San Sebastián, a Spanish beach town just across the border from France, is incredibly expensive.
As my travel partner Mel and I were searching for hostels in the area, we found that most, even the bad ones, were over 30 Euros a night.
Mel told me she found a place for 15.50 Euros a night (each) on a website called BudgetPlaces.com.
“It’s called Habitaciones Garcia and the reviews say it’s really small but in a good location,” she said.
“Does TripAdvisor say it’s OK?” I asked her.
She looked at me.
“Yeah, this isn’t going to be on TripAdvisor,” she said.
“I have one week left. Let’s just do it,” I told her.
Although we needed three nights of accommodations, we only ended up booking two there just in case it was awful and we wanted to move.
It took us almost an entire day to get to San Sebastián from Seville. They are on opposite sides of Spain and flights were over 200 Euros. I’ve learned that Spain is not very easy to hop around. Plus, August is the biggest travel month of the year for Spain so everything booked up early.
We ended up having to take a 39 Euro, 9 p.m. flight from Seville to Madrid, spending the night at a surprisingly really nice hotel near the Madrid train station and then taking a 5.5 hour train at 8:30 a.m. the next morning to San Sebastián.
A side note on the Madrid hotel…we booked it for 44 Euros a night, so 22 Euros each. That was cheaper than almost all of the San Sebastián hostels! And the hotel room ended up being huge! We had a king size bed, clean bathroom, couch and overall tons of space.
We had a Google Maps screenshot of how to get to Habitaciones Garcia from the train station but it took us a good 15 minutes to get our bearings actually figure the map photo out. About 30 minutes after arriving in San Sebastián, we were finally outside of our accommodations.
The directions said to ring the bell for apartment number one. We rang. And we rang. And we rang. No answer.
We tried ringing a different apartment to see if they could give us any information about check in.
“Check in at Habitaciones Garcia?” we asked when one Spanish woman answered our buzz.
“No, no, primero!” she replied before quickly hanging up. First apartment, she was saying. Yeah, thanks, we tried that!
We decided to wait and hope someone remembered we were to arrive at 2 p.m. and would come get us. Side note, it was already past 2 p.m.!
At this point, I was kind of freaking out. Maybe the people who own this hostel went on vacation. Maybe this is just a big scam and this place doesn’t really exist. Was this BudgetPlaces.com legit at all!?
A little while later, a little Spanish woman came to the apartment building and told us Garcia lives on the first floor. She pointed us to his apartment, apologized for her lack of English (I apologized as well for my lack of decent Spanish) and left us outside his door.
We rang the bell. No answer.
About 10 minutes later, a girl about our age came out of the apartment across from Garcia’s. She didn’t speak English and in the little Spanish I understood, she was asking what we were doing there. When I tried to explain, she went inside to call Garcia.
Shocker, he wasn’t home. Yup, I was convinced this guy was not real or was on vacation.
It’s getting to be about an hour since we arrived at Habitaciones Garcia. I announced that I was going to search for wifi because I was not about to sit there and just wait for someone to hopefully arrive.
I found a Canadian owned crepe place and gave Garcia a call.
“Check in?” I said.
He started rambling in Spanish, far too quickly for me to understand.
“Sorry, no entiende. Donde esta?” I said. Translation: I don’t understand. Where are you?
“Quince minutos. Quince minutos!” he exclaimed. I made the assumption that he would be arriving in 15 minutes.
At just about 3 p.m., Garcia and a woman arrive. He is a middle aged Spanish man in a biker jacket and doesn’t speak a lick of English. He let us into the apartment.
Basically, what Habitaciones Garcia is, is Garcia’s extra bedrooms turned into dormitories. I believe he has two double rooms and one dorm-like room with three sets of bunk beds. At 15 Euros a night, we were in the dorm room.
With a bit of Spanish and a lot of sign language, he explained the keys to us and showed us our room and bathroom.
Instead of trying to describe our room myself, I’m going to share what one reviewer said on BudgetPlaces.com:
“That many people in that small of a room? Immigrants to Sicily are treated better!”
The room was tiny. There really was only room for two people to stand. Fortunately, Mel and I were assigned the beds closest to the door with the most floor space around them.
The “rules” of the dorm were translated on the back of the door in English. I could tell Garcia used Google Translate because they made absolutely no sense. While Google Translate is helpful to get the point across, it doesn’t always do the translation that actually makes sense. It’s more of a direct translation which is always jumbled.
The bed was perfectly comfortable, the wifi was incredibly fast and the bathroom was VERY clean which is always a plus. But I still wore my shower shoes! I’m not THAT comfortable.
We could tell that there were three other girls in the room but they were not there. We later learned they were three Austrian girls who were leaving the next morning because it was too cold for them in San Sebastián (it was about 68-70 degrees Fahrenheit). We silently prayed that no one else would come into the room and we would have the hamster cage, I mean dorm, to ourselves.
For once on this trip, my prayers were answered and we ended up having the place to ourselves the next night.
Habitaciones Garcia ended up not being bad at all. We were right in the heart of Parte Vieja, the “happening” part of San Sebastián where all the bars and restaurants are. We had a small little balcony with a great view overlooking all the action. Although this did make it quite loud at times.
We decided to stay at Habitaciones Garcia for our last night in San Sebastián. We only saw Garcia once after check-in (when he was on his way to the bathroom in his boxers…awkward!) so we decided to email him to ask if we could stay a third night.
I wrote the email in English and quickly Google Translated it before sending to Garcia.
Although I never got a response, I assumed he had read it. Never make assumptions. Especially in Europe!
At 10:30 a.m. the next morning, Garcia was banging on the door! Mel and I had put the padlock on the door and he didn’t sound too happy about it. He banged louder until I finally got out of bed and let him in.
“You leave,” he said.
Come on Garcia, why you gotta be like that!?
In my groggy state, I tried to explain that I had emailed him when finally I just went with, “Uno mas noche,” or “one more night.”
“OK, OK. Veinte,” he replied. It would be 20 Euros each. A little bit more than we had paid for the two previous nights but it was a Friday night so we just accepted it. Plus, it was still cheaper than our other options in San Sebastián.
Garcia tried to tell me about check out the next day and I had no idea what he was saying. We went to his computer and typed back and forth to each other in Google Translate to organize our check out for the next day. I am determined to learn Spanish when I get back to the States!
Our stay in San Sebastián was definitely an experience. I was convinced we were going to get raped, robbed or killed but it ended up just being a really cheap AirBnb. We rarely saw the other people staying at Habitaciones Garcia and we were right in the heart of the town for a very good price. While I don’t think I’ll ever use BudgetPlaces.com again, Mel was right. It was good material for the ol’ blog!