Monthly Archives: January 2010

Go Backpacking in Africa’s Hub – Cape Town, South Africa

Top Backpacking Destinations Ranking: 7.5/10

The best time to hit Cape Town is between November and April while the sun is shining and it’s nice and warm. If you visit in the winter there’s a big risk of rain so you might as well just be in England! As the second biggest city in South Africa it has established itself as a bit of a backpacking hub not only in South Africa but for the whole continent. It is head and shoulders above Johannesburg due to its more natural surroundings, better climate and generally safer conditions.

The city’s main draw is its natural features, Table Mountain being the stand out feature which wows backpackers time after time. It can also provide the more adventurous travellers with a challenge as a hike to the top is a possibility if you’re feeling energetic. If you’re feeling a bit lazy then you can always hop on the cableway and enjoy the amazing views without the physical strain! Once you’ve tired yourself out with that you can go and take your pick of the beaches to relax a bit and enjoy the lovely summer weather. Cape Town benefits, in a similar way to Rio de Janeiro, from a variety of beaches that are all easily accessible but all have different atmospheres depending on what you’re after. If you’re not scared of being overrun by other tourists then Clifton has a beautiful stretch as well as offering a variety of bars, restaurants and other entertainment. However, if you’re looking for a slightly more natural escape then head over to Boulders Beach where you might even get a glimpse of some African penguins. If you’re there slightly earlier (August – November) then you can also head out on whale watching trips and maybe catch a glimpse of some Humpbacks during breeding season.

It’s not all about the natural attractions either, the city is steeped in cultural history and if you go backpacking on the lookout for a taste of the local culture and to soak up some of the architectural heritage then there’s plenty of options. The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront is probably the most popular tourist attraction where visitors can watch ships coming and going through the Nelson Mandela gateway on the way to Robben Island as a break from their shopping trip. Or if it’s the different architectural features that have drawn you in then get over to Constantia and check out the old government buildings for an example of some Cape Dutch style which combines the architectural traditions of Netherlands, Germany and France.

As the World Cup approaches, the popularity of backpacking around South Africa is only going to explode and now is as good a time as any to go on a visit. Whilst worries about safety remain if you apply the same backpacking rules as you should at any destination then there shouldn’t be anything to worry about. One thing’s for sure, there’s certainly plenty to see and do.

Why not add some more of your own tips in the comments, i’m sure i’ve only touched the surface here.

Get more info on other places for backpacker travel in Africa

Or you could even invest in the hard copy: South Africa Lonely Planet Guides

The Authentic Thai Destination – Chiang Mai, Thailand


Top Backpacking Destinations Ranking: 8/10

The majority of people who go backpacking in Thailand spend a short time in Bangkok and then head south to the island resorts that are abundant on both coasts. All those destinations are excellent in their own right, but that travel route results in the backpacker missing out on a gem – Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai is a beautiful, traditional city with lots to offer, as well as a fantastic surrounding area where you can head up into the jungle and have another totally different experience. The city has been less affected by the tourist influx into South East Asia compared to the southern beach destinations and Bangkok and it is possible to get something close to the authentic Thai experience. I’d highly recommend visiting the local monastery where Buddhist monks wander the paths and are happy to chat to visitors (given they speak English or you speak Thai of course!). Elsewhere it is easy to entertain yourself just taking in the town and watching locals get up to their everyday tasks, whether it’s flying around in tuk tuks at breakneck speeds or just sitting in their small shop windows eating freshly made pad thai. And if that’s not enough then you can head over to Chiang Mai Zoo and do a stint on Panda Watch.

The beauty of this place is that you could easily get stuck relaxing and enjoying everything mentioned above, but Chiang Mai also acts as a hub to go out on tours into the jungle and take your experience to the next level. Backpacker accommodation is easy to find and if you pick a good one they should have details of the tours you can do. One option is a three day trek into the jungle which allows you to stay with locals hidden up in their own small villages and get a sample of the difference between rural and city living – it’s a real eye opener. Some of the vistas you get on these tours are incredible and taken right off a postcard and the freshly made food will blow your local takeaway out of the water. The tours also involve activities such as elephant rides and bamboo rafting which bring a welcome rest after 3 days on your feet. Unless you fall in the river of course!

Whilst not off the beaten track, Chiang Mai is certainly less visited than the southern regions of Thailand and this omission is a major oversight on the part of many travellers. If you’re not just visiting for beautiful beaches and the party atmosphere then it is the ideal spot for the culture vulture to go and get a taste of genuine Thai lifestyle.

Share your own experiences of Chiang Mai in the comments – prove me wrong if you must!

And you can check out other Asian backpacking destinations here.

Why not get the hard copy while you’re at it: Thailand Lonely Planet Guide

Backpacker Beauty on a Huge Scale – Yosemite National Park, USA

Top Backpacking Destinations Ranking: 7/10

Destinations in America often conjure up images of skyscraping buildings, hoards of people and impressive man-made infrastructure. Yosemite National Park is none of these. It is a beautiful, quiet, natural area which will wow any backpacker who happens to stop by.

The most famous features of the park are El Capitan and Half Dome. El Capitan is a sheer rock face that climbers from across the world visit in order to face the ultimate challenge. As you drive past you can see the silhouettes of climbers dangling from the top half of the rock face, surely one of the most exhilarating feelings if you have the talent and cojones to get up there. Probably even more impressive from the slightly lazier visitor’s point of view is Half Dome (pictured), a huge curving rock which can be seen from various spots around the park, all of which will take your breath away. Catch it on a good day and you’ll struggle to see a more impressive view anywhere in the world. And it’s slightly easier to get to the top of if you’re feeling energetic!

If you get to the point where you’ve seen enough amazing, huge rocks (though i can’t imagine anyone will!) then you can also head down to the giant sequoia trees which will allow you to feel like a borrower for an hour or so if you wish. Wandering through the forest you find yourself sneaking through doorways that are actually in the trunk of the trees. If you take some broccoli along in your packed lunch too you can even feel like a borrower and a giant at the same time and really mess with your mind!

One of the main drawbacks of Yosemite as a backpacking destination is, as with most destinations in the US, the lack of accessibility. You’ll need to hire a car or go on a tour which will break the bank slightly more than a backpacker might like, but it’s certainly worth it when you see the breathtaking sights Yosemite has to offer. There is a range of backpacker accommodation around the park, all of which can offset the price of hiring a car between a small group. All the main sights can be done in a day, with another day to do some hiking around the park which i’d recommend. If you’re backpacking around California and spending your time in the big cities like San Francisco and LA then it would be a real shame not to bake a short stop at Yosemite into your plans. Though it will make you feel exceedingly small…

The Enchanting Bohemian Destination – Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic


Top Backpacking Destinations Ranking: 8.5/10

There are some backpacking destinations which manage to take your breath away as you approach them, places so beautiful that it feels like you’re travelling around a fairytale. These are few and far between but when the come along you need to grab them with both hands. Cesky Krumlov falls into this category.

It is is a small city in the south of the Czech Republic characterised by the incredible density of old stone buildings with terracotta roofing, all centered around the stunning Cesky Krumlov Castle. It is this architecture that has made the place famous, with the old town being named a Unesco Heritage site in order to preserve its beauty.

But architecture is not the only string to the Cesky Krumlov bow. There are a variety of adventure activities on offer in the surrounding area for backpackers to sink their teeth into, especially water sports due to the various lakes and rivers close by. So if you eventually get bored of exploring the enchanting streets of the city you can head out to the Sumava National Park (the biggest in Czech Republic) and take in environments from giant forests and alpine meadows to man-made lakes and winding rivers.

The best bit about all of this is that it has everything that so many people visit its more famous cousin, Prague, for; it’s just a short plane ride away, offers outstanding value and has fantastic Czech beer! If you like the sound of that but want to get slightly off the beaten track then look no further, this bohemian delight will be right up your street.

Great Destination But More Backpacking Activities Required – Cuenca, Ecuador

Top Backpacking Destinations Ranking – 6/10

If you like to go backpacking to nice, pretty towns with excellent food and drink and great value for money then Cuenca is the place for you.

When travellers think of Ecuador it’s likely that the Galapagos Islands will spring to mind first, but Cuenca is an equally worthy destination and one that can be done on a backpacker’s budget unlike its more famous compatriot.

It is a pretty, well kept colonial town which sits in southern Ecuador and is an obvious point to stop off whichever way you’re backpacking around South America. It has a wide variety of backpacker accomodation and superb eating and drinking spots that could keep you happy for weeks. One hostel in particular stands out, El Cafecito, a little hostel which feels more like a posh hotel. Its rooms are all set around an indoor courtyard which acts as a cafe/bar/restaurant and offers great food and drink in an intimate setting.

Cuenca’s drawback is that outside of indulging in the culinary delights there isn’t that much to keep you busy. I’ve already said in previous posts that backpacker travel is all about exploring new places and seeing as much as you can and Cuenca doesn’t offer enough in the way of sights. Whilst it’s certainly a pleasant place to visit and you could easily get stuck there if you have the time, it can’t compete with the Machu Picchus and Taj Mahals of this world. Despite this, its location, value for money and European feel certainly make it worthy of a visit.