Travelers often ask “Is the water here OK to drink?” Often the answer is no…or it should be. In Costa Rica in 2010 I was overwhelmingly told that the water was fine to drink. I drank it. I suffered. I’m no longer so trusting when people tell me the water is good.
So what can travelers and hostels do to best solve the drinkable water delima?
Travelers have a few options:
1) Buy water bottles-This Is a common solution, but, in my opinion, it isn’t the best option…at least not for longer trips. Bottled water creates waste, and having to go to the store to get your drinking water can be inconvenient. This is also likely the most costly option long term.
2) Bring a water filter- A water filter allows you to make the tap water drinkable. Teo and I used the Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter when we traveled through Panama and Costa Rica a couple years back, and we loved it. This filter cost about $50 USD, but you make this money up by not paying for water. Con-It’s a little bit of a hassle to filter the water. The bags are best filled in running water, and we sometimes spilled when squeezing into bottles. After many uses it’s easy to wear a hole in the bag. Pro-You can also use your filter to drink from lakes or streams, and it’s faster than a SteriPEN. For me, this option takes 2nd place.
3) Bring a SteriPEN- This is my winner. This small UV light makes tap water or any water without sediment drinkable and is small and easy to use. We have the Ultra model which cost about $100 USD and can be charged via USB. Again, this cost can be made up long term. Cons-the pen doesn’t filter out debris, so it’s not quiet as good for streams/lakes (you’ll likely want to pre-filter), and it takes 90secs to clean 1liter, so it’s not ideal for big groups (for big groups I would recommend the sawyer filter). *
Hostels have some options as well:
1) Leave it up to the guests-this option isn’t awful, but it adds nothing to your guests’ experience.
2) Sell water bottles-This option is Ok, but not my favorite. It’s more convenient for guests than offering nothing, and maybe the hostel makes a little money, but again–waste. And you may come across as greedy.
3) Filter or water dispenser- For me this is the clear winner. It’s convenient and environmentally friendly. Local Hostel in Manaus has a water filter by their reception and it was such a treat to have cold drinking water at our finger tips while we were there (to read more about our stay at local hostel see our post about the hostel). We’ve also stayed at hostels (Including Lighthouse Hostel in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil) that have a big office-style water bottle in a dispenser where guests can refill for free. Red Psych Llama Hostel in Lima, Peru had one such water dispenser and asked for a contribution of 1 sol (.33 USD in March 2015) for each refill (pictured below). Obviously guest prefer free water, but I still thought this system was good, especially since 1 sol coins are easy to come by.
* We try to always be aware of what contamination might be in the water and make our water treatment decision on a case to case basis. While in Lima we opted to refill from the bottled water at the hostel rather than using the SteriPEN on tap water bc we read that there was a lot of heavy metals and chlorine in the water.