stuck in (the meal costs only a small fee).
After all, as hostess with the mostess Amy explains, “The BIG is more than just a factory of beds that turns people in and out.” Meaning, the weekly cookouts are just one small part of a greater effort to make sure that guests have the best experience in Cape Town possible.
For starters, drawing on inspiration from her countless adventures abroad – she’s kept a backpacking bible of bits and bobs from her stays around the world – Amy’s given real thought to the amenities and services that could make a guest’s overnight all the more pleasant.
As a result, visitors can count on en-suite bathrooms attached to every room, excellent coffee, free Wi-fi connection, personal plug points and lockers as well as individual side table lamps that switch on at the touch of a hand, an innovative inclusion that allows those in shared rooms to light their private space without waking others. Similarly, the bunk beds have been specially built to be sturdy but to allow bottom-bunk sleepers to sit up and stretch out without the fear of encountering head trauma.
Not to mention, the two on-site self-catering kitchens are fully equipped, so whether you’re pouring cereal or cobbling together a three-course meal, you won’t have to wage war against another resident over a single rusty spoon.
Though, these frills, along with other on-hand conveniences, like a laundry service and an honesty bar, only begin to touch on the reason why, after less than a year in operation, the Cape Town backpackers is among the best rated on TripAdvisor.com.
“We seriously go out of our way to make sure people enjoy themselves,” Amy lets on.
Needless to say, along with servicing rooms daily and remembering every guest’s name – non-negotiables in Amy’s book – the team at the BIG takes a real interest in residents, sitting with them at meals, answering questions about itineraries and acting as a resource for recommendations.
The backpackers also has a full-fledged travel and booking centre. But, in line with Amy’s insistence on going beyond the call of duty, the BIG doesn’t simply send travellers off into the dark abyss of Cape Town tourism; the staff suggest a carefully curated collection of tried-and-tested excursions and adventures.
“We won’t send anyone on a tour we haven’t done ourselves,” she explains, a principle that’s resulted in more than just a few “Doh” moments on less than interesting expeditions.
Equally passionate about the fact that everything must look brand new all the time, Amy, quite clearly, isn’t afraid to set the bar high. When she first purchased the property in 2011, it was on its doily-clad, musty carpet-lined deathbed. Now, after a full renovation, with its stylish décor – think beach chic with funky, retro accents – the Cape Town backpackers artfully encapsulates the rich and colourful spirit of the Mother City.
In a nutshell, and as countless happy guests report, the BIG is lending some sizeable meaning to the idea of a home away from home.
The Bill: Low, low and, did we say, low? A bed in a dorm goes for between R260p/p and R300p/p, and couples will need to fork out a mere R440 each during low season to sleep in a private room fit for a boutique hotel. A simple continental breakfast of coffee, juice, fruit, yoghurt, cereal, toast and make-your-own eggs is also included in the price.
Tip: Though well within walking distance of a number of major attractions, including the storied V&A Waterfront, the Cape Town Stadium and the Sea Point Promenade, the BIG is also within a short distance of both MyCiTi and Hop On Hop Off City Sightseeing bus stops. Plus, the backpackers has MyCiTi bus cards available for purchase at the front desk.
BONUS: The BIG also has a stock of free SIM cards at the front desk. All you need to do is ask for one, top it up with airtime and stick it in your phone!
Booking the BIG: To make a booking at the BIG backpackers in Cape Town, phone +27 (0) 21 434 0688, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the BIG's website.
In Cape Town on holiday? Have a gander at our locals' list of Mother City must-dos.
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