We don’t know what we were expecting when we arrived in Santiago airport, but a cosmopolitan, modern city filled with wide streets, Spanish colonial architecture, an endless array of designer stores and the finest fine dining going around, was not it.
Alas, mass media has pulled the wool over our eyes once again – there is much more to Chile than dry deserts and glaciers. This city easily outdoes a lot of European cities we have visited. The prices for eating out are on par with Melbourne (subtext: expensive). Accommodation is likely some of the most expensive in South America, alongside Buenos Aires, given the country is wealthy and has had a strong economic performance over the last 20 years.
We’re staying in the picturesque, bohemian neighboured of Bellavista (pronounced Beyahvista, since double L’s are spoken as a Y). There is a law university across from our hostel, so everyday we are in the midst of countless students, and consequently, are in the vicinity of cool, rustic bars and amazing, classy restaurants, which are situated in Patio Bellavista – an arcade of restaurants, bars, and stalls selling Chilean copper ornaments. The street art around the streets is actual art, not the scruffy graffiti that’s often seen in most cities. There are some spectacular pieces up the backstreets, as one walks toward San Cristobal.
We were excited to visit Valparaiso, but have since had to cancel as the country’s worst-ever bush fires have destroyed much of the port side city, leaving at last count, 12,500 people homeless, and at least 15 dead.
That’s now two earthquakes, two tsunamis, and a deadly bushfire in the space of two weeks for Chile. The president has declared it a disaster zone and a state of emergency, and right now, the entire city is under military rule.
We will get a bus down there for the day, but as much as we would love to stay, it wouldn’t feel right since there’s so much tragedy.
We’re off now to eat more empanadas and drink pisco sours (the strongest drink since Hungarian palinka). Santiago has really left us speechless. You would be hard pressed to find a city like this in Europe, let alone anywhere else. Oh I forgot to mention the most important part: Santiago is surrounded by the Andes!
We depart for Chile Monday morning from Melbourne, with a stopover in Sydney. From there, it’s a 12 hour flight to Santiago, and once in Santiago, we will be hiring bikes to explore the poetic capital by wheel! Some of history’s greatest ever poets resided in Chile, such as Pablo Neruda and Ruben Dario, who flicked their poetic prose down south in Valparaiso. This is where we will be celebrating Easter – Latin America’s street art capital:
After celebrating Easter in Chile, we will be catching a bus across the Argentina border into Mendoza – the world famous wine region. The weather is in the mid-20s everywhere we’re visiting, until we go “to the end of the world” a.k.a Patagonia, down South at the tip of Antarctica, where it will be below zero. We decided to prolong our stay in Patagonia, since Sam wants to climb the Perito Moreno glacier, and I want to hike Monte Fitz Roy – two amazing journeys that will take upwards of 10 hours to complete.
We’ll keep you posted with photos and travel stories soon! Leave comments or questions below :)
Not so much visited as Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia are, this tropical, hectic, chaotic country gives the shadiest parts of Thailand (*cough*Phuket*cough*) a run for its money. Before Typhoon Haiyan ravaged the Pearl Of The Orient Seas, I had the pleasure of travelling through this humble, South East Asian jewel that is all too often ignored by backpackers. Perhaps that is a good thing, as comparative to other places in Asia I have backpacked, this was cleaner (Manila is contentious), its beaches in immaculate condition due to an absence of senseless debauchery and hardcore partying, and its occupants (backpackers and luxury travellers) appearing to be there for tame relaxation, rather than an overly indulgent holiday.
The Philippines is the place to go to if you want a cheap trip, without the questionable excess that say, Phuket is reputed for, while chilling out on world-class beaches, and dining on Spanish-inspired cuisine. This, after all, used to be a Spanish colony, and the funkiness of a Latin-Asian mix is just too enticing to ignore. You want to be involved in the Filipino way of life when you arrive. Dark alleyways on Boracay will see you pass dilapidated buildings, occupied by a dozen bodies sleeping on dusty mattresses, before arriving at alluring Spanish taverns that rival those found in Spain (no kidding)!
After you’ve explored the cosmopolitan streets, hiding everything from dwarf bars to surf shops, head down to Talipapa and check out the fresh seafood market. Here, you buy the fish of your choice (including huge prawns and lobsters), and carry it with you to one of the nearby hole-in-the-wall restaurants, who cook it for you to your liking. It’s an enjoyable experience that feels intimate, and you can rest assured knowing that the fish is absolutely fresh (if you go for lobster, they’re alive when you buy them).
There’s also the possibility of going to Bulabog Beach, which is a world-renowned kitesurfing beach full of…kite surfers (naturally). This is great if you’re into the sport, otherwise it’s not the ideal place to go for a swim, since it’s predominantly overrun with kite surfers catching massive winds.
The island is split into five main areas: Stations 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. Station 1 contains the island’s most famous beach, White Beach. It’s a little more on the luxurious side with less to do than Station 2, which is full of bars, restaurants, night shows and market stalls. Station 3 is quieter, and offers good value for accommodation, if you don’t mind being further away from the action. Station 4 is where Bulabog Beach is, so if you’re into kite surfing, this is the place to be!
Station 5 actually flanks either side of Stations 1, 2, 3, and 4, and contains more resort style accommodation. It’s largely remote, so unless you’re on a honeymoon and really want some alone time, this probably isn’t the most active place to be.
I’ll have to conclude this post about my time travelling in the Philippines with two interesting observations, which I hope do not deter you from travelling here.
1. In Boracay, I saw a black magic stall containing decapitated monkeys, birds, sharks, boars, and crocodiles, whose heads had been shoved onto the ends of sticks. Interesting, but expensive crystal necklaces were also on display, while the tattooed men in the stall had a shady vibe going on. It freaked me out a little. What I saw in that stall, and the explanation about Filipino shamans (witch doctors), their tools for black magic (dead, decapitated animals stuck onto sticks), and the strong belief in curses made me a tad uncomfortable. I’m well-travelled, but this wasn’t something that flew with me. I had a bad feeling about the place and left soon after I chatted to the men in the stall.
2. In Manila, your car will be stopped at the hotel, a dog will be unleashed to sniff it out for drugs, licenses will be checked, and mirrors will be placed beneath the vehicle to check for car bombs. Terrorism is a problem. You never know if the taxi you’re in will explode, but it’s enough of a possibility that men armed with machine guns will undertake these procedures every time you try to enter their grounds. This takes some getting used to.
I feel obligated to mention those last two parts, so you know exactly what to expect in the Philippines. The people are lovely, the cuisine flavoursome, and the beaches perfect, but it has a dark side, but not so dark that you can’t go on and have a great time, so long as you are aware of your surroundings.
Finally, I do sometimes hear people say that Boracay is too “touristy”. I’ve been to “touristy” places before, and while Boracay does accommodate for the full spectrum of traveller types, I don’t believe in any way it has detracted from the island’s culture, or the experiences it offers. It has a rustic ambivalence that reminds me of Koh Samui, Thailand – you can find what you want here, but the island doesn’t bend to please you. Instead, it exists proudly to offer you the perfect piece of genuine Filipino paradise, and that’s something you should embrace before full-blown tourism does destroy it.
In four weeks, we leave for Chile before crossing the border into Argentina. First on the agenda is Mendoza, a region made famous by the wine it produces, and the trekking, water rafting, horse riding, and snow sports it has on offer. After this, we will be making our way to one of the harshest, most isolated places on Earth: Patagonia.
Patagonia is located at the very bottom of Argentina, and is home to the Perito Moreno Glacier, and Monte Fitz Roy. Fitz Roy has a reputation for being an extreme hike, despite its average height, due to the sheer granite faces present long stretches of arduous technical climbing. In addition, the weather in the area is exceptionally inclement and treacherous. Bear Grylls did an episode here, which showcased just how unpredictably dangerous the terrain can be. Crevasses hidden beneath the snow appear at random throughout the mountain, which can drop down into pure darkness. Instant death, or at least a painful one, is virtually guaranteed.
Only recently, famed climber Chad Kellog was killed on the mountain when a boulder struck him on the mountain. The area is stunning, and arguably one of the most beautiful, most remote places you can find on earth, but there’s a risk in such harsh conditions. But that’s what travellers live for: To explore new horizons, to see new places, to experience culture, and ultimately, to live freely.
We’ll be updating Backpacker Adventures during our South America and Central America journey over the next six months, and invite you to leave any advice, thoughts, or questions you may have!
Have you visited Patagonia, or know of anybody who has? This will be my first time in South and Central America, so leave me some tips if you like! If anybody happens to be around, some Argentinian wine and travel story trading would be most welcome!
Budapest, Hungary, is a fascinating place, with its imposing, gothic architecture and cute streets, that are lined with tired apartments and fresh roses. When you enter Europe’s hidden gem, you get the feeling that this is the best kept secret going around. The city feels forgotten, and the homely isolation of the quiet streets, with its small shop fronts, bars, and supermarkets, makes you feel as though you’ve stepped into familiar territory. A parallel universe of your home perhaps, only in a chic European city that somehow takes a backseat to the likes of Paris and Milan, even though it offers so much more value, and authentic culture, to its guests.
I’ve visited family a few times over the years in a small village, called Zalaegerszeg, and the polarity between the two has been striking. Budapest is the grand locale of a city on the come up – when you see those films with romantic European street corners, and a life of hard knocks, what you’re really seeing is Budapest: More beautiful than Paris, more character than Venice, more edgy that Prague, and better value than anywhere else in the world. Simply put, Budapest reigns King for those visitors who hopefully, have woken up to the painstaking reality that Europe doesn’t only comprise of France, Italy, Spain, and Germany. Europe wouldn’t be the same experience for me, even remotely, without places like Hungary, Greece, and Malta. The vibe from France, particularly, is missing what Hungary has. Put that down to its westernised culture, or its godspeed thrust towards cosmopolitanism… I don’t know. It’s not an observation you describe, but rather one that you feel.
Zala, on the other hand, is a remote village that places you at the end of the world. This is the best place to reside if you want to get away from it all. Farm land, kind people, great wineries: This is Hungary’s version of the remote countryside, and it sure doesn’t disappoint. Only a little while away is Siofok, in Lake Balaton, one of Eastern Europe’s premier party destinations. The world’s biggest DJ’s and singers come here to keep the party rocking, beside a bright blue lake surrounded by wineries, cafes, restaurants, clubs, and bars.
Next time you’re considering Budapest, consider these two other places too. If you have a trip coming up, or know somebody who does, make sure to mention this post or tell them to investigate Hungary further. It costs little, and the rewards are immense. Having travelled throughout Europe on five occasions, all for extended periods of time, I feel confident in saying that Budapest should be in your top three destinations in Europe, ahead of Paris and Venice.
There’s only so long that a best kept secret keeps, well, a secret. Go there while you still can!
The Beach film has inspired a generation of backpackers to circle the globe, in search of adventure, cultural understanding, and to break away from the monotonous routine of an office cubicle.
The Beach film is also responsible for the avalanche of backpackers who find their way navigating the mean streets of Bangkok, the alarming roadways of Phuket, and the picturesque beaches of Koh Samui. Backpackers can find beauty in every corner, on every street, and in every locale that they frequent and explore, but more often than not, they’ll agree that Bangkok is a hectic, polluted city, that Phuket’s exploitation of the sex industry (including the illegal side) ruins it completely, but that all is salvaged once Koh Samui welcomes their arrival.
The Beach film is perhaps best known for flinging travellers and tourists towards Koh Phi Phi Don, as they hitch a boat towards the beaches of Maya Bay – the famous location where The Beach film was shot. Although the film has received questionable reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, one has to look beyond what the critics say, and reflect on what this cult film does for the legion of backpackers who relate to Richard (played by Leonardo DiCaprio).
Richard embodies the typical backpacker, who is in search of something more, in search of something different, more visceral, more real. They wait for it to hit them. They go out with a group of friends, or they go out with their partners, or perhaps, on their own; whatever number accompanies them, they search for their own piece of paradise – something which is as much mental as it is physical. Legions of backpackers just like Richard come to Maya Bay in a ritualistic, rite of passage journey – let’s call it the backpacker’s mecca, because that’s exactly what it is. But backpackers soon find that the mecca is just that – overrun with hoards of people, leaving nothing to the imagination of what this place was like when Richard, Etienne and Francois discovered it.
The great, leaping metaphor of The Beach film is that it compels travellers to get out into the world, and discover their own piece of paradise. I’ve found on my journeys that more often than not, deviating from the beaten path has been more rewarding than trampling the weathered roads. This isn’t about being elitist, and pointing the finger at somebody and saying “Hey, you, the Eiffel Tower sucks compared to the Catacombs,” or approaching Greek Island hoppers and laughing, telling them “You don’t know the real Greece until you’ve weathered the long road to Serres, Thessaloniki, and the remote areas of Rhodos.” Because what I’ve come to find is that, like Richard from The Beach film, people travel for their own reasons. I often wonder what backpackers say about Australia, using this line of reasoning, when ousting Bondi Beach, Byron Bay, and the Gold Coast from their list of special places Down Under.
I wonder this because sometimes, these places are popular for a reason. You would, in fact, be hard pressed to find a beach as amazing as Bondi in New South Wales, or a rainforest as sublime as the Daintree. If The Beach film taught backpackers anything, it’s exactly that: Paradise is whatever paradise is to you. Paradise is not a universal place, it’s a personal refuge that suits our ideals, values, and ethics.
The only thing that ruins paradise, as The Beach film projects, is that paradise can only be kept a secret for so long. Once the crowds come, the development comes, and special places end up being overcrowded by hotel conglomerates and cruise ships. It sucks, but understanding that everybody has the equal right to travel in whichever way they please, I can’t argue with it. I don’t want to be unfair, and exclude people from the opportunity to experience something special for them, simply because it doesn’t match or agree with my thoughts on the situation.
The Beach film has inspired me to travel all over Australia, Fiji, Switzerland, France, Malta, Italy, Greece, Hungary, Czech Republic, United Kingdom, Spain, The Netherlands, USA, China, Thailand, the Philippines and Singapore. It’s the reason I’m leaving in 7 weeks to backpack through Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Galapagos Islands, Brazil, Colombia, San Blas Islands, Panama, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Cuba, and the Caribbean. Damn, I might just chuck Belize in there for good measure too ;) The Beach film is the reason for this, which is why I have dedicated a post to the movie.
The Beach film has done more than that though, and I’ll share those thoughts with you all over time. My question is this: Have you seen The Beach film (if not, hire it now), and if so, has it inspired you to travel? I’d love to know the places you’ve been to, so feel free to leave a comment and share your own piece of paradise – if you dare….
A bold title, I agree, but everybody I have met to date has claimed that Barcelona is their favourite European city. It’s very, very hard to not like the city, because after all, what’s not to like?
Can you honestly say that the festive atmosphere of the Gothic Quarter doesn’t get you going? That Camp Nou doesn’t captivate you, even if you’re not a football fan? What about the magnificent street art that colours the cityscape, transporting you into a happy world of delicious Spanish paella, garlic prawns, white wine, red wine, gin, pumping nightclubs with flare, pulsating alleyway bars with class, and a perfect beach adorned with famous clubs such as Opium, and relaxing restaurants serving up patrons in the sun?
Barcelona is my favourite city, as it no doubt is yours. If you disagree, I’d love to hear what makes your favourite city, well, your favourite city! But for now, let’s concentrate on the reasons why every backpacker should visit Barcelona. I’ll try to give a brief outline that doesn’t ruin the magic for those who haven’t been – otherwise it would be like explaining to you why the Notebook is so sad, because everybody dies in the end (that spoiler alert was purposely after the fact): If I delve too much into the detail of Barcelona’s story, then your experience will be less of a surprise, and more of an expected showcase. And honestly, as a backpacker, I don’t want to ruin new experiences for anyone.
Las Ramblas is the street that most people tend to talk about most. It has everything you can think of when it comes to nightlife, and is a central area for tourists. Restaurants and bars line both sides of the street, as well as a middle island that separates both road lanes. Las Ramblas is, if nothing else, exhilarating for the amount of people it packs in, who are either trying to lure you into their ridiculously overpriced restaurants and bars, or are trying to sell you coke on the street. I wouldn’t say Las Ramblas is shady, although the common thought of drug dealers would scare most people away (they aren’t scary, they’re trying to make a living off tourists in a collapsed economy – not that that’s an excuse for drug dealing, but it’s a reality of the world we live in, so it must be accepted).
How should you prepare for Las Ramblas though? Especially when you hear about how touristy it is? Instead of giving away the flavour of the strip, I’ll just say this: Las Ramblas should be approached with the same expectations and realities that come with Times Square (NYC), Piccadilly Circus (London), and Rome (Italy): It’s interesting, overpriced, and a bit of a tourist trap when it comes to the genuine culture of the place. There is by no means anything wrong with the aforementioned areas, but if you really want to experience Barca, this is what you should do:
A maze of ancient streets, each with tiny shops, bars, and tapas restaurants. Hole-in-the-wall kind of places to hang out in. Beautiful, fashionable people. Want to hit the clubs while staying in the Gothic Quarter? Well, why do that when the alleys are filled with hipsters, boom boxes, and people dancing in the streets? That’s right, the Gothic Quarter of Barca is filled with enough vibrant night activity to really keep you going. After all, you can go to a nightclub at home, but can you party in the festive streets with an endless stream of friendly Spaniards? I think not.
Hit the beach:
Going to Barca and not hitting the beach on the daily, is like going to Italy and not seeing Venice: It might be packed, but you’ll still regret it.
The beach is a bright topaz blue, and it is immensely popular in the summertime. There is plenty of space on the beach and on the sidewalk (where my dad fell asleep as people walked on by), and just off the boardwalk, you’ll find plenty of places to indulge in Spanish cuisine and local wines. People watching is a real spectacle here, and even the typical tourist shops selling cheap merchandise can be fun to check out.
Barca has one of the best beaches I have been to in Europe, outside of the Greek islands, and it’s highly recommended you go here at least twice during your Spanish adventure.
If you don’t know what this in, then here’s a hint: You know how you’ve been following my travel blog, or other travel blogs, and reading up on Barcelona, looking at all the colourful photos and vibrant streets? You know how you’ve been Google Imaging Barcelona for the past few hours, and thinking to yourself “This looks so beautiful,”? Well, all those images you’ve been looking at are of Park Güel, a real life “Alice In Wonderland” by architect Antoni Gaudí, who started construction on this renowned park in the early 1900s.
It’s difficult to describe the feeling once you arrive here. You feel like you’ve recaptured your childhood as you explore eye-catching building designs, benches, and towers, all within the confines of a lush, green garden. Spanish mosaics make an appearance or two, and at the end of your massive walk around the hills, you begin to wonder to yourself: Why doesn’t the rest of the world look this good?
If you’re not a football fan, it doesn’t matter. It’s sacrilegious to not visit the beating heart of this illustrious city. Camp Nou is home to football powerhouse Barcelona FC, the team of one of the greatest footballers in history – Lionel Messi. Camp Nou is impressive: While the stadium itself is huge, and the pitch well maintained and exceptionally green, the real treat of going to Camp Nou resides in its museum.
Yes, Camp Nou has a museum.
Featuring countless trophies from the club’s history, as well as projectors playing important moments from past games, the glory of this superior team can be felt emphatically. Emotional, uplifting, cinematic music plays all around you, while you observe pop art by Australian artists on the walls, tributes to legendary players, take a walk in the change rooms, and eventually, find yourself in the club’s official store, which is complete with the coolest sneakers, jerseys, and merchandise that money can buy.
I know people who have zero interest in football and still loved it here. So next time you’re in Barca, make sure to check it out. After all, the club is the talking point of the city!
What are your experiences of Barcelona? Share below so our readers can learn even more about this iconic city!
For close to 10 years, I was convinced that no country or destination in the world could come anywhere near Greece, in terms of its culture, the aura which glides effortlessly over you as you sip on a Frappe, and the iconic world of ancient history, beautiful islands, and mean Athenian streets that shift from beauty to trash in one block. But I loved it, and I still do. This is why it’s so hard for me to say this:
Spain might just be better, and Granada? Jesus Christ. I will never forget Granada.
Granada, Spain, is a culturally rich town with ancient architecture, free tapas for every drink you purchase (and by tapas, I mean meals, so effectively you never have to buy a meal when travelling through here), and rows of shisha bars with a distinct Moroccan influence.
Home to the famous Alhambra palace, Granada is a real gem that every traveller to Spain should put at the top of their list! Isolated streets quickly become dark, and suddenly at midnight you find yourself in the thralls of action-packed nightclubs, lively bars, and a diverse mix of travellers who are out on the town for the same reason as you – to explore!
Granada is that kind of place that, when reflecting on how much of a great time you had in the Spanish heat, discovering little shops in twisting alleyways with art, hand-carved chessboards, and world class bars, makes you sad. Travel should make us happy, but when you long for a place that really got you buzzing, it’s hard not to feel deflated when you’re away from it. Post Travel Depression is a very real construct.
Do you have a place that leaves you longing for it? Spain and Greece have done this to me the most, although in truth, I miss everywhere I have been.
Still, there’s a magic in Spain and Greece that for me, cannot be surpassed. It’s captivating, and the thought of these ancient destinations never truly leaves you.
Backpacker Adventures would love for you to help us grow on social media! This travel blog is growing by the day and we would love to expand it to Facebook, so we can share travel stories, posts, travel quotes, beautiful photography, and insider tips to the best travel spots on the planet!
Like us on Facebook and invite all of your Friends to as well! Share our posts on social media and help us grow – we promise it will be worth it! :)
Because our Facebook is only one day old, we have a lonely 2 Likes. Whoever can get us the most Likes across Facebook will WIN A FREE BACKPACKER ADVENTURE EBOOK! (#1 iTunes Bestseller)