December`s fairy tale. Christmas market in Wrocław

Mulled wine, food stands, a personal horseshoe made by a real blacksmith and gifts are only a few examples you can find at Christmas market in one of the Polish cities, Wrocław. December truly transform, though already magnificent, main square in a very mystical place with an extra hint of a magic, in a place not only kids would enjoy. There is no grumpy look at any face. People loves it, enjoy it, taking part in. Great for family, group of friends, tourists, seniors, everyone. There is a different treat for anyone and the same for us all…the magic Christmas spirit.

Food. Many stands offer an amazing and very tasty traditional Polish delicacies as  szaszlyk, (pork, beef or chicken knuckle), bigos (finely chopped meat of various kinds stewed with sauerkraut and shredded fresh cabbage), home made bread, Saint Martin’s croissants, szare kluchy (potato dumplings), potatoes with herring, pierogis (dumplings with all kind of fillings), gołąbki (cabbage rolls with rice and mince meat) and kwaśnica (sauerkraut soup from the highlands…not my fav;).

Apart from Polish food, you can enjoy Hungarian lángos with filling and cold meats: spicy smoked pepper sausages or traditional kolozsvári bacon. Lovely Spanish sweet option as churros. Balkans brought an amazing borek (pastry with different fillings, mmm I loved it when I was in Serbia).

Finishing at Alsatian pancakes known as flammkuchen and Turkish baklava.

For kids. Apart from many stands with all kind of sweets, youngsters can watch some animatronic characters behind glass convey fairy tale plays like The Little Red Riding Hood, The Brave Little Tailor, The Snow White or Pinocchio.

Children can also join one of the workshops to learn how to paint, and then practice it, their own baubles. This activity can be found next to the Christmas Windmill. On another corner, next to the Dwarf House, children can meet Santa at parking space of his sleigh with reindeer.

That one museum kids die to see. Hydropolis in Wrocław.

  Nooooo! That is the word expected to hear when teacher announces upcoming visit to the museum in a class. Not surprisingly, we all know how difficult is to get an attention of a young mind, the curious mind that needs an extra shot of imagination to hold too, to keep the focus. Proud to admit that my city, Wrocław, managed to achieve that. Hydropolis, in the simplest explanation the museum of water, attracts  thousands of visitors from every group of the age, especially youngsters. The light, interactive places and modern computer projections became as a top match in the way the knowledge about the purest, simplest and most important substance on the planet Earth, WATER, can be presented.

  Now a must see attraction while visiting Wrocław, in Poland, just can not be missed, especially by kids. Easy accessible as close to the city center (address: Na Grobli 19Wroclaw 50-421, Poland) with a very affordable ticket prices: 18 zł (5$) concessionary ticket, 27 zł (7.5$) regular ticket, 72 zł (20$) family ticket (2+2). Please don`t skip it! 

Back flash from Bucharest

  Waking up this morning got to remember that Friday, as is today, was a day when I landed in Bucharest, the place from where I start my backpacking trip trough the Balkans, along with my, still strong till today, love for feta cheese and spinach. Yes, this very own and very great Romanian capital got my traveling feelings on straight away. Also taking an opportunity here to point that it is a good city to start from this part of the Europe. Allowing myself only a three days, I can not admit that Bucharest has been fully discovered and experienced by me. Yet, touched, thought slightly, but satisfying, managing to ticked a great night out, good city seeing around the center, finishing at meeting local friends along with other travelers. Clearly, was a good start, promising a good  further travel. And indeed, that was the case. Though, sparing to write what to see, what I saw, what I liked and what not so, just sharing few photos from this Easter European city, from where my trip has begun.

https://annapowaska.com/2017/10/11/earthquake-in-nepal-2/

Earthquake in Nepal

25.04.2015

  It`s been already my fifth day in Kathmandu, so after seeing most of the things around, I wanted to spend this day practicing my street photography skills, as I always liked it most. I found a perfect narrow street in the Thamel area, I had visited few times in previous days, where I just loved the scenery of petite and long path of an old buildings, growing from the bricks below, with golden and silver pots, dishes and plates all around to purchase. I thought, with nice sunny weather, it will be a perfect day to capture a few good photos of a daily life in Nepal. Sun reflection on the golden vases looked picturesque with a background build of all dark, mystery and old houses around. As an early bird, leaving hotel shortly after breakfast, I was ready for my little wander around one of my all time favorite capitals. As of hot weather I packed just my wallet, water and camera in to my bag. It was around 27 degrees during the day time, so leaving hotel in just shirt and jeans was expected. However, I wasn’t even expecting that I am going to sleep next two nights outside on the ground with nothing.

11.50 am

 After wondering for few hours around delightful Thamel, I reached my destination of a tiny street, I mentioned earlier on, where I began taking photos. Five minutes before 12.00, I saw on the sky something I have never seen before. The whole upper atmosphere was covered with birds of all kinds, almost like a dark cloud, flying in to the one direction….all out of the sudden. It was one of the most bizarre thing I have ever seen. The whole sky was filled with them. Everyone suddenly stopped to look up at this rare happening. Shortly after, few elderly woman started to run around, shouting in Nepalese language sentences I could not understand. I was the only tourist there. I noticed sudden panic around, people trying to hide, shouting for kids around, grabbing their arms. Clearly, they all tried to hide quickly, closing shops, if that was a possible thing to do. It was just 10-20 seconds between noticing flying birds and what happened after, but I remember that loads of things went trough my mind. Basically, those running elderly ladies were pointing the sky, and I saw people running and trying to look for a shelter, so the only explanation, I’ve had created in my head, was that there are some air military force coming. But no, that was not the case.

 Seconds after, the earthquake began. The ground started to shake extremely violently. I could only hear the movement of the plates. Even thought buildings were collapsing around me, I could not sound a thing. I am not going to lie, I wasn’t that much scared, as I thought its normal in this part of the world, as of an earth layers that shaped the great Himalayas. I was even just standing, though, trying not to fall, thinking whether is safer to stay out or get in!

 I was one of the last people standing on that street, but then suddenly I felt a hand grabbing me and taking to stay in one of the entrances of the house. Maybe he saved me, as bricks were falling everywhere. The ground was shaking so destructively in vertical way, It was very difficult to stay up. I don’t know how long it took, but at this point, I realized its a disaster. As soon as earthquake finished, I knew I had to get out of this small-scaled street with old building around, as during the aftershock more could collapse, like the one I was in. Also, as soon as the ground stopped shaking, I noticed what is really happening around. Woman were crying, few people were injured, everyone was just in shock. However, there was a strong wave coming to strike again and then more after, so I knew I need to find a big enough square with a proper distance from surrounded buildings. I just managed to run around the corner to the temple area, I got to remember from previous days. The maze was small, around 20-30 square meters, but houses weren’t so close. Loads of people, finding it as a closest safest area, gathered there too for upcoming aftershock. I inspected the damage around and noticed that almost every building had cracks and looked like can not survive next shakes. At this point there was nowhere to go anyway. It was too dangerous to try to go trough streets to reach a bigger gardens to stay away from building at this time. I looked around trough the people faces. Shock, fear and sadness was mixed with helplessness and surprise. There was a mother standing next to me with her three young children. I looked at her and saw her tears coming like a river from her eyes, but she was trying to hide it well from her kids. She really was a breaking point at realization about the situation.

 After 30-40 minutes after the main earthquake, few birds, sitting around on roofs, flew suddenly away again in same direction as before. At this point, we all knew what is going to happened after 20 seconds. Few people were screaming, but, luckily, buildings around managed to stay as they were. After shakes stopped, I knew I have another half an hour or so before another one, to find a properly big space away from any kind of architecture. Luckily, knowing Kathmandu already, I run to the big open space close to the Durban Square. Not surprisingly, I saw a huge group of people, like myself, trying to get a safer shelter before upcoming aftershock. I’ve met two English guys. One of them was wounded. I asked what happened, and he explained to me that, with his friend, they were the last people to escape from one of the temples before it collapsed with, still, loads of people trapped in. I’ve had a sealed water, so I opened it, and we cleaned his wound. They wanted to go back to hotel, but I told them not to, and to come with me after the second quake, that was going to happened soon. I knew that we are close to the one, big enough, garden. They joined me, and I bet they were very glad they did so, as the area was safe enough. We all three stayed there until the third and fourth aftershock, but we all felt no real danger. The fourth wave was very mild, so after that (three hours after the first one) we finally heard sirens of ambulances and fire brigade trying to rich people in need. All signals and internet was disconnected, so I couldn’t contact anyone to say that I am ok. I actually wasn’t able to do so for the next 30 hours.

  The situation was stable enough to start to think what my next move is going to be. I definitely wasn’t going to hotel, as it was far, and way was trough a small streets. I memorized that I was close to the big stadium, so I made a quick decision of going there. I asked these two guys if they will come with me, they agreed. We arrived at our destination, and we noticed that most people from Kathmandu gather there to be in this safe place. I saw a hospital trolleys, with patients on, set on the grass already, but left on its own for hours. I guess stuff was trying to rich people buried under the rumbles. The situation was just drastic, dramatic and very bad. There were not enough people to help and thousands were in need of a first aid. There was nothing on the ground, just grass. I had just water with me and camera, and that was the time when I decided to actually go to my hotel to get some clothes, for cold coming night, and my passport. I said goodbye to my friends and was on the street again, witnessing a disaster, collapsed buildings, wounded people, completely destroyed roads. I was a bit scared going trough the streets towards my accommodation, but had no other option really. Thought, on my way, after another shake, I decided not to. Actually, I wasn’t even sure if my hotel still stands up.

  After changing my mind of getting stuff from hotel, I found on the way the garden, called Garden of Dreams, where I saw few people around. It was big enough, so I decided to enter. I’ve met there other travelers, and we stayed together as a team for the next 2 days. We decided to sleep there too, thought earthquakes were going on trough the whole night, the worst for me was cold, almost icy feels, I was getting the whole time. In only my thin shirt on in temperature of 5 degrees, I was laying in darkness on the grass unable to sleep. In the morning, I knew I have to check my accommodation and get my passport and something warm to wear for another sleep out. I knew I wouldn’t be able to spend another night in this temperature in just what I was wearing. My friends from the group said they will do the same, and that we will all meet here after, in 2-3 hours.

  I reached my hotel at 8.00 in the morning. Building was damaged, but was standing. All areas in were abandoned and completely empty, everyone were gone, and all rooms were open. Mine was closed, but had my key, so was able to get in to take my big back with half of the clothes, I`ve had with me in Nepal. I managed to, at least, wash my hands and face, but was still very hungry. I was wondering what happened with owner and all the guests…I could just hope they were all fine!!

  I picked all I needed and came back to the garden. I found my friends after, and they told me that not far is a noodle place open today, so we went there to get some food. Thought, queue was for an hour, we managed at least to have a hot meal. It was a warm day, so I was laying on the grass enjoying the sun after all that cold, I felt the whole night before. Around 18.00 my phone line was back on again, so it was finally the first time I could call relatives to say that I am fine.

The second night

  The second night was possibly the worst night I have ever experienced in my whole life. Having clothes this time on me, I was even able to make a pillow from my hoodie to lie my head on. Here, I want to add that no help was visible anywhere so far, no Red Cross, nothing! Dressed as an Eskimos, I was prepared to spend the next night on the grass. Extremely tired, being awake for 36 hours now, I thought I may get a little sleep. No, I could not be more wrong! This time was raining heavily all night! I was only able to hide all my electronics under my belly, and that is how I spent next 8 hours, all wet, cold and awake.

  In the morning I changed my shoes, and I put dry blouse. I told my friends that I can’t stay here longer, and I am off…somewhere. I took my backpack, and I left. At this point, I didn’t even know where I was going to go. All hotels were closed, and it wasn’t safe to stay indoor, as still was too dangerous as of damaged buildings. Luckily, I noticed few buses on the street across. I asked the driver where are they going, and found that one of them was heading to Pokhara, a city 8 hours ride away from Kathmandu. I had no better option than just to take that bus.

Most scary moment in that whole situation

 Driving trough Kathmandu, I was able to see the real scale of what happened in past two days! Third of the capital got destroyed. Roads were damaged too, but buses were running on them anyway. I was just happy to leave, to seek for a bed to lie down and just sleep. The road to Pokhara was trough Himalayas, a very tiny one with no rails on the edge. So on one side you had high mountains, and on another, steep rocky block high on 50 meter ended with wild river down below. I read that these roads are the most dangerous in the world, and, I guess, still present aftershocks contributed to higher the danger level too. However, I felt still good to be gone from Kathmandu.To be on the way, moving. Suddenly the bus stopped, and I saw a long line of cars in front of us. I got out of the bus, I could feel earthquake, but this time there was nowhere to hide. I got in to bus again, and I asked one of the Nepalese, sitting next to me, why are we stopping, as I could not understand the bus driver. He told me that we had to as because of the land slide that was happening not far from us. At this point I was really scared, being trapped in tiny Himalayan road. We continue to wait 2 h, and, luckily, the bus went off again.DSC_0839

Arriving to Pokhara

  I can’t even describe how relieved I was when I arrived to Pokhara, that got hardy damaged. I checked in to one of the hotels and, happy to have a bad, I slept for twelve hours! There was another mild earthquake at night, but I didn’t even left the bed this time! The next days shower felt like a rear pleasure and close by Italian restaurant like a heaven!

Return to Kathmandu

  I returned to Kathmandu after seven days. Situation was even worst. I have been told that the water is contaminated, as of bodies around. Buildings were still as I saw them leaving with bricks all around. I still wasn’t able to see much of international aid, I read about online in Pokhara. Luckily for me, few hotels were open, so I checked in to one. Actually, one of the best, as was reassured it’s a strong construction, and I am safe there. In the morning I was having a breakfast with French fire brigade, that came as an aid. They were eating for 3 hours..not even going to comment on that. I’ve heard also some Polish volunteers, that came to help, but I saw them just taking private photos of collapsed buildings. I did not see any international aid, only Nepalese working very hard, helping each others. I might be wrong, I am sorry, I know many people were in remote villages, helping. But having a breakfast for 3 hours wasn’t so cheering, and changed my view how people act in such a crisis, when it’s not really their backyard.

Shkoder, a perfect stop before traveling to Montenegro

 Visiting Shkoder, town in the northern part of Albania, definitely rewarded my time in Tirana, the capital that did not impressed me even a bit. Thought, I’ve met loads of great people there, I sampled a traditional and very tasty food, the architecture left a sour taste in my mouth. Luckily, delight was waiting for me in my next location, in a cute little city called Shkoder, the most historic town in Albania with the oldest wall of the castle that dates back to the 1st millennium bce.

 When it comes to the geological side of the area, we can find this beautiful place surrounded by North Albanian Alps. It is lying at the southeast end of Lake Skadar, at a point where the Buenë (Serbian and Croatian: Bojana) River, one of Albania’s two navigable streams, flows out of the lake toward the Adriatic Sea. This is definitely a must see place. The city gives you the opportunity to sample traditional food in one of many restaurants around, to visit mosques or to just have a great night out. On another hand, the outskirt and surrounded landscape creates a perfect bike trials you can enjoy alone, with friends or family. Here is my other blog about cycling paths there. So clearly this place offers a lot, and it just can’t be missed. It’s also a perfect stop once traveling between Albania and Montenegro.

Bus from Managua to Granada and Masaya Volcano

 Spending good few days in Managua, the capital of Nicaragua, I just could not skip seeing places around. The landscape is way too beautiful to just stay in the city. Lakes, volcanoes and mountains create a very interesting environment that stun you straight away, especially when coming from tropical and green Costa Rica, like myself. I would definitely recommend to see two places that are close by: stunning Masaya Volcano, along with surrounded national park, and a cute little town called Granada. Second mentioned one is a very touristic place, so you can find there loads of restaurants, hostel and hotels to stay in. Please note that half of the day is more than enough to enjoy this town. The volcano, however, is definitely a must see attraction while in capital. It can become as an amazing one day trip, you will never forget. The bad news is that its not always open, especially when its too active, but once is available to public…no excuses for not seeing it! So how to get there?

Managua offers loads of tours to take you to both places, but why to pay more when catching a minibus could not be easier. The place to find them is same for both directions, so are the minivans. They do have a sing on the front saying Granada, where they terminate, and the volcano is on the way to mentioned town. Just please tell the driver to stop in front of the entrance to the park. For your way back from the Masaya, there is a bus stop on another side of the motorway where you can wait and wave when you will spot the bus. I am afraid they are usually full, so you may even wait for the third one that will let you in. Luckily, they run very often, every 15-30 mins. You can get a taxi too, if you prefer, for around 40$ one way (so not so cheap, but option as well).

The bus stop for the mini vans towards Granada, in Managua, is located at UCA terminal (University of Central America on Pista de la Resistencia street), and the ticket cost around  24-44 NIO (1$). Another bus stop can be found at Mercado Huembes, but its a bit further south from the city center (please see the attached map). It will take about 1 hour to rich Granada and around 40 minutes to rich Masaya. UCA terminal is a bit chaotic, but just look for the minibus with Granada sign on it. Vans run from 05:00 till 22:00.

I did walk to UCA terminal from city center, was safe for me, but police stopped me twice to ask why do I walk alone, and that I should take a taxi there. You can catch a bus there from the city center too. Once there, vans run very often and depart once almost full. You pay in the bus, usually on the way towards your destination. Ticket cost around 1$ one way, so its extremely cheap. In Granada bus stops right in the city center, the return one departs from different stop, see map attached below. There is no timetable again, as it leaves very often (every 15-30 mins) once van is full. img_4799

One more thing to add at the end. If you have just one spare day please do pick volcano over Granada! 

Bosnia, Herzegovina and something else

 Fact that I visited nine countries during my backpacking trip trough stunning Balkans definitely do allow me to make up my mine on the most magnificent one, I was fortunate to discover. Though, clearly when it comes to judgments like that, we are all aware about strong subjective side of it. Going even further, I wanted to visit Bosnia and Herzegovina for a very long time, especially because I wrote one chapter in my master thesis about the war there. Starting my journey just from knowledge of the spilled blood and history, though still young and fresh, I went trough creation of an image in my head from all kind of sources as documentaries, photos, information, to finally finish seeing, visiting, discovering, meeting people and just simply feel this country myself. I knew before planning my trip that it is going to be my favorite country in Europe. And yet again(!), I wasn’t mistaken. Same like with Bolivia and Nepal…I just felt the chemistry before even visiting. Perhaps difficult to explain, or probably my senses are already directed towards one side and my mind sabotaging my opinion, since I am making one in advance. More or less, here we are in Bosnia and Herzegovina…..the most amazing, at least for me, country in Europe with warm people, absolutely stunning and unique rivers, diverse architecture, rich culture and beautiful mountain range all around. Spearing to write more and just adding my recommendation to visiting this absolutely unique European country, I just want to share some photos I took.

Finding some peace in Pokhara

 Arriving, even trough a tiny roads between Himalayas and wild rivers, from a busy streets of Kathmandu to a calm and peaceful Pokhara almost seemed like a way to nirvana for me. You can find there everything that`s missing from the capital. Not overcrowded streets are surrounded by a beautiful mountain range with deadly Annapurna looking at you from every single corner, yet seems like she gives your mind a great piece of rest.

  Pokhara is located 200 kilometers west of the capital. Could be a surprised fact to learn that by occupying the area of 464.24 km2 this city stands as larger than Kathmandu, 18 times larger than Lalitpur and 2.5 times larger than Bharatpur. Because of its popularity and it​s touristic nature, as of many available activities to choose from, this area is packed with hotels, hostel, restaurants, travel agencies, and anything visitors really need. It’s well known mostly as a gateway to the Annapurna Circuit, a popular trail in the Himalayas to hike. However, when it comes to this city, it is not only about the highest mountain range in the world. Pokhara`s landscape consist of a beautiful and the second largest lake of Nepal, called Phewa, with clear green waters that is an absolutely stunning thing to enjoy. On a sunny day when the sky is clear, you can even see surrounded range as a reflection on a smooth surface of the lake. Inviting waters, apart from being the main resource for fishing, offers load of activities from kayaking to just lazy ride on the boat through the lake. Or how about just simple walk around where you can sit and enjoy at one of restaurants, coffee shop or a smoothie making stands. That could be an option as well, isn’t it? This seems like a popular thing to do, as there are always loads of tourists along with locals around the shore too.

Cycling around the area, even up to the top of the Sarangkot, seems like a very popular activity. Alternatively, you can hire a scooter or motorbike to discover the area a bit further and see more lakes, as name “Pokhara” means the valley of the lakes itself, derived from “Pokhari” which literally means a lake. There are eight of them in total. Apart from the most popular inside the valley, previously mentioned Phewa, others are: Begnas, Rupa, Maidi, Khaste, Gunde, Dipang and Kamal Pokhari. Phewa, Begnas and Rupa are definitely three lakes worth visiting. Apart from beautiful calm surface of them, surely is wort experiencing a wilder nature of waters as rivers and waterfalls, which Pokara is famous for. The Seti River is much popular among the tourists. It runs through deep channels in the conglomerate rocks from Bagar to Sita Paila, and in some places it flows through the narrow gorge. Going through by the river sides below the hills, we can see several beautiful and dashing waters falling downhill and finally flowing to the rivers. You can even enjoy them just by passing the highway to Baglung that consist few of them on the way. The city itself also has a beautiful waterfall, and it is known as Davis Fall (In Nepali: Patale chango).

It truly is a breath-taking experience just looking at the Davis Fall in Chorrepatan. The water flowing in this fall comes from Fewa lake, and the fall is worth visiting during the rainy seasons as it possesses its maximum velocity. But lets not get stuck there for too long, there is way more to see around. Absolutely magnificent cave is just two minutes walk from there. Basically the whole Pokhara valley is rich in cave system, and it almost seems like a vision of a city hidden under the ground. Mahendra Cave, for example, is located in the city of Pokhara and can be easily accessed by the visitors in just walking distance (few kilometers), taxi ride or just by public buses. It is named after the late king Mahendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev. The cave itself is amazing and you can witness many natural shapes and images of the various Hindu gods and goddesses on the stone made of the lime. Literally just a ten minutes walk from this cave there lies another one named the Bat Cave. In Nepali language it is also called Chameri Gufa. You can guess correctly who residence inside, the name suggests it well. It is called after the habitats of the bats over the cave’s wall and the ceilings. Above all caves you can find a dense forest with a stream flows, ending as a sparkling waterfall tumbling into a mysteriously hidden world of darkness. In total Pokhara is renowned for ten mystical caves. Nevertheless, right now, only nine of the caves can be visited as the Eastern Power Station cave has been badly damaged and buried, as it is under a huge landslide, leaving its beauty only for few lucky one.

  Near by Sarangkot hill is a must hike place as well. It is very popular to cycle or just walk all the way up, however, bus, taxi and scooter is an option too. Once there, you can enjoy absolutely outstanding panorama of the surrounded valley underneath and the magnificent view of the mountains. In to the northern direction we can see Dhaulagiri in the far west. Annapurna range is visible when the weather is clear on the same side. On the southern direction the village overlooks the city of Pokhara and its lake on the north-western outskirts of the city. Sarangkot is only 5 km from lake side, Pokhara, and is the highest view-point for a sunrise at just 1592 m high, but the temperature drops already 5 degrees cooler than the city. The hill can be done easily by 45 minutes car ride to the top from Pokhara and then 45 minutes hike up to the main view-point. Many tourists come to Sarangkot for sunrise view and go back after few hours, but it will be good if you will get a chance to stay there for one night and enjoy the way city light outshine from there. Paragliding is a very popular activity that can be done from that area too. You can book that at one of many agents in Pokhara, or one at the top. 

Paragliding is a good way to start with when it comes to more adventurous side of this area. The city offers everything from ultralight flying, skydiving and ziplining to a bungee jumping, developing a complete holiday package for a perfect vacation to all kind of tourists. But there is a last, but not least, thing worth mentioning. Remember to also visit the old side of the city where you will be able to experience and feel cultural side of Nepal along with all old temples, statues and buildings around. Old Town is a real treat for the people who love to discover a new place from its roots and history. Best explored on foot, Old Town in Pokhara offers an unmatched view of the new parts of the city in the morning, before the traffic and daily chores take over the landscape. Once there, you will come across a marketplace selling locally produced items; Bhimsen Temple, an old shrine dedicated to the Newari god of trade and commerce with Bindhya Basini Temple, dedicated to goddess Durga. You can find a good range of delicious street food too. Its is a place to observe locals on a daily life too, getting on their daily routine. Thought, not so overcrowded as Kathmandu, you will meet loads of Nepalese to chat to, talk to. You wont be disappointed with the way they will interact towards you.

  At the end I would like to mention that I arrived to Pokhara from Kathmandu, where I was during the earthquake. I spend 48 hours at the ground, sleepless, wet, tired. I did not only found a peace, but a shelter. I felt safe there, as aftershocks were hardly noticeable, and the whole city did not get damaged as capital. It will always stay as a very special place for me. But for you guys, I think it enough to know that it is a magical, adventurous place you just can not miss while in Nepal!

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 nigts) – 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 are you 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 5.800-6.000$, that including everything, staying 70% of the time in hostels, rest in hotels, all the bus travel, food, trips, activities, tickets, parties, clothes, souvenirs…. Please keep checking fly4free website for cheap deals on flights to South America. I bought mine from Belgium to Sao Paulo in Brazil with return for 600$, 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, hurted 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 to 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.