I sit in the sunny lounge enjoying a delicious toasted cheese sandwich and cappuccino, eavesdropping on the guests who chatter relaxed and happy in their various mother tongues around me. I pick up an animated American accent, French, German, Dutch and a touch of Hebrew, while admiring the view towards Table Mountain and allowing myself to absorb the mood.
I’m in the suburb of Gardens, Cape Town, at Ashanti Backpackers Lodge, a place synonymous with Hostelling in the Mother City. Having just celebrated their 20th Birthday, I’m here to speak to one of the co-founders about the history of their hospitality and the change in backpacker accommodation that the past decades have brought.
It all started when Lisa Krohn and her partner Craig Johnstone converted some rooms above his parents garage into three simple dormitories in 1992, with the idea of hosting the intrepid travellers seeking budget accommodation in the city. Just returned from their extensive travels abroad, they recognised a gap in the local mark and wanted to create the kind of establishment that they had enjoyed, at excellent value.
The were spot on with their predictions and three years on bought the grand old lady on Hof Street in Gardens, once a railway house and later a guest house, to expand their business. The history of the house shows it dates back to 1866 and once belonged to Afrikaans writer PJ Hofmeyr. Today the stables where horses and carriages once stood, has been transformed to guest rooms.
The Victorian architecture and charm of the building with its high ceilings and wooden floors, as well as balconies and stately grounds on the slopes of Table Mountain, was perfect for a backpacker lodge in Cape Town.
Taking their time to renovate and restore the property, they opened for business on 1 August 1996. Those were tough times for travel in South Africa and only the brave and rather intrepid travellers would make their way to the tip of the Africa, backpack on, hitching rides and ready to settle in to a dorm with a story to be shared over a drink with new found friends.
Lisa says she remembers clearly the day that Nelson Mandela gave his inauguration speech in Cape Town. It was the 19th May 1994, and began – “Today we are entering a new era for our country and its people. Today we celebrate not the victory of a party, but a victory for all the people of South Africa.”
At that point she knew that tourism in South Africa would be forever changed and that their affordable accommodation was destined to be filled with visitors from around the world, wanting to get a taste of our young democracy.
Who books Backpacker Hostel accommodation?
1. “Flashpackers” or suitcase travellers are usually 30 something years old professionals who opt for the backpacking hostel environment as it offers a more social experience, the option of interacting with other guests and the benefit of local knowledge from the hosting team – who always know where the fun events, parties and activities are to be found. They are usually on holiday and their stay is shorter.
2. “Greygappers” are usually retired and travelling around the world for an extended period of time, they like the Hostel environment as it is more affordable than Hotels, and value for money is a great consideration for the long term traveller.
3. For the traveller on a budget the option of a dormitory in the company of fellow travellers is a wonderful way to see the city – and country. More independent and happy to bunk up with like minded people, this will always be a successful and cheap option.
4. Gap Year Students have always enjoyed the Backpacker Hostelling environment, and even though there seems to be a decline in young people opting to take a year out before studying, they are still there.
5. Ashanti has nurtured relationships with numerous international Volunteer Program and often acts at home to those giving back to local projects, as they travel.
6. Some Overland Safari tours end at Ashanti or start from there, and they do occasionally have groups or individuals staying on for more time in the city.
What struck me as I walked in on the day of my visit was the diverse mix of guests in the reception area. Checking in, checking out, asking for help with planning their day, or just chatting with one of the staff members. The energy was palpable and the age, dress and demographics of the guests as they gathered in the sunny foyer, offered a look at the new world of hostel occupants.
Laptops in hand, smartphones, travel apps, a mix of Samsonite and backpacks, hipster beards and dreadlocks, socks and sandals alongside Solomons, older women in tailored dresses and young girl in tiny shorts. Here the focus is fun, discovery and that all important levelling field that is travel. Without breaking the bank.
The lounge area that captures the light and views towards Table Mountain.
The outside of the beautiful old lady in Gardens – Ashanti Lodge.
Swimming pool area and where the fun happens.
What are the accommodation options at Ashanti?
Successfully marrying the history and style of the property and with all the modern comforts as well as consciously keeping up with international trends and the other backpacking hostels in the area. Ashanti has over the decades evolved to a 200 varied bed capacity on a three properties, guaranteeing to give the more budget aware and independent traveller all that they could need.
There are designer dormitory beds in the backpacker lodges in Gardens and Green Point, both of these hostels also have private single and double rooms with shared bathroom facilities. There are also private en suite rooms should you prefer your own space. Each have their unique qualities to ensure that you get what you want from your well priced accommodation.
Ashanti Lodge in Gardens has just invested in upgrading their bathrooms and they’ll looking wonderful. There’s also a large pool area, garden and verandah as well as lounge that’s open 24 hours a day, a self-catering kitchen, laundry service. The free wifi is excellent too.
Guest rooms above and dormitories below.
The Ashanti Backpackers Lodge in Green Point offers a smaller more intimate experience, and seems to attract more visitors wanting to be near the Sea Point Promenade, as well as many delegates attending conferences at the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC), who are travelling on more of a budget.
Some useful tips when booking.
– The term ‘backpacker’ means different things in different countries and Ashanti are doing their best to create awareness around the concept of shared dormitories, shared bathrooms, co-ed living, private rooms, private en-suite rooms and communal areas, promoting this relaxed open style of travel to all.
– Communication is open here and the team are available to answer any questions you may have to appease your anxiety, such as is there hot water, are towels included, where do you store your goodies while out and about, etc. Actually the much celebrated Zandile who handles reservations, is the one you will speak to with these questions and will guide you to the best category of accommodation for your stay.
– Security is a priority at Ashanti and over the years numerous precautions have been set in place, including lockers under the beds, personal digital safes, codes to enter the room and an ATM on site.
The Ashanti Travel Desk one stop shop.
As though accommodating you isn’t enough, an exciting addition to the services offered by Ashanti is their Travel Online service, where you can now connect prior to your arrival and book activities and add-on experiences to your itinerary. Take a look at – http://ashanti.co.za/travel/ – headed up Cal Heyburgh.
Having advised budget travellers and backpackers travelling in Africa for over 24 years, they have put together a selection of their preferred and trusted overland tours, budget safaris, adventure tours and day tours throughout Southern and East Africa. You can also book your flights and car rental in Southern Africa.
If you can’t find what you are looking for on the website, you are welcome to send through a message. So whether its wildlife in Kenya, climbing Kilimanjaro, camping in Namibia or just having a great city break in Cape Town, get in touch.
About doing the right thing.
As a natural business practice, Lisa and Craig have always invested in their staff and generously embraced their social responsibly. They are dedicated to their preferred suppliers, give opportunities to emerging entrepreneurs, support community guides, and have played an essential role in sending business to grass route initiatives.
Even making the conscious change to use sensor lights and fans, adding solar panels, using only energy efficient light bulbs, recycling, and constantly raising funds for the Tourism Community Development Trust, which they co-founded.
Where the heart is.
In closing I asked Lisa what she had learnt in her 20 years of managing Ashanti Lodge. She tells me – “I love my job, it is never boring, there’s always something new, meeting interesting people and making relationships that last forever.”
But make no mistake, it takes a lot of hard work to consistently achieve what they do here. Lisa and Craig are hands on and well supported by an incredible team. Perhaps the greatest secret to their success is that as travellers themselves, they can truly identify with the needs of their guests, considering what they would want of their accommodation themselves.
They take lessons from their own evolution as Backpackers in Cape Town, as well as from the industry they are are an integral part of, and are very committed to keeping up with trends.
“If they want free wifi – they shall have it”, being just one of them.
The Hostel Backpacking experience can be private or about making friends. Either way with the friendly Ashanti staff ready to help with all the arrangements of your stay, the beautiful areas and views to soak up, it feels a bit like a relaxed home, and that is what Lisa and Craig must be most proud of. The success of the family they’ve built.
As for me, reluctantly I finish up and dash to my next meeting, taking a last look around and wishing I could stay and take more lessons from my hosts, talk to some of the guests, share in our shared love of independent travel on a budget.
This is a good affordable place to base yourself while visiting Cape Town, and where unpretentious fun and a commitment to service is to be found.
The necessary details for ease of booking.
– The original Ashanti Lodge Backpackers in Gardens, 11 Hof Street, Cape Town. Tel: +27 (21) 423 8721 and Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
– The Ashanti Guesthouses in Gardens, 7 + 9 Union Street, Cape Town.
Tel: +27 (21) 423 8721
– Ashanti Backpackers Green Point, 23 Antrim Road, Three Anchor Bay, Cape Town. Tel: +27 (21) 433 1619
For all queries email: email@example.com.
Ashanti Online Travel: Tel: +27 21 202 3471 Cell: +27 872335002 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or Skype: ashantitravelonline
Here’s to the next 20 years and all that the evolution in travel will bring. Also to more Humans of Ashanti stories shared. From meetings over a local beer and babies being born of the African romance.
For more information, take a look at the Ashanti website and connect on Facebook | Twitter | Instagram and YouTube for more of an idea of what is happening. If the above doesn’t make you want to stay at Ashanti, the posts there will.
Disclaimer: All pics were supplied by Ashanti.
Note: This is not really a child friendly option.