Stayed in September 2013 with my girlfriend, and despite having traveled for over 5 months around the world, I have not yet felt compelled to write a review of a lodging until now. Why Mbizi is the top-rated hostel in Johannesburg (on TripAdvisor and Hostelworld) either speaks to systemic, massive grade inflation on the part of the typical reviewer or an extremely low standard for hostels in this area. The owner, Patrick, is a nice guy and helpful with tours and safaris, but we need to get real about this hostel. Below are my ratings and their explanations:
0% Security: I would define security as keeping out the people that aren't supposed to be in the hostel while allowing in those that are. At no time is this achieved. During the daylight hours and sometime after darkness, the front gate is unlocked, the front door is wide open, there is no staffed front desk, the rooms have no locks on them, and there are no lockers. There is literally nothing stopping anyone from the Johannesburg public from walking in and having their way with your things and/or you aside from an unlocked front gate. At night, the owner padlocks the front gate and front door shut preventing everyone from entering or exiting. Aside from being a massive fire hazard, this means that you'll be stuck in or out if he is not around to unlock these doors. As he is the sole manager of the property and must necessarily run errands, sleep, use the bathroom, etc. you definitely cannot count on this being a possibility when you may need it. I may also add that we payed for a "Private" which I have a hard time classifying as "Private" given the absence of locks which resulted in THREE no-knock, uninvited incursions into our room by strangers during our short, two-night stay at all hours of the day and night. In one instance, this was executed by a member of the cleaning staff which is inexcusable as they should know better than to simply barge into a guest's room without so much as knocking. After somebody came in at 10 PM and shined a flashlight in my face before I yelled to drive him out, we did our best to bar the door with a piece of furniture. Patrick, I don't care if it is a safe neighborhood (with electric fences, barbed wire, and "armed response" signs everywhere?), put some locks on the doors and give the guests keys.
20% Location: There is a low-quality Chinese restaurant, a pub that serves pizza, a mini-mart, a pool hall, and a gas station near by. The nearest grocery store is about 3/4 km with no sidewalks which is a significant distance if you are carrying four or five days worth of safari food in the heat and sun, for example. Otherwise, there is nothing else and no public transportation nearby. It is physically close to OR Tambo Airport, but given our experience with the airport transfer, this didn't mean much (see below).
50% Staff: The owner, Patrick, is the only staff aside from cleaners present. When he is present and available, he is friendly and helpful. However, as he is only one man, this is not always possible. This was evident in multiple situations in our two days there: A woman guest who could not check in because Patrick was out when she arrived and loudly gave up in frustration and left, being awakened one night by some poor soul yelling "hello" from the locked front gate and honking his horn, (by the time I got up to look, he had given up and driven away), arriving from the airport and having to explore the entire place before finding Patrick in the back smoking in his bar watching TV so we could check in. In that last instance, keep in mind that he knew we were coming as we had arranged an airport transfer with him for that time. The transfer itself, provided not by Patrick as promised in e-mail but by a fellow that wasn't quick to convince us that he wasn't a hustler as he did not have Patrick's phone number and did not know our names (that took some sorting out), was 20 minutes late on top of the hour buffer they had added on our landing time, and this was followed by another 40 minutes of waiting for another guest to be picked up. Throw in some traffic, and in total, it took about 1.5 hours to make the "15 minute" trip from the airport.
60% Atmosphere: There wasn't one. Even when the place was full according to Patrick, the social aspect of staying in a hostel just didn't happen. People kept to themselves, the bar wasn't full or interesting, and at best you could play pool with your friends or watch a movie from their DVD collection. Fine for resting aside from the noise of people leaving early for Safaris and the occasional small groups of men being drunk and disorderly, retching in the bathroom, etc.
75% Cleanliness: The rooms, kitchen, and bathroom were kept generally very clean, but the pool was very murky. I would not have gone in it for money. The lawn chairs in the back are also rather dirty making lounging in the sun uninviting.
80% Facilities: It had most everything you could expect at a hostel though the pool, in its current state, is simply false advertising. Shower pressure/temperature was prone to dramatic fluctuation. The internet and the use of Wi-Fi wasn't free.
20% Value for Money: In the absence of security and it's other failings, it is difficult to justify paying much of anything to stay here. Really, how do you even sleep soundly or go out confidently when you know that some random person or even a member of the staff can and will walk into your room where you and/or all your belongings lay exposed at any time?
Overall average rating: 44%
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