We all know Cancun, Miami and Cabo are great for spring break. There is nothing wrong with enjoying the company of drunken college chicks and cheap tequila on the beach. But this year, we urge you to dig a little deeper. An entire world of similarly (likely more) satisfying experiences lie ahead and the best time to begin exploring them is now. From the best beaches, most picturesque scenery to the best drinks, food and art, OTP has you covered. Based on our network of backpacking buddies who have traveled the world throughout 2009, here is our list of the Top 10 Backpacking Destinations for 2010:
Travel guides have advised their readers to go to Thailand for years because it's a cheap travel destination. Subsequently, swarms of backpackers, then tourists, congested the shit out of Bangkok. For this reason, we say forget Thailand and go to Cambodia before it gets tourist trapped. Although getting to Cambodia will cost you some cash (about $1000), once you're in, you will feel like a millionaire. Since bargaining is common practice in most of Southeast Asia, it is said that you should aim for getting whatever you want for half of what people initially offer. Just to give you an idea: a pack of cigarettes is 20 to 25 cents. Breakfast: about $1. Hostels run $5 per day (if you get ritzy, a nice hotel is $15-$30 per day). The most expensive thing you should encounter is the entrance fee to the Angkor Temples (about $20 per day). These ancient ruins are not to be missed and will be worth spending a few dollars on.
Nightlife: Reykjavik, Iceland
With Ibiza dying out, Tokyo becoming increasingly expensive and Amsterdam (well it's still a party if you don't turn into a lazy stoner during your visit) we turn to Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, for insane nightlife. The nights are longer here which means the parties last and last. The girls and guys are hot, the temperature is cold, so dancing, drinking and debauchery are all accepted forms of keeping warm. Plan a trip for new years to get the best of the Icelandic party experience (fireworks and all). This is what Quentin Tarantino had to say about partying in Iceland. Hey if it's good enough for him, it's good enough for us.
Beaches: The San Blas Islands, Panama
The world is over 70% water, that water is usually connected to land by beach. With so many beaches to choose from, how does one place stand out from the rest? The perfect beach must have all of the following: soft clean sand, clear water, a fair amount of nakedness, natural surrounding beauty and as few tourists as possible. Very few destinations can offer the seclusion from tourists necessary to have a perfect beachgoing experience. We think the San Blas Islands near the coast of Panama come the closest. San Blas, inhabited by the Kuna Indians, offers that little bit of seclusion that tourism has yet to ruin. Women dress in handmade molas (beautifully colored fabrics), everyone has a natural sun glow tan and fresh fish is caught daily by locals in handmade kayak boats. Get your beach skimpies on and head out to Cartegena, Colombia where you can catch a boat for $300 to the San Blas Islands. The fee includes a 5 day, all-inclusive stay in beach paradise. Can't argue with that.
Though not a very off-track destination, Italy has so much to offer historically. Rome is home to the Vatican, Pantheon and Coliseum; Florence to the statue of David and then there's that leaning tower in Pisa. Genoa is the proud home of Christopher Columbus and the roots of pizza lie in Naples. From Sicily to Milan, ancient Roman ruins are sprawled out in this land of history for you to see. Every corner of Italy will have your camera in overdrive. So read up on Italian historical events and head out to explore the land your history books only vaguely succeeded in describing.
Best Art Scene: Barcelona, Spain
Italy has the best classical art scene. But when the same naked figures, realistic religious scenes and landscapes get boring, drop Italy and cruise over to Barcelona to refresh your artistic eye. Two greats, Salvador Dali and Antonio Gaudi , rule Barcelona's art culture. Both are pioneers of surrealism in painting (Dali) and architecture (Gaudi) and their art kicks ass. More than being visually orgasmic (Dali Painting, Gaudi's La Sagrada Familia), surrealism opened the door to a whole new world of art that Barcelona continues to redefine; a world where former rules of fine art are bent and distorted. Although some stuffy, snotty, overpriced art galleries do exist here, it's easy to find your art fix on the streets of Barcelona. Gaudi's trippy buildings are scattered throughout the city and the museum of Dali is only a 40 minute scenic train ride north to Figueras. If these guys don't tickle you pickle, Barcelona is also packed with more thought-provoking graffiti than you can imagine, inspiring street performers and tons of off-beat artistic expressions (this cat statue for example).
Most Remote: LAMU
In our world of been there, done that, very few places can still be considered "remote". Most regions in the world have been taken over by luxury hotels and tourist traps. It's hard to set foot on land that is truly remote. On that note, OTP brings you Lamu. Off the coast of Kenya, the Lamu archipelago is the oldest inhabited settlement south of the Sahara, its inhabitants are still largely Muslim and here, deserted beaches are still a reality. Whereas most places in the world are locally navigable by train, car, bus or at least moped, Lamu's locals get around on donkeys ONLY (now that's some serious remoteness).
Adventurous: The Himalayas (Tibet/Bhutan/Nepal)
Although these areas are quite difficult to get into (as the Chinese government expressly limits tourism here for tense political reasons, see our Volunteer Tibet Article for more info), once you're in, the Himalayas will quench your thirst for adventure. Hiking these peaks isn't for pussies. The elevation gets painfully high and the trek becomes difficult but if you can grow a pair, this destination offers the adventure of a lifetime. Hikes through the Himalayas are laced with spiritual hilltop villages, Buddhist temples and monasteries (where you can actually stay with monks and experience their peaceful way of life). A hike through the Himalayas not only awakens your physical sense of adventure but also connects you to a spiritual world unlike any other.
Nature Filled: BOLIVIA
Everyone was exposed to the natural beauty of New Zealand following the release of Lord of the Rings. Yes, it is very green, lush and mind-blowing. But in the same vein, it's also incredibly expensive to get to ($1400-$1800). Instead, feast your eyes on Bolivia. With no compromises in the natural beauty department (c'mon it's in the Amazon), and a huge price cut ($800 roundtrip), Bolivia offers backpackers some amazing nature-related perks. This place has salt flats, sand dunes, zip lines, exotic animals and plants, incredible rolling green hills and enough ancient ruins to overload your senses into oblivion. Go get your Amazon on (bring bug spray).
Hottest Locals: BRAZIL
With so many beautiful people in the world, how do we pick just one place as the home of all that's hot? Easy: Nakedness that's how. Home of the Brazilian wax (necessary if all you're wearing is body paint), Brazil offers up some incredibly sexy locals. Although the nakedness is at full force during Carnival (February) when Rio is torn apart by women wearing nothing but body paint and feathers, the best time to see the local hotties is in June during the Boi Bumba Festival. Fear not, the same nakedness is in store but minus the insane crowds that Carnival attracts. This annual festival takes place in Parintins (a small river community in northern Brazil) and is based on a legend about killing a bull and eating his tongue. Dancers are designated as various characters in the festival, each wearing very little and shaking their endowments all over the place. Here are some photos for visual convincing.
Our best overall spot goes to a destination that embodies all the qualities of our top 2010 list and, to spice it up, adds a little danger into the mix. A long-time "no go" zone for Americans, Colombia is 2010's hottest backpacking destination. It's cheap as hell (2,500 pesos, or $0.75 for a beer), has beautiful locals (Shakira, case closed), incredible artists (Botero: the fat man that does fatty art) and remote beaches (how does sleeping in a hammock hostel sound for $2 a night?). The danger element comes from rumors of American kidnappings and drug wars, although Colombia has become much safer in recent years. In larger cities like Bogota and Medellin (home of Pablo Escobar), solo backpackers are advised to stay in at night on weekdays, places like Cartegena and Santa Marta are safe at nightfall. Besides, a little danger always makes for a good time in paradise.
Whether its nature, art, history, hotties or beaches you seek, the above spots will satisfy whatever your craving may be in 2010. Don't be afraid to get a little off track this year; drunken Cancun will still be around in 2011.