The capital of murder, my trip to El Salvador

  Writing blogs like this one gives me an amazing opportunity to achieve three important things. First, and probably most important, is that it will stay as way of a souvenir, to remind me places I was fortunate to visit. I recognize the second reason as a possibility to share my experience, tips, thoughts and observations with other travellers or readers. And last, but not least, is the fact that while writing all my memories, or at least most of them, they are coming back to me again like a wave, like a wind of all those things I saw, touched, felt and tasted, almost experiencing them again.

   Glad I finally can introduce, thought, just in a small part, El Salvador to you. Place that currently holds, said in a nice way, a very uninviting title of being one of the most dangerous country in the world. Somehow, yet again, from my experience, numbers can lie or twist the first impression. Salvador, the smallest country in Central America, where one person get killed every hour, became to be my favorite place in this part of the world. I guess the fact that I found locals to be the friendliest, along with the tropical beauty around, helped to crashed the general opinion in my head. Yet on another side, this Centro-american land is apparently well known for experiencing some of the highest murder rates in Latin America. It is also considered as an epicenter of the gang crisis, along with Guatemala and Honduras. Organized crime in El Salvador is a serious problem. It is estimated that around 36.000 of people belong to the gang. Efforts to understand or deal with this phenomenon have been insufficient. As mentioned, I am glad I visited Salvador. It really was a pearl while traveling around Central America. However, I had to start with cold information, just so you will research well areas you’re planning to visit. This should help you to prepare better for your trip and to stay safe.

   Probably not the best statistics to start with, and a breaking reason for many not to visit this country. But let me tell you something, I traveled around there as a solo female, staying even in a very rough areas of capital and Santa Ana, and I could not, literally, see any good reason not to visiting this country. I stayed in El Salvador for 2 weeks in April 2016, twice in capital and once in Santa Ana. I traveled only by public bus, always being alone. Lack of English-speaking people around could be a problem indeed for many of us, but just with very basic Spanish, like I’ve had, you will be fine. It is probably also good to mention that 95% of the deaths take gang members only and, I am afraid, police force too. Having said that, many youngsters are just simply forced to join the crime world. However, with good attitudes, like not walking after dark, or in some dangerous ares, you will be very safe, and you will love Salvador, like I did.

Reasons why I loved Salvador most in Central America

Locals

  Kind, generous and so helpful people, that I’ve met during my backpacking in Central America, I found mostly in El Salvador. Either it was in a hotel, on the street, in the restaurant or just in the bus, people were always smiling to me, trying to help, chatting. They were very interesting in me, wanted to know where I am from, why I came, and how on earth I am alone here. All these factors made me feel very welcome. I received loads of warmness from many true hearts. I just could not imagine a nicer nation, I think even in both Americas. I will always remember all those guards with shotguns on the street always calling me to wave and say: buenos dias Anna, como esta. I was probably one of a very few tourists they saw before, as I never stayed in a touristic area, yet they weren’t reserved in any way towards me. Police were always stopping and asking me, if I need a lift anywhere, people smiling all the time which make my whole experience just perfect.

Landscape

  El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America. It has 307 km of coastline along the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Fonseca, and it is situated between Honduras and Guatemala. The topography of El Salvador contain mainly mountains, but the country does have some narrow, relatively flat central plateau. The highest point in is Cerro el Pital at 2,730 m, and it is located in the northern part of the country, on the border with Honduras. Because El Salvador is located not far from the equator, its climate is tropical in nearly all areas, except for its higher elevations where the climate is considered more temperate. Lakes and volcanoes can be found in many areas too.

Rich range of a street food

  As a one of the poorest countries in Central America, gastronomy business creates some earning opportunities for many locals. You will just never get hungry in Salvador, as food stands are available on every single corner in every possible place. Vendors do offer a wide range of many meals from a very local snacks (pupusas – hand-made corn tortillas stuffed with various fillings such as beans; tamales-corn dough pockets that are served with different fillings like sweet corn, cheese, meat or dried fruits; pasteles-fried dough patties filled with meat like chicken, pork or beef and finely chopped vegetables; soups), along with more western options like chips (here eaten with mayo and cheese – see Germans, you’re not the only one:), burgers, pizzas; and finally finishing at any kind of shakes, natural fruit juices and many different sweets to pick. Any stomach will be satisfied in El Salvador.

Santa Ana Volcano

  One of the most amazing places I have seen in my life, definitely in my top five. For more info about volcano, and how to get there by public bus, please click here.

Cost line

  307 km of coastline along the Pacific Ocean contains a sandy beaches with beautiful tropical flora around. Coast is also well popular among surfers.

Cheap prices

 El Salvador is one of the cheapest countries in Central America. You can travel on public transport in the cities for maximum of 0.25$. The bus from capital to Santa Ana (2h of journey) cost as little as 1$. Hotel`s bed with bathroom can be found from 10$. Breakfast or lunch found on the street from 1$. Good place to buy some clothes at a very low price.

Just remember to

  Please note, if you are planning on going to El Salvador, do some research on area you will be staying in. Most of them are just fine, but few are controlled completely by gangs and nobody can access them. Police is not welcome there, if a solo officer will go to that part of the town, he will get instantly killed.

  Never walk after dark and try to avoid not crowded areas. Do not flash with your valuables like phone or camera, as thieving is very common generally in whole Latin America. Eh, that’s the reason I don’t have many photos from there.

Understanding a daily life in San Salvador

  But please do understand that people of El Salvador struggle on a daily basis. As much as  part “what I loved most” of this blog can sound as a fairy tale, we have to recognize that people of this country are in constant fear of being murdered or abuse in any way, especially young males. Here, I have to add that you as a tourist are very safe, way safer than locals. They are just not as fortunate as you are. Again, poorest people, like everywhere, are at greatest disadvantage that are forced to live in roughest areas where violence occur on a daily basis. A large percentage of the population lives under the poverty level, which means their chance for a decent standard of living is low. Their situation is so bad that many of them risk a dangerous trip up to the United States to look for better opportunities.

  Every private business have to pay a tax to one of the gangs that control the area or street. It is normal to see a dead body on the road sometimes, and that almost every shop got his own bodyguard with a shotgun, rifle or machine gun. Guns are visible pretty much everywhere, and are normal even for children. In western countries you can see a non-smoking signs, when in El Salvador no-gun sights are everywhere. Some people are forced to travel at night, which is a very dangerous thing. Many have witnessed a murder or are accused of snitching to authorities, while others have been evicted by criminals who wanted their home. Those with money or relatives in safer areas often seek refuge within El Salvador. Young girls tend to get pregnant at a very young age, just to avoid being claim by the gang members. It is well know that police and government is highly corrupted. Having said that, being a part of a force, is probably the most dangerous job to do as of war between gangs and the government. Fear is notable almost everywhere, buses are full of holes from bullets. Gang members are on every street, patrolling their territory, making sure money are collected from  business owners, and the collectors are usually under 12 years old.

  So this is a daily life in El Salvador, the country I felt in love with. As much as I hope to visit again, I would love to see the improvement on many levels, especially in crime rate and economy. Yet again, please note that this is one of the most amazing countries in the world. With a proper attitude you will be just fine, and you will experience and appreciate the people and the land, like I did.

Goulash vs KFC-Budapest with kids

  As one of a very few capitals in the world to have a thermal baths in the city center, as a cool attraction to start with, along with a pretty hills around and an amazing architecture, Budapest clearly outshine most of the capitals in this part of the Europe. Yet again, thought more and more popular as a city break destination, still not as popular as it should be. Eastern part of the Europe, and mostly Balkans, are one of the best places to travel on this continent. I really do think it is finally a time for tourists to start putting pins to the opposite side of a Europe`s map.

 Starting with a very similar introduction of the city, you can find in many of my blogs, yet, the content going to be a little bit different. This time I did not travel solo, as always. I was accompanied by my sister and her two kids, changing a little bit my usual experience from crazy, almost obsessive huger for discovery, to a very lazy, ice-cream eating trip. 

Having said that, I enjoyed it a lot! Especially our fun in one of the biggest aqua parks in this part of the Europe, something I would never do as a solo visitor.

What you will enjoy most

  • Stunning building of Parliament

    Definitely my favourite. Neo-Gothic, neo-Romanesque and neo-Baroque, located by Danube River, the building of Parliament is one of the most impressive government quarters in the world. Must be seen from three different points of view: Castle Hill, to see blended panorama around; from the river, while taking a boat; and from the paths surrounded by. Thought, when it comes to the time, evening makes this political building looking lake a fairy tale castle full of magic. My nieces really did enjoy and appreciate the view.

    EU citizens with valid passport can enjoy a free tour of Budapest’s Parliament Building.

  • St. Stephen’s Basilica

    Impressive St. Stephen’s Basilica is the largest church in Budapest that can hold up to 8,500 people. Located in the city center, is hardly to be missed. Although in architectural terms it’s a cathedral, it was given the title of ‘basilica minor’ by Pope Pius XI in 1931. Even that it took more than 50 years to build it, kids took 50 seconds to look and were not so impressed ;). 

  • Soak in the thermal bath

    Hungary is a land of thermal springs, and Budapest remains the only capital city in the world that is rich in thermal waters with healing qualities. I love them, but couldn’t really try. Please don’t make the same mistake. It can be a perfect relaxed day after a busy night out.

  • Tasting traditional food at Central Market Hall

    Built at the end of the 19th century, the Central Market Hall (officially called ‘Központi Vásárcsarnok’ in Hungarian) is the largest indoor market in Budapest. Located very close to the Chain Bridge could make a fantastic attraction while near by. Perfect also to try some very traditional food as sausages, meats, cheeses, fruits and vegetables. Market offers also plenty of vendors selling handicrafts, clothing, embroidery, chessboards and other souvenirs. Paprika and Tokaji are also sold there. Fish market is located in the bottom part, along with the drug store and small Asian grocery. Important to add that, for people who do not only want to focus on Hungarian products, on International Gastro Days (Fridays and Saturdays), the Central Market Hall also features the food and cuisine of other foreign countries.

  • Take a stroll on Andrássy Avenue to Heroes’ Square 

    Nothing better than to just take a walk via Andrássy Avenue to finish at the largest and most impressive square of the city, structured in 1896 to mark the thousandth anniversary of Hungary, called Heroes’ Square (Hősök tere). Located also near the City Park, this place is one of the most visited sights in Budapest.

  • Discover historic Castle Hill

    The historical castle and palace complex of the Hungarian kings in Budapest. Completed first in 1265, but the massive Baroque palace, today occupying most of the site, was built between 1749 and 1769. Constructed high on the hill became one of the most notable places in Budapest, from where, except the streets and building around, you can view the beautiful panorama of the capital. Significantly enjoyed by kids and adults.

  • Spot the beautiful panorama from the top of Gellért Hill

    The hill was named after bishop Gellért (Gerard), who was thrown to death from the hill by pagans in the fight against Christianity in 1046. His statue, which faces Elizabeth Bridge (Erzsébet hid) and holds a cross, can be seen from many parts of Pest. At the top of the hill is the Citadel (Citadella), a fortress built by the Habsburgs after defeating Hungary’s War of Independence in 1849. Hill is located between the Castle Hill and Chain Bridge.

  • Take a free walking tour

    The city of Budapest offers many free tours run on a daily basis that covers different parts and different attractions. Definitely worth joining one, I think especially around the Castle Hill and Parliament.

    What kids will enjoy most

  • Aquapark

    One of the best places for families to enjoy. Aquaworld is one of the largest indoor water theme parks in Europe. There are 17 pools, including a swimming pool, a wave pool and a surf pool, and 11 slides. What else kids would ask for? Out-door swimming pools? Also available to enjoy along with separate area, called kids’ world, with children’s pool, slides and a playhouse. Aquaworld is surly a family favourite one. 15 of the 17 pools are open all year around, and one of the large indoor pools, that is connected to a heated outdoor pool, is also open throughout the year. As much as water can be enjoyed on every single level, the restaurant does not offer a great range of food. Luckily, goulash soup was available to try with freshly made bun.

    Getting to Aquaworld: A free shuttle bus runs every day between Heroes’ Square and Aquaworld. Taxi from the city center will cost around 30 euros.

  • Main park on the island called Margaret Island

    One of the best places to spend a Sunday afternoon. Margaret Island, apart from being an amazingly big and green park located on Danube River right in the city center, offers loads of activities like: bicycle rental, indoor & outdoor pools, playgrounds, a small petting zoo, kids vehicles rental and more. Loads of small restaurants, food stands and and ice cream vans are all around to pick a snack, lunch or dinner from. No traffic make it ideal for a family outing where loads of activities can be enjoyed. Margaret Island is not only a popular destination during the day. It comes alive after sunset too. Definitely kids favourite place after aquaworld, even for a whole day. Can be reach from the land (from the bridge) or by boat, but the last one is the coolest transport to choose from, at a very affordable price too.

  • Chain Bridge

    Spanning the Danube between Clark Ádám tér (Buda side) and Széchenyi István tér (Pest side), the Chain Bridge (Lánchid) was the first to permanently connect Buda and Pest. Kids loved it as of the possibility of hiking the bridge and taking a photo.

  • Cruise on Danube River

    The magnificent scenic divider and connector of Buda and Pest is best discover from a cruise or a ship. The first one offer a relaxing daytime sightseeing cruise that includes a stroll through Margaret Island. Quicker and cheaper option is offered on one of the public boats marked as D11, D12 (that run during the week) and D13 (that runs on weekends).

  • Fast food

    As much as I would love kids to try more of traditional food, they just loved the fact that pizza slices and gyros was available on every single corner. Not much to add to this one really.

  • Balaton Lake

    Perfect for a one day trip to take a break from busy streets of Budapest. The beautiful lake of Balaton is located 135 km from the capital and can be reached by bus, train or car. I think second option is probably the best (around 25$ with return), as the main railway station is close to the city center with underground stop just under. Best time to visit the lake is between June until the end of August. The average water temperature of 25 °C makes bathing and swimming popular on the lake. Most of the beaches consist of either grass, rocks, or the silty sand that also makes up most of the bottom of the lake.

  • Small parks with playgrounds

    Small parks with playgrounds for the kids are available in every area in Budapest, even in the city center. The most important thing about them is that they are very clean and safe, as there is usually a guard during the day and night that is making sure no alcohol is consumed. Smoking is prohibited as well. 

That very western city with a great twist. 3 days in Panama City

 Nova-days travelling and backpacking style breaks out of the old frame of commercial accommodations as non-alternative places to stay. Couch surfing gets more and more popular among, not even always young, travellers. There are loads of other options too. On a farm, while working, in own tenth, loads… That is how Panama came for me too, as a little sample of that new popular way. Though, maybe not so obvious, luckily, I got invited to stay at my friend’s house in Panama City. Yes, kind Clari, my friend I have met on a scent of Machu Picchu in Peru, took me for few days under her wings to provide me with a real Panamanian hospitality, and to show me this stunning modern capital of small, however packed with beauty, country. That what traveling is all about for me: discovering world wonders and meeting great people. Clari, as Panamanian born and raised, became to be the best guide to show me around. Apart from a good time with a friend, I was able to discover all the hidden secrets of this magnificent city. The city filled by tropical nature and surrounded with a skyline bigger than Miami, but at the same time still full of history to learn about. I am aware that Panama City is globally mostly famous for its canal, but there is still so many things to do and see while there. So what are these things?


Fish Market

  I guess it is odd to start with the Fish Market as a first of the sight-seen, but apart from the big range of fresh and delicious sea food you will be able to spot the amazing panorama of the city from there. It can be as a good start. Market is located by the cost, very close to the Casco Viejo area, which makes it a very popular place to sit, eat and chill, especially in the evening, for locals and tourists. You can taste loads of cocktails made from all different ingredients. You can pick the ready one or just create your own. You might think it`s a bit pricey, but I have been told that all the stands offer the freshest, best sea food in Panama. DSC_0480

Casco Viejo

  Casco Viejo, located in the center of Panama City, brings back the history and spirit from past centuries to this modern city. It is an old town dated back to 1673, after the original town of Panama Viejo got destroyed during the pirate attack. After some time it got left out when the modern trade-style era arrived to Panama City, among with the skyline architecture. Casco Viejo got renew a century ago, when Panamanian decided to bring back some history to this Miami-like city and restore the buildings around there. The location of this Spanish colonial quarter can be easily named as most cultural place now. The narrow streets of the place stands as foundation for many churches (some even 300 years old), squares, colonial buildings and statues. you can just go to wander around with no map, and you will find something magnificent on very corner. The area is full of hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops and bars. The last ones, I mentioned, are usually very crowded at night, as Casco Viejo is a popular destination for night life lovers. Actually, that would be my suggestion, to visit this place late afternoon to get a good look at architecture around, and in the evening to spot the panorama of bright lights, flashing from the great sky line building on the other side.

Panama Canal

   I have noticed that Panamanian are very proud of the canal. Almost seems like they think Panama holds the key to the one of the most important water gates in the world. Canal, that is a passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and North and South America, dates back to 1515. It is worth to see it, but I don`t feel like you have to get inside to see the presentation, movie and museum. I did, but it definitely wasn’t my highlight. You can just see it from outside and that should be fine. The entrance fee is 15$.

Panamá Viejo

   Panamá Viejo, as a remaining part of the old Panama City and former capital of the country, is located at the edge of the modern city. Its been named as a World Heritage Site since 1997. You can see there structures dated back to 1519. Well worth to discover and entrance fee starts at 6$.

Mi Pueblito

  Good glimpse of the various Panamanian cultures & traditions. This site is a collection of housing and artifact replicas of the various cultures (old and modern) of Panama. While simple, it gives you a good idea that this relatively small country is formed by various ethnicity and traditions that survive to this date. The entry fee for foreigners is 3$ USD and you get a free guide (optional), 1$ for locals.

Ancon Hill

  A hill in the heart of Panama City from where you can seen the wonderful panorama that include the canal, modern skyline and old Casco Viejo. Climbing is relatively easy and should take around 2 h, there’s no entrance fees. Apart from diverse panorama you will get surrounded by, you can see or read about loads of rare species of animals, that lives only there.dfdf

Avenida Balboa

   The avenue stands as a major financial district for Panama and the rest of Central America. Best known as one of the most expensive roads in the world, It is home to several very high building and points of interest including. The skyline at night is particularly beautiful as it is illuminated with the lights from these tall buildings.

Photo-guide on best places to visit in Marrakesh

  As many flavours and spices are available in Marrakesh, as many things to see are there and around. Its just booming with richness of culture present on every corner, almost aggressively attacking your eyes, and dragging in to it, and that should be considered definitely as a positive. So if you have  a good week of staying in, you should definitely have a loads of time to discover all, and maybe even to buy a trip or two to see mountains or desert. Tours can take you to many interesting places in Morocco at very affordable prices. I bought one to see three waterfalls in High Atlas Mountains and one to see the desert. I am afraid, I don’t have a current prices, but when I was there in Nov 2014, I  paid around 25£ each. Well worth it. They both were for one day. There is loads of travel agents around to reserved your place, and they will usually pick you up from the place you`re staying or from agreed place close by. But coming back to our wonderful Marrakesh, apart from organised trips, it`s definitely worth to see:15795340395_c814a9b319_o

  • MEDERSA BEN YOUSSEF

It’s an Islamic college where pious clever clogs once came to study the Koran. These lucky scholars were able to look up from their manuscripts and see a physical glorification of God, with spellbinding patterns wrought in tiny mosaic tiles and carved cedar wood.

  • MARRAKESH MUSEUM

This museum is a window into Moroccan history through its collection of coins, pottery, jewellery, weapons and artwork.

  •  JARDIN MAJORELLE

Visit the stunning colourful garden, also known as Villa Oasis, to see a botanical paradise of flora and fauna with cute small turtles around.

  • EXPLORE THE RUINS OF EL BADI PALACE

The ancient ruins of the 16th century El Badi Palace that represent the wide courtyard and rock formations.

  • JEMAA EL-FNAA

A must see, must buy something there, must eat there place. Enjoy the vibrant atmosphere of the main square and the loud maze of traditional souks, narrow streets and amazing food.

  •  BAHIA PALACE

The Bahia Palace is both a palace and a set of gardens situated in the medina of Marrakech, just along the northern edge of Mellah, also known as the Jewish Quarter. While the exact dates for the construction of this palace are not known, records indicate that it was commissioned between 1859 and 1873. It was completed in 1900.qa.jpg

  • MEDINA

Wonder and just get lost in the city center area through a tiny streets full of cafes, shops, restaurants. You can do shopping, try tasty traditional meal, have a henna tattoo and many many more experiences. It really is a delightful place. Especially magic at night.

Backpacking South America, my route, total cost and few tips

It took me 4 months to save money and to plan my backpacking trip around South America. Being busy earning cash for my travel, I was also occupied thinking about packing, researching visas issues, planning my route and budget. It really is not so complicated, but it was my first backpacking trip in my life, and I did not have any friends that done it before, who could help me with some tips, to share some experience. I had to heavily rely on internet info and other blog posts to prepare. Yet, I still think there is not that much information about it. Here, I will share with you some knowledge about places I have visited, how I was getting from A to B, my budget, packing and some other tips.

Planning your route 

I have to admit that I am very proud of my path. I have visited all major attractions (like Iguazu Falls, Atacama Desert, Salar de Uyuni, Machu Picchu, Titicaca Lake, Dead Road), and I stayed in really amazing places. The only thing I haven’t seen was Angels Falls, as my plane from Bogotá to Caracas, in Venezuela, got cancelled, so I decided just to skip this one. Now, I am thinking that I shouldn’t. Venezuela is truly beautiful, and you can see Amazon from there as well. Basically, I did not plan my whole way around SA back home. I did only think that I will try to visit all countries on this continent, and I set major things I want to see, then I was building my expected way around these places. I think I did well at the end, as I saw 9 countries in total. I booked my hostels/hotels only in 3 first locations, and I planed my route only in the country I started from, Brazil. Then after everything was natural, I was planning my way on weekly basis, changing my mind from time to time. Everything turned out pretty well, and I do highly recommend to fallow my way, but not staying as long in Florianopolis, Santiago and Montanita, as you can add some extra locations to your trip, in Paraguay for example, or just adding Venezuela at the end. I think 6 days is an absolute maximum to stay in one place.

Please note, that real-life vikitravel can be found in every hostel`s kitchen, since there is loads of other backpackers to share their experience and recommend great places to see. Always worth listen and talking to them!

Brazil: Sao Paulo (3 nights) – Florianopolis (8 nights) – Foz do Iguaçu (4 nights) – Paraguay: Ciudad del Este (1 day) – Argentina: Buenos Aires (6 nights) – Uruguay: Colonia del Sacramento (1 day) – Argentina: Mendoza (2 nights) – Chile: Santiago (11 nights) – Valparaiso (1 day) – Vina del Mar (1 day) – San Pedro de Atacama (6 nights) – Bolivia: 3 days trip via desert from San Pedro to Uyuni – Uyuni (3 nights) – Potosi (6 nights) – Sucre (6 nights) – Cochabamba (3 nights) – La Paz (4 nights) – Copacabana (2 nights) – Peru: Puno (3 nights) – Cuzco (4 nights) – Aquas Qalientes, Machu Picchu ( 1 night) – Cuzco (2 nights) – Lima (3 nights) – Mancora (6 nights) – Ecuador: Guayaquil (1 night) – Montanita (10 nights) – Banos (4 nights) – Quito (3 nights) – Colombia: Cali (6 nights) – Bogota (7 nights).

Transport

I traveled around South America only by bus. Just once I used a ferry from Buenos Aires to Uruguay. There are loads of bus companies to choose from in every single country, offering different comfort (except in Bolivia) from normal to fully recline chairs with hot meals served onboard. Mostly possible to book online in advance, again, except Bolivia. Flying is very expensive and a bit pointless while backpacking. Train is an option too, especially now is getting more and more popular, but since I have not used it even once, I can not advise you on this service. I found this blog to be very useful for people who want to travel by train. For bus prices in each country you can have a look at my other post here. Regarding buses, they are very comfortable, except Bolivia (most amazing country anyway), and mostly affordable, except Argentina, Brazil and Chile.

I am afraid missing bags from the storage space under the bus are very common, thought nothing like that happened to me, other travelers, I have met, experienced it. There is nothing you can do about it, just hope that it wont happened to you. Always keep all valuable stuff in a small bag pack with you in the bus, try not to have expensive gear, clothes and shoes, not to miss it too much, just in case.

Border crossing

As a Polish nation, I do not need any visa for any country in South America. There is no fee to pay too, not even a tax (that you pay sometimes in Central America). That is for most of the European countries, even England, Germany and France. Border crossing was always nice and smooth for me, with no any hassle, trouble or any major issues. Actually, border personnel was always extra nice and very interested in me, probably due to the fact that not so many polish people travel in that part of the world. Blond hair and green eyes helped too, I guess. Just queuing for the stamp out/stamp in was annoying sometimes (especially at night). Please note that basic Spanish is essential, as they may ask where you are going to stay, or what is your occupation. It can be also a great time to eat, as there are always loads of food stands around to choose from (not between Mendoza, Argentina-Santiago, Chile). Bus driver always wait for everyone and count passengers to be sure all are in, before continuing journey, unless he doesn’t give a damn about it..nah joking, usually he does. Don`t try to smuggle anything, sniffing dogs are present at every border, and in Colombia, even on any route to stop the bus and search bags and passengers. Thought, I did not have any problems at the border, I’ve heard some stories from male travelers that were experiencing some problems, or being asked to pay a fee, that, of course, wasn’t required.

Budget

For the 4 months of traveling, excluding flying to this continent from Europe, I have spent approx 6.800$, that including everything, staying 70% of the time in hostels, rest in hotels, all the bus travel, food, trips, activities, tickets, parties, clothes, souvenirs…. Please keep checking fly4free website for cheap deals on flights to South America. I bought mine from Belgium to Sao Paulo in Brazil with return for 650$, but can get even cheaper than that. Here is my other blog post, where I look in to prices of each country with estimated daily budget.

Health insurance

Absolutely essential and one of the most important things before traveling. Can be easily purchase online, and is very affordable. You can buy it just day before your departure, and the price will be still the same. If you are not planning anything like surfing, winter-sports, just buy the cheapest one to cover medical bills. Otherwise, if you have some crazy plans, read what your insurance will cover, trust me, I am a lawyer. No point to buy an extra option for electronic losses (phones, tablets, laptops..etc), unless, of course, it is a very good and expensive policy. My friend had her staff covered, and after being theft from her expensive Nikon camera, got 35$ as of insurance for it! Medical cover is the most essential one for a backpacker. I bought mine for around 120$ for 6 months of my travel.

Safety

Just go. Safety is your last thing to worry about before backpacking. People are mostly travel alone now anyway, especially in South America. It is a very safe place, even for solo females, like myself. Just be intelligent and don’t act stupidly (walking alone at night, going out with strangers….etc).

Apps

Maps.me is the most important application. Please don’t take a fancy phone with you, unless you can afford losing it, but good smart phone that runs this app smoothly is essential. Old samsung s series are probably the best. I say it, as I was robbed in Chile, losing my camera, tablet and good glasses, so I experienced it myself. Coming back to maps.me, it is an application that allows you to store and later use maps without wifi. You will be even able to use navigation that will show you your location and directions (no wifi needed, as it runs on GPS). I have to say, I was impresses, as GPS was working for me even high in Bolivian mountains, just almost everywhere, and always in cities and town. Apart from street names, there are almost all hostels, hotels, shops, places of interest, all public offices (post office, police, etc). You gonna use it a lot, like I did. App is free of charge.

Other app I used was booking.com, but please note, booking in advance is more expensive than just good old way of turning at the hostel doors and checking in.

Flickr app is great too. It upload all your photos from your phone automatically (once connected to the internet, just turning the app on), so you are avoiding losing them with your phone. Free app again, but just need to create an account (that is free too).

Kindle/ebook/app to read ebooks is essential for every book lover, like myself.

Packing

Hmm, it is a very good question. I can just give you a few tips, I found to be useful during all my backpacking trips:

  • Less is more! First and most important. Do not take much with you, take half what you are planning in the first place. Clothes are very cheap in South America, especially in Bolivia and Colombia, and by buying them you are getting an amazing souvenir too. Something special in your wardrobe, trust me. I had an umbrella, but haven’t used it even once, so pointless to take. Shoes: funny story, as planning loads of hiking, especially in Bolivia and Peru, I bought and took very expensive Timberlands – throw them to the bin already in Brazil and was just wearing converse (for all my hiking, at the beach, on snow, salt, swamps, deserts….). 2 pairs are max to take.
  • Good light waterproof jacket and cover for backpack is a must. Here, I really love The North Face jackets, they just wont let you get wet!!
  • For girls: hairdryer is not needed, but you may want to use it in Bolivia sometimes, as of a cold temperature. Still, not worth taking it with you, there are always females around to borrow one, if needed.
  • Nova-days, we just can’t live without our smartphones, so it is very important to have an extension for the socket, as in many hostels they are far away from your bed.
  • Don`t try to save money buying a cheap backpack. It is one of the most important things and your home for next months. It will be on your back for many many hours, so very good, comfortable straps are essential. It really needs to be a top quality one. I bought a cheap one, had to sewn it many times, and I’ve had wounds on my shoulders from a very bad straps. Trust me, hurt a lot! Before my next backpacking trip I bought a good one and that made a big difference.
  • Apart from the shoes, I binned quickly, Lonely Planet book on South America got left in my third hotel, simply because I didn’t want to carry such a heavy guide-book, since everything I needed was online. Maybe for people staying in tents, when internet connection is not always available, might be helpful, but otherwise you will be just fine with your smart phone.

Injections

It is wildly required (according to an official info) to have a yellow fever injection and a proof of it! There are 5 more you may want to take. I did all of them, and I’ve had a little book to prove my yellow fever one. I read that you wont be able to enter without it (YF). However, in reality nobody checked it at the border…nobody, even once. But better to take them, just in case and for the peace of your mind.

Last tips

  • Please, wherever you are flying to, don`t stay just one night in your first location. Your body needs to rest after a long fly and adapt to the new climate. It took me 4 days when I landed in Brazil in November from a cold Europe.
  •  I`ve had 50 Euros always in my purse, just in case. Cash machine is not always available. US Dollars are good too.
  • When it comes to thieving and robberies, South America is a leader. Please, always keep an eye on your valuables. Do not keep your backpack behind, always on one arm on the side or on your chest. I was also tightening straps from the zip together.
  • Don`t drink a tab water anywhere, unless it’s confirmed by staff in hotel/hostel or by sigh close to the tap.
  • Planning to buy outstanding sweater, cardigan? Leave it for Bolivia and Peru! Best quality (especially alpaca`s wool) and price.
  • Try to, if possible, have two different types of your cards. I`ve had a Visa and MasterCard, and I found that sometime just first one worked, sometimes second. My MasterCard (credit card) was definitely more acceptable. 
  • Your passport and your wallet is your main priority! Never leave it alone, even in a locker in hostel! You don`t even realize how easy is to open it for professional. I got robbed this way in Santiago, in Chile.
  • Before departure, I gave my mother copy of my passport, insurance, injections I took, all pin numbers and account details, just in case and for peace of my mind. Please do so as well, leave it with someone you trust and memorize phone number, you newer know what might happen.
  • Take 2 types (thin and thick) of padlock. Some lockers got a thin holes (to use smaller one). Don`t worry if you will forget, they are widely available to purchase almost everywhere, along with socket extensions and adapters.
  • Do not panic if there is an error in a cash machine, it may not be your card, but machine might be just empty. It really is a common problem. I remember, in Buenos Aires, I’ve had to try 6 of them, before finding one with money in it.
  • As a budget backpacker, always check general prices in each country. You can have a look here too. A very expensive trip on Amazon trough a rain forest from Brazil might be very cheap from Bolivia, Colombia or Venezuela.

Sunset over Budva

I could not dreamed of a better day in Budva that luckily I experienced. Everything was just perfect…the weather, atmosphere and off-season time, I have always cherished. But to be honest, mostly it was down to a great walking route I did that day. So if it happens that you will pop in to Budva, I would highly recommend to fallow that path too.img_1941.jpg

Budva is a town located on the Adriatic Sea cost of Montenegro. The country name perfectly describes the landscape of this magnificent Balkans area. Once you will cross the border, the stunning mountain range will surround you, no matter on location you will visit. I have to say that it is kind of a perfect environment for me to be, as of my love for high hills conjured with waters like lakes, rivers and endless sea. And all that stunning land came with one of the friendliest and nicest nation ever.

Before starting, I would like to recommend visiting also a Kotor, another coast town just 30 minutes to the north way from Budva. I am afraid, I didn’t get a chance to see it, as of my busy schedule, but every possible backpacker, I have met (along with all locals), agreed that it is a must see place too!

So coming back to my perfect day, the start wasn’t the easiest, as we came back late from night out. It was cool, as Budva is a perfect place for good long night out, but the next day headache wasn’t the best thing to start my day with. Despite that,  I looked on the map of surrounded area, and I quickly made my mind on activity, I was going to do.

This time I decided to have a long walk by the cost up to the stunning place called Sveti Stefan. It is a 22 kilometers in total, so if you are not keen on long walk, you can hire a bike or take a bus. Please note that with the last option, you will not see the beautiful beaches on your way there. My other thought is also to stay till sunset, as it is truly magic moment to watch, then after take a bus back to Budva. I knew that we will go there again by car with other people from hostel, so I didn’t have to stay till late.

The whole way is easy and very straight forward, located right by the cost line. You will just have to head south and fallow the path. On your way you will see loads of beautiful places to stop, eat or drink. Every beach will be a bit different, either because of a shelf density and shape, flora full of different kind of trees or just the rocks placed around. You will past trough 2 tunnels too on your way and a national park where you can wander around and get on a cliff. The whole walk (with no stops) should take you around 2 h each way, but please note that you really need to put a sun protection, as you will be facing the sunlight trough the whole way.

  As mentioning at the beginning, the sunset over Sveti Stefan is something you just have to whiteness. I would recommend going up to the parking lot of the motorway above for the best view of it. There is also a restaurant where you can sit, eat or drink during that spectacular time. Once the sun will disappear in to the sea, you can either walk back, but not recommended in the dark, or you can take a bus from the stop located not far from there. I haven’t used it, so I can’t tell you the price for the ticket, but I really doubt it’s more than 2 Euro. So, not writing to many useless thoughts at the end, that was my peaceful journey, I wanted to share.

Azerbaijan, few photos and thoughts

   It felt like all odds were against me. Though, meeting so many obstacles during my Azerbaijan-Georgia trip did not reflect on my opinion on these two countries I adored, especially Georgia, but can`t lie that I am disappointed of not seeing many things, I planned in advance, for different reasons that were out of my hands. Here a good advice is that the best time to visit this area is during the summer time, as connections are probably better and most of the places are open. I am sure it may spare you the disappointment, I have experienced. So what have I missed? Okatse Canyon in Georgia (was closed as of low season time), mud volcanoes in Azerbaijan (car got stuck in the mud, so we couldn’t reach the area), Armenia (yes, I supposed to go there, but road to Kazbegi, in Northern Georgia, was closed three times due to the heavy snow, so I’ve lost precious time and was simply lacking extra days to visit), fellow travelers (I was always alone in hotels) and that tragicomedy moment when I slipped in the hotel`s bathroom, destroying a toilet seat and hurting my back so much, I could not walk…but hey, at least nobody saw it! But please, don`t get me wrong, I truly enjoyed it, but It was just a first time when I haven’t done all I planned. 

My favorite place in Kutaisi

   Rain, heavy rain. Wet shoes. Three hours of sleep, as of my late arrival to Georgia at three in the morning. Feeling disappointed, as all agencies are closed of a low season time. Finally found a private driver, to book a trip for the next day, but Okatse Canyon is closed anyway. Not a very good first day of my trip. Wondering around. Keep looking for a little salvation of my miserable state. Turning, going indoor. Then, boooom. A huge u-turn.  From the gray and sad surroundings of Kutaisis, that rainy day, in to the vibrant, colorful market. So full of life, so full of people. Food, from nuts to wine, from cheese to figs. Meat, fruits, vegetables, dairy, clothes, wine, chargers, bulbs… and more. Sellers working, engaging and interacting with each other, with customers. Loud noises. People discussing, god knows what, I don`t speak the language, but probably anything and everything. And what do I do? Thought, hungry, ready to buy a food, had to grab my camera first to take some photos of this definitely, for sure my favorite (!), a very buzzing place.