Monthly Archives: April 2010

Backpacking Paradise – Sailing from Colombia to Panama

Top Backpacking Destinations Ranking: 9.5/10

If you’re looking for a once in a life time experience whilst backpacking around the world then the sail from Cartagena, Colombia to Portobello, Panama is the one for you. Colombia has many stereotypes attached to it but it is undoubtedly a fantastic place to go backpacking and if you are there then this is an experience you can’t miss out on.

Cartagena is one of the hotspots to go backpacking in Colombia and it’s incredibly easy to organise the sail once you’re there, all you need is a little flexibility. Almost all the backpacker accomodation in the city will have details of captains that are doing the trip and all you have to do is contact them and find out the details of their departure. But be warned, there is a huge variation in the quality of service offered on these boats. You may get a captain who cooks every meal and dotes on your every need, but there are also captains out there who enjoy a drink or two on the boat and have been known to leave backpackers fending for themselves and even steering the boat whilst they make friends with a bottle of rum. The only way to avoid this? Do your research!

Once you’ve found the right boat and arranged your departure date you’ll be heading into a paradise rarely found on this earth. The trip involves a two day sail to the San Blas islands, a group of paradise islands that are inhabited only by the Kuna people (and a few wealthy Americans!). Many of the islands are empty but for a few palm trees and are surrounded by crystal clear waters and abundant sea life. If you find a good captain you’ll have 2 days there where you can snorkel, eat fish and enjoy a deserted island all to yourself! The journey itself can be a little tough if you’re not a great sailor (i.e. seasickness!) but we were entertained at various points by schools of dolphins dancing their way around the front of the boat as we made our way through the doors of our own personal paradise. Not a bad support act.

From the San Blas it’s another day’s sailing to reach Portobello, Panama and lay your feet on some dry land. The trip is a once in a lifetime experience; i’ve never been much of a sea baby but i can honestly put it amongst the top 3 of my all time travel experiences. The feeling of laying on your own island with just enough room for a cluster of palm trees, eating barbecued fish and having only the sea for company is hard to beat. If you’re in Colombia, it’s a must. If you’re not, go to Colombia.

I’d love to hear from anyone else who’s done the trip and any recommendations for captains to go with in the comments. You can also find details on other places to go backpacking in South America here.

San Francisco, USA – Backpacking Photo of the Week #6

Backpacking in America is an incredibly rewarding experience as it offers such a wide variety of environments, people and attractions. Even the major cities are vastly different and each has their own, separate appeal. San Francisco is a beautiful place and makes taking an interesting photo very easy as it oozes character. Whether it’s the constant undulation of the ground beneath your feet, the stunning architecture around every corner or the views out to Alcatraz Island, you’re never left without a sight to take your breath away.

See more of the Backpacking Photo of the Week series here or discover more places to go backpacking in North America here.

7 Reasons Why ‘Voluntourism’ is the Best Way to Travel

I first caught the travel bug volunteering in Honduras and ever since then I’ve felt the need to get out on the road and experience as many places as I can. But for all the travelling that I’ve done since, I still look back to Honduras as my fondest travel memory, perhaps partly because it ‘popped my travel cherry’, but mainly because I got to live in a small community for a full year and became fully immersed in the Garifuna culture. For me, this style of travel – ‘voluntourism’ as it’s becoming known – is the best kind, and here are seven reasons why:

•You see amazing things – living in a community provides you with the opportunity to experience things you never would if you were doing it as a backpacker and flying through in a couple of days or weeks. Even if you volunteer in a fairly well known place you will still get ‘off the beaten track’ experiences by living the life of a local.

•You’re helping less privileged people – without wanting to appear too heroic, it’s certainly true that the majority of projects that are run (by reputable companies at least) help the local communities develop and provide locals with opportunities to live in better conditions in some way or other, whether it’s getting a better education or drinking clean water.

•You develop yourself – I certainly think my year away changed me and gave me skills that I use every day wherever I am, be it in the office or out on the road. There’s always a risk of living a blinkered existence and travel is a great way of avoiding this by getting out there and exposing yourself to different cultures and environments.

•There are great organisations to help you – There are numerous organisations out there which will allow you to find the right project for you in the right place.

Idealist is one such organisation, providing a wealth of information on all the possible places/jobs/internships that are available to the prospective voluntourist. It has been the place to go to for this information since as long ago as 1995 and you’re guaranteed to get what you need there, whether it’s information on the costs involved or just an idea of how to get started.

Voluntourism.org is also an excellent resource which aims to bring together all the information that someone thinking of volunteering may need, ranging from voluntourism tips to weekly podcasts which keep you up to date with the latest, relevant news and advice.

•It’s cheap – Whilst this isn’t always necessarily the case, on the most part you get to go and experience a different part of the world for the fraction of the cost of constantly backpacking on the move. There’s obviously a huge variation from company to company but you will always avoid the main costs inherent to constantly moving around such as travel tickets and accommodation.

•You choose how long to go for – Volunteering can be as long or as brief as you like. You don’t have to leave home for years on end to get the benefits and can almost certainly find the right project for you as there are so many out there. Whilst I believe a longer stay is better and allows you to become more immersed in the community you are staying in, you will always be accepted by communities if you are helping them out, even if it is only for a few weeks.

•You can become properly immersed in another culture – As a backpacker it is difficult to get fully involved with a community when you are just passing through. You can look from afar and take a photo or two, but you will never get to the bottom of what makes those people tick. Volunteering allows you to do this. It gives you the opportunity to gain the trust of the locals and for them to let you in to their way of life and this is when you really get to embrace another culture. For me, this is the most satisfying reward of the volunteering experience – I still have friends who I met when I did it and they allowed me to see a different way of life, one which didn’t revolve around watching TV and sitting in an office!

Mazy Marrakech, a Photo Diary – Marrakech, Morocco

Top Backpacking Destinations Ranking: 7.5/10

A slightly different post to finish Morocco Week here on Top Backpacking Destinations. So much has been written about Marrakech i thought a more appropriate way to present it would be in pictures as it’s such a photogenic city. It’s an incredible place where you can get lost (literally!) for days and weeks on end. If you can acclimatise to the everpresent attention of the locals then you’ll certainly have an incredible time. Enjoy…







Check out the Top Backpacking Destinations Facebook Page for more photos and videos from Morocco and discover more backpacking destinations in Africa here.

Atlas Mountains, Morocco – Backpacking Photo of the Week #5

Morocco is an incredibly photogenic place. Everywhere you look there’s something amazing to snap at, whether it’s colourful spices or green palms set against terracotta walls. This week’s Backpacking Photo of the Week was taken whilst backpacking in the High Atlas Mountains. Having walked for a long time you can randomly stumble across people selling crafts and jewellery seemingly miles from anywhere. This was one such time, and i felt obliged to invest in some of his stuff – i might have been the only person he saw all day!


You can see other backpacking pictures from the Backpacking Photo of the Week series here or check out other photos from Morocco on the Top Backpacking Destinations Facebook page.

Backpacker Magic in the African Mountains – Imlil, Morocco

Top Backpacking Destinations Ranking: 7.5/10

Morocco is a wonderful country often renowned for its busy cities and proximity to the Sahara but it also offers fantastic mountain scenery and these factors all combine to make it a fantastic place to go backpacking. Of all the mountain destinations Imlil is a great spot to use as a base to explore those peaks.

Imlil is about an hour’s drive south of Marrakech and can be easily reached by bus or in a grand taxi for less than 50 dirham (depending on your bargaining abilities that is!). It is nestled in the foothills of the High Atlas mountains and provides a great starting point for various treks around the area. It is a cosy little village with beautiful surrounding scenery but there’s little in the village itself to keep the backpacker entertained for more than a day. The real beauty is in its location from where you can hike up to the peak of Toubkal (given you visit at the right time of year) or take in a more leisurely walk around the twists and turns of the moutains and enjoy the scenery.

The hike to the peak of Toubkal is a two day job, the first to get to the refuge where you stay the night and the second for the real hard slog up to the top. It is by no means an easy hike but the rewards from the top are worth the pain. If you fancy something slightly less demanding then you can do treks of varying lengths around the foothills. These are a great way of enjoying the area and give you the opportunity of meeting the local Berber people who live in villages dotted around the mountains. Treks range from a day to 9 days depending on how active you’re feeling and you’ll certainly break a sweat!

Whichever you choose you’ll get the opportunity to sample some of the best scenery Morocco has to offer and undoubtedly have a fantastic time doing it. Inshallah!

Please share your own Moroccan experiences in the comments and discover other places to go backpacking in Africa here.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – Backpacking Photo of the Week #4

This Backpacking Photo of the Week is set in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It was taken in one of the favelas and brings back lots of memories for me having been given a first hand insight into the lifestyle of the people living in those areas. This photo in particular takes me right back to that moment and brings the amazing memories flooding back.

You can see other backpacking pictures from the Backpacking Photo of the Week series here.