I have been travelling through South America for the last 6 months now and I have stayed at more hostels than I care to remember, and they all tend to blur into one.
But there is one that has stood out from all the rest.
Hostel Kokopelli in Miraflores, Lima, Peru.
And I am not the only one.
Hostel World recently named Hostel Kokopelli as the number 1 hostel in Peru. Not a mean feat for a hostel that has only been open for under a year.
I recently asked Rutger Bosker and Paulo Rathboune, two of the owners and managers of Hostel Kokopelli, how they do it.
How did Hostel Kokopelli get started and what is it all about?
I traveled down to Peru from Holland to explore South America, but did not get any further than Lima.
After staying in Peru’s capital for one week I met Paulo at a Couchsurfing meeting, organized by him.
After the business he worked for as an engineer went bankrupt, Paulo had been traveling for 3 months in Europe, Asia and Australia and returned with the idea of never wearing a suit again, instead he wanted to start a hostel.
After an inspiring lunch and exchanging ideas we decided to stick together and see where the adventure would take us.
We found an excellent location in the heart of Miraflores and started making the reconstruction plans with our other business partners, Alfio Susti, who is an architect and Nicole Fiedler, student in psychology.
We started a hostel because we thought we could do it better than the hostels we had stayed in on our trips.
The main principle of Hostel Kokopelli is to have respect for everyone and to run an honest business.
We are inviting our guests into our house and want it to be a home for them away from home. We do not really have any rules, which generally results in good behavior.
Besides that, we are giving everyone personal attention and our staff are trained that way. People love it when a receptionist or a bartender actually knows their name and are interested in the things they do.
Lima is an underrated capital, that most guide books don’t write up very positively. Over the last 6 years however, Lima has had a complete makeover and there are a lot of hidden gems in this metropolis.
We want to explode Lima and show our guests there is nothing to be negative about.
Another aspect that is a key to success is the fact that we never started a hostel to make money. One needs to live of course, but we are not in the business to become millionaires.
We simply do not want to work for a boss anymore and we enjoy being surrounded by different people, cultures and backgrounds every day. It is a way of living that yet does not bore us.
And when the boss is having fun, everyone does.
How is it different from other hostels?
As said before, our personal attention is a big plus, and that we show our guests how beautiful Lima is as well.
Our rooftop bar with a nice view over Miraflores is extremely appreciated by everyone. It is a nice meeting point for guests and you can either chill or party, we go with your flow.
We are not a party hostel and we are not a boring family house, we are what you want us to be.
Where did the name Kokopelli come from?
We believe Kokopelli was one of the first backpackers in the world…
According to the legend, 3000 years ago, Kokopelli was a wandering minstrel who carried songs on his back, trading new songs for old ones.
Kokopelli brought good luck and prosperity to anyone who listened to his songs. He embodied everything pure and spiritual about music.
He and his magical flute travelled from village to village bestowing gifts and spreading cheer to all whom he visited. His flute was said to symbolize happiness and joy.
When he played his flute, the sun came out, the snow melted, grass began to grow, birds began to sing, and all the animals gathered around to hear his songs.
His flute music soothed the Earth and made it ready to receive his seed. The magic of his flute was also thought to stimulate creativity and help good dreams come true.
As we were starting to develop ideas for the hostel, we first had a different name in mind. We wanted to add a symbol to the name, so we would be more recognizable.
After looking at hundreds of symbols of the Incas, Mayas and Mexicans, I stumbled upon Kokopelli, and we immediately decided to use his image.
The next day, all in a car, we talked about the name and that Kokopelli kept spinning in our minds. That was the moment we decided to drop the other name and go with Kokopelli.
The background story of Kokopelli and the fact that there was not any Kokopelli Hostel in the world made this decision very easy.
The person that actually influenced us to change our initial name and search for another was Ignacio (a publicist of course, so he knew more about branding and the impact that a name/brand can have on people). Now he is a business partner with us.
How do people usually find out about Hostel Kokopelli?
As any good product in the world, word of mouth is its biggest advertisement.
How do you promote Hostel Kokopelli?
We do not really promote our hostel; our travelers do that for us.
They tell others along the way where to stay when they head for Lima.
And of course we have set ourselves well placed in Google, so when people search for a hostel in Lima, there is a big chance we will show up in the top 10.
How important are customer ratings on sites such as Hostel World?
Really important. We get a lot of bookings through them and most travelers use Hostelworld as a guide to be led to the best hostels. So a high rating with nice reviews is very important.
A website like TripAdvisor as well is substantial. Travelers leave reviews voluntarily and rate our hostel.
Usually, those travelers are a bit older, but we really like the mix between old and young in the hostel. The older traveler has a lot more experience, history and conversation.
The video you have made about Kokopelli seems to be more about Lima than it is about Kokopelli. Is there a reason behind this?
Our short movie gives people an idea of what to expect when going to Lima.
As said before, we want to explode Lima and show everyone what a magnificent city it is.
We could have used more footage of parties in Kokopelli, but the “older” traveler that sees the video might not stay with us because of that.
We want people to get enthused for Lima and extend their stay to explore the town.
A couple of people staying at the hostel have gone and got Hostel Kokopelli logo tattoos. What does that say about your brand?
Well, for sure we can say that our brand travels!
It shows us that the design of the logo, the legend behind Kokopelli, and the memories we have given our guests have enough value for people to make the decision to carry Kokopelli with them for the rest of their lives.
A beautiful reward for us, might I say.
You have a rather active Facebook Fanpage. What is the thinking behind this?
People that become a fan of us on Facebook have either stayed with us or are going to in the future.
For future guests, we can show them a bit more of the hostel and they can get enthused. For our guests of the past it is a way of promotion.
Especially our quote of the day, which as well is supposed to work as motivation for anyone, also makes it possible to be on everyone’s Facebook page on a daily basis.
So they will remember us everyday and whenever talking to people that still have to make their way to Lima, they will definitely remember our name and recommend it.
Even when they are back home, far away from Lima, they will advise people to stay with us when they travel to Peru.
All contact details and the possibility to make a reservation are on our Facebook page.
You are about to open another Hostel Kokopelli in Mancora, Peru. What are the opportunities and challenges ahead?
We did not really mean to open a second hostel within a year of the existence of the first, but it came on our way and we grabbed it.
There were a lot of coincidences again, which we had before with the first Kokopelli. Sometimes you are pointed out some kind of path and you have to walk it.
Many people travel to Mancora to relax some days on the beach. When coming from Bolivia, Cusco, Arequipa or Huaraz, you have spent time at altitude and usually in the cold.
A sunny beach town with a laidback atmosphere is exactly what you are longing for.
We will have many people traveling from one Kokopelli to the other.
Also, there is a lack of quality hostels in Mancora, so the market is easy to penetrate. We have no doubt that we will run a good business up there.
The challenges however are bigger than Lima. In the capital, we practically have everything around the corner. In Mancora, supplies are not easy to encounter. We would have to drive at least two hours to find a bigger city, where we might be able to buy what we need.
In Mancora, we will do some things that do not exist yet in the backpacker market in Peru. These unique aspects will bring us a big clientele.
But we will always continue to have the same flow as we have been doing before.
What’s next for the Kokopelli team?
I could say that we will first wait and see what happens to the second Kokopelli and take a step back and relax, but when things come on our path and we see the opportunity in it, we will probably take it.
The sky is the limit, although it would be cool to have a hostel up there too 😉