Explosive Backpacker Travel – Potosi, Bolivia

Top Backpacking Destinations Ranking – 5/10

When people go backpacking South America is often high on the list of places to visit. This is no surprise due to the quality and variety of destinations on offer and it seems like no matter how good your last experience was there is always another unexpected gem around the corner ready to trump it.

Potosi is one of these surprises. It is by no means an easy place to get to. Situated high in the Bolivian mountains it is claimed to be the highest city in the world and the transport there reflects that. Whether you are coming from La Paz in the north or up from Chile or Argentina in the south it is likely you will have to contend with a windy gravel road at some point with sheer drops to peer down at on one side of the track (but isn’t that what backpacker travel is all about?). If you can bring yourself to run this gauntlet (which will more often than not be on a ‘chicken bus’ when coming from the south) then you will have a pleasant surprise waiting at the other end.

Potosi is a quaint little colonial town, with beautiful buildings plenty of backpacker accomodation and a nice small town feel that will be particularly welcome if you’ve come from La Paz, one of the unfriendliest cities on the map. However, the reason most backpackers risk the hairy entry journey is to visit Potosi’s mines. The city lies beneath ‘Cerro Rico’ or ‘rich mountain’ which contains hoards of silver ore and is what the city originally developed around. Now the mines are still active but backpacker travel has been taken into account too and it is possible to go on a tour of the mines and even blow up your own piece of dynamite! It’s not for the faint hearted though, the tunnels are small and cramped and are unlikely to have had the safety inspectors around recently. But if you like a thrill and a once in a lifetime travel experience then they don’t get more unique than this.

If scraping around in tunnels barely bigger than your body with dynamite exploding nearby isn’t for you then Potosi is still a pleasant stop and worth it just to put a tick in the highest city in the world box. However, Bolivian infrastructure makes everything much more difficult than in the rest of South America so it could be understood if backpackers chose to bypass this explosive destination.

Waltz, Schnitzel and a Backpacking Break – Vienna, Austria

Top Backpacking Destinations Ranking: 6/10

Occasionally backpackers want to get away from the squalor that is associated with travelling and taste the finer things in life. Vienna is the perfect place to do exactly that.

Its location in central europe makes it easily accessible whether your backpacking trip is primarily around western or eastern europe and it’s certainly well worth a visit. The city itself is overflowing with beautiful architecture and it is worthy of a visit for this alone. However, there is so much more on offer, as the city is famed for its music, theatre and opera which, whilst perhaps stretching the backpacking budget slightly, should certainly be included on the itinerary. Where better to see a Viennese Waltz than in Vienna?

Transport around the city is fantastic and makes it very easy to explore and take in all the sites on offer, and if all that exploring takes it out of you can dive into some local cuisine. Austrian food is similar to its German neighbour, with schnitzels galore and plenty of sausage, but the city is also famed for its wonderful cafes which have a long and distinguished history that dates back centuries. Rest those legs with a filter coffee (a process the Viennese claim to have invented!) and a glass of water, an age old Viennese tradition.

Vienna echoes Paris in that backpackers will have to reach slightly deeper into their pockets than usual, but it is also similar in that it will leave you with a travelling experience you will never forget. It’ll also give you a nice break from slumming it before you end up in another hostel with ten strangers who haven’t changed their sock for a week!

Backpacking Quicksand – Antigua, Guatemala

Top Backpacking Destinations Ranking – 7/10

Backpacking can be a strange experience at times. The beauty of it is the ability to move around quickly and see a lot of places in a (relatively) short amount of time. However, every so often a backpacker comes across a destination which they find hard to leave and can get stuck there for a long time. Antigua is one of these backpacking destinations.

The town itself is beautiful, with cobbled streets galore and red tiled rooftops everywhere you look. All this is set against the beautiful backdrop of huge, often smoking, volcanoes giving the place a character all of its own. It has Baroque architecture abound and ruins of incredible colonial churches which further enhance its charm and appeal.

On top of this, and the main reason that backpackers find it so hard to leave, is that it also offers all the amenities a backpacker could want. Hostels and bed and breakfasts are everywhere and offer great value for money, and there are also a number of places aimed specifically at backpackers which, whilst not taking away from the city’s character, provides travellers with some home comforts that they’ve been missing. These include the world renowned English pub (and sausage and mash!), restaurants to suit any taste and budget as well as many backpacker orientated travel agents that make any excursion incredibly easy.

So, whether it’s a trek up a volcano you’re after (and i’d recommend it!), taking in breathtaking cultural sites or just to relax with a beer in a beautiful city with wonderful weather conditions, then Antigua is just the destination for you. But be warned, you might find it hard to leave…

Surf City, Life’s a Beach – Huntington Beach, California

Top Backpacking Destinations Ranking: 6/10

California offers the traveller a huge range of opportunities with beautiful beaches spread along its coast, National Parks strewn throughout and incredible cities like LA and San Francisco.

Of the beach towns Huntington Beach has to be near the top of the list. The slightly less famous neighbour of The OC’s Newport Beach, Huntington is the real star, with massive strips of gorgeous white sands populated by beautiful surfer folk going about their surreal daily lives as if it was the norm.
As with most places in America it’s hard to talk about a town centre, but the main strip along the beach offers as close as most US towns get with shops and restaurants scattered throughout. Huntington is closer to the feel of a UK town than most towns in America get, and it has an amazing stretch of coastline to tag on to this quality. It regularly hosts national and international surf competitions and you’ll find it hard to stay off a board if you spend any reasonable amount of time there.

With a climate to suit even the pickiest of backpackers it would be hard to find a better beach destination than Huntington Beach which isn’t on a paradise island. Certainly worthy of the short trip down from LA and a destination where even the most flight-footed traveller could get stuck.

Beach but No Paradise – Mancora, Peru

Top Backpacking Destinations Ranking: 4/10

When you think of backpacking trips and all the fun that goes with, the beach is never far from your mind. Mancora is a beach destination that, whilst perfectly nice, does not blow your smelly socks off. Its main drawback is that it is situated in such an incredible area for travellers, where there are unbelievable sights around every corner and to live up to those standards a destination has to offer something really special.

Unfortunately Mancora can’t live up to those expectations. If you were in the middle of the British Isles and you needed a summer break then it would be a very pleasant getaway for a long weekend. However, when you have been cruising around South America for months on end and have seen some of the best beaches in the world you need to be blown away and Mancora can’t rise to this challenge. It is Peru’s slightly classier equivalent to Faliraki, with the town based around one street made up of bars and restaurants and the beach along the stretch hidden behind. However, here the bars become overcome by cockroaches come nightfall and the beach is not up to the paradise standards of many of its compatriots.

Mancora’s saving grace is that many visitors haven’t seen a beach since Rio as they have come up through South America and are ready for anything as long as it has a whiff of white sands. However, it doesn’t do enough to keep the traveller here for long and we’d be surprised if one relaxing day isn’t enough to recharge those travelling batteries and see them back on the road towards the next destination.

Top Destination and Top Price to match – Paris, France

Top Backpacking Destinations Ranking: 7/10

What can be said about Paris that hasn’t been said a million times? It is an incredible city with an embarrasing amount of things to see and do. There are very few cities in the world that can live up to this place and any opportunity to visit needs to be grasped with both hands.

However, from a backpacking point of view a trip to Paris does raise some questions. It’s location at the heart of Europe, and more importantly its use of the Euro, make it an expensive place to spend even a long weekend, never mind the endless period it takes to fully immerse yourself in Parisien culture. In the search for an ideal backpacking destination this is undoubtedly a drawback, but the amount Paris has to offer far outweighs the potential harm it will have on your piggybank. Whether it is the full tourist experience you’re after or attempting to fade into the background and soak up the atmosphere Paris won‘t let you down. You might want to spend the day wandering around Notre Dame and along the river or just sit in a roadside café and watch the world go by, the choice is yours.

It’s true that Paris holds certain drawbacks for the backpacker on a financial front, but there are always ways to make your stay cheaper, be it staying in cheap hostels or eating sandwiche de fromage every day. Whatever your way out (or maybe you’re lucky enough to have deep pockets!) a stop in Gay Paris will never be regretted, it’s a top destination to be savoured with every second, and one that will leave the traveller struggling to know where they should head next to try and top it.