I am actually not going to write anything, just gathered some photos from different trips. Monday morning makes me want to travel, so it is either this, or crying and eating pizza.
Ps Ive had a pizza anyway.
I am actually not going to write anything, just gathered some photos from different trips. Monday morning makes me want to travel, so it is either this, or crying and eating pizza.
Ps Ive had a pizza anyway.
Name “Dead Road” definitely does not come in a first place to any mind as a casual attraction. Originally named Yungas Road became well-known as a silent killer of thousands. Famous for being most dangerous road in the world that contributed to many deaths of drivers in the past and some cyclists in recent years. All as a result of how and where the road has been constructed. A combination of a single track road, 900m high cliffs, rainy weather, limited visibility, rockfalls, waterfalls and lack of guardrails participated in all death. Luckily, and finally, Yungas road was modernised to include two driving lanes, asphalt pavement, drainage systems and guardrails. New road has been opened in 2009, as an alternative of a must choice, replacing the dangerous 64 km stretch. All traffic being diverted to the new road. I am really glad motorists can now travel from La Paz to Coroico without fearing the journey may be their last. New road, apart from the fact that has already saved hundreds of life, left Bolivia also with one of the coolest, adrenaline giving and very adventurous tourist attraction in this country. People from all around the world visit this part of Bolivia to cycle down trough the original way. I did too.
“200 to 300 estimated death drivers yearly along Yungas Road and as late as 1994 there were cars falling over the edge at a rate of one every two weeks.”
“One of Bolivia’s most tragic road accidents happened on July 24th 1983 when an overcrowded bus veered off the side of the road and into a canyon killing more than 100 passengers.”
“Even with these improved conditions, Yungas Road shows no mercy. Nowadays, the death toll is limited to local workers and daredevil backpackers still using the infamous road. It is believed that more than 22 cyclists have lost their lives on Bolivia’s “Death Road” since 1998.”
The answer for me is definitely YES TO DO. I wasn’t thinking even for a minute whether I should do it or not. It was surely one of the coolest thing I did in South America. However, it really is not for everyone. Most agencies will not be very honest with you, as they just want loads of people to sign for it for the profit. There is no limit of age, fitness etc, but since I have done it, I can set some average requirements. Here they are:
Dead Road is usually done from La Paz, the city in Bolivia. There are loads of agencies to provide you with their service, especially around city center area. Every single hostel and most hotels can book you in too. It really isn’t a problem to buy this trip. It is relatively cheap. Prices depend on agency and mostly the kind of the bike, you will be provided with. It will be between 50-100$, as of 2016. I rented the worst bike, and I think being cheap about the bicycle is not the best idea. Get a double suspension one and from a good agency. Never go with Luna Tours agency (see photos above to recognise uniform and logo). I went with them and was promised to be provided with photos and movies of us while cycling. They did film a lot, took loads of photos, and at the end agency provided us with CDs where all media suppose to be. After few moths, when I came back home exited to show movies to my sister and her kids (to show how cool is their aunt), I discovered that there is no photos or movies of us!!! Just old movies to promote agency. I was extremely disappointed and angry, I have only few photos from my phone.
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 a rest.
Pokhara is located 200 kilometers west of the capital. Could be a surprising 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 its 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 the 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 in one of restaurants, coffee shop or a smoothie making stands. That could be an option as well, wouldn`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 as well. 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 a 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!
Cute little village, called San Pedro de Atacama, lies on a high plateau of Andes in the northern part of Chile. The area around creates the most outstanding landscape on the planet that includes deserts, volcanoes, geysers, hot springs and salt flats found only in this part of the world. Surroundings make the scenery around San Pedro to be worth seeing at least once in your life. Together with Easter Islands and Patagonia, stands as the top place to visit once in Chile. The area is known to be one of the driest places in the world which leads to the fact that there’s not much green around, yet the unique geology structure creates there something so beautiful that is beyond anything, anything I saw so far. Not even mentioning that you can also easily see a magnificent milk way at night too.
Small town San Pedro, with population just under 4,000, tends to be a very popular destination, so it`s packed with hotels, hostels, restaurants, shops and anything travelers need really. Please be aware that beds are always in high demand, so you really have to book your stay in advance. I did not know about it, and I had to stay longer in Santiago to spend my new year there, not in San Pedro as planned. It happened because all was already booked up. I got there on 3.01.2016, and it was still full of tourists. Once you’re lucky claiming your accommodation, go to look around. Village is very small and feels very cosy. Whoever decided to name the streets wasn’t really in his clear mind, so you can get lost very easily at first, but after some time you will know your way around well. In the center you can have a good meal or just a nice coffee. You can buy some clothes, hats or a tasty local alcoholic drink, called pisco (actually Peruvians are a bit angry, as this drink has been made first by them…or so they say). The prices around main street are not so high, but clearly set for tourists. I have found a very cool little area to eat, in far east that travelers don’t know about (you’re welcome). Meals there cost around 4$, are very local and very tasty. There are a few small restaurants (if you can call it like that) next to each other, and every single one got something different to offer. There`s one internet cafe in the center too, if you needed, and broadband is really not as bad as backpackers complain about! Apart from that, main street is loaded with tourist agencies. You can book loads of amazing trips there at a very affordable price. Please note that you need some spare Chilean pesos with you, as there is always something extra to pay on your trip (usually entrance fee). It’s good to book few. However, for me, the highlight of my stay turns to be cycling around Atacama Desert. Except for 3 days tour I took around all lagoons, geysers and salars, but that was on Bolivian side, so I will write about it in section about that country.
Cycling. You can hire a bike literally on every corner in San Pedro. They are in a very good condition, and you are getting an extra gear with them too (spare tube, helmet, pump and map). Prices are not so high, and they do depend on length of time you are planning to rent your bike for, and the quality of your vehicle. You can hire it from an hour up to 48 hours. Loads of hotels do this service too, which makes it easy to return it and just to go straight to your room after. I used one agency to rent and once my hotel, and prices were very similar. As far as I remember, it was around 6-8$ for the whole day. So, as I mentioned, you will be given a map with routes you can do. It really is easy to find your way around, but please keep your map with you, as you wont be meeting loads of people on the way to ask for directions. Take also loads of water with you. It’s a very hot area, and climate is extremely dry. Stuck up on some snacks too, shops are only in San Pedro! The field is elevated, so better to use sunglasses and sun protection cream. Now…AGAIN! I have lost all my photos from this beautiful place. I realized that while writing this blog. I was devastated, and I almost cried. I really captured such an amazing moments, areas, friends, and I took really great photos! This place is so so special for me. I have only few from my phone left. It is the same situation, I have had with my photos from Mexico and Belize when 2/3 of my pics just disappeared from my SD card, just like that. Did anyone got the same problem? Can I fix it? I still got all my SDs, and they are full, so photos are there, somehow. Help me readers, you’re my only hope!
Valley of the Moon, or Valle de la Luna, as a part of the Salt Mountain range, is one of the most visited places in San Pedro area.
The name, probably, came from the fact that the place really looks like from different planet. The whole plateau does! The valley is accessible from the town by car or bike. It is only 10 kilometers away, and you will get there via main road. There are loads of signs on the way pointing directions towards valley, so you will easily find your way. You could walk too, but the whole area of the valley is quiet large already, so you might get tired a bit. The valley also got a spot where you can do a sun-boarding. The entrance fee is just 3,000 Chilean pesos, that’s around 4.5$. The ground around is so dry that there are no any living creatures. So again, remember to take plenty of water with you. Well, as far as I remember, there is a little shop by the entrance too, in case you will run out of drinks. With your ticket you will get a map with all highlights on it, so even with no guide you wont miss anything. I don’t even want to start here how things are looking around there, because I know I already use word “amazing” way to often here. Basically, you will see few beautiful canyons, sandy desert, unusually structured rock formations, snow looks-like a ground (minerals under the soil are responsible for the white cover) and caves. Here, I have to say that after the earthquake in Nepal, I was a bit scared to go trough that tiny little dark caves, but I got over the fear while half way trough there. With the tour, you will end your trip watching the sunset over the amazing valley. So, as you know by now, I did book my tour to see the valley, but I also got there one day on a rented bike. Two ways of doing so got pluses. With tour you will go with a nice group and a tour guy. He will take you in some caves too. But while cycling there alone, you will be very flexible.
You will stop anywhere you like, and you will lose loads of calories, as there are loads of hills to climb. The big minus is that after the sunset its dark, and you will have to cycle back like that. The climate, like geological structure, is diverse too, so as soon as the sun is gone, it`s getting very very cold very very quickly. To be honest, sunset over the valley is something you can’t miss. Well, anyway, you will decide! I guess it is worth doing it twice in both ways, if you have a spare time there. Why not to see the magnificent scenery twice.
Devils Throat is the name of a cycling path around another stunning valley. The entrance is just little bit further from Pukara de Quitor, on a right hand side. The trial is 18 kilometers long, so with the road back it`s 36. Every company, you will hire your bike from, will give you the map with the road on it. It is a very easy and pleasant path, a bit rocky at times, but mostly flat. Just in few places you will face some hills, but they are not so high at all. The land around is a bit green, with the little river that will accompany you trough the whole trail. You can see some houses on your way (watch out for angry guarding dogs :).
It really is amazing that people lives in such a peaceful and remote area. Just to warn you, that there will be no phone signal, so cycle carefully please. I did this trial with my lovely friend, I’ve met on the top of Pukara de Quitor, Dorit. So anyway, because I was not alone, we let ourselves a bit, and we went way further than the Devils Throat trial. We crossed the river three times, holding our bikes in hands, and we got, probably, where not many tourists go. And really, again, watch your way around. I still have a big scar on my knee as a souvenir from there 😀 The whole experience was amazing, and the hills around your way will make you breathless. Me and my friend both had shoes and pants wet, but who cares. The area is so dry, nothing stays wet for too long. Dryer is definitely not needed for locals there.
So what stands behind this funny name? An archaeological site just north of the town. It is so close (3 km from San Pedro) that you can easily do it with Devils Throat in one day. The side is looking interesting even without the ruins. But they do add the ancient vibe to the area. It`s known that it has been structured by precolombian Atacameño people as a fortress against Inca people. The road there is very straight forward, and even I remember it by now, a year after. Just cross the river on the north-east area, to take the road along the bank of the stream. Then after some time, you should already see the signs pointing the direction. The entrance to the park is very affordable at just 3,000 CLP. You can find there also a small museum with some artifacts that have been found in the area, and a brief view of the history of the place and people who lived there and created it. There is also a place to lock your bike. The ruins are all over the little hill, you will hike. To be honest, it is not so spectacular as rest of the valley, but you can learn loads of interesting facts by reading all the descriptions. Once you’re done with it, please hike a bigger hill just next to it. At the top you will find a mirador (viewpoint), that will give you the opportunity to look at beautiful valley beneath. The road to the top, again, is not difficult, takes around 30 minutes, and its build of rocky steps. At the top you can find a little structure and some faces sculpted in the rock. They look pretty cool. When your eyes feel satisfy with the surrounded view, you can start heading back to San Pedro for a tasty lunch to satisfy your stomach now :p
It’s amazing how well I always knew what kind of areas in the world I would like to see in the future. Nepal was on my list as a very first country to visit since I was very young. Something was always telling me that it is probably one of the most fascinating and astonishing places in the world. What I wasn’t sure about was the wonder, if I will ever be able to go there. Fortunately, I did get a chance to visit this truly diverse land with the highest mountain range in the world. I wasn’t mistaken at all, as I found there everything, I always imagine I would find. Even that I was in Kathmandu during the earthquake didn’t change my experience in any way. I witness how Nepalese truly helped each other during and after the disaster. For this, and loads of other reasons, I consider Nepal as a small Asian country with the big-hearted people.
When it comes to the international airport, it is probably one of the oldest and smallest I’ve ever seen, but then the size makes it easier to find your way around. I arrived in April from not so warm Europe, so the heat struck me straight away. After 2 hours in the long queue to get a visa, I was finally able to see the other side. I picked my bag from the floor somewhere, and I left happy and glad it didn’t get missing. Stepping outside, I quickly spotted how overcrowded and chaotic this city is. This helped me to make a quick decision on not trying to work out how buses run, but just to take a taxi. The situation on the road can be really shocking for someone who has never been in Southeast Asia before. The jam, noise, unclear driving rules and no traffic lights makes you wonder how on earth Nepalese getting around on a daily basis there. The car or motorbike can drive everywhere where it fits, even through a tiny tiny streets, so better have your eyes around your head. Watch out also for what locals transport on their motorbikes or bikes, as It can be something four times of a vehicle size, so be aware of the situation around you to avoid being knock down by something. I wouldn’t recommend walking while listening to your music either to avoid any accidents. I would definitely suggest to get your accommodation in Thamel. It is the most touristic area in Kathmandu. I am always trying to stay away from this kind of places, but there is just way different. You can meet loads of amazing backpackers, trekkers, travelers and volunteers to talk to, to share your experience with. Locals are very friendly too, so you definitely won’t get bored or lonely there. Shops and restaurants are on every possible corner, but always have cash with you. It’s very unlikely to pay by card, maybe just in posh hotels and restaurants. Also if you will see a cash machine, use it. There’s not so many of them around. Some of them may not work and some may not accept your card. I’ve had a Visa and MasterCard, and I wasn’t always able to use the first one, but with the second I’ve had a better luck.
Try to sample as many new things as you can. For me everything was very delicious and packed with wonderful flavors. It is a heaven for Asian cousin lovers, like myself. People who sell meals on the streets really mastered their cooking skills. They make it very local, very unique, always fresh, and usually made in front of you. I have to add that I’ve met few travelers that complained about experiencing some stomach problems after, but not me. So maybe try to find a golden line between cleanliness and vibe of authentic local street food. Momo`s are definitely must eat there. They are very traditional and you can have them with many different fillings and sauces.
I am from Poland, and they do remind me of our dish called pierogi. I wonder if that’s how they came to us through the Russia first. Apart from them, rice and noodles are probably most popular. It’s like a fusion of Indian and Chinese food. They all come in good vegetarian range too. If you like a late meal you will get even a better choice, as loads of street stands are open only in the evening. It’s good to have a supper around that time, as you will meet loads of travelers around. The only problem there is lack of the streets light, so visibility depends only on shops and restaurants neons. It could be a problem sometimes, as often on some streets, I’ve had to walk in total darkness….alone…brrr.
If there are loads of things you want to see in one day, hire a motorbike. It really is very cheap, around 10£ for a day, and can save you loads of time. You can get a bike too, but it can be difficult to ride it on all these small streets full of people. Otherwise, not much for me to say about public buses in capital, as I haven’t used it at all, relying just on my private transport – my legs. However, three main bus station are present with buses that connect cities and towns in Nepal. All a little bit chaotic, but by keep asking, you should eventually find the one you need. No worries if you will take a wrong one, everything is worth seeing in Nepal :D. More or less, Nepalese are good with English and always happy to help! First bus station (also called the Kathmandu Bus Terminal, or simply ‘new bus park’) is located at Ring Road, Balaju. It is basically for all long-distance buses, including the one to Pokhara and destinations in the Terai. Kantipath bus station (if you can call it like that, as buses are just parked on the side of the street) seems less confused (but still a bit!), and is located very close to the Thamel area on Tridevi Marg Kantipath, the main road running north-south at the junction where the Garden of Dreams is. There`s not so many buses leaving from there, so makes it easier to find your way around. I took my bus from there to Pokhara that leaves everyday around 7 am. You do not need to book in advance, but can be busy sometimes, so you may, just for the peace of your mind. This bus station is only in use early morning. Later in the day there is zero buses around. Green Line Bus station is a private company that provides better comfort at higher price. Usually they operate minivans with aircon and include a meal. Terminal can be found at Greenline bus park opposite the Garden of Dreams on the edge of Thamel.
If you are looking for some trekking experience or any other trips, you can find all you need in Thamel that is packed with agencies. You can book your bungee jump, see some caves, discover the area around Kathmandu Valley, book a plane to see some of the 8000 high peaks. I did buy few, but they all been cancelled after the earthquake. Especially I am sad that I`ve missed a fly around the Himalayas. If you have a few spare days, go to see the Chitwan National Park, a World Heritage site since 1984. Its is a jungle with rich range of fauna and flora species, also a Bengali tiger. Loads of Nepalese, I’ve met, were pointing this wildlife area as a number one to see. You can stuck up on proper gear too there. If you like a good brand staff, they are a little bit cheaper in less touristic areas.
For more about what to see in Kathmandu please click here, otherwise pack your back, book your fly, and off you go!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
307 km of coastline along the Pacific Ocean contains a sandy beaches with beautiful tropical flora around. Coast is also well popular among surfers.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ;).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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 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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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:
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.
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.