As my GRAB taxi pulled up outside Z Hostel in Manila’s Makati district, I thought the driver must have made a mistake. ‘Z hostel Manila?’, I questioned, despite the fact I’d already clocked the enormous ‘Z’ letter emblazoned outside. ‘Yes, Ma’am’, he beamed back. Jetlagged, puffy-faced and unbalanced beneath the weight of my 20kg rucksack, I stumbled into the lobby. I was still confused – I thought I’d booked a budget hostel but it had all the amenities of boutique hotel. Including the best rooftop bar in Manila.
Front desk confirmed I was in the right place. As I checked in they explained it was a cash-less hostel and I could pay for food, cocktails (yes, cocktails on the ROOF TERRACE) using my pre-loaded my wristband. It’s clever ideas like this that make Z Hostel Manila so easy for weary travelers like me. No handfuls of coins and Monopoly-like denominations to try and change, no realising you’ve forgotten your wallet in the room or drunkenly leaving your purse at the bar. Oh, and did I mention there’s even a lift?! Yup. So you won’t be buckling beneath your massively over-packed backpack as you attempt to lug it up five flights of stairs like a working mule.
The front lobby itself is a hub of activity. You can plan trips with the help of the knowledgeable staff (I was given some great onward hostel recommendations like Where2Next and Outpost El Nido) and the café serves cheap, generous and pretty damn tasty portions of Filipino and Western food if you can’t be bothered to venture out. You should, though. Z Hostel Manila is in a prime location – within a stone’s throw of the city’s coolest bars, nicest restaurants … and a questionable midget wrestling show. Not that I’m encouraging anyone to support this.
Located in the heart of upmarket Makati, Z Hostel Manila has a well-earned reputation as the best party hostel in town thanks to its rooftop bar, but it’s the big, immaculately-kept rooms that keep backpackers coming back. I can honestly say I’ve never walked into an 8-bedroom dorm with beanbags, a dressing table and a wall of freshly-laundered white towel dressing gowns to choose from.
It’s the little touches like this that make Z hostel Manila the best hostel in Manila and give you the strange feeling that you’re inadvertently staying in a boutique hotel. If you want to earn traveler kudos slumming it in an authentically sketchy hostel complete with rats and drippy showers, this isn’t the place for you. My sheets were clean enough to swaddle a new-born in, the shower piping hot and the big enough to swing my backpack on without knocking over my roommate. The bathroom was spotless by hostel standards and there was even a mini-kitchenette in the corner if you fancied making a packed lunch or washing some crusty undies in the sink. It’s basically 5 star facilities on a backpacker’s budget.
After checking out of my room (I must admit, I had to force myself to leave), I took up the invitation for a free cocktail on the rooftop bar for sunset. The hostel provides a free cocktail to every guest, every night. They’ve clearly figured out that there’s nothing like the incentive of free booze to force people into socializing. One ridiculously strong pineapple punch later and I’d met a heap of travellers and locals, with their help sorted my onward plans and befriended some cool people to explore the city with. The best bit of the free happy hour? I learnt that if you’re too hungover to drag yourself up for breakfast in the morning, you can take advantage of an extra cocktail in the evening instead! So I partied the night away without the prospect of a guilt-ridden lie-in.
I spent two nights at Z hostel Manila and the rooftop was definitely the biggest draw. It’s a social magnet for well-heeled Filipinos who arrive early to get a sport for the renowned DJ line-up and backpackers linger all night to watch the live music over a cold bottle of Red Rooster. Acoustic, stripped-back covers of recognisable pop classics made the perfect soundtrack as we watched the sun melt to red over Manila’s skyline. If you want to explore the neighbourhood, my favourite spots were the live reggae night at Pura Vida and hipster cocktail bar Polilya below.
The one down-side is the noise insulation so if you’re a light sleeper then definitely request to be put in a dorm on one of the lower floors as the music does go on until the early hours and there’s no escaping the noise. But the beds are so comfortable and sheets so fresh that even on the 5th floor, I had no trouble dosing off (the free cocktails could also have helped!).
Backpackers ofter voice concerns over safety in Manila and as a solo female traveler, I took heed of warnings. Reassuringly, Z hostel has 24 hour security, CCTV cameras on every floor and a bouncer on the door of the bar. I’ve actually never felt safer in a hostel despite the city’s notoriety.
Safety aside, pretty much every backpacker will tell you to skip Manila altogether but that’s because they probably didn’t stay here. Z hostel Manila is one of the best party hostels in the Philippines and whilst the city isn’t pretty or brimming with culture, there’s definitely enough to keep you busy in the days too. A visit to the beautiful Pinto Museum, a blow-out brunch at the iconic Manila hotel and catching sunset over the bay are all must-dos in Manila.
And if you’ve got a bit more time, please check out my next blog post about a great volunteer opportunity in Manila’s biggest and most notorious slum – Tondo. Situation right next to Smokey Mountain, it’s essentially an open-air rubbish tip which is home to over half a million people. It will open your eyes to the hardships most Filipinos endure. It’s an experience you won’t read about in Lonely Planet or on Trip Advisor but it was hands down the best thing I did in the Philippines… and by far the most rewarding.
Disclaimer: My two night stay at Z Hostel Philippines was complimentary thanks to the amazing Manager, Cao. But I made clear that I only post genuine, heart-felt reviews of places and would never big a place up unless it lived up to the hype. I like being honest with you guys about blog collaborations but I’d hand-on-heart still rave about Z Hostel.