The Scoop Behind The Secret Garden, Quito

Quote from Thorntree

“Just an update on this rather popular hostel. We stayed for 3 nights. Staff are mostly friendly, rooms are clean but dark, showers erraticaly spout hot water then icy cold water.

It’s a bit of a party hostel. Corridors are loud with people coming/going/talking. Music drifts down from the bar most nights. We found it fairly expensive. Meals are around $3-5 but are small servings, so we were still hungry after eating. All prices quoted don’t include tax, which is a bit cheaky.

If you’re after a good night’s rest and a reliable shower, its probably not the place for you.”

The problem with posts like these on the forums is that they are very biased and don´t portray the whole picture.  This bothers me greatly as I worked and volunteered at the Garden and know it to be a genuine hostel that constantly strives to improve upon itself.  So for the sake of getting the story straight, I´m going to write about a bit of the history behind it and my experience there.

The History

The Secret Garden was started by Katherine and Tarquin Hill, an Ecuadorian/ Aussie couple who met and lived abroad.  The building that it is housed in is actually Katherine mothers, who lives in an apartment there.

Their aim was to provide a place where travellers could feel comfortable, meet others in a casual social setting, and get reliable information about travelling in Ecuador.

They started small and worked together with other family members to get the word out.  Often this meant going to the bus station and finding travellers looking for accomidation and offering them a room.  When it started a dorm room was .50 cents.

Since then they have put beds in every possible corner of the five-story building as their hard work has been successful and they turn people away daily.  They also have a travel agent on premises, a spanish school, and breakfast and dinner served on the fifth story terrace.

What hasn´t changed is thier personal attention to their guests and commitment to showing people why they love Ecuador and owning two hostels here.  They can be found at the hostel often, talking to guests and helping them with anything from finding a doctor, recommending trips, and in the worst case scenario, helping someone who was robbed sort out new passports and bank cards.

This hospitality is also extended to those who wish to volunteer at the hostel helping guests check in and out and serving meals in exchange for room and board.  They treat each volunteer as a friend travelling and make sure that their time at the hostel is well spent.  Although it should be, this is not the norm for situations like this is many cases.

As the hostel has evolved, it has experienced growing pains.  It was known as THE party hostel and is still known as the source of a good party on days like Australia Day, Christmas, New Years, etc.. It also attracts a lot of Aussies and when they get together its a generally a good time.

What has changed is that as the owners built their second hostel in cotopaxi and had kids, they changed the atmosphere to suit others travelling with children and older travellers who arn´t in the party hard spirit but still enjoy meeting people and enjoying good company.

The result of these changes finds the current Secret Garden a combination of a backpackers hostel, a relaxing environment to enjoy your time travelling, and a place where a group of Gap year kids can enjoy themselves while meeting and enjoying older travellers and those with kids.  It’s a home for those who stay there and the ambiance that is set usually creates a great mood where people play instruments, chat by the fire, or swap stories over a drink and dinner.

The food served at the Garden is three course meals that are created with care.  The chef, Katherine’s sister, constantly works to change the menu and offer different food than usually found on the gringo trail.  It’s a hard balance between making it affordable and keeping the quality up.  The error falls to the later and no apologies are needed.

The hostel itself needs some attention.  Its located in an area of town that, like New Town today, wasn´t a safe area when they started it.  They worked hard with the police and their contacts in Ecuador to bring in more security and clean up the area.  As a result, San Blas, is now a bustling spot for other restaurants and hostels.  When the Garden fills up, they gladly send gusts to others in the area and are working to create a network in the neighborhood that looks out for each other.

So the result is a hostel in an Old Colonial Building packed to the max with rooms and beds, outfitted in the best possible way to provide good service to their guests, and still changing and growing to accommodate those who are travelling.

It’s not the Ritz, nor does it need to be, its popularity comes from the heart of the place and not the architecture or the amenities.  An example of this is the response that the manager of the Garden responded to the above quote with.

“Hi (don’t know your name…),

Thanks for your comments, just to clarify on the tax question, this is clearly explained to you so not “cheaky at all”.

Usually guests do not complain about portion size, they take a starter or dessert .

We had had some issue with the water system recently, this affected the showers, sorry for that but it is being fixed.

A small comment for Ryan on the price of the hostel: I can quote you plenty of more expensive hostels in Ecuador and also plenty of cheaper one, the one you are talking about is certainly not in the same category and I would be careful in checking it complies with all the legal and safety regulations, very recently, two “cheap” hostels burnt down on Plaza San Francisco.

Enjoy the rest of your trips guys.

rgds

Florian
Manager”

Not your typical response and not your typical place!

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