Wavesnbackpack is all about bundling backpack & surf stories of people who want to share impressions. After we came back from backpacking in Sri Lanka we decided to share our great moments. Therefore we set up the blog wavesnbackpack. Here we do not only share our own experiences but also bundle backpack & surf stories of people all over the world who want to share impressions.
One of the highlights of our trip through Indonesia certainly was the Kelimutu National Park on Flores. In the middle of beautiful nature you will find three very different crater lakes, with a couple of legends to it.
Kelimutu National Park Flores – Facts
50 kilometers east from Ende you will find the Kelimutu National Park. The area inhabits the Kelimutu vulcano as well as its threedifferent colored crater lakes. Kelimutu also made it to the Ribu’s List with vulcanos higher than 1,000 meters. The word Keli means “Mountain” and the word Mutu “boiling“. However, the boiling mountain is rather famous for it’s color play during sun rise than its activity, as the last eruption took place in 1968.
One of the crater lakes is located roughly one kilometer west from the other lakes. Here, a face of rock separates the three lakes. This lake is called Tibu Ata Mbupu and used to be dark blue, changed its color to almost black, than transformed into a white-green for a short while and now you will find him colored in a very dark brown. Legend says it’s the lake of the old.
The two lakes located beside each other are called Tiwu Nuwa Muri Koo Fai – the lake of children – and the Tiwu Ata Polo, the charmed lake. The first one used to be turquoise , then became dark blue and is colored in a light green today. Polo, in contrast changed from a red color into a darker green or brown.
The changing color of the lake is no mystery but explanatory with the activity of the vulcano and the release of minerals. In Flores locals believe that wandering souls are the reason for the changing colors.
Kelimutu National Park Flores – Accommodation
While traveling to the Kelumutu National Park it is highly recommended to stay in the village of Moni, don’t waste time in Ende. When we say “village” we really mean village. You won’t find anything beside a main road, a couple of hostels, two or three restaurants and a handful of locals. And exactly that made Moni so authentic and a lovely place to stay in. Choices are limited, it’s located inmid of lush green mountains. It seems, time stands still in Moni.
Be aware that everything is a bit more expensive in Moni. Accommodations for example, are a couple of bucks more expensive as in Labuan Bajo. As well as that, you should book in advance. Due to the fact that choices are limited, places to stay also are. Especially during high season!
We can recommend these two accommodation in Moni:
Mahoni Guesthouse, Moni
The family owned Mahoni Guesthouse* is located at the main road of Moni. The tiny guest house can accommodate four people at a time. In the time we have been there a third room was renovated, so that a third couple would find a place to sleep. The owner is extremly friendly and his grandma makes great coffee and delicious pancakes. The rooms are clean, you will find everything what you need, but not a lot more. Here, we stayed two nights.
Julian loved to sit on our little terrace, peeling some fresh fruit and overlooking the village and its inhabitants.
Bintang Lodge, Moni
As the Mahoni Guest House was taken for the other two night we stayed in Moni we moved to the Bintang Lodge*. The accommodation is – how could it be different – located at the main road of the village and has a few more rooms to accommodate visitors. Rooms here are a bit more spacious and have, depending of prices, also warm-water showers. The Bintang Guest House is a bit more pricey than the Mahoni Guest House, which also makes sense in comparison.
Hike to Kelimutu National Park
The alarm screamed at 3:40. Our sleep was over from one second to the other. It was still dark, our eyes sleepy. Our taxi arrived a few minutes later to one of our highlights while backpacking in Flores. We washed our tired faces, grabbed the most important things jumped into warm clothes and hopped on the taxi.
Tip #1: We shared the 35 minute ride to the parking area of the national park with two locals we met in the evening before. As the taxi drivers aren’t really in the mood to get up that early as well, the prices are pretty high but we weren’t into starting the hike around 1:30am. Together with the two locals we paid a reasonable price so try to get a couple of people together for the drive.
Half an hour and some Indonesian “Schalgermusic” later- our driver was in a pretty good mood for early time of the day – we arrived at the parking area. Before that we passed the gate and payed the entrance fee. As in many touristy areas not as dirt cheap as you might expect.
Costs: Mo-Fr 150,000 Rupiah | Sa & So 225,000 Rupiah
The dark trail started! Equipped with two flashlights (yeah, we learned from our hike in Myanmar) we went up the first stairs. 30 minutes walking and we arrived at the top.
Tip #2: As the trail isn’t lighted, flashlights are a big plus. And even if the days are hot, really take a pullover with you, it’s getting cold up there.
Last stairs in front of us. We arrived in the pitch dark at the top, got a hot Kopi and found a good spot for the upcoming sunrise. Every minute the sky changed. From a pitch dark to a dark blue and then the first sun beams illuminated the sky in a magical orange.
Of course, we needed capture these incredible moments but then we leaned back and relaxed with the cameras in our hands.
Once the sun was there it became significantly warmer, we changed and decided to walk the way back to Moni.
Tip #3: Be aware of the monkey’s. Shortly after the sun came out, the little culprits also woke up and strolled around. The little devils are scared of literally nothing and love to attack and steal food and other belongings.
The way back would have been included in the taxi ride and our driver waited here. The local couple took the taxi but we started the descent. Depending on which way you choose you are between 2-4 hours on the road. Let’s do it!
Tip #4: Hypothetically speaking you can’t lose track of the way downhill. In practice this can be a tiny bit more difficult. The tiny paths often can’t be found on maps. That’s why you should have a rough idea where you are and where you want to go. On the way down you will not meet a lot of people to ask for directions but you will be fine. Just follow the road. Helpful here: Maps.me
Passing through green valleys, green paths and a lot more green, first we walked on streets and dirt roads. Later, the way became a path with jungle to its left and right. In the end each of us got a stick to fight through the thicket. This part of Flores is really remote! Passing through two small villages we arrived at our first planned stop, the water fall close to Moni. To get over the river of the water fall you need to cross two adventurous bamboo bridges. We have been scared for a little while, but then saw a very old lady crossing it balancing a bag on their head without any constraints. So we crossed as well! No problems here!
After a little break we continued and arrived a couple of minutes later in back in Moni. One of the best breakfasts we’ve had awaited us at our beloved guest house*.
Sights around Kelimutu National Park
During your stay at the Flores Kelimutu National Park there are a couple of cool things to do:
On the opposite of the Rainbow-Cafe on the main road you will find a small path. Follow it, cross the bamboo bridge and there you are. At first we were a bit reluctant to cross the bridge but after a couple of times you just walk over it as it would be a normal bridge. No other chance anyway!
Tip: On our last day we were unlucky with the weather but when the sun breaks through the trees you have an incredible light for photos. Around noon is a perfect for a good shot.
While making your way back from Kelimutu to Moni you will pass by a couple of villages being privileged with great nature surrounding their homes. You are lucky when you see a person in their gardens or hanging around somewhere else. We met two people and one helped us with our way.
You shouldn’t miss out on the great fruit markets. Get your scooter and drive 5 kilometers in direction of Ende and you will arrive at a nice local market. Here locals offer their harvest and you can stock up on vitamines. Every local goes here to buy grocieries and you should definitely try the extremely delicious passion fruits.
If you continue to follow the street after the local food market you will come to a fork. Here, you take a right and you’ll come to a traditional village. We strolled around and talked to some locals that have been happy that two Germans seem to be interested in the way they live.
In and around Moni you will find a couple of hot springs that are cool to visit. Have a look at our map, here we included two of them. The entrance is in the middle of a village and the inhabitants are happy to receive 50 cents fee.
Food in Moni
The choices in Moni are limited. But with one restaurant we fell in love with: Mopi’s. We have been here almost twice per day had coffee, porridge, burritos and much more. The music was always chilled and the every dish we ordered was yummy. As well as that, the restaurant always offers daily dishes which are also great! Definitely worth going here.
Kelimutu National Park Flores- Not to forget
#1: Know the prices
If you rent a scooter, never pay more than 75,000 – 80,000 Rupiah per day.
#2: Ceremonies at the Kelimutu
In August, locals gather around the area of the Kelimutu National Park and hold yearly ceremonies. The festival takes place on platforms in between the magical lakes and people dance, sing and celebrate together. If you want to be part of that, plan your trip in this time of the year.
#3: Warm Clothing!
Especially during the sunrise tour on Kelimutu it does get cold. So definitely bring a pullover. Also during the day it normally doesn’t get a lot warmer than 23 degrees (73 F), which feels refreshing after Sumatra, Java or Bali.
#4: Bring ear plugs
Every single accommodation is located directly at the main road. Here tuned scooters, motorbikes and trucks clatter through the streets in the very early morning. Bring ear plugs to enjoy your heavenly sleep with tired leg of the day before.
That’s it! These were our tips regarding the Kelimutu National Park Flores. You have any questions or we forgot something crucial? Please leave a comment! Now, have fun exploring Flores.
Breathtaking views on lush green mountains, pristine valleys and smiling locals. All that’s distinctive for the island of Flores in Western Nusa Tenggara. Once you arrived in Labuan Bajo you will immediately feel the positive vibe and feel home within the first steps on the soil of Flores. As in many stops of our three-months trip through Indonesia, Labuan Bajo offers visitors some great restaurants. In this article we want to share the best food in Labuan Bajo and suggest great places for a perfect end of the day after beautiful Palau Padar or trips to the impressive Komodo Dragons.
Labuan Bajo attracts increasingly many people but cannot considered to be a tourist hotspot or anything like that. Due to this fact you get an authentic picture of Flores, it’s people and it’s food.
Best Food in Labuan Bajo – Breakfast & Coffee
Our Rating: ★★★★★
In the Bajo Bakery you will get everything like pastries, good bread and many more delicious things. Also, fresh coffee, home made sandwiches, quiche or fluffy scrambled eggs. You can enjoy your cappuccino either inside or outside of the cafe and also work in stable and fast wifi.
✐ Address: Jl Soekarno Hatta, Labuan Bajo
$ Prices: 20,000 – 40,000 Rupiah ☼ Opening Hours: Mo – Sa | 7 am – 7 pm
CAFE.IN.HIT Coffee Shop
Our Rating: ★★★☆☆
You can also get great coffee in the Cafe.In.Hit Coffee Shop or enjoy a couple of good meals. The comfy café also offers fruity breakfast and different bread variations. You’ll also find some vegan options so that it can be a great option for many of you.
P.S.: The café is supposed to have the best wifi in town.
✐ Address: Jl. Soekarno Hatta, Labuan Bajo
$ Prices: Food starting from 40,000 Rupiah ☼ Opening Hours: Mo – So | 6.30 am – 10 pm
Best Food in Labuan Bajo – Lunch & Dinner
Our Rating: ★★★★★
The authentic Italian restaurant offers some great places to sit and relax, overseeing the bay. When the sun sets, a perfect place to enjoy a crunchy Pizza or home made pasta. For us, La Cucina is one of the best restaurants in Labuan Bajo, for sure.
✐ Address: Jl. Soekarno Hatta, Labuan Bajo
$ Prices: 60,000 Rupiah and more
☼ Opening Hours: Mo – So | 6.30 am – 10.30 pm
Our Rating: ★★★★☆
The nicely equipped restaurant Mediterraneo sells great Italian pizza and delicious pasta, steaks and some Indonesian specialities. If you don’t use the wifi to get work done, you can witness the sun disappearing in the ocean.
✐ Address: Jl. Soekarno Hatta, Labuan Bajo
$ Prices: 50,000 – 120,000 Rupiah
☼ Opening Hours: Mo – So | 8.00 am – 11.30 pm
Our Rating: ★★★★☆
Warung Mama was our regular go-to place when we were hungry. Here you can meet a lot of other backpackers and locals enjoying cheap and great food. For a couple of dollars you get red, white or yellow rice, deep fried veggies, shrimps or chicken and loads of different yummy things. You like spicy? Ask for the spicy sauce! Perfect with this incredible Warung food are the fresh, seasonal smoothies. Chilled atmosphere and a full stomach!
✐ Address: Jl. Soekarno Hatta, Labuan Bajo
$ Prices: per plate ca. 30,000 – 50,000 Rupiah ☼ Opening Hours: Mo – So | 10 am – 10 pm
Our Rating: ★★★★☆
At Pasar Malam, the local night food market, many small restaurants open their doors for visitors. Around the Warungs you will find many options to take a seat and enjoy Indonesian specialities. For a good bang for the buck you can try various meals and chat to people from all over the world.
✐ Address: Jl. Soekarno Hatta, Labuan Bajo
$ Prices: ab 20.000 Rupiah and more
☼ Opening Hours: Mo – So | 6.00 pm – midnight
Our Rating: ★★★★☆
Due to the fact that it is split in two main areas the Tree Top is a rather unusual restaurant. In the lower floor groovy music helps you to enjoy your beer and play a party of billiard. Upstairs you’ll have the most peaceful view on Labuan Bajo’s harbor. The Tree Pop is famous for its spicy Indonesian fish dishes.
✐ Address: Jl. Soekarno Hatta, Labuan Bajo
$ Prices: 30,000 – 100,000 Rupiah
☼ Opening Hours: Mo – So | 9.00 am – 11 pm
Happy Banana Komodo – Sushi in Labuan Bajo
Our Rating: ★★★★☆
The Happy Banana Komodo is the perfect place for all sushi lovers in Labuan Bajo. From the outside you won’t expect but the insight is beautiful and built with a lot of attention for detail. The choice of bowls, sushi & smoothies can certainly make your day better.
P.S.: Have a look at the chalkboard behind the bar to find the daily specials.
✐ Address: Jl. Soekarno Hatta, Labuan Bajo
$ Prices: 70,000 Rupiah +
☼ Opening Hours: Mo – So | 7.00 am – 11 pm
Best Food in Labuan Bajo – Snacks
Labuan Bajo also has a local market that is perfect to get snacks. Daily you can buy fresh fruit, veggies and fish in the harbor. Definitely worth a visit!
✐ Address: Jl. Soekarno Hatta, Labuan Bajo
$ Prices: depending on how hungry you are
☼ Opening Hours: Mo -So | 7.00 am – 4.00 pm
As you see, Labuan Bajo has the one or the other restaurant which has some great meals on the menu. Did you already spot your favorite?
Once you check Mexico on a map you’ll notice how big the country is. Now that you booked the flights or already arrived in the country of Tacos the question of the best matter of transport in Mexico comes up. In our time we tested every way of transport in Mexico and summarized the best ways for you in the following post.
So first let’s tackle the question on how to get fast from A to B in Mexico.
Flights in Mexico
Time is an important asset while traveling in Mexico, as the country is big and it can be cumbersome to find busses in between smaller cities, especially if you are not on the more touristy Yucatán peninsula. Flights save a ton of time and airlines such as AeroMexico, Viva Aerobus und Volaris made flying in Mexico affordable.
We flew often in Mexico and almost never had any problems and always arrived fast and safe at our destination. In the following map we visualized all airports in Mexico from which you can fly to your destination:
Tips for flights in Mexico
Tip 1: Don’t book right away. Monitor prices for a bit and compare. Opening flight comparison pages such as Skyscanner also in an incognito window so that cookies aren’t saved.
Tip 2: Be aware of the currency you selected and make sure that the currency you selected stays the same throughout the booking process. To be on the safe side, also take a screenshot of your booking with the price you will pay.
In this process we faced a bigger problem with the airline Viva Aerobus. In our case we booked in Mexican Pesos (ca. 1140MX$) which is round about $70. Luckily we took a screenshot that showed the price in Pesos. After the booking, we received a confirmation of the same amount but in US dollars ($1140). This amount also got with drawled from my bank account. A dozen calls with the customer support of Viva Aerobus and three weeks later we received our money back. So better be sure which currency you selected to not have the same trouble we had while Backpacking in Mexico.
Tip 3: Before booking a flight, find out where your destination airport is located exactly. Especially smaller airports are often located a couple of kilometres away from your actual destination. Due to that you are dependent on public transport from there. So, better plan some extra time!
Trains in Mexico
In 1990 trains pretty much stopped operating in Mexico. Only two routes are possible by train. One is the so called “Cooper Valley” and the other one the “Tequila Express” that goes in between the states of Jalisco to Tequila.
As the result of very little train connections, busses are the main matter of transport in Mexico.
Taking the bus in Mexico
If flights are too expensive or no airport is close to you, you have the possibility to get on a bus in one of the 150 national bus stations. The bus network in Mexico is great and we have been always very happy with trips we made. Over 200 bus operators offer tickets in every city or town and busses are leaving around the clock. Important to know the following sub categories of busses: Ejecutiva, Primera (1a) und Económica/ Segunda (2a).
Ejecutiva Clase in Mexico
Ejecutivos basically are the premier class of busses going through Mexico. These big buddies are operating mainly between bigger cities and most of all on more touristy ways. The luxurious busses are ideal for a night drive and offer a lot of leg room, comfy seats that decline far back as well as toilets, free snacks and drinks. On top of that, you will also have the chance to browse throughout the trip thanks to the newly installed Wifi.
We never drove in more comfortable busses!
Primera Clase in Mexico
Primeras (1a), are also first class busses and seats can be reserved. You will also find air-condition, toilets, seats that can decline even though it is not as comfortable as the Ejecutivos. Busses of the Primera Clase will stop here and there and pick up people, which costs a bit of time but is not a bigger problem.
North and Central Mexico, Mexico City, Guadalajara & Puerto Vallarta
Económicas / Segunda Clase in Mexiko
The Económicas, busses of the second class, are local busses that are mainly operating between smaller cities, towns and villages. Here you will share the bus with a dozen of locals, what makes the trip authentic with a real Mexican vibe. In the bus you will hear chatter, laughs and discussions between locals. These busses can get really crowded and your are not able to reserve seats.
Tipps for taking the Bus in Mexico
Tip #1: Muggings of tourist busses are rare but exist. Due to the fact that robbers mainly want to steal valuables and money of tourist, injured people are very seldom the case. Busses of the Ejecutiva and Primera are driving faster, pay tolls and thus get robbed less frequently. So if possible choose one of those for a longer trip.
Tip #2: If you take a night bus – as we did it from Oaxaca to San Cristobal de las Casas – don’t choose a bus of the category Segunda. The level of comfort is comparably low and you won’t sleep very well in the 8 hour+ trip.
Tip #3: You can not only book Ejecutivos and Primeras in shops but also online. Here you can select seats and pay on the go.
Good to know
A couple of sentences should be clear before booking a bus Sin escalas? Semi-directo o ordinario? Here, a quick explanation:
Sin escalas means that the bus will stop somewhere on the way. Directo, in contrast, says that the bus is directly going to the destination. Semi-directo busses will stop multiple times and Ordinario, can get stopped at every corner.
As well as that it could be helpful to know the one or another Spanish word for booking the ticket and the trip itself.
Terminal de Autobuses – Bus station | Equipaje – Lagguage | Boleto – Ticket | Ruta – Route | Horario – Timetable | Destino – Destination | Pasajero(s) – Passenger | Viaje Redondo – To and back drive / Return | Viaje Sencillo – Single ticket | Asiento – Seat
Collectivos in Mexiko
If it is not worth taking a bus as your destination is too close, Collectivos are a great thing! These mini vans operate regularly, stop basically everywhere where you want them to and are cheap. In Puerto Escondido we took Collectivos to go in the city center and buy groceries. In Tulum we visited different denotes with the help of Collectivos.
Tip: Inform the driver where you want to go after your jumped in the car. He will give you a shout once you arrived at your destination. Then you will pay for the way while getting off the car.
Uber in Mexico
Uber certainly is no secret tip anymore. Especially in Mexico City Uber is part of the daily life. The app makes it easy to hail a taxi on the street. As the app offers a rating system and track drivers with the help of GPS, Uber is safer than taxis. Especially in Mexico City we drove around so much with Uber and never had any negative experience. The opposite is actually the case we met very kind Mexican people, as almost everywhere!
Through the offered transparency and the safety, especially in bigger cities Uber is the matter transport number one. It gets even better: Ubers are extremely cheap in Mexico so that there is no reason to order to hail a regular taxi.
As Uber disrupt the taxi industry, some Uber drivers complained about broken windows and fights with taxi drivers a couple of years back.
Ships & Ferries in Mexico
Daily one ship operates from Playa del Carmen to the neighbor island of Cozumel. Further information you will find in here. In case you want to visit Isla Holbox, in the north of Yucatan (worth it!!), you need to take the ferry from Chiquita to the small island. The trip takes between 20-30 minutes and costs 140 Pesos per way. Want to find out more about Isla Holbox – Mexicos hiddem gen? Follow this link!
We hope we were able to cover every way of transport in Mexico for you and wish you a great trip!
Smiling monks, a breath-taking view in 2,500 ft and hardly any tourists. This is Hpa-An in Myanmar – an idyllic town where we luckily stopped during our travels through Myanmar.
Before leaving for Myanmar we read a handful of blog posts, saw incredible pictures and researched a few travel experiences. Most of them mainly cover the temples of Bagan. But Myanmar has a lot more to offer. You will find places with landscapes that remember of Vietnam or China and other beautiful sceneries, the often-forgotten Hpa-An has to offer.
In the following you will find out why Hpa-An was one of our highlights during our time in Myanmar.
Hpa-An is the capital of state Karen and is located 200 miles east from Yangon. One distinctive characteristic of the small city with 75,000 inhabitants is its location: Surrounded by rice fields, high mountains and hidden caves. Also, not far from Hpa-An you will find the biggest lying Buddha statue of the world, the Win Sein Taw Ya. It is just a 1.5-hour drive away from Hpa-An and almost as long as a football field.
How to get to Hpa-An
There are two possibilities how to get to Hpa-An. You can either take a taxi or choose the more economical alternative, which is going by bus. We chose the bus but will describe both options in the following.
Take a bus to Hpa-An
It is easy to reach Hpa-An, pronounced Pah-Ann, by bus. Arrived in Yangon you ideally spend one night in the capital after arriving and then take a bus in the next morning heading east.
Tip 1: All long-distance busses depart at Aung Mingala Highway Station, which is even further north than the airport. To get there it can take up to 1.5 hours with an Uber or taxi, as Yangon’s traffic is crazy.
Tip 2: We booked the bus directly in our hostel, which made the purchase fast and easy. Just ask at the reception of your hotel or hostel, many of them sell tickets to various destinations in Myanmar, Hpa-An being one of them. Booking one day prior departure was no problem in our case.
Arrived at the bus station we first looked for the name of our bus company that was also written on the tickets and waited for two hours (we were told to be there two hours before departure, which was way too early) and watched the scene. A hectic crowd of locals buying tickets, selling books, sun glasses, snacks and much more. Now, you arrived in Asia!
A tiny side note: Please don’t fear the red splashes on the streets and sidewalks. This is spit but no blood. A thing to get used to and we, frankly, have been a bit disgusted by almost everybody spitting on the floor. The background here is that people, mainly men, chew betel nuts. These addictive nuts accelerate the spit production and people need spit it out. Everywhere. The WHO warns for the use of betel nuts as it is highly addictive and does harm to your mouth, your stomach and digestion. Locals in contrast see it as a cheaper and healthier alternative to smoking, which is not the case. Another bad side effect of the betel nuts is that you hardly see any white teeth when people smile at you. The red color of the nuts also color the teeth in an unhealthy looking red and brown. This, certainly is not a nice picture but it will certainly not stop you from having a good time in Myanmar.
Now that you know, let’s continue with the bus ride!
After buying some snacks – there is nothing worse than a hungry bus ride – we left Yangon around 1pm. On the way to Hpa-An we stopped a couple of times shortly and drove through small villages and pitch dark streets later that day. When the bus stopped to offer fellow travelers to go to the toilet, we soon felt that we are not in Singapore anymore. The toilets for example certainly do not have western standards. But who’d expect that in Myanmar! Roughly six hours later we arrived in Hpa-An.
Tip 3: Approach the bus driver shortly before arriving and tell him where you stay. Best case scenario: You get dropped off right in front of your hotel.
Costs for the comfortable drive: $5 per person.
We shortly considered leaving Hpa-An with the plane that would have saved us a couple of long hours in a “bus”. This thought didn’t last very long as the lovely owner form our hostel told us that the airport would be closed. As the taxi was way too expensive, we decided in favor of the bus.
Where to stay in Hpa-An
The town Hpa-An itself is not incredibly picturesque but we felt comfortable right from the start. Why exactly? Hard to tell, but the small city has a kind of relaxed vibe, even though the scooters and cars are everything else but very quiet. As well as that the Burmese town is certainly shaped by its impressive surroundings. At booking.com* you will find a lot of options to stay.
We decided just two days in advance to go to Hpa-An. As a result, we didn’t have a lot of options and stayed three nights in the River View Motel, which turned out to be ok, not great but not bad at all!
Stay in Hpa-An: River View Motel
The River View Motel* is directly located at the main road of Hpa-An, the Kan Nar Street. Here we paid roughly $30 for a double room with a private bathroom. Not the cheapest place, but still affordable.
The staff was extremely helpful and the reception open 24h, which can be helpful if you arrive late. At the River View Motel breakfast is included. But an Asian one! Both of us don’t really like Mi Goreng (fried noodles) in the early morning, but well! However, the dinner was delicious! Recommended: Fried Rice with chicken and pineapple.
Also good to know: They also offer a laundry (paid by piece and way overpriced but at least you get fresh clothes) and scooter rental, which was with $3 cheap in contrast.
In general, we had a positive impression of the River View Motel but the fact that the booked “big bus” ended up being a mini van was certainly the opposite. More on that you will find later in our Hpa-An tips.
More places to stay in Hpa-An
We just heart great things about the following accommodations. Depending on your budget, three different options:
As described, Hpa-An didn’t welcome as the most beautiful town but we enjoyed our stay a lot. Beside the small heart of the town, in that you just find an old clock tower, a couple of Warungs, Cafés and few ATM’s, there is not much to see. But the area around is insane, promised! We explored our neighborhood with a scooter and got to know Myanmar from its authentic side with beautiful nature and lovely locals.
With over 1,000 Buddha statues the Lumbini Garden is a small attraction. Don’t expect a real “garden” but more a park that is also the gate to our absolute favorite – Mount Zwegabin. Here you can combine a visit and take a couple of great pictures.
The mount Zwegabin (sometime also written “Zwekabin”) was our personal favorite in Hpa-An, and perhaps even in Myanmar. To the parking area (which is located in the Lumbini Gardens) you roughly drive 25-30 minutes from the city center of Hpa-An.
Ideally you start the ascent in the dark to witness a sunrise on the summit in 2.500 ft. Who could imagine a more beautiful sunrise?
Preparations for the ascent
3:45 and the alarm was screaming. Ended our night in a cruel way. Water in our sleepy faces but we knew that it is worth it and we will get rewarded. We grabbed a flashlight, enough water and a rain jacket, jumped on the scooter and drove through the pitch-dark heading towards Mount Zwegabin. Roughly 30 minutes later we arrived at the entrance and got welcomed by an equally sleepy but very friendly night guard.
Having paid 4,000 Kyat | $3 entrance and writing our names on a list, we drove until we reached an area that could be a parking area. We made eye contact with two smiling monks – obviously very happy about our visit – and they pointed in the direction of the path we need to follow.
Mount Zwegabin Pro Tip: You will find no lights on the way up, it’s pitch dark. Without a flashlight, you would be in the dark! The flashlight of your mobile works as well, but a flashlight does a significantly better job.
In contrast to the Adam’s Peak in Sri Lanka, the path hill up is narrow and gets constantly smaller. Sometimes you step up concrete stairs, sometimes roots help you the way up. Here and there you need to climb a tiny bit, everything in the dark but never scary or dangerous.
Our shirts slowly became wet. After a few more minutes they have been soaked but we got closer and closer to the summit. Always when you finally thought you made it, you turn left or right and see more stairs and more stairs. Three water bottles were empty and the sky became slowly dark blue. In the end, after 1.5 hours hiking hill up, we reached the monarchy on top of Mount Zwegabin.
On top, we and one other tourist got welcomed by some happy and equally tired locals. They have been so happy that two Germans make their way to Hpa-An and then even up Mount Zwegabin during the night and gestured that they would love to take a photo with us. Of course, we agreed. Then more people came, more monks joined the group and literally everybody wanted to have a picture with one of us on their phone.
Now, it was time to enjoy the color play. The sky became orange, the sun illuminated the picturesque valley in magical colors, more mountains in the background appeared and the first monkeys woke up.
The nightly fog slowly vanished and at 6:37am the sun climbed the sky up and the light showed where we are positioned. We found ourselves in a magical lake of clouds, surrounded by other mountains. Incredible!
Tips for the ascent
Two or three things might be handy to know before you walk up Mount Zwegabin.
Mount Zwegabin Tip 1
Prior to your trip, you should check the weather forecast as well as the time of the sunrise. Respectively you need to plan your ascent. Nothing is more annoying than noticing after three quarter of the way up, that you won’t make it before sunrise.
Mount Zwegabin Tip 2 Even though there are one or two vendors on the way up, bring enough water! One big bottle per person is the minimum. You will sweat, no matter how fit you are!
Depending on your pace you will be back home at around 10:00 with a huge hunger and the urge to take a refreshing shower. So better bring a couple of bananas and a small towel as well!
Mount Zwegabin Tip 3
In case you didn’t bring a flash light, ask at the reception of your hostel if it would be possible to borrow one. The two of us had one flash light and one mobile which, in fairness, wasn’t ideal setup.
The Kyauk Ka Lat Pagode
The Kyauk Ka Lat Pagoda is another small highlight. It is an incredible stupa-topped limestone pinnacle, set on a tiny isle with a small monarchy on it. All in all, a great location to take pictures when the sun sets. Ideally you can combine the visit here with a hike in the late afternoon.
Tip: As it is a holy place, please pay respect and cover shoulders and knees.
The Saddan Cave, closed during rainy season, is one of the biggest caves in Myanmar and ideally reached with the scooter. The cave is located 13 miles southeast and inhabits an uncountable number of Buddha statues and Pagodas. In 15 minutes, you can cross the cave and ask a boat driver in the end to bring you back to your starting point.
Entrance for the Cave: 1000 Kyat | 70 Cent Costs fort the boat trip: 3000 Kyat | $2
If this is not enough, you can also do a day trip to the lying Buddha statue in Mawlamyine or visit the Golden Rock, also known as Kyaiktiyo Pagoda or visit one of the many caves around that area such as the famous bat cave. Just jump on the scooter, there is so much to explore.
Best food in Hpa-An
Hpa- An is small, yes, but there are a couple of hidden gems in respect to food.
Thai Village Restaurant
A 5-star cashew chicken rating from our side! The Thai Village is located on the opposite of the river and a bit tricky to find. Leave the town, after the bridge take the first left. Then either ask or check Maps.me! The way to the restaurant is very special, as you will pass small villages, and tiny huts where farmers live. Welcome to real Myanmar!
San Ma Tau
This truly local restaurant can be found on the main street of Hpa-An and surprised us positively. We didn’t have a clue what we’ve ordered, received white steam rice and many silver pots with different sauces, vegetables, chicken and other undefinable dishes. We tried (almost) everything and really liked most of it! If you are in Hpa-An, you need to stop by.
River View Motel
Our above-mentioned chicken rice with pineapple was very yummy here!
Coffee lovers you should check out Veranda Youth Community Café as well as the New Day Bakery and the Café Famous. Worth trying!
Our Travel Tips for Hpa-An
Finally, here a few handy things to know before heading to Hpa-An.
Learn Burmese: Locals in Myanmar are often not used to tourists. That makes it hard to come along with English. To order in Burmese, ask for the way or a simple „Gooday“ makes your life easier!
Know the bus companies: In Yangon’s hectic bus station many different bus companies leave. So, write the name of yours down and look for the same name once you arrived.
Double check the location of your accommodation: Not rarely you find your accommodation somewhere different than shown on Google Maps or Maps.me. So, better double check!
Rent a scooter Explore the landscape and dive in real Myanmar on your scooter. Many areas around Hpa-An, such as the area around the Thai Village, tell a lot about the country.
No minivan: Don’t take mini vans. We unfortunately got a minivan even thought we were promised a “big bus”. In the end, we have been squeezed in the tiny van with 14 locals, not thinking of leg room. In the first four hours, the car stopped so often that we drove a little less than 40 miles. All in all, horrible 15 hours!
Be an early riser for Mount Zwegabin: Start early enough to catch the sunrise. It normally takes longer than you might think. It took us 1.5 hours, so better calculate 2 hours to the to be on the safe side. It also makes sense to check out where to start the hike the day before, so you know where to go, park and kick off. Pack a sweat shirt and a light jacket.
We hope we could bring across that Hpa-An is worth a stop! Also, hopefully you enjoy all recommendations as much as we did and have a great time in Myanmar. If any open questions or remarks, please leave a comment. We are happy to hear from you.
Of course, Hpa-An is only one of many great stops in Myanmar. Here you get a holistic picture of a Myanmar travel route.
*Affiliate-Link: When you book here, we receive a small commission. No extra costs for you!
We arrived in Myanmar without a lot of expectations. We didn’t read a lot as we wanted to get an own, genuine picture. We just saw a couple of great pictures of hot air balloons over Bagan. Now, after we spent 12 days in Myanmar we can tell – Myanmar is so much more than that. Watching sunrises on mountains, trying to communicate with lovely locals and chasing the balloons in Bagan. The following article will go beyond what we saw and showcases a great Myanmar Travel Route.
Most visitors enter the country in Yangon, which used to be the capital. So did we. The hostel we spend the first night offered an airport pick-up service for $10. Consequently, we got welcomed with a sign, our names were written on.
It’s always more relaxed getting picked-up at the airport than getting a taxi yourself. Of course, it’s a tiny bit more expensive but worth it from my perspective.
Driving through the chaotic traffic in Yangon we felt that we weren’t really in the mood for big city life. But after checking in, receiving a refreshing welcome drink and a shower we explored the city and had a visited the golden Shwegadon Pagoda.
Good to know: From the airport to the city centre it can easily take up more than an hour, depending on traffic.
We had a great dinner at Pansuriya, bought a sim card and got some rest for the next day. The next morning we left to the Aung Minglar Bus station with an Uber and waited there for an hour (or so) until the bus to Hpa-An left.
Good to know II: Aung Minglar bus station is further north than the airport, so the drive can take 1-1.5 hours.
In the bus, everybody smiled at us and it was a shame that we couldn’t communicate with the locals. They made the impressions as they would have had gazillion questions, so we just smiled back.
Beside some cheesy Burmese movies and an annoying wind chime the bus ride was comfortable. The bus driver drove in a decent speed and people have been very friendly. As soon as the bus stopped in a rural area you feel that Myanmar is not Thailand! It might have been Thailand ten or fifteen years ago. Vast areas of the beautiful country are undeveloped and toilets (for example) don’t have western standards, but who’d expect that! So, the adventure goes on.
As we travelled on a budget, we chose the bus, which is recommended for people who also want to save some bucks. If you want to make the most of your short time in Myanmar you can also fly to a couple of airports.
Hpa-An – More to see as you might think first!
The town Hpa-An itself is not particularly beautiful but it has something about it what we really liked. We recommend you rent a scooter (handy if your hostel offers scooter rental) to explore your new neighbourhood.
We went on top of Mount Zwegabin enjoyed the first light of the day illuminating the picturesque valley and visited unique Buddhist temples around the town.
On top of that you can eat like a king! The area has some extremely good restaurants you shouldn’t miss out on! More on that and on our hike up Mt. Zwegabin you can find in our dedicated article (coming soon).
Hpa-An is no tourist hotspot and most ‘famous’ travel routes don’t pass by. On the one hand that’s great as you can explore Hpa-An without tourist crowds, the negative aspect is that it is harder to get to it and continue to your next stop.
Inle Lake – Witness floating villages
In our Myanmar Travel Route, we would recommend going to Inle Lake after Hpa-An.
You now have two options on how to get from Hpa-An to Inle Lake. First, you can ask in your hostel or hotel if they would be able to arrange a bus (likely to be an uncomfortable minivan) or you get a local bus back to Yangon and from here with a larger, more comfortable bus to Inle Lake. As well as that there are travel companies in town you can check out and compare.
On the one hand, mini vans are not really recommended as they packed and the drivers often drive like lunatics. On the other hand, going back to Yangon can be tiresome. If you decide to go back to Yangon to catch a second bus to Inle Lake, be aware! The bus will arrive with delay in Yangon, almost for certain. That was the reason why we decided in favour of the minivan.
Arrived at the Inle Lake you will witness floating villages and inhabitants spending their whole life on the water. You can book boat tours and explore the unique setting and get a sense of the life here.
Photo by Mega Caesaria on Unsplash
Different providers offer multiple tour options such as half day, day or even two-day trekking or cycling trips. As well as that you can visit the Red Mountain Winery for a half day. Once arrived at the Inle Lake you will spots these offers quite often or book them online in advance.
For a boat tour across the lake you can either ask local fishermen and agree on a price as well as do organized tours in groups. All that depends on how you want to travel and on the time and budget you have.
Deciding on an accommodation at Inle Lake you have two options. Either you can stay in quite costly accommodations around the lake or in the next town called Nyaung Shwe, where also the busses arrive.
Beside the floating villages of the Inle Lake the area also has temples you need to see. Some of them, such as ancient Kakku Pagodas have a surreal setting where great pictures are almost for certain.
Best Restaurants at Inle Lake
No stay is perfect without good food, that’s for sure. As everywhere in Myanmar you will find great restaurants at the Inle Lake and the town of Nyaung Shwe. Recommendations here are the following three:
Paw Paw Restaurant | One Owl Grill | Bamboo Hut
Bagan – Explore the ancient temples with your scooter
After you left the Inle Lake with a bus you will reach Bagan after a couple of hours.
Everything about Bagan is special. The sandy, dusty roads in and around the town, the scenery while watching the sunrise and the sunsets that color the temples in a magical orange.
After your two days at the Inle Lake you will roughly spent three to four nights in Bagan, depending on your time and interest in temples. The area is huge and it needs time to orientate and to explore the area.
The best thing while traveling is the app Maps.me! An offline map where you can easily mark things you want to see. An absolute must have while exploring the temples of Bagan.
Normal scooters are, in contrast to Hpa-An, not allowed for tourists anymore. But there are e-scooters, which are as good and the great thing – they are quiet! You can rent them everywhere in town or at your hostel for around $3 per day. They are great fun and a great way to explore the temples in the morning, search for shelter in the midday heat and grab some food after watching the sunset.
Important to note is the following: The government closed most of the temples for climbing in January 2018! Yes, that’s sad, you are right. We have been upset about it as well once we figured it out. But there are still certain ways how to get views.
A lot of rumours are around but nobody exactly knows why temples are getting closed. Beyond that, the government might re-open certain temples again. But, again, nobody knows for sure, so ask around once you arrived in Bagan.
You might ask yourself where to get a great view on the hot air balloons, where to stay and what to eat in Bagan. We are working on a dedicated article, that will summarize everything you need to know in your time Bagan! In the meanwhile, feel free to reach out to us!
In our time in Bagan we stayed in the Myanmar Han and loved it here! It is located a few kilometres outside of the partially busy town but easy to reach with the scooter. It also offers multiple shuttles, the price is unbelievable and the pool is great. Highly recommended! Check it out!*
Mandalay – Two days beside a beautiful river
In and around Mandalay there are various things to see. One of the most famous spots certainly is the white Hsinbyume Pagoda that looks like coming straight from a fairytale. It is located ten kilometres northwest from Mandalay and should be on your list when in the city.
Beyond that you should also think about a boat trip to explore everything from a different angle. Morning cruises upriver to Mingun, for examples, are a certainly unique experience.
For Myanmar-standards quite touristy and extremely pretty is the longest wooden bridge in the world. Here you want to arrive before sunset to witness the breathtaking light mirroring in the river. If you want to get an even better view, almost on your own, our tip would be to arrive a little early, organize a boat trip (ask a local fisherman) and look for a great spot to watch the sun sinking into Mandalay’s river.
If you follow our tour and you are in Mandalay you should consider one more thing. The train ride that passes the Goke Hteik Viaduct, a railway trestle in Nawnghkio, western Shan State in Myanmar 100 km northeast from Mandalay. If you aren’t afraid of heights, certainly a train ride you will do once in your lifetime. The bridge is up to 200m high and 600m long and connects the two towns of Pyin Oo Lwin and Lashio. Check it out!
Travel Tips Myanmar
Some things are handy to know beforehand and the following paragraph summarizes a few of those.
First, Myanmar is a big country! Transportation will mostly take up an entire day and takes longer than anticipated!
Second, in Myanmar, you will travel a lot by bus, which is affordable and on average good, especially night busses from JJ Express. Burmese people really like aircons, so pack a hoodie and perhaps a small blanket. This is more comfortable and keeps you warm at night.
A third tip from my side is to refrain taking mini vans. They are normally packed with people, stop a hundred times, drivers don’t speak a word English and often drive like lunatics (at least we made this experience). You will be on the save and more comfortable side spending a couple of dollars more on a bigger bus.
Don’t spend too much time in Yangon. One day is fine as the incredible country a lot more to offer.
A fifth tip is that you should plan to spend enough time in Bagan. Every angle is spectacular and while driving around you will find marvellous places where you want to watch a sunrise or sunset. Don’t rush!
Speaking of sunrises! Finally, I would like to point out the sunrise on Mount Zwegabin! Not only this but exploring the area around Hpa-An is extremely worthwhile. Recommended to check that out!
What You’ll miss when following our Myanmar Travel Route
As said before this was a suggestion of a travel route for Myanmar. As in every trip, time plays a crucial factor. Often, we are not able to spend enough time to see everything we want to in a foreign country. Same with Myanmar in this case. For transparency’s sake, I want to point out what you would miss when you do the above mentioned trip.
The Golden Rock
The Golden Rock aka the Kyaikto Pagoda is a well-known Buddhist pilgrimage site and located northeast from Yangon. If you have one day more, it is easy to stop by on your way from Yangon to Hpa-An. As we unfortunately didn’t have the time, we decided not in favour of the impressive golden monument but it certainly would have been great to see.
We heard great things about Ngapali Beach and certainly would have visited in our time if we wouldn’t have had so much beach and surfing on our plan in Indonesia, where we travelled next. If you did not plan a lot of beach and you also like sandy toes, try to make it here. Crystal clear water and powdery beaches are waiting for you.
Photo by Ko Ko Win on Unsplash
Hopefully this post brought across that we fell in love with this country. It has a bit of everything and it felt like travelling in time. For me it was important to also point out stops to which we didn’t make it to offer a holistic picture of Myanmar. Now, it’s your turn. You need to decide which stops you liked most and book flights.
This was our Myanmar Travel Route, if you have any questions feel free to leave a comment.
*Affiliate Link: When you book, we receive a small commission. Without extra costs for you, obviously.
The following article is written by Christian, a real world traveller from beautiful Cologne. Julian bugged him since a while already to bundle his travel experiences on wavesnbackpack. After his world trip he didn’t stay long in his hometown but found himself in a plane traveling east soon again. Now, finally the experiences of a truly well-traveled person. Here are his tips for the best travel route in the Philippines.
Arrival in Manila
My adventure on the archipelago started with the flight from Frankfurt to Manila. I was able to get a cheap return flight with China Southern Airlines for 450€ round trip. Arrived in Manila I followed the hints of many friends and other travel bloggers and left Manila immediately again. In Manila you won’t see anything special so better don’t waste your valuable time. The philippines have so much to offer, but you will see later.
First Stop: Coron
For this reason I got the GoHotel near the airport for one night. It is located 10 minutes from the airport and made my onwards travel easy. After a couple of relaxing hours in bed I jumped on the plane to Busuanga (Coron). I found this 1.5 hours flight on Skyscanner for 75€ and was operated by Philippines Airlines.
Coron is – as El Nido – a hotspot for island hopping tours to adjacent islands. Beyond that, Coron is a famous diving spot as two ships wrecks now inhabit thousands of fish. The small Coron is not known as a party town and not very touristy, which is always great to arrive in a country. During the day you hardly see any foreigners as these will be either diving below sea level or exploring the islands close by.
Tip: It makes sense to look for a place to stay on time, as the area is often pretty booked. In the end we found a place and paid 4€ for a double room. From my perspective three nights are sufficient for divers.
Activities on Coron
Coron offers a lot of interesting activities – such as the all inclusive day trip – that are definitely worth their money.
Ultimate Island Hopping Tour
By joining this trip you will see the following places: Siete Pecados Marine Park – Twin Lagoon – Kayangan Lake – Beach 91 – Coral Garten – Skeleton Wreck – CYC Beach. In this stunning trip snorkel gear, lunch, other snacks and drinks are included. As well as that you are allowed to use kayaks. A pretty cool day if you ask me.
Mountain Tapyas Already from further away you will notice the letters Coron. Once you climbed the summit after approximately 750 steps, you will spot a lookout. The view is breathtaking and worth every step you made beforehand. Ideally you do the ascent before sunrise to get a fabulous view on the surrounding islands.
Maquinit Hot Springs These hot springs are reachable with a just 5 minute tuk tuk ride. Here you will find 38-41 Celsius (104 F) hot water which runs down the mountain into a pool. The entrance is 4€.
Tipp: End your day here. I still bask in the memories hanging out in the hot springs while enjoying the sunset!
Beaches on Coron Ideally you explore the beaches close by with a rented scooter, as often while travelling on the Philippines. Through this, you can travel at your own pace and plan your stops individually. Take a whole day for cruising around! You will spot things, stop, get off the scooter, walk around, enjoy and get back on.
We stopped at three different beaches and have always been the only tourists. Here you can be pretty sure in advance that you will have a beach for your own.
In my time I stayed at the Guapos Guesthouse.* Rooms were small but I really liked it. A great bang for the buck if you ask me.
Onwards travel to El Nido
Two boats depart to El Nido daily. One of them is a smaller boat which takes up to 9 hours and the other one a ferry that makes the trip in 3-4 hours. This ferry costs 30 Euros – just 10 Euros more than the smaller boat – but as it is more comfy and significantly faster, it’s definitely worth spending the money on top.
Second Stop: El Nido
El Nido, a small town in the north of the island Palawan, is a lot more touristy than Coron. Both islands are famous for its island hopping tours. In El Nido you will find everything you need. Hostels and Hotels in all price categories, countless bars and restaurants as well as little shops. The beach in El Nido in unfortunately not suitable for swimming as boats to the mentioned island hopping tours leave here. In the evening and at night the bars will transform to clubs.
Don’t panic: You’ll find them! When you stroll around the beach at night, you won’t be able to miss the parties.
Despite many accommodation and shops the island remains laid back and not a tourist hotspot such as Phuket or Koh Samui in Thailand. I really enjoyed my time here and would recommend getting the vibe. So definitely part of my travel route for the Philippines.
Tip: Always book your accommodation early, as the best places are likely to be booked already days in advance. Here it is possible to find a decent place to stay for approximately 5€ per night.
Activities on El Nido
Once in El Nido you wanna do stuff. Of course! And there are many things to do in El Nido!
Island Hopping on El Nido When it comes to island hopping four tours are offered. Tour A, B, C and D. Tour A is definitely the one with the highest frequency, as it stirs to all highlights. The negative part about that is that you will not be alone on the boat but share the ride as well as the sights with a couple of people.
In our other Philippines article written by our American friend Pierce, El Nido was also recommended.
Tour A: 22 EUR
Small Lagoon, Big Lagoon, Secret Lagoon, Shimizu Island, 7 Commandos Beach. All inclusive
I really enjoyed the tour. Even if a handful of boats arrive at the same time, the lagoons are worth seeing.
Tip: Comparing prices is not really necessary here. You will find the same offers almost everywhere.
Mountain Taraw Mountain Taraw is a mountain directly located behind El Nido. Who is not scared of heights, physically fit and looking for an adventure, should dare to go up. A guided tour is roughly 10€ and definitely recommended. The ascent can be dangerous as it is easy to lose track, so it is advisable to be accompanied by a local guide. The summit is roughly reached within one hour and the view is simply insane.
Beaches in El Nido To visit the surrounding beaches I would recommend to rent a scooter and explore the area around El Nino. My favorite here are Napcan Beach, Las Cabanas and Duli Beach.
Las Cabanas Beach has a zipline with which you can slide to the closest island while enjoying a great view. This costs 15€.
Duli Beach is great for surfing and mostly empty. The cool thing here is that you also can drive along the beach with your scooter. A different perspective than usual and definitely recommended when you are close by.
From El Nido to Puerto Princesa
From here the trip continues in direction of Puerto Princesa. The trip takes roughly 4-5 hours and costs round about 10€.
Thrid Stop in our Travel Route Philippines: Puerto Princesa
Puerto Princesa is especially famous for one attraction the Underground River NP. Here you drive a couple of kilometers along an underground river, the longest one in the world. Since a few years this river is considered as one of the seven nature wonders of the world.
If you only have one day in Puerto Princesa, as we had, you should do this, but isn’t a sight you should never miss out on.
Onwards to Boracay
The next day our plane departed from Puerto Princesa to Kaliko. Boracay calling!
Fourth Stop: Boracay
The island of Boracay seems to be the mecca for tourists of all kind in the Philippines. Here you will spot backpacking folks and masses of other tourists, which results unfortunately in a huge number of big hotels.
The positive effect of this is that you will find a lot of things to do on Boracay. From water sports such as water skiing, banana boats to day trips to adjacent islands. On the island Boracy everyone should find a suitable offer.
Also for people who want to party, Boracay is the right plance as the promenade becomes one big party in the evenings. Of course, the high number of paying tourists also pushes the prices compared to the rest of the Philippines. Prices here are roughly double than usual.
Tip: Two nights on Boracay have been enough for me. Everybody who has been in Thailand and knows places such as Phuket or Koh Samui, also knows the philippines version of them – Boracay.
Activities on Boracay
So you wonder what to do on Boracay? This will of course be covered!
Diving on Boracay
Diving is possible on Boracay as in the rest of the Philippines. Strolling trough the streets you will spot countless diving schools with countless possibilites of great diving spots.
Party and Nightlife
At the White Beach visitors can find a number of clubs and bars. Every evening you have the possibility going to a party or join one of the pub crawls.
Island Hopping on Boracay
Boat trips to various beaches and islands can be found as well. All inclusive, of course.
Tip: Who already did a boat trip in El Nido or Coron, should skip the more expensive boat trips here.
Beaches on Boracay The main beach on Boracay is calles White Beach, where you will find hotels, shops, bars and restaurants. The miles long white and poudery beach is great to hang out and sun beds and umbrellas can be rented. Doubtless an incredibly beautiful beach but for me personally, always a bit overcroweded. On top, the merchants on the beach who want to sell sunglasses and other things can be annoying when you just want to hang out in peace.
What you definitely should do: Get a tuk tuk to the other side of the island. Here you still find empty beaches with post card flair.
Boracay in a nutshell: A paradise island with dreamy beaches but here you really feel the tourism. In my humble opinion, as a backpacker you can easily skip Boracay and spend more time at less explored areas in this beautiful country.
Onwards travel to Bohol
Try to catch a flight to Cebu (On skyscanner you can find flights for round about 70€ / $90. From here you jump on the ferry to Tagbilara (Island Bohol).
Firth Stop: Bohol
For me, Bohol has the perfect mix of beaches and incredible nature. Most of the beautiful beaches are located in the south of Panglao Island, which you can reach by crossing a bridge. Most of all I can recommend Alona Beach!
Bohol’s landscape is Philippines at its best and ideally explored with a scooter. For all this it is definitely recommended to take a whole day.
Activities on Bohol
Once you are on Bohol there are three things you shouldn’t miss out on:
Tarsier Santuary (Animals you can only see here)
If you start early in the morning you will be back just before the sunset.
A good point to start is Tagbilaran and start exploring Bohol with your scooter. On the next day you can simply cross the bridge to Panglao island to enjoy the beaches here. Two days are enough as you will find even nicer beaches on your trip. Because of the unique Choclate Hills and the rare Tarsiere Bohol should not be skipped.
If you plan on a different trip as we did, it is also easy to reach from Cebu City with a ferry.
From Bohol to Apo Island
From Tagbilaran we continued by ferry to Dumaguete (Island Negros). Arrived at the harbor just ask a tuk tuk driver to drive you to APO Islands, bargain a bit and hop on the trycycle. After 40 minutes drive for a few bucks, you will reach a small harbor from which boats regularly depart to Apo Island.
Sixth Stop: Apo Island
Apo Island is a tiny island so that most likely every point is reachable by foot. The main reason to come to this island is most likely the underwater world. Apo Island is a real diver’s and snorkeler’s paradise.
The speacial fact: Sea weed in knee high water attracts huge sea turtles.
Here you just need to put your head under water and you will not only see turtles but come close to them.
Before my first snorkel trip I was excited to spot a turtle, or perhaps two but ended up being literally surrounded by 15-20 turtles, incredible Philippines!
I definitely recommend to stay overnight. The first reason for this is the pristine beauty of the under water world and the second is that tourists come to the island at fixed schedules. If you stay longer, you will have vast areas of the tiny island for yourself. Lucky you :)
In my time at APO island I stayed at the Liberty Lodge that I really liked. Have a look at booking.com* to find the place or another one that you might like.
Onwards travel to Cebu Island
From Apo you take the same way back. Hop on a boat to Dumaguete and from here to Cebu Island.
Seventh Stop: Cebu Island
Arriving at Cebu harbor you will see tuk tuk’s here tuk tuk’s there as well as bigger travel busses. All offer to bring you to your destination of your journey. As the whale sharks are, for me personally a absolut must-see it is recommended to take the bus to Tanawan for $3. You might ask yourself “what to do in Tanawan”? The answer is “absolutely nothing”. The best thing you can do is to arrive in the late afternoon, go to bed, get up at 5 am to see whale sharks.
For round about $45 you get the great opportunity to swim with the biggest fish on earth. Most of the were 6-9 meter long and I can tell, it was absolutely breath-taking to encounter them. Just imagine. They can get up to 15 meter, which is simply insane.
Whale sharks are attracted with shrimps that are thrown into the water. Some people, might say this it is incorrect to feed them. You migth be correct but in the end watching whale sharks was extremely impressing and thus a must see for me.
Please be aware not to touch them or come too close and have a look that you choose bigger boats with more people. So whale sharks are less disturbed by us humans.
From Cebu to Moalboal
Pretty easy to answer. From Tanawan with the bus to Moalboal!
Eigths Stop on the Philippines: Moalboal
Moalboal is a small authentic fishing village that is mostly famous for its under water world, similar to APO island. Restaurants are serving great food, some bars and shops for things you need. The atmosphere here is laid back and very chilled. All in all a place where you can spend some time and feel comfortable.
Activities auf Moalboal
In the following I will cover some cool things you can do on Moalboal.
Diving and Snorkeling
Most of all there is one particular reason for underwater entuthiasts to come to Moalboal: Sardines. Gazillions of Sardines.
Just a few meters away from Panagsama Beach you will spot the colorful and beautiful reef, where you can swim with millions and millions of sardines. As well: One or two turtles might croos your path as well.
With your rented scooter it is easily possible to reach Kawasan Falls within 40 minutes. Arrived here you need to pay $2 entrance fee, which are well worth spent as these falls are an absolut must see!
The water falls are 5-10 meters high and if you dare, it is also allowed to jump down.
It is also possible to book a guided canyoning tour, which is comparatively expensive. As the area is great to explore on your own, you can save the money!
Beaches around Moalboal
Panagsama Beach is the main beach in Moalboal, where you should ideally book your accommodation...
The country of Maya ruins, Mezcal and spicy Tacos is incredible. We ate delicious tacos stuffed with fresh avocado, surfed the waves in Puerto Escondido and explored the country with its spanish-speaking, indigenous inhabitants while Backpacking in Mexico.
You just booked the flights to Mexico and now you are looking for the most important information? How safe is Mexico? How much is a room per night on average? And do I need to be aware something when I enter the country?
All our knowledge, our impressions, the most exciting moments of our six weeks Backpacking in Mexico will be described in the following article. Beyond that we also bundled handy tips and tricks for your time abroad.
As Julian needed to work in Mexico City for a couple of days, we had a lot of time to explore the massive capital. From what we’ve heard we expected CMDX (this is how locals call it, and stands for “Ciudad de Mexico”) to be ugly, polluted, unsafe, so overall a waste of time.
We couldn’t agree less. After we finished all preparations and arrived in the city with 22 million inhabitants our lovely AirBnB host warmly welcomed us and brought us in the district we can strongly recommend to live in “La Condesa”. This beautiful area is full of cute cafés, avenues and local taco vendors. Does your trip also start in Mexico City? Then we wrote a great travel guide here.
Backpacking in Mexico – Our Route
Six weeks Mexico. First you might think you have endless time to explore every corner in the country. Unfortunately this is wrong, as you most likely forget – as we did – how gigantic the country of mezcal and tacos is. Our tip here: Don’t plan too much in a short time. Otherwise long distances make your trip hectic and less enjoyable.
In this map you can see exactly which route we ended up taking.
Mexico City > Puerto Escondido
After twelve days Mexico City the Pacific was calling. To be more precise, Puerto Escondido was supposed to be our home in the next couple of days. One hour after stepping in the plane we have arrived in Puerto already.
For most of the surfers Puerto Escondido will ring a bell. If not, think of the ‘Mexican Pipeline’, one of the fastest and most dangerous waves in the world where the Pacific hits the coast line with all its power.
But one after the other. Puerto Escondido is a small town located on Mexico’s East Coast. Neither the city nor the main beach itself is extraordinarily beautiful but on the most southern point of the street a sandy road appears. This is where “La Punta” is situated.
Tiny taco booths, cozy restaurants, little shops and relaxing café’s make you feel at home within seconds. Already on your way to your first surf session all this will make you feel the special vibe. Even if you are not surfing! And if you do, you will most likely love Puerto Escondido even a tiny bit more. If the small town is on your list, check out our in-depth guide.
In total we spent 1.5 weeks in Puerto Escondido. Julian paddled countless waves, I enjoyed a couple of handful of fresh Smoothies, we strolled through the sandy road, bought fresh avocados and prepared our own lunch and enjoyed one or two Mezcal at a campfire. Indeed, we were sad to leave this picturesque place on earth. But hey, we left Puerto for good, next stop the colonial city of Oaxaca.
Puerto Escondido > Oaxaca
We reached Oaxaca by plane via Mexico City. Looking at the map you might think “Are you kidding me?”. No we aren’t – we decided to take a cheap flight as we have so many horror stories about the bus ride from Puerto to Oaxaca. The extremely curvy way with many serpentines let many people vomit and the people kept talking about the ridiculously fast driver who seem to be rushed. In the end, I guess, it wouldn’t have been that bad. When we found a comparatively cheap flight we just decided for the more relaxed alternative.
In the following days we visited the local food markets, botanical gardens and the beautiful buildings. Our highlight in Oaxaca: A tour through a Mezcal fabrication as we wanted to know how this famous liquor is made.
After that our journey continued.. Hola San Cristóbal de Las Casas.
Oaxaca > San Cristóbal de las Casas
12 hours night bus. Sounds exhausting but actually is significantly more relaxed as it sounds. Not only relaxed but it is also very comfortable in the busses of the Mexican bus company ADO. Early in the morning we arrived at the bus station of the hip, colorful city in mid of mountains in Chiapas. Our home for the next days was supposed to be a “rustic” garden house which rather turned out to be a dirty dog’s shed in the garden. It became pretty clear that we don’t stay here and reached out to AirBnB claiming a refund. Ten minutes after the first tweet we received a refund and found something very nice for less money. So we could start to enjoy our time in San Cristobal.
You can participate in a great walking tour through the city free of charge. Here you will meet many backpackers and other travellers from around the world while getting to see some really cool spots in the city by a local. From San Cristobal you can also do day tours to Palenque and Maya tribes close by. Just try and feel the city vibe, you will love it.
San Cristóbal de las Casas > Cancún > Isla Holbox
The Caribbean is calling. To reach the tiny island at the Yucatan peninsula you need to travel across the country. Sitting again for 12 hours straight in the bus wasn’t what we were eager to do, so we checked the flights. Luckily, we found extremely cheap flights for around $30 and landed after 45 minutes in Cancun. From here we took a bus to Chiquila and took jumped here on the ferry to Isla Holbox, Mexicos hidden gem.
Tip: Don’t forget to have at least a handful of tacos at “Taco Gordos”. And don’t forget to rent bikes.
Once in Mexico you also need to see Chichén Itzá (if you didn’t see Palenque). Since 1988 the Mayan ruin is UNESCO world heritage and since 2007 one of the seven wonders of the world. Valladolid, a small colonial town in Yucatan, is perfectly situated for a visit in this breathtaking piece of Mexican culture as well as for the impressive pink lake “Las Coloradas”.
For the small island you take the ferry to Chiquila and travel onwards with a bus to Tizimin. After a three-hour trip you get off the bus in Valladolid in which you can taste – again – great food, visit the cenote Zaci or just stroll through the beautiful city buying fresh vegetables for a nice, home-made dinner. From here you reach Chichen Itza within one hour by colectivo and with busses (you need to change in Tizimin) Las Coloradas for a day-trip.
Tip: Don’t miss out on the great food at “Hierbabuena” and jump ten meters deep in the cenote zaci.
Valladolid > Tulum
After checking out the last city on our trip the ocean was calling. And how does this work best? Correcto, with the bus. For the next days: Hola Tulum! Turquoise water, mayan ruins, tacos, tacos and tacos (one better than the other). Cycling to the beach, hopping in the water to snorkel – could it be any better?
Tulum is the perfect place to relax and a great last stop of wonderful trip through Mexico.
Tip: Definitely visit “Taqueria La Eufemia” at the beach! At the main fork (coming from the town) keep right. Pass the shops and stop for the best tacos you can a imagine, a chilled beer with an incredible view.
Tulum > Cancún
We never stayed more than one night in Cancun and used it just as connection point for our onwards travels. Here, our trip through Mexico also ended and we flew to Nicaragua.
Country, Culture & People in Mexico
Visa for Mexico
All inhabitants of countries that have been part of the “Schengen Agreement” (UK, USA, Canada, Germany, Japan) neither need a visa nor any special documents.
Inhabitants of all these countries can enter Mexico for 180 days. In the plane you will receive a tourist card, the FMM (Forma Migratoria Multiple)where you need to fill out all details. This document and a at least six months valid passport is needed to enter the country. Also you need the FMM to leave the country again, so better don’t lose it. Also have an wye on the date added from the official at the border. In case that’s missing it can lead to misunderstandings as well.
Security in Mexico
As soon as you start researching the country you stumble upon horror stories of drug wars, executions and other bad stories where people get killed. And it is true Mexico has a very high homicide rate. But, there is a big but!
As a tourist you will not be involved in drug and cartel related activities so you will not be confronted by that. Due to the fact that gangs and villains are also present in cities you will visit you definitely need some common sense to stay safe. We had a great time and felt safe the entire time. The security standards are definitely higher, which is a reason you feel safe on the average day travelling through Mexico. We personally had just encountered one dodgy situation where we ran into a fully tattooed gang hanging on the street and obviously talking about us. We didn’t make eye contact ignored them and walked to the beach.
But other than that – once again – we felt safe while Backpacking in Mexico!
In every bigger city there are districts that aren’t entirely safe. In Mexico the same applies.
Tip: Inform yourself upfront which districts are good and which would be wiser to avoid.
Unfortunately, Mexico has a huge corruption problem. In general we have heard from locals, Policemen are not there to help. They get paid so badly that they are basically forced to misuse their power. Never take photos from policemen or police stations and maintain a low profile.
Robberies mainly happen when it’s dark. Ideally you are not strolling through the city when it’s pitch dark and rather take a taxi.
Always have an eye on your belongings. And most of all: Carry the most important documents (or at least a copy) on your body.
If you travel with expensive equipment, observe who is surrounding you. Also while taking photos.
On the street it is forbidden to drink alcohol. The penalizations in case you contravened are harsh so do yourself a favor and refrain doing so. Even we Germans managed to not drink alcohol in public.
In the unlikely event of a robbery or similar, don’t put up resistance. If you are forced, don’t bargain or try to trick. Just hand out everything the robbers want to you. These people are extremely desperate and will not argue with you. If you follow their instructions nothing will happen and they will leave quickly.
Travel Time & Climate in Mexico
We stayed in Mexico from January to March and have been really lucky with the time of the year. The weather was great, neither too hot nor too cold and we hardly saw any clouds.
As diverse the country is, the diverse the weather can be. You will witness different climate zones due to a great difference in altitudes. Isla Holbox for example pretty much defines the Caribbean, whereas the evenings can be chilly in Mexico City and San Cristobal. Nevertheless there is a rule of thumb you can follow:
During the European winter Mexico will welcome you with a lot of sun and almost no clouds. In this time of the year it’s dry season in Mexico so you will hardly see any rain.
On the contrary, if you travel between May and October you will face more rain and thunderstorms as you are visiting Mexico during rainy season. If you do not mind some rain and bad weather this time can also be considered as ideal as the prices drop and the crowds are gone. Please also think of the hurricanes that might come up during this time of the year, even though they are mainly present in September and October.
While the North West has a desert-like feel, the North can get pretty cold in the winter, the East Coast reminds more of the tropics.
Locals tend to favor the months December and January and preferably spend them in the East of the country. Gazillion’s of Americans come during the Spring Break season to Quintana Roo where prices surge and accommodations need to be book in advance.
Transportation in Mexico
The way of transport in such a big country is from great importance as you can tell. The infrastructure of the country is comparatively well and makes coming from A to B quite easy. In contrast to Sri Lanka you will not spend a lot of time in trains but rather sit in busses to get to the next beautiful city.
Trains in Mexico
Trains aren’t widely-spread in Mexico and rarely used. Since 1990 the train system is almost non existent anymore and only two train connections are operating. One of them passes through the mountains and is known as “Copper Gulch” and the other one is called “Tequila Express” and ends in the city of Tequila.
Taking the Bus in Mexico
Busses leave literally everywhere. The bus system is very good and the value for money even better. When booking tickets for longer distances you normally can choose between a bus that drives during the day and a night bus. In..
This article is written by Joshan. In the beginning of the year Joshan visited the country of the Mount Everest, his homeland, with a couple of friends and shares his experiences and valuable tips on wavesnbackpack about backpacking in Nepal.
What clothes should I pack?, asked a friend going through his checklist.
Prepare for anything between 0 to 40 degrees. They thought I was joking. I wished I was. But I was committed to keep them safe and warm. I was going back home to Nepal and taking three of my very good friends for an adventure in Nepal, here we come!
Backpacking in Nepal – Good to know
The southern part of the country lies at about sixty meters from sea level and soars to the top of the world towards the north. All that variation of 8600 meters within the north-south distance of 193 kilometers, crazy right? Our trip was during early May. By then, temperatures already start soaring high across the southern plains while the northern mountains are still covered in snow.
While the flight is descending towards Kathmandu, you can already witness the majestic mountains rising above the clouds. A rush of excitement is inevitable. After leaving the airport, the first few experiences might be overwhelming or shocking for some because of the crowded streets, dust, unmanaged urbanscape, reckless drivers, etc. It is not the fairy-tale-snow-clad mountain land that you had imagined. There are no stop signs, no sidewalks, no rules. You kind of figure it out that everything functions together somehow. But if you are open minded and willing to set your foot outside of your comfort zone then one of the best adventures of your life awaits you ahead.
The country, people, food and culture
Nepalese people are usually very friendly and relaxed people. Do not forget to greet them with a ‘Namaste’. It is how they say hello and they absolutely love it when they are greeted by foreigners. Bhat (rice), dal (lentil soup), tarkari (curry), achar (pickle) makes their main dish and people consume it twice a day, even three times in some regions. The majority of Nepalese eat this main dish with their hands. Give it a try, ask the locals for instructions; they will be delighted to help you. Raksi, Chyang and Tongba are the Nepalese special homemade liquors. Drinking water situation is poor in the capital and in most of the cities. Drinking bottled water will save you from lots of trouble. There is big difference in climate in different part of the country. So, research ahead and pack appropriate supplies for your trip. Road trips are usually scenic but tedious through treacherous mountain roads. Also, make sure to pack extra toilet paper rolls and be aware of the fact that most non-touristy places still use squat toilets.
Stop #1: Kathmandu, the city of temples and stupas
Things to do in Kathmandu
Kathmandu Valley has three Durbar Squares. Basantapur (Kathmandu) Durbar Square, Patan Durbar Square and Bhaktapur Durbar Square. These are the old towns of Kathmandu Valley and exhibit ancient art forms, architecture, religious values and lifestyles. All of these squares have beautiful temples, ancient palaces, art and history museums and amazing food spots. Basantapur, also being the main center of the city is busier compared to the other two. It is surrounded by a maze of narrow shopping streets, and ‘Freak Street’ because it is freaking awesome. Patan and Bhaktapur are equally amazing as well and offer famous traditional newari food and liquor spots. Sadly, many iconic temples in Basantapur and Bhaktapur area were destroyed during the earthquake of April 2015.
Swayambhunath, also known as ‘The Monkey Temple’, is one of the holiest Buddhist stupas in Nepal. The stupa is believed to be the oldest of its kind in Nepal and exhibits religious harmony among the people as Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and people of all religions visit and enjoy this monument equally. Resting atop a small hill, it boasts a stunning panoramic view of Kathmandu Valley with the misty mountains in the background.
Thamel is the happening quarter of Kathmandu. The streets are filled with shopping lines, restaurants and rooftop bars. As evening approaches, the streets become vibrant with dwellers, hippies, backpackers and live music. It is busy and chaotic but mesmerizing. A very important warning for shoppers is that shopkeepers tend to overprice the items. Try out different shops and know the reasonable price before buying any souvenir.
Stop #2: Chitwan, a blend of wildlife and culture
Things to do in Chitwan
Chitwan National Park is a World Heritage site and it Iies in the Southern plain lands of the country. Over 932 sq kms of protected area is renowned for its protection of One Horned Rhinoceros, Royal Bengal Tiger and Gharial Crocodile.
It is also a heaven for bird spotters with 544 species of birds recorded in the area. You can do a guided jungle safari trip and explore wildlife in their natural habitats. Spotting rhinoceros, deers, wild boars, monkeys and birds are common.
But if luck is in your favor you might get the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to spot a Royal Bengal Tiger while Backpacking in Nepal. If that is not enough adventure, then you can do a guided boating trip in the crocodile filled Rapti river. You can witness crocodiles sunbathing along the river banks or just swimming across your boat minding their own businesses.
Sauraha is a little Tharu (the local people of this region) village which is the main entry point to the National Park. The village provides good accommodation, traditional tharu meals, and cultural shows. Jungle safaris, elephant ride or canoeing can be arranged from here.
Stop #3: The vibrant Pokhara
Things to do in Pokhara
Pokhara is the tourist capital of the country. It is equally famous among the locals and foreigners. Stunning sceneries, adventure activities, good food, this place has it all. Lake Fewa is the most famous location in Pokhara. You can take a hand carved row boat to the middle of the lake and enjoy tranquility. The view of the Fishtail mountain or the view of sunset behind the layers of hills as far as you can see in the horizon is just spectacular. If you are more adventurous type then paragliding, mountain biking, bungee jumping, white water rafting and zip lining are the way to go. The evenings here are filled with tourists, backpackers and locals. You can hear live music echoing through every other restaurants and bars. Delicious food, shopping streets, happy people and activities, Pokhara is the perfect blend of adventure, chill and tranquility.
Pokhara is the gateway to the world renowned Annapurna Trekking Circuit. All the necessary equipment, documents and permits can be obtained from Pokhara and Kathmandu.
Stop #4: Mesmerising Ghandruk – Poonhill trek
Things to do in Ghandruk
If you have enough time do not miss the Annapurna Base Camp trek or the Annapurna Circuit trek. It is absolutely mind blowing. Ghandruk – Poonhill trek is one of the easier 3-5 days trail in the Annapurna Circuit. Foreigners need Trekking Permit and TIMS card to enter the Annapurna Conservation Area.
The Ghandruk – Poonhill trek lies towards the easier spectrum among trekkers but is equally famous among beginners and advanced trekkers. The day starts with a two hours jeep ride from Pokhara. The later part of the drive goes uphill through harsh dirt road. After the jeep ride and around 45 minutes walk you reach the beautiful village called Ghandruk (approx. 1940 m). Make sure to spend at least a day here. Gurung people are the main inhabitants here and you can experience their culture, home-grown food and lifestyle. Even more exciting is that you can see Annapurna South, Machhapuchhre, and Himchuli standing tall right in front of you. The serenity and sheer beauty of this place will make you forget about all your troubles and put you in absolute peace of mind. The narrow stone paved paths, small slate-roofed houses, terrace farming, green hills and snow capped mountains as backdrop, it is hard to say goodbye to this place.
The trekking proceeds through cloud and fog, magical forests, and brooks of icy blue water. There are rest stops and water taps along the path. The more ambitious ones aim to reach Ghorepani (approx. 2760 m) while others stop halfway through at Tadapani for a night. Almost everyone you pass by en route will greet you with a smile and Namaste. Ghorepani, the gateway to Poonhill, is another small village and feels slightly modern and commercial than Ghandurk. People generally spend a night here and prepare for next day’s uphill trek to Poonhill.
Poonhill, situated at 3210 meters, is a famous hill-top view point with breathtaking panorama of mountain ranges with some of the highest Himalayan peaks like Annapurna I, Annapurna South, Himchuli and Dhaulagiri. Visitors start the the 45 minutes Ghorepani-Poonhill trek as early as 4 am in the morning to catch the sun rise from behind the snow-clad peak of Annapurna. The fresh mountain air and the magnificent sight will take all your tiredness away.
In the end
Nepal is synonymous with mountains. It is how Nepal is known around the globe. But there is more to explore. The untouched nature, the warm-hearted people and the unique culture will make you fall in love with the country. It is a poor country with lots of domestic problems but people always manage to stay humble and smile through all their hardships. You will come back not only with great adventure stories but also with tons of positive inspiration. Happy backpacking in Nepal :)
Since I heard the first time from this country I wanted to go there. Was it just the soft sound of the name Nicaragua or was it because of the great stories I heard. At the same time, I did not meet many people who have been here already. So, perhaps the unexpected gave it something magical? All that made me want to go to Nicaragua. Since ages. When I became clear that Mexico would be the next country to travel to, I realized that Nicaragua is ‘just around the corner’. That meant – Backpacking in Nicaragua! Yes, finally.
People we talked to in Mexico, mentioned that Nicaragua will be totally different than Mexico as it is the second poorest country in Central America, even though it is “close by”.
After six weeks in Mexico were sad leaving but equally eager to travel to Nicaragua. As always, the day of departure arrived soon and we took a plane from Cancun to San José and after four hours of sleep, onwards to Managua, Nicaragua’s capital.
Our travel route through Nicaragua
In the following I will describe the route we decided for. Here I will also point out what we missed and what we should not have done. As well important to note: We wanted to surf as much as possible. If that wouldn’t have been the case, the route would have most likely been a bit different and might have not focused on the Pacific side of the country but rather the picturesque Caribbean side (just google ‘little corn island’, for example).
Managua to Granada
Directly after arriving we organized a driver to Granada. We spent more money than necessary, but we have just been extremely exhausted from the flights so wanted to sit down and relax. Excited and equally tired. Our first stop, Granada.
Indeed, Granada is beautiful. The center of the town is shaped by its distinctive church. Around ‘Iglesia La Merced’ numerous restaurants and bars invite visitors to enjoy Burritos, a chilly Toña, Gallo Pinto (in a lot of different variations) or freshly grilled meat. On the central place in the city you can find some nice handcraft work such as bracelets or necklaces for great memories on your wrist. Further to the East, you will reach Lake Nicaragua, the largest lake in Central America.
Around the city, you can climb a handful of volcanos with different routes varying from two hour to entire day trips. Depending on your sight trails can be impressive and heaven on earth for photographers.
Despite its beauty, we have to say, Granada was the only place on our travel we did not feel comfortable. While strolling through markets people looked to us in a way we have never experienced before. The waiters have been unfriendly and some other occasions did not help towards improving our perception of Granada. Due to that reason, we decided to leave earlier than planned. People we’ve met or talked to in our onwards journey loved Granada and did not experience anything like us. So, I bet you’ll be luckier than we have been.
Things to do Granada: Decide for a volcano to climb and visit Isla Ometepe for a night. We heard great stories of the little island in mid of the lake but unfortunately missed it.
Granada to San Juan del Sur
You can either drive by bus or with a private driver. Busses are the significantly cheaper option and recommended if you do not have time pressure. They leave multiple times per day but as the journey takes several hours, an early start might makes sense.
Prior to our trip, we had a hard time to picture San Juan del Sur, especially where the best waves are. The city itself became in the last years as a party town and attracts many backpackers from around the world. Here you get everything what you need. Food, drinks, surfboards, clothes and cheap restaurants (recommendation: ‘La Lancha’).
Where to stay in San Juan del Sur
The main question we had whether staying close to one of the beaches or in the city makes sense. This mainly depends on what you exactly want. In the city, you are closer to bars and restaurants but dependent on bus shuttles to the beaches. These rides cost around 2.50 USD one way and leave multiple times a day and the last bus leaves shortly after sunset. Shuttles to the beaches leave at Casa Oro, a well-known and often booked hostel in the heart of the city (we’ve heard very good things about staying here).
As we did not want to party but just relax and surf we decided for the hostel Casa Maderas* close to Playa Maderas. If you plan to go to SJDS or you are looking for great waves in Nicaragua, check this in-depth article for more information. Most importantly, we loved this relaxed and calm place close to the beach. Our own apartment including a own hammock treated us very well.
Things to do in San Juan del Sur: Go surfing, get grilled fish or meat at ‘La Lancha’, go on a party off the beaten path in one of the ‘Cervecerias’.
San Juan del Sur to León
This is one of the furthest trips you can do in Nicaragua. By bus it will take up one entire day, so we shared a taxi with two other travelers and paid 30 USD per person. Four and a half hours later we arrived in Léon and strolled through the city. The church certainly is the most important sight and with its snow-white roof pretty unusual. We spend some time here to watch clouds passing by and to observe erupting volcanos faraway.
In the night, we went to a food market and enjoyed fresh Nicaraguan cuisine and have been stunned by its kitchen the first time. Most backpackers we’ve met just went to León to slide down Cerro Negro, which is unfortunate, as there is much more to see.
Things to do in León: Enjoy the view from the ‘Catedral de la Asuncíon de María de León’, volcano boarding, visit the food market at night and look for a remote place.
León to Isla Los Brasiles
We decided to enjoy the last days of our trip in a remote place, before facing the stressful urban life in Europe again. After taking a taxi, a boat and a horse carriage we arrived at the “Surfing Turtle Lodge” and spent the last four nights in a hut with a porch and a hammock at the beach. Paradise. We still bask in memories having our breakfast here or enjoying the sunset with a chilled beer.
Before coming here, we researched a lot about this place as it was our last stop of a fabulous trip. Almost all comments have been positive, some said it is too expensive as you are dependent on the kitchen. Due to its remote location, you are dependent on the kitchen, that’s correct. As soon as you aren’t able to prepare your own meals, stays tend to get more expensive, that’s correct.
As the Surfing Turtle Lodge was our last stop, we took the beach cabin (you can also get cheaper dorm rooms). In the end, we had a great time with wonderful people from all over the world.
For us, it was a great mixture of having fun with travelers and enjoy our freedom at the beach. Among that we tried Yoga for the first time in our lives. The first Yoga lessons while the sun sinks in the Pacific Ocean on your left-hand side is something you do not forget easily.
From our perspective, the owners just need to be careful that parties do not take place too often as many travelers come here to get away from it all and to enjoy their lives to the fullest.
… Then, an eight-week trip came to an end. Some gigabyte of pictures and clips wanted to be edited and we knew that we need come back to Central America soon. But here are some further handy tips for your Nicaragua trip.
Tips for Backpacking in Nicaragua
While backpacking through Nicaragua you should be aware of the fact mentioned above. Nica a very poor country with a lot of very poor people begging on the streets. Here, it might be a wise decision not to show your camera the entire time, considering that it might be worth more than a whole family earns in a year.
How to get to Nicaragua – In a cheap way
While booking flights to Mexico, it has been clear that we also wanted to see Nica, so we booked a multi-city flight from Germany to Mexico and the return flight from Managua. These flights are on average more expensive but we have been lucky with a fare from around 700€ each. At this point we knew that we will end our Mexico trip in the Yucatan peninsula but nothing more than that.
Soon we arrived in Mexico City and checked flights from Cancun to Managua, we figured out that they are costlier than expected. After comparing prices for a couple of days (including some frustration) we then found the cheapest option. Cancun – San José – Managua for round about 220 €.
Tips: Check flights before you leave or plan more time to travel by bus. They are more expensive than you might think, even though the distance is short. The rates to fly to Nicaragua can vary greatly depending on your departure airport. In Europe, Brussels and Amsterdam are a good point to start your trip, for example.
As soon as you enter the CA-4-region (Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua) you receive a 90-day visa for these countries. That means for most citizens it’s easy to immigrate in the listed countries as long your stay does not extent 90 days. More infos in our Preparations for Backpacking in Central America article.
When to go to Nicaragua
As in other Central American countries, Nicaragua has two seasons – the dry (January until June) and rainy season. Since virtually no rain fell until April plants start to dry out and the country loses its tropical flair. So, the best time to travel would be January or February.
For a consistent waist to head high swell the best time for surfing would be end of March to September. In April, waves tend to be great and uncrowded. Before deciding on specific travel dates, research depending on which waves you are looking for.
Accommodation in Nicaragua
On our trip, we always have been pleasantly surprised with our accommodation. As we were used from Mexico already, prices are higher than in Asia but you always receive something at least reasonable – A good bang for your buck!
As a rule of thumb you can find a nice dorm for 12 USD and a private room starting from 20 USD.
Transportation in Nicaragua
Once arrived in Central America you will get told new horror stories in every hostel. Due to that reason, we have been uncertain whether busses across borders are safe. You hear a lot of horror stories. It’s perhaps a bit like talking to your grandpa. You should not believe every story. In our time, we just had good experience with busses but never crossed borders by night. This would be one thing I personally would avoid. Most likely you’ll be fine but normally you find a better and more secure way.
Inside the country chicken busses are the cheapest way to get from A to B. When hopping on a bus, your backpacks normally get tied on the roof or somewhere in the back. Here they get really dirty! I was happy that my bag was covered in a cargo bag*. Collectivos are operating as well and normally departing at the estación de autobuses.
Food in Nicaragua
Prior our trip we researched a lot on a lot of topics and we often stumbled upon travelers “disappointed” by the food. Indeed, food can be dreary as Gallo Pinto (Rice and Beans) is served with almost every dish and beside some expectations not very cheap. As mentioned above, we also enjoyed great fresh barbeque on the streets of León. So, keep your eyes open and you will find something enjoyable.
Language and Communication in Nicaragua
¿Ya sabes hablar español? In Nicaragua, some basic knowledge of Spanish will help you a lot! Especially in rural areas the English language is pretty much not existent. So, it might be really (!) helpful! As Ani speaks Spanish, for us it was easy getting around and we helped many other backpackers stuck in a conversation.
Summing things up we can say that we had a great time backpacking in Nicaragua. The country is perfectly suited for surfers and as we’ve often heard considered to be the cheap alternative to Costa Rica (as prices here are exorbitant). Since our expectation has been very high, we got a bit disappointed in our first stop but then felt extremely comfortable in San Juan del Sur. Nicaragua is a laid-back country and you will learn how to settle down and relax with a coffee in a hammock. Nica, one day we will come back!
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Maya ruins surrounded by turquoise water, incredible Tacos with avocado & limes and for me the most beautiful languages in the world: ¡Hola México!
Prior to our trip we didn’t realize how huge the country actually is. Through this, you underestimate distances and reaching the next step on your trip, easily means 10 hours bus journey. Even though we had six weeks to discover Mexico it is also possible to see the most beautiful places within two to three weeks. To make your life a bit easier the following post will describe different travel routes through Mexico, so that you can enjoy a relaxed time in this beautiful country. For how long you travel for? What is time-wise realistic and what do I better skip? These and many more questions will be answered in this Travel Route Mexico article. ¡Vamos!
Travel Route Mexico – Getting there
Flights to Mexico are not dirt cheap, especially not when you aim to see a lot from the country and you book a multi-city trip, meaning a flight that does not leave at the same airport as where you arrived. For most countries, arriving in Mexico’s tourist hotspot Cancun, is cheaper. Thus our recommendation would be to check flights to the Yucatan peninsula. While you are saving money, at least when flying in from Europe, that means that you need to go certain ways twice, as a typical round trip does not work due to the shape of the country. From Germany you can get a return flight to Cancun for around $450. From the States it will be significantly cheaper and from the UK similar to leaving from Germany.
Travel Route Mexico – Countless possibilities
So many possibilities to plan your trip but so little time? Travelling through Mexico in a smart way isn’t as easy as the country is just huge. This was for example significantly easier while backpacking in Sri Lanka as the country is just a fracture of Mexico. So what do you need to do to plan wisely?
Tip #1 – First think about what’s supposed to be the focus of your travels. Relaxing in the sun or are you eager to see as much as you can? If you just want to relax we would recommend our suggestion focussing on Quintana Roo or Yucatan, if you are in the mood for a little more action and you want to see more from the country you can also travel through Chiapas, as our routes suggests.
Tip #2 – For long distances take the night busses from ADO. Here you kill two birds with one stone. First, you do not lose time as you can sleep while traveling onwards and you save money for an accommodation for this night. Mentioning here: We slept extremely well on our trip from Oaxaca to San Cristobal de las Casas.
So, enough preparation. Here you go: Two travel routes with different distances. Do you have two or three weeks?
Arrived in Cancun we would suggest not to waste any time here. Cancun is – from our point of view – over-crowded without anything special to see. Our advice here to start and end your trip here, without wasting time here.
Cancún > Tulum
After arriving in Cancún your goal is: Get to paradise! For doing so you jump on a two hour bus journey operated by the company ADO. ADO offers bus tickets throughout Mexico at an affordable price. Here you can choose between standard and premium busses depending on the length of the journey and comfort. Important to note here: ADO busses are extremely comfortable and by far better than any travel bus we know from Germany. Depending on when you arrive in Cancun, we would suggest to stay one night in Cancun and have a shower and a good portion of sleep – as mentioned, depending on how tired you are. After that you hop on the bus in the direction of Tulum.
On the second day you already arrived in paradise. Tulum gets increasingly more touristy but no surprise: In Tulum you have incredible Tacos directly on the beach with a great vibe. Now: Settle down, relax and feel the powdery sand between your toes and jump into the turquoise, lukewarm, caribbean water. Tulums spreads holiday flair that makes you want to spend the third day here as well. So just do! While you can drive around with the bicycle, visit cenotes or just enjoy the easy and relaxed vibe before you leave to the more exhausting part of the journey. We stayed in an AirBnB and met great people and had a great time, friends stayed in Secret Gardens and loved it as well.
Tulum > Cancún > Tuxtla > San Cristobal de las Casas
On day five you would drive back to Cancun to take the plane to Tuxtla, in the state of Chiapas. As the way takes more than 16 hours by bus it makes sense to fly. Especially if the flight tickets are round about $50. The low-budget airline Volaris flies you in 1.5 hours across the country to the state of Chiapas. After arriving in Tuxtla, you jump on the next bus to the beautiful city San Cristobal de las Casas, which takes one hour. San Cristobal is a city in mid of mountains, colorful and picturesque. For us, the most beautiful city of Mexico with colorful cobblestone streets and a lot of charm. Here you can spend day six and seven. In one of the days, we would recommend to take part in the “Free San Cristobal Walking Tour”. Part of the trip around the city is getting to know the famous Real de Guadelupe and other beautiful places and hidden gems of the city. In San Cristobal you can also visit ancient tribes and explore their way of life. This can be done by car, with bikes or even while hiking through the mountains. We needed to leave earlier but you should consider :)
San Cristobal de las Casas > Palenque
Day eight and nine are the two most exhausting days of the tour: The drive to Palenque and the onwards journey back to Cancun. The best way here would be to choose a bus in the early morning, which brings you in a 8-9 hour trip to Palenque and the most fascinating stop of the tour. Arriving in Palenque at night, you will have the next day to get beguiled by the Maya state that flourished in the 9th century in mid of the jungle. The ruins are known as a UNESCO world heritage since 1987 and since then tourists get deeply impressed by them. Due to its location and the prevailing mood a very mystical feeling and definitely a must do: Palenque!
Palenque > Cancún
Impressed by the Maya architectures you will hop on the bus back to Cancun. As the ADO busses are almost as comfortable as a dorm bed, we would recommend to take a night bus. This is a 12 hours bus journey but most likely you will be sleeping many kilometres and now you are reaching the end of the trip and the relaxing days at the same time. Quintana Roo calling.
Cancún > Isla Holbox / Bacalar
On day ten you will have arrived in Cancun in the early morning. Now you need to make the decision whether you want to go to the small island Isla Holbox in the north of the peninsula or in the relaxed village of Bacalar in the south. We personally have spent four days on Isla Holbox and liked it a lot but have also heard a lot of positive things about Bacalar. If you decide for Isla Holbox, take the bus from Cancun to Chiquila, then change to the ferry, which brings you to the island in about 30 minutes.
When you decide for Bacalar you need to go on a five hour bus ride in the direction of Belize. However, in both stops you can spend three days before the trip comes – with a caribbean flair – to an end.
Travel Route Mexico #1: In a nutshell
Cancún, Quintana Roo.
Tulum incl. day trip to a cenote, Quintana Roo.
Flight to Tuxtla, Chiapas. Onward journey to San Cristobal de las Casas
San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas.
Onward journey to Palenque, Chiapas.
Palenque, Chiapas. Night bus to Cancún, Quintana Roo.
Cancún, Quintana Roo. Onward journey to Isla Holbox or Bacalar, Quintana Roo.
Our recommendation for a three week trip through Mexico builds on the two-week trip. To get the most out of the three weeks we added some stops and planned more time per stop for a more relaxed travel.
Cancún > Tulum
After you arrived in Cancun the first stop would be – as in the two week trip – Tulum. Caribbean beach and a couple of very relaxed hours expect you on the second and third day.
Tip: Don’t skip “Taqueria La Eufemia”! Just wow!
Tulum > Valladolid (Chichen Itza)
Now you jump on a bus to Valladolid where you will roughly spend two days. Half a day to settle and explore the nice colonial city, the second day to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Chichen Itza. On an area of 6.5-square-km you will find impressive Maya ruins and is after the Pyramids of Teotihuacán the second most visited site of Mexico. When you got inspired for a half day, you can take the bus to Cancun in the late afternoon.
Here you would spend a night (to the seventh day) and then take a plane in the next morning to Tuxtla. After 1.5 hours flight with the Mexican low-budget airline Volaris you will arrive here. Now you need to decide! Either going to the pacific coast in the state of Oaxaca, which is well known for surfing. Or you never stood on a board and you prefer the calm caribbean water? Then you might head from Tuxtla to the city of Oaxaca.
If you got infected by the surf virus and or you want to try surfing, Mexico’s pacific coast will be the perfect fit for you. Here you will find world-class spots such as Barra de la Cruz, Puerto Angel, several spots around Mazunte and our favorite Puerto Escondido. Each of them nearly ten hours bus ride from Tuxtla but more than worth visiting!
If you are not into surfing, Mexico’s pacific coast might not be as attractive for you as it has been for us. Non-surfers can have a great time here as well but you might prefer to spend your valuable time in the colonial city Oaxaca. From Tuxtla you can reach Oaxaca by night bus.
Depending on your interest you can spend either three days at the pacific coast in Oaxaca state or in the city of Oaxaca itself. Three days are definitely the minimum!
Tip: Oaxaca is famous for its Mezcal. Book a tour and explore how it is made.
Pacific Coast Oaxaca / Oaxaca City > San Cristobal de las Casas
On day 11 our travel route suggests to go to San Crisitobal de las Casas. A charming city surrounded by mountains and for us one of the highlights. It’s hip, has very pretty areas and a highly interesting history. You will definitely not get bored in two days.
San Cristobal de las Casas > Palenque > Cancún
Day 13 you would hop on one of those comfy busses again with the destination of the mystical mayan ruins of Palenque (approximately 9 hour drive). In the next morning you will arrive well-rested in the archaeological site. Afterwards, we would recommend to jump on the last night bus with the direction of Cancun. The trip from Palenque is roughly 12 hours but the place is magical!
Cancún > Isla Holbox / Bacalar
Now that you travelled a lot from A to B we would suggest to enjoy the last days in the sun at the beach, with Tacos and other delicious treats. At this point of your trip you can decide! Either to the little, car-less island in the north, Isla Holbox or Bacalar, close to Belize. Of course you could also do both but that’s entirely up to you. Relax and enjoy!
At the 21st day and unfortunately already the last day you need to take a bus back to Cancun. Depending on the time of our flight it might makes sense to arrive already a night before. This is officially your last bus trip through Mexico and now you need to head towards your country of origin. ¡Hasta pronto México!
Travel Route Mexico #2: In a nutshell
Cancún, Quintana Roo.
Tulum incl. day trip to a cenote, Quintana Roo.
Valladolid incl. day trip to Chichen Itza, Quintana Roo.
Flight to Tuxtla, Chiapas. Onward journey to the Pacific coast of Oaxaca or to Oaxaca City
Pacific coast of Oaxaca / Oaxaca City
San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas.
Onward journey to Palenque, Chiapas.
Palenque, Chiapas. Night bus to Cancún, Quintana Roo.
Cancún, Quintana Roo. Onward journey to Isla Holbox or Bacalar, Quintana Roo.
Isla Holbox / Bacalar, Quintana Roo.
Return to Cancún, Quintana Roo. Flight back home.
Especially as Mexico is such a big country there’s so much to see. Many destinations that are worth visiting and often the best and most of all cheapest way is by bus. What we had to recall quite often while travelling for six weeks through Mexico. It is better to skip a stop and potentially miss out on something than to stress yourself. For example we have been so impressed by Puerto Escondido that we spent more than a week. The tradeoff was to skip Palenque, which hurts at the same time but at some point you need to decide. We’ve never regret it and would do the same again. So before leaving to Mexico think about stops you definitely want to see and determine whether the stops and kilometres are realistic and most of all not stressful to reach. The goal of travelling is being happy, have time to explore and be on the road – always at your own pace.
So, if you are about to step on Mexican soil soon, take a few minutes and have a look at our in-depth article on “Backpacking in Mexico”. Here you will find many more information on the beautiful country on the American continent.
Backpacking in México - together with wavesnbackpack - YouTube
We hope that we were able to shed some light in the dark and you enjoyed reading. Now, get excited about your trip! You have questions or you would like us to add a stop? Just leave a comment!