Planet Hiker

5 Best Countries For Backpacking

Perhaps the point of traveling is to see it all and get an idea what this world is all about. We own to ourselves to witness both good and bad, the beautiful and the ugly, the happy and the sad of this world. For the moment, however, let me indulge in only the best and list top 5 of my favorite backpacking destinations. These are countries that have so much character, so much beauty and so many amazing things to see and do, that you are bound to have "life highlight" type of experience.

1. Bolivia

There aren't that many places left in the world where you can still find true adventure. Most countries are too civilized and too ready for tourism and there is no such thing as being "off the beaten path". But Bolivia is an exception. Bolivia is a county with wild swings of terrain as well as political climate. While the politics may effect you at most in so far as having the airport blocked to bus traffic, the terrain will treat you from breath-taking (literally - elevation of La Paz is 3640 meters) tall mountains to jungle swamps full of crocodiles, boa constrictors, capybaras, freshwater dolphins, and a lot more. If you want guided tours - they do have them. But the best part are the excursions that you have to negotiate on your own - talk to the locals guides, try to find maps, arrange your own transport - awesome adventure!

2. Indonesia

This has got to be the friendliest place on earth - Indonesians are the most polite and friendly people that I have ever met. In fact, in Indonesian culture being polite is more important than being right. So when you are haggling over prices, keep that in mind and smile as they will surely smile back at you. And yes, the country has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, unparalleled scuba-diving, and we all know that it's surf is hands down the best in the world. Another amazing aspect of Indonesia is that each of it's islands has very distinct cultures. Since back in the day it was difficult to go from one island to the next (all of Indonesia is islands), each island culture grew more or less isolated from one another, which resulted in a blossom of hundreds of languages, thousands of distinct culinary dishes, and even more varied songs and dances. Thus, visiting Indonesia really means visiting a whole set of different countries at once.

3. Brazil

You will have fun here =) This is a country full of people who enjoy life, no matter the circumstances. The general attitude towards anything is "tranquilo" - as in, "take it easy". Even though majority of the population is poor, people here feel happy and make a point to enjoy themselves. Dancing continues here 24 hours per day, whether it's on the beach or in a club, no matter the hour of the day or night. While there are many countries that can compete with Brazil on the grounds of having the most beautiful beaches, there is no country with more beautiful women (same may be true for men, but I'll leave that up to women travelers to claim). I realize that some particularly nationalistic personalities out there will disagree and may even be offended by my statements, but it’s true. Note also that women have their looks due to their natural beauty, as opposed to relying on makeup and cosmetics.

4. Guatemala

Central America in general is ideal for backpacking – everything is within reach of a short bus ride. But Guatemala in particular is potently inundated with ancient Mayan ruins, pristine national parks and colorful weekend markets. Just to give an example of each – check out Tikal for its unequal cluster or ancient temples; visit the stalactite full bat caves of Semuc Champaigne and bathe in the nearby cascading waterfalls; sift through handcrafts of one of the biggest bazaars in the village of Chichicastenango while peaking at colorfully dressed merchants.

5. Peru

While Peru’s Machu Picchu is a jewel and a “must see” in any South American itinerary, there are plenty of other attractions to keep you wandering around the country for weeks (or months and years, depending on your travel style). For example, Cordilera Blanka has 22 peaks reaching over 6000m of altitude, providing enough mountaineering challenges to any climber, no matter how seasoned. If the mountaineering is not one of your fortes, try sand-boarding! World’s tallest dunes are waiting for your carving – bring your own board or rent one from the local kids. Prefer a more laid back approach? Try spotting giant condors as they play in the thermals. Or tour around Cousco and visit ancient stone work that puts modern architects into awe.