Backpacking Route for Mexico

latin america routes


Mexico Backpacking Route

Our backpacking route for Mexico takes in the best the South of the country has to offer. If you follow it, you’ll travel from the tranquil seas of the Caribbean to the giant waves of the Pacific via a host of a ancient Maya cities, jungle ruins and pleasant mountain towns. The route then cuts through Mexico’s cultural heartland before ending up in the enormous capital city, one of the largest and liveliest on the planet.


TIME NEEDED – 5 weeks

If you’re not that fussed with beaches or not that interested in the Maya ruins, you could probably do this route in a month or less by spending less than the suggested amount of time at some of the destinations. Overall though about 5 weeks would be a suitable time-span.


POSSIBLE BUDGET – £1000 | €1100 | US$1250 | 23,000 Mexican Pesos

Mexico is really good value on the whole and if you’re heading here from the States, immediately you will appreciate how much more you can get for your money. However heading North from Central America, it may seem slightly more expensive.

This budget doesn’t include the cost of getting to/from Mexico or any other pre-trip expenses. It is based on July 2017 prices and exchange rates. Read our more detailed Backpacking Budget for Mexico, which includes typical travel costs.


VISA REQUIREMENTS FOR MEXICO

Mexico is pretty chilled when it comes to entry requirements. There’s no long questioning or waits at the border like you often get trying to enter the United States. Visitors from EU countries, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and most Latin American countries can get a generous 180 days visa-free. You can use our visa-check tool to confirm whether or not you need a visa.


TRAVEL INSURANCE

Travel insurance is always advisable, not just because of Mexico’s perceived dangers. We recommend World Nomads, who specialise in covering backpacking trips.


Backpacking route for Mexico

Our Mexico travel itinerary is convenient in that it starts in Cancun and ends in Mexico City, which are home to the two busiest airports in the country and the ones with by far the greatest options in terms of international flights. One of the problems with travel in Mexico is that domestic flights can be quite pricey so if you just head off with no real plan, it’s quite possible you’ll end up somewhere quite isolated. That could leave you having to fork out a considerable amount just to fly somewhere with an international airport or alternatively having to backtrack on a long bus journey.

Mexico is deceptively big and to put that into some perspective, a direct flight from Cancun in the South-east to Tijuana in the North-West on the US border takes around 5 hours. Therefore unless you have months to spare, it’s best to base your trip around one or two parts of the country rather than attempting to go everywhere. The Mexico backpacker trail primarily focuses on the South of the country, which is home to most of the more popular travel destinations and is generally considered to be safer than the North.

This route summarises a typical path travellers in the country take and you could easily just do it in reverse and there may be something to be said for ending your trip with some relaxed days on Mexico’s Caribbean coastline.


Cancun

(1 day)

If you’ve had a long flight in then you may wish to book a hotel for a night in Cancun to get some rest but there are nicer places further South, that are generally much more to the liking of backpackers and budget travellers.


Playa del Carmen

(3-4 days)

Playa del Carmen is a fun place to hang out for a few days. Yes it’s touristy but it’s nowhere near as trashy or expensive as Cancun and there are many hostels catering to backpackers. The beaches are great and the nightlife is pumping with many bars and clubs offering excellent drinks deals. The nearby island of Cozumel is also a nice option if you want some additional beach time.


Tulum

Caribbean beach Mexico

image via Pascal under CC BY 2.0

(2-3 days)

There are two main reasons why travellers head to Tulum. The first is its gorgeous beach, which is among the best on the Riviera Maya and that is saying something. It is also home to the well preserved ruins of an ancient Mayan city so you can get a dose of culture and history too before cooling off in the crystal blue waters of the Caribbean Sea. At night, it’s nowhere near as lively as Playa del Carmen and is a much quieter destination overall, with yoga retreats recently cropping up on its cliffs.


Chichen Itza

(1/2 a day)

One of Mexico’s most famous sites. Chichen Itza is a complex of Mayan ruins, with the enormous pyramid known as El Castillo, its centrepiece. There are limited budget accommodation options nearby so it’s probably best to just stop here for an afternoon to break up the journey between Tulum and Merida.


Merida

(2-4 days)

The state capital of Yucatán, Merida is one of the biggest cities on this route, but by no means overwhelming with around 750,000 residents. It’s a fascinating cultural destination, founded by the Spanish in the 16th Century. Merida is a city of plazas, palaces, cathedrals and museums. While it may only take a couple of days to discover the city, there’s plenty to see and do around the town with nearby Maya ruins, a wildlife refuge and the famous cenotes.


MFT RECOMMENDS – Hostal La Ermita, Merida

This is a great hostel which ticks pretty much all the boxes. The staff are friendly, the price is reasonable, breakfast is included and there’s a nice pool and patio area to chill in.


Campeche

(1-2 days)

In some respects, Campeche is not dissimilar to Merida. It’s a bit smaller but is another city with Spanish origins and its colonial old town has been declared a UNESCO world heritage site. The nearest maya ruins are at Edzna, a relatively small site around an hour away.


Palenque

budget travel in Mexico

(1-2 days)

Palenque is a large site that was once home to an ancient Maya city. Its ruins are some of the best preserved in the whole region, largely thanks to the jungle which offers natural shelter. It could take the whole day to explore the site but there’s little to do in the nearby modern-day town itself. You can either stay there or find somewhere on the edge of the national park near the Maya site.


San Cristobal de las Casas

(2 days)

Arguably the prettiest town on the route, San Cristobal de las Casas is full of colourful buildings and cobblestone streets. Its highland location offers a pleasant break from the heat and it can get quite chilly at night. Just strolling around the town is enjoyable enough and if you fancy a longer stay there are volunteering opportunities as well as host of reasonably priced Spanish language schools.


Zipolite & Mazunte

backpackers in Mexico

(3-4 days)

Zipolite and Mazunte are two beach villages on Mexico’s rugged Oaxaca Coast. It takes only about 10 minutes and costs only a few pesos to travel from one to the other in a colectivo so you can choose to base yourself in one and visit the other or spend a couple of days in each.

Zipolite is the livelier of the two although that’s only a relative concept. Both places are very small and although there’s only a limited amount of things to do, it’s about the only place in Mexico where you can still find a cheap bungalow/hut on the beach and fall asleep accompanied by the sounds of Pacific Ocean waves crashing into the shore. Zipolite is also Mexico’s only beach where you can go nude, while Mazunte has a growing reputation for impromptu live music. Like many destinations on this route, the ease of getting marijuana is an appeal to some travellers.


Puerto Escondido

(2-3 days)

A bit further up the coast, you reach the much larger Puerto Escondido, which is popular with both domestic and international travellers. It’s a big surfing destination with some seriously large waves, which make swimming virtually impossible. There’s also a turtle conservation programme and you can assist every day at 5pm when baby turtles are released into the sea.


Oaxaxa

(2-3 days)

The city of Oaxaca is the capital of the state of the same name but it’s slow ride up from Puerto Escondido, which can take as long as 8 hours by road. It’s the state’s main cultural centre with a couple of interesting museums and a walkable city-centre. Nearby Monte Alban is another UNESCO world heritage site and one of the most impressive ruins sites in Latin America. Every Thursday and Saturday, trips run to the nearby village of Teotitlán del Valle by the non-profit Fundacion en Via and it’s a good opportunity to meet locals and make a positive contribution to fighting poverty in the region, whilst also having an interesting experience.


Huautla de Jimenez

(1-3 days)

One of the most curious destinations on the route. Huautla de Jimenez is a remote mountain town that was popular with the hippies in the 1960’s and the extremely strong psilocybe mushrooms that grow here during the wet season still attract some foreigners. Shamanic rituals still take place during this period but visitors also come to explore the stunning mountain range that surrounds the town and it’s a funky little place to hang around for a while.


Puebla

(2-3 days)

Many travellers visit Pubela as a day-trip from the capital but given it’s en-route, it’s well worth stopping off here for a few nights to catch your breath before heading to Mexico City. Puebla is a city of around 1.5million people so it’s a pretty big place with lots of beautiful buildings and interesting landmarks, not to mention lots of tasty and cheap street-food. It’s surrounded by snow-capped mountains and volcanoes so it’s also well worth heading out of town and exploring the natural surroundings for a final dose of fresh air before the smog of the capital.


Mexico City & Around

Mexico City on a budget

(3-5 days)

Mexico City is enormous! First-time visitors often find visiting an overwhelming experience and it’s not easy to know where to base yourself or where to begin. Like any large city it has its hassles but the tourist areas are not considered dangerous and there is a heavy police presence in the old city. The giant Zócalo, the city’s main plaza and one of the largest squares in the world is a good starting point and there are many interesting museums and cultural sites nearby that document various periods of Mexican history. For a more modern-day experience take in a football match at the giant Estadio Azteca or get to grips with the entertaining world of lucha libre, a Mexican form of professional wrestling (live shows take place every Friday at 20:30).

There are also a number of day-trips that can be done from Mexico City. A visit to the vast archaeological site at Teotihuacan, Northeast of the city is one of the most popular. Nature and adventure sports lovers would be wise to check out Valle de Bravo and/or the Desert of the Lions National Park. Meanwhile new-age Tepoztlan is reportedly a UFO hotspot with a large number of the town’s residents having reported seeing one!


MFT RECOMMENDS – Mexico City Hostel

Location is key when booking a hostel in Mexico City and it doesn’t get much better than this. It’s in the heart of the old city and although there are no fancy extras, it does the basics well for a good price.



Extending your trip

This Mexico backpacking route only covers the bottom third of the country, where a lot of the travel highlights are located. It could be considered loosely speaking the most typical backpacker trail in Mexico although it’s not rigidly followed by everyone by any means. Perhaps more common these days is for backpackers to head South to Guatemala rather than North. You can easily combine some of this with our backpacking route for Central America, which does just that and carries on all the way down to Panama.

If you want to see more of Mexico then there’s plenty more cool places to go but the best destinations are quite spread out so be prepared for some more long bus journeys or consider forking out for a flight or two. Highlights further North include Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende, which are reasonably easy to get to from Mexico City and could quite easily be added onto this route although you’ll most likely have to backtrack to the capital for an onward flight.

Baja California is another popular coastal region, great for surfing and you can even head all the way North to the US-Mexico border and continue your adventure in California. Alternatively you can take Mexico’s most famous train ride and head to the stunning and very remote Copper Canyon, which feels a world away from the tourist resorts of the city or the madness of Mexico City.

Cartagena in Colombia, where our South America backpacking route starts, isn’t a million miles away either so if you’ve got the time, you could certainly do plenty more travelling in the region.


Budget Accommodation in Mexico

Getting budget accommodation in Mexico is pretty straight-forward unless you’re travelling in peak tourist season (exact time varies from place to place) or during a national holiday. In most towns on this route, you can just show up and find a room or bed, with prices negotiable in a lot of cases, especially during low season. In the bigger towns it’s probably still advisable to book something in advance as the hostels and main backpacker options are often spread out across town.


Is Mexico Dangerous?

Mexico gets a lot of bad press and certainly is perceived as a dangerous country by many. However don’t believe everything you read on the internet or hear from a certain president. If you’re sensible and avoid a handful of places, mostly in the North, well away from the stops on this route, you should have no trouble. Rates of violent crime are high but this is massively skewed by drug-related violence and rarely effects visitors.

 


This article was published in July 2017.


How to Bargain in Vietnam

How to Bargain in Vietnam

getting a lower price in Vietnam

A guest post by Jim from Asia Marvels

Many travellers in Vietnam are so afraid of paying more than they should that they forget to enjoy their trip. Here is some insight into bargaining in Vietnam to make your time here easier.

The first thing you should know about bargaining in Vietnam is that it is considered perfectly acceptable and even expected to argue with a merchant about the price of their goods or services in this country. To most westerners, it can be annoying, time-consuming and feel like getting ripped off. However, this habit has been around for so long it has become part of the Vietnamese culture, so I suggest that instead of holding on to all the negative feelings, why not loosen up a little bit (you are on a trip anyway) and learn how to bargain like a local.

Below are 7 things you must know about bargaining so you can enjoy your Vietnam trip thoroughly.


1. Know when to Bargain

bargaining in Vietnam

Even in Vietnam, not every price is negotiable. You sure wouldn’t want to make a fool out of yourself trying to talk your waiter into giving you a better price at a restaurant. My advice is that if something has a price tag on it, the cost is non-negotiable. This includes restaurants, where prices are usually listed on menus or signs, cabs with taxi meters etc.

Don’t take “always bargain” too seriously, it once took me and 2 waitresses half an hour to convince an American guy that it was not too much to pay 20,000 VND – just less than a dollar for two Bia hoi (Vietnamese draught beer).


2. Take it easy

Westerners often feel cheated and embarrassed when they find out that they have paid too much. But let me get this straight: At first, you’re going to pay too much. There’s no way around it. And even after you’ve been here for a while, you’re probably still going to pay more than locals, more often than not.

But in the end, this isn’t a battle to get the right price so just relax if you later find out that you have paid a few more bucks than you should have.


3. Learn some Vietnamese

Knowing the local language will help you A LOT with haggling with the local merchant. It shows that you probably have stayed here for a while and know how much something should cost. Of course you don’t have to master the language to be able to get a cheaper beer in Vietnam, here are some super useful phrases you can use:

– Bao nhiêu? (bao new) – How much?

– Đắt quá! (dat wa!) – Too expensive!!

Bớt đi (Bot dy) – Reduce the price

– Không (khom) – No

– Dạ (ya) – Yes

– Được (duoc) – Ok (or you can just say ok, most Vietnamese will understand)

After you show off your masterful Vietnamese skills, these shop owners would be likely to give you a much more reasonable price, and it’s kind of cool too.


4. Do some research

How to bargain in Vietnam

If you are looking for something specific, ask a local what the going rate is before you head to the market. It helps to go into the negotiations with an idea of what you’re supposed to pay. Start haggling by quoting a price that is about 10-20% lower than what you think you should be paying. Work your way up from there.

One more way to find out what is a good price for something in Vietnam is browsing around before starting to bargain. In most markets in Vietnam, there are several stalls selling exactly the same products as the other one. When you find something you like, check out all the other stalls in the market and choose the one with the lowest price. The “I love Ha Noi” T-shirt you like might be 10,000VND cheaper in the stall next door.


5. Act like you don’t want it

The last trick, and most successful strategy, is to act like you are not that interested in what they are selling. The less you want it, the better you can bargain.

No matter how much you want the item, try to act as nonchalantly as you can. If it still doesn’t work, pretend to lose interest and walk away, your vendor is likely to lower the price for you. Be careful though cause this trick can backfire sometimes; if you really want that item and can’t find it in any other shops in the area, you might have to come back with your tail between your legs and pay the price they offer.


6. Know when to quit

Sometimes you’ve just got to accept the price, even though you know that it’s more than what a local has to pay for it. If you’ve haggled, thrown in some sneaky Vietnamese and even walked away like you don’t want it anyway and the price still stays the same. Don’t be angry, go to another shop and try again or just accept that this is how things work around here. And if you still feel uncomfortable, think of how much you had to pay for a Frappuccino or a beer back home. Again, this is not a battle and there is no win or lose.


 7. Practice

Travel tips for Vietnam

Bargaining is a skill and like any other skill, practice makes perfect. Each time you bargain for something, there is a chance to hone your skills, learn from what happened and one day you might be able to buy some things you like for half the price they offer. This skill is also useful in many other Asian countries like Thailand, China, Malaysia and India.

 

That’s all guys, hope that this will help you have a wonderful time in Vietnam.


Author Bio

Asia travel

Hi there, I’m Jim – writer at Asiamarvels.com. I love travelling around Asia and share my stories & guidelines with readers. I’m sure there are so many things the world hasn’t discovered about this mysterious land and you’re eager to know more about it, right?

Alright!!!! let me help you. More guidelines, food tours, tricks and tips for your amazing trip to Asia can be found at Asiamarvels.com.

 


This article was published in May 2017.


5 Unusual Things to Do on a Budget in Santorini

5 Unusual Things to Do on a Budget in Santorini

Santorini is a Greek island that has long been associated with honeymooning couples, but over the last few years it has become more and more popular with backpackers and explorers who are visiting the island to experience the multicoloured cliffs and natural phenomena created by the local volcanoes. Sound intriguing? Here are just 5 of the best things to experience in Santorini, especially for those on a budget:


1: Cliff Jumping at Amoudi Bay

Cliff jumping in Santorini

Amoudi Bay, with its crystal clear Mediterranean waters and protected by a surrounding cliff tops, is perfect for any cliff jumping thrill-seeker. Situated in Oia, Amoudi Bay might be hard to find, but persistence more than pays off, as once you find the route, the steps will take you up to a boulder from which you can safely jump off into the sea. Keep in mind to bring sensible footwear though, as the route isn’t the easiest and there are plenty of sharp rocks on the way up. Oia itself is full of traditional Greek restaurants where you can grab a bite to eat after your cliff diving adventure, and the church near the Amoudi Bay trail is a favourite amongst tourists for watching the sunset in the evening.


2: Hiking the Fira Trail

Santorini budget travel guide

There is nothing cheaper or more satisfying than a walk exploring the great outdoors, and where better to do it than one of the most beautiful places in the world? The Santorini Fira trail is 10km and will take around 3-4 hours to complete. Starting in Fira, which is the island’s capital, you’ll pass tourist attractions such as the Orthodox Metropolitan Church, the Fira main shopping area and the Catholic Cathedral. As you continue on you’ll pass by the Aegean Sea and see its famous volcano before heading into the village of Firostefani. From here you’ll pass the Monastery of Saint Nicholas and into the village of Imerovigli before hiking up the famous Skaros Rock. The trail then heads further north as you travel by the Church of Prophet Elias and the Church of Agios Antonios, where you will see the beautiful Thirassia island before continuing the trail to the picturesque Oia where the trail comes to an end.


3: Sunbathe on Black Sand Beach

Black Beach in Santorini

Perivolos Beach is lined with black volcanic pebbles and clear blue waters that make for a stunning sight when we are usually so accustomed to golden sand. Generally quiet, the beach is a car or bus drive from Perissa and is close to an array of local pubs and restaurants. Perfect for a day of relaxing and working on your tan! Beware that the black pebbles become very hot in the midday sun so be sure to have appropriate shoes to protect your feet.


4: Visit a Volcano

Volcano in Santorini

Santorini itself has been created and shaped by its many volcanic eruptions over the years. A short boat trip will take you to the caldera at the centre of the basin of Santorini where you will find two small islands made of black lava. Here the hot springs are incredibly popular with tourists who believe the sulphuric laden yellow hot springs have healing properties. A short walk will bring you to the active, smoking craters of Nea Kameni and Palea Kameni.


5: Stay in a Traditional Cave House

Santorini accommodation

It’s not just your activities that should be unusual on your trip to Santorini, your accommodation should be unusual too. In Santorini, one of the quirkiest, and most traditional, places you can stay is in a cave house which has been carved into the Santorini cliffs.

 


This article was published in May 2017.


Barcelona on a Budget

Barcelona Travel Guide

Barcelona on the cheap


Arriving in Barcelona & Getting to the Centre

Barcelona-El Prat Airport

Most visitors to Barcelona arrive at the city’s main airport – El Prat. These days even most of the budget airlines use it and it is the only international airport within close proximity to the city.

  • Aerobus

Most tourists take the aerobus to get into the city. It runs every 5-10 minutes during the day and takes roughly 30 minutes to get from the airport to Plaza Catalunya in the heart of Barcelona depending on traffic and costs €5.90. Line A1 leaves from outside Terminal 1 while A2 leaves from Terminal 2 but they follow the same route and also stop at Plaza Espanya, which may be more convenient depending on the location of your accommodation. Be sure to get the right one for your terminal if you are returning to the airport at the end of your stay in Barcelona.

  • Train

The cheapest way to get from Barcelona Airport to Barcelona is to take the train. It leaves from the station at Terminal 2 (free shuttle buses run to Terminal 1) and your best bet is probably going to be a T-10 ticket, which gives you 10 journeys on all public transport in Barcelona for the duration of your stay. This way the cost of your trip into the city will work out at roughly €1. Trains take 20 minutes to reach Barcelona Sants Station and 25 minutes to Passeig de Gràcia. You can connect to the metro at either station and it won’t cost you any more as you have 1 hour 15 minutes to complete one journey on the T-10 ticket (more info in the ‘getting around the city’ section).

  • Metro

There is also a newly opened metro line (as of February 2016) that connects the metro network to Barcelona Airport with stations at both Terminal 1 and 2. However it’s not covered by normal metro tickets so it will cost €4.50 for a ticket to anywhere in the city and will take considerably longer to reach your destination as you’ll have to change trains at Europa Fira if you are heading to the centre. Overall the metro isn’t a great option for getting into the central parts of the city.

Girona & Reus Airports

Budget airlines sometimes fly to these airports and misleadingly refer to them as Barcelona airports. They are not! Both airports are approximately 100km from the city and will take in excess of 1 hour 30 minutes via the bus services that link the airports to the Catalan capital. A return ticket from either airport to Barcelona will cost around €25. Buses aren’t that regular but are usually timed to coincide with flights landing at the rarely used airports. The Girona-Barcelona buses end at Barcelona’s Estacio del Nord whereas Reus-Barcelona buses head to Barcelona Sants Station and you’ll still most likely have to connect to the metro to reach your accommodation. Depending on the time of your arrival, you may be able to connect with a train too.

By Train

Barcelona Sants Train Station is the main railway station in the city for domestic travel and the high-speed lines to France and beyond. It isn’t in a particularly central location but is connected to the metro network so it’s easy to catch a local train to your destination in the city. The same is true of Passeig de Gràcia and Estació de França which are the other main train stations and are more central than Sants although aren’t served by as many trains. For train times and booking tickets in Spain and around Catalonia see Renfe. Booking several weeks in advance is advisable, certainly on the high-speed lines, as prices do usually go up nearer the date of travel.

By Bus

Barcelona Nord is where you’ll almost certainly arrive if coming in by bus. There are 18 buses per day to/from Madrid for example so it’s a busy terminus and you can walk from the station to Arc de Triomf or Marina metro stations and it’s not far from the heart of the city so you might even be able to walk to your desired destination. Some buses also go to/from Sants Bus Station. The biggest bus company in Spain is Alsa, which has routes to almost all the major Spanish cities from Barcelona. Travelling by bus in Spain is much cheaper than the train but generally much slower. Advanced booking is advisable for longer trips but it only needs to be done a day or two in advance and prices are fixed.


Budget accommodation in Barcelona

Barcelona has an enormous choice of hostels and budget accommodation. Dorm beds start at around €15/night during the week and more like €18/night at the weekend, which is a bit more expensive than most other cities in Spain. You can usually find something a bit cheaper during the winter months but during peak season (May to September), the city is very crowded with visitors and many of the better hostels sell out quickly.

When deciding where to stay, location is perhaps the biggest factor to consider as most hostels offer a similar kind of quality at a similar price. You might consider Plaza Catalunya as being the very mid-point of the city so anything within a 1km walk of that would certainly be considered very central. That being said in Barcelona, the metro is very extensive and it’s not a huge city so it’s not the end of the world if you’re not right in the heart of town. Many of the main sights are not in the centre anyway.

In the summer months, you could opt to stay closer to the beaches, the nearest of which is 20-30 minutes walk from the city centre. If you want a more local vibe and perhaps a more authentic Barcelona experience then consider staying in Gracia, which is away from the touristy centre but still well-located for Park Guell and the Sagrada Familia, and less than 10 minutes by metro to La Rambla.

Recommended Hostels in Barcelona

Factory Gardens – This stylish hostel is in a local neighbourhood close to the Sagrada Familia and offers some of the best value-for-money you’ll find amongst the budget accommodation options in Barcelona.

Hip Karma Hostel – This is another reliable choice and they often slash prices to 10 Euros/night during less busy times if you book online. It’s well located being less than 10 minutes walk from the city’s main square – Plaza Catalunya and biggest park – Parc de la Ciutadella.

Kabul Party Hostel – As the name suggests, this a good place to stay for those looking to party. It’s a sociable place and very well located in the heart of the old Gothic quarter, just a few feet from La Rambla and near to many bars and clubs.

Airbnb is also a decent option in Barcelona and you can sometimes find cheaper deals there. Sign up for Airbnb and claim €35 free credit here.


Getting around the city

Barcelona travel guide

Picture via Miquel Lleixà Mora, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

On Foot

In the Old Town and central districts, you can generally get around on foot. Even the closer beaches are fairly accessible by walking from the centre with Barceloneta Beach around 20 minutes walk from La Rambla and the Gothic Quarter.

Metro

Barcelona isn’t a massive city but some of the main sights are quite spread out so you will certainly need to make use of public transport at some point. Barcelona has an excellent (when it’s not on strike) metro network that will get you anywhere you need to go and you’ll rarely have to wait more than 5 minutes for a train.

The best option for almost all visitors to the city is to get the T10 1 Zone ticket. This will give you 10 journeys to anywhere in the city for €9.95 and can be used on buses, trains, trams and the metro. Unless you are planning any day trips out of Barcelona, you won’t need more than Zone 1 as it covers the entire city and you can even get to the nearby beach of Montgat without leaving this zone.

The metro runs until midnight (Sunday to Thursday), 2:00am (Fridays and public holidays) and all night on Saturdays. During the day, you can get to pretty much everywhere you need to go by a combination of metro/walking.

Buses

It’s probably simpler and quicker to just use the metro when it’s open. However after the metro shuts, the nightbuses become your best option and they are pretty extensive so you should still be able to get where you need to go or close to it. You can still use the T-10 ticket on buses. You validate it by using the machine on-board the buses.

Taxis

Overall Barcelona’s transport network is really good value when compared to other major European cities and if you’re only in town for 2-3 days, you should be able to get by on just the one T10 ticket. Budget travellers in Barcelona won’t really find much need to use taxis, which typically cost about €2 per kilometre.

Cycling

Another option is to cycle around the city. There are plenty of cycle lanes and the city’s Bicing scheme is popular although it’s virtually impossible for short-term visitors to use, as you need an address in Catalonia. There are though many bike rental places dotted around town and it’s a nice way to see the city although almost certainly will work out more expensive than just using the T-10 ticket on public transport.


How to see Barcelona on a Budget

Barcelona city guide

Barcelona is a city that is designed perfectly for the weekend visitor with money to spend and it’s unquestionably one of the most popular short-break destinations in the world. Most first-time visitors end up doing pretty much the same thing with a handful of main tourist attractions taking up most of their time. The most popular of which include the Sagrada Familia, the Gaudi masterpiece that still hasn’t been finished but continues to tower above the city, Gaudi’s Casa Batlló and Barcelona Football Club, one of the world’s greatest.

The problem for budget travellers is that these are not cheap places and the city seems to have responded to the economic crisis by really cashing in on tourism, although it doesn’t seem to have put people off coming. A basic entrance ticket for the Sagrada Familia for example is a hefty €15 and there is nothing much in the way of info inside so to get much out of your visit, you will at least need to get the audio tour, which is another €7. A ticket for a Barcelona match at Camp Nou will invariably set you back at least €45 these days and often more while a stadium & museum tour is €23. Even many of things that aren’t particularly worth visiting aren’t cheap with a frankly disappointing Aquarium charging €18 being a good example. The point being a few days in Barcelona can easily become very expensive if you are not careful.

These prices are all ‘online prices’ which are typically less than at the door where you may face long queues, certainly at the Sagrada Familia. Therefore booking online is one way to save a bit of cash. Inevitably though if you are in Barcelona on a budget, you are going to have to pick and choose to some extent and you mustn’t feel obliged to enter every single attraction.

The Sagrada Familia in all honestly is much more impressive from the outside and unless you are truly passionate about churches, you might be wise to skip the queues and fees for going inside and instead perhaps head to Gaudi’s House & Museum, which is more informative and considerably cheaper.

Likewise if you’re not that fussed about football, you don’t have to feel obliged to go and watch what will probably be a very one-sided match. The cheapest tickets are right at the top of the stadium and don’t offer a great view given Camp Nou is Europe’s largest football stadium and holds nearly 100,000. If you’re a football fan but in town when Barcelona aren’t playing, the city’s other team Espanyol probably will be and tickets are much more reasonably priced for their games and you can get closer to the action for much less.

If you have a set budget then it’s perhaps best picking one attraction each day that you are really keen on going for and then spending the rest of the day on foot exploring the city. With the T10 metro ticket you can see basically the whole city in a few days and you can still have the full Barcelona experience without getting sucked into every tourist trap, of which there are many!

As you’ll see from the list below, there are many fantastic free things to do in Barcelona. Indeed you can still do an awful amount without ever paying any admission fees, which are the things that really can break even a mid-range travel budget in Barcelona.


Five Free things to do in Barcelona

Barcelona things to do

Picture via Montse Poch, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Gaudi tour

Barcelona is full of Gaudi masterpieces. Spend an afternoon exploring the city on foot going from one to the next. They are all most impressive from the outside and you don’t need to pay any money to look! You can easily learn more about each building by doing a bit of your own research online so it’s not hard to get to grips with Gaudi’s Barcelona without spending a single cent! Here are 10 of Gaudi’s most famous Barcelona buildings.

Walk La Rambla

The most famous street in Barcelona is well worth a walk from one end to the other just to experience its hustle and bustle. There are several nuisance factors on La Rambla but if you ignore the drug dealers and keep an eye on your pockets it’s nothing more than that. The street is perhaps most famous for its street performers and bizarre human statues and on any given day you are sure to find something or someone who will capture your interest for a few minutes.

Park Güell

A must visit for anyone visiting Barcelona.  Not only is Park Guell, a beautiful place to relax and spend an hour or so, it has two major draws. Firstly it is the location of Gaudi’s house (or one of them), now a museum. Secondly it offers stunning views of the city and is one of the best spots to capture a few panoramic photographs of the BCN skyline. Another great location for this is the nearby Bunker del Carmel, while you can also get good views from Montjuic, site of most of Barcelona’s 1992 Olympics venues as well as the city’s castle.

Watch a Barcelona game in a local bar

Okay so you might have to pay a Euro for a drink but it’s important to re-hydrate right? With ticket prices so high at Camp Nou and the stands usually full of tourists, arguably a more authentic and certainly cheaper experience these days is to just find a local bar and watch the game on TV.

Many Barca fans only go to the stadium for the very biggest matches and settle for watching the majority of league games in a bar. If you are visiting Barcelona on a budget you might be wise to do the same unless catching a game at Camp Nou has been a lifelong dream of yours. Consider heading to the streets around the stadium to catch a bit of the pre-match buzz and atmosphere and then head to one of the many nearby bars and cafes to watch the match itself. All Barcelona games (home & away) are screened live in what often seems like virtually every bar/restaurant in the city.

Go to the Beach

Barcelona has a fantastic climate and it’s warm enough to go to the beach for roughly half of the year. Certainly from June to September you can basically rely on it being warm and sunny while it’s often still warm enough in both May and October. In the summer months, the beaches are packed and there are many ways to enjoy them. You can simply relax and take in the sun, spend the day drinking with friends (beer guys generally move up and down the beach selling cheap cold cans) or for the more active join a game of volleyball or go surfing.

More on all this in the next section!


Beaches

Best beaches in Barcelona

From Barcelona, you have access to a huge number of beaches.

City Beaches

The beaches in Barcelona itself might not be the most beautiful but they are the most convenient and liveliest. They do get extremely busy in the summer months particularly Barceloneta, which is an easy walk from the centre of the city. If you follow the coast round from Barceloneta you reach Nova Icaria, Bogatell, Mar Bella and Llevant. There are officially 10 different beaches but in reality it is one long stretch of sand with a short break at Port Olimpic, which is a good place to grab lunch. You can stroll from one end to the other in about an hour. Each beach has its own flavour with gay-friendly Mar Bella having a nudist section while Bogatell has more recreational facilities such as volleyball courts and football pitches.

Just Outside the City

  • Montgat

Montgat Beach is a long stretch of white sand only 20 minutes by train from Placa Catalunya (journey covered by the T-10 pass). It’s usually much quieter and nicer than the city beaches and you have a genuine feel of having left the city.

  • Castelldefels

Heading the other way out of Barcelona you find the wide and very long Castelldefels beach which is about 30 minutes by train from Passeig de Gracia station in the city centre. If you’re planning to spend most or all the day on the beach then both are better options than the ones in the city unless you don’t mind the crowds.

Further Out

If you start early then you can do a day trip out to one of the best beaches in the region. To the North, the Costa Brava is 1 hour 30 minutes away by train while heading South options include gay-friendly Sitges and it’s multiple small beaches, the Roman town of Tarragona and the popular resort of Salou. All three can be reached in an hour or less with fares under €10 if you take the cheaper trains. Check Renfe for times and prices.

Spain is full of fantastic beach destinations. More feature in our backpacking route for Spain and Portugal.


Eating Out on a Budget

Snacks

Barcelona is not short on excellent restaurants but if you’re travelling on a budget, finding good value isn’t always easy, when you don’t know the city. For cheap daytime snacks/drinks, check out 100 montaditos, which is a budget chain that serves dirt cheap drinks (€1.50 for una jarra of beer (nearly a pint) and small tapas-style sandwiches known as montaditos (little burgers) from €1. They are at numerous sites around the city so wherever you are, there should be one close. They are also a good bet for cheap drinks at the start of the night. On Wednesdays and Sundays they slash prices further to 1 Euro for everything on the menu!

All-you-can-eat!

If you’re really hungry, then the buffet options can provide decent value and should fill you up for the best part of the day. There are numerous options around town with FrescCo perhaps the best one with all-you-can eat from €10-12 depending on the time of day and including a drink.

Restaurants

If you want to enjoy a meal out in a restaurant but are on a relatively tight budget then it’s probably best to avoid La Rambla and the streets right next to it. Often they advertise good deals on food but will really take advantage of you in terms of drinks. Normally in Spain, beers come smaller than in other European countries. However if you ask for a large beer on La Rambla, you’re often served something more like a litre of beer and charged €10-15 for it! Paseig de Gracia is another expensive area for eating out but Barcelona does have some cheaper districts.

Raval is one such area, which has some really budget-friendly options. It is a multicultural zone so you’ll find cuisines from all around the world with everything from curryhouses to Mexian restaurants. Rosa Raval is a tasty Mexican joint with affordable cocktails while nearby Carrer de Joaquin Costa has a few budget-friendly vegetarian restaurants.

You can find the odd gem in El Born too but restaurants do change hands quite regularly and quality goes up and down so it’s worth checking the latest reviews. Foodie in Barcelona and Spotted by Locals are two blogs worth checking out for suggestions for cheap restaurants in Barcelona.

It’s worth noting that most restaurants in Barcleona won’t start serving food until after 8:00pm and that would still be early for locals to head out to eat. Many eat their biggest meal of the day at lunch-time and something lighter later on.


Nightlife

Going out in Barcelona

Picture via Matt Cornish, CC BY-NC 2.0

Barcelona’s nightlife, like that in the rest of Spain, starts and ends late. Bars typically stay open till 3:00am, which is about the best time to start heading to clubs, most of which stay open till 6:00am.

Cheap Drinks

If you want to have a cheap night out, then it is probably best to start by buying a few drinks from a supermarket, with prices very low for beer, wine and spirits. Note that after 10:00pm, shops aren’t allowed to sell alcohol although some smaller places might if you ask nicely!

Either way it’s best to stock up prior to that and have a few drinks in your hostel before going out. Alternatively you could just head down to the beach or harbour area (at the bottom of La Rambla & left) and start your night drinking there, which is what many locals do. There are Pakistani guys who sell beers in the streets in both locations and in most of the city centre until late, so you can usually buy a small cold can of Estrella off them for €1 at any time of night. Therefore you can be approaching very drunk for less than €10 in Barcelona and won’t need to buy as many drinks later in the night.

Bars

In terms of bars, the old town is probably the best spot for budget travellers. There are hundreds of really small bars dotted around the winding streets of the old town. Generally speaking, Raval which has a bit of an alternative vibe, is marginally cheaper than the Gothic quarter but most bars have signs outside advertising drinks deals so you can wander around and pick one that takes your fancy or just turn it into a bar crawl. Beer and wine is still generally fairly cheap in bars but cocktails and spirits often cost €7-10 although they are strong.

Clubs

When planning a night out, choosing a club to go to is perhaps the biggest decision. You can get in some clubs for free during the week before a certain time but at the weekend there are hefty admission fees at almost all the main clubs so once you are in one, you will generally stay there until the night is out. €20 is typical for admission but it does normally include at least one drink and often two (con consumición). You simply take the ticket to the bar and exchange the voucher for any drink of your choice. Cocktails and spirits are usually very strong in Spain so you night not need more than a couple anyway!

Barcelona has a wide choice of clubs of varying quality. Of course it depends on your music preferences but popular options include Razzmatazz, a huge former factory which now hosts thousands of party-goers each weekend. It has an under-stated vibe with no real dress-code and also hosts live music events. There are multiple floors with many different rooms playing a variety of different genres so it’s a safe bet, particularly if you’re a large group and people have different tastes in music.

Razzmatazz is typically only open at weekends though so in the week, Sala Apolo, is perhaps the most popular bet for a cheap-ish night. It has regular student nights and is widely thought of as the best party early in the week with ‘Nasty Mondays’ and ‘Crappy Tuesdays’ still going strong.

For a more urban vibe, check out Otto Zutz. It’s located a fair way from the centre in Gracia and tends to attract a more local crowd. It is a smaller venue though so you might want to get there bit earlier than the typical 2:00-3:00 to ensure you get in as it is very popular.



 This article was published in March 2017.


Backpacking Route for the Balkans (Croatia, Serbia, Albania & More)

europe routes

iberia | central europe | baltics | balkans


Balkans Backpacking Route – Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Albania & Kosovo

Backpacking in the Balkans is getting slightly more popular with budget travellers in Europe but it remains something of a hidden gem for the most part. To some, the mere mention of the word ‘Balkans’ immediately evokes the image of war and while the scars of the 1990’s conflicts which saw Yugoslavia divided up into several smaller states remain, things have changed massively in this region since.

Croatia has the most developed travel industry and attracts big numbers during the summer months. It’s where our backpacking route for the Balkans starts but once you leave charming Dubrovnik behind and head to Montenegro, slowly but surely you steer away from the crowds and find yourself on a real adventure in a beautiful and very budget-friendly part of the world. Our route then takes in Kosovo and Albania, which have a very different feel to the other countries before moving onto Macedonia and Serbia, finishing off in the lively cities of Belgrade and Novi Sad.


TIME NEEDED – 7 weeks to 2 Months

This is a rough guide and it depends a bit on the season and obviously your personal preferences. In the summer you may wish to spend more time in coastal places like Budva, Sarandë and the Croatian islands and 2 months plus might be good. At other times of the year you could probably skip them altogether and get it down to 6 weeks.

There are a lot of small towns that can be seen easily in a day and the distances between them aren’t massive so there will be few if any times where you spend most of the day travelling from A to B. Therefore don’t be put off by the number of stops on our route. By allowing 2 months, you are averaging just over 2 days in each destination, which is plenty. If you have a limited period of time to travel, you can easily just pick and choose part of the route.


POSSIBLE BUDGET – £1250 | €1500 | US$1600

The Balkans is one of the cheapest parts of Europe overall. Croatia is the most expensive country with costs increasing and not far off what you find in Western Europe. Couchsurfing is a pretty good option though and will help you cut accommodation costs down to a minimum. Elsewhere in the Balkans, you can get extremely good value for money and roughly 25 Euros/day should be sufficient for a genuine shoestring traveller. Costs may be slightly higher in the busier summer months  and these figures don’t include the cost of flights to the region or travel insurance.

More on the cost of travel in Europe including individual country budgets


VISA REQUIREMENTS FOR THE BALKANS

Of the countries in this route, only Croatia is in the European Union. However EU citizens won’t need visas to visit any of the other countries. If you’re from elsewhere in the world you may do but most of these countries are busy trying to promote tourism so many nationalities can enter visa-free. You can use our visa-check tool to see if you will require a visa for anywhere on our route.

Also note that going from Kosovo directly to Serbia is only possible if you initially entered Kosovo from Serbia. There is more info on this topic at the bottom of the page and a possible way around the issue for some nationalities. Our route does not see you enter Serbia via Kosovo so you’ll have no problems if you follow it.


TRAVEL INSURANCE

As always, we advise you to get travel insurance and are happy to recommend World Nomads, who specialise in providing cover for budget travellers.


Backpacking route for the Balkans

Note the route is one big loop so you can start at any point and just follow it around until you are back where you started. We’ve opted to begin in the Croatian capital Zagreb but Split, Dubrovnik, Tirana, Skopje or Belgrade could be other good options depending on where you’re coming from as they have international airports with decent connections.


 CROATIA

Time Needed – 10 days to 2 weeks

Croatia backpacking route

Zagreb

(2 days)

Zagreb is Croatia’s capital and largest city and a good place to start off. It’s not as big a travel destination as some of the coastal towns but is a lively place with plenty going for it. It boasts a medieval old town while the newer parts are reminiscent of many of the central European capitals so it doesn’t have such a strong Balkans vibe but there’s enough to keep you occupied for a day or two.


Plitvice National Park

(1-2 days)

This is one of the most beautiful natural areas in the Balkans and indeed all of Europe. It is like a natural water-world with large waterfalls and 16 interlinked turquoise lakes surrounded by lush forests. You do need a permit to enter the park though which costs 110 KN (15 Euros) for one day or 180 KN (24 Euros) for two. In terms of accommodation, some local apartment owners rent out rooms for as cheap as 10 Euros/night while there is also a camping site with some bungalows and tents for rent in the nearby town of Korana.

Zadar

(1-3 days)

Zadar is an important historical city on the coast. It has a small old town which is easily explored on foot while there are plenty of beaches nearby to relax on. In the summer it gets busy and some of the beaches are big nightlife destinations so its many hostels fill up and there is a big party vibe during the middle of the year although it’s still worth a visit at other times although perhaps only for a day or two.

Split & Croatian Islands

(3-5 days)

The ancient port city of Split is another essential stop on any backpacking route for Croatia. The town itself has  Roman walls, squares, and temples and will occupy you for a day or so. You can also kick back on Bačvice beach, which has lots of bars and clubs that come alive at night. Split is also the best place to get to some of the most popular Croatian islands such as Hvar and Brač while there are day trips you can do on the mainland too so it’s easy to spend several days in this part of Croatia, particularly during the summer months.

Dubrovnik

(2 days)

Dubrovnik is perhaps the most beautiful of all the Croatian towns with stunning bays and clear water as well as a most impressive old city which is circled by large medieval walls on all sides, which can be climbed and walked along. It gets very busy with numerous cruise ships coming in every day and tourist numbers and prices are high as a result but it’s certainly somewhere not be missed.


MFT RECOMMENDS – Cocoon Hostel, Dubrovnik 

This hostel is a great option for budget travellers in an otherwise expensive city. It’s not in the touristy Old Town, which is why it’s so cheap but you’re only a 30 minute walk away from it and the nearest beach is just 500 metres.


Possible Extension – Bosnia-Herzegovina

To get from Split to Dubrovnik, you have to briefly pass through Bosnia-Herzegovina so technically you will visit it anyway. However if you want to really spend some time there consider heading to Mostar, which is easily accessible from either Split or Dubrovnik and potentially on to the capital Sarajevo. If you do that you could rejoin the route at Durmitor National Park to avoid going back on yourself although it would be a shame to miss the Bay of Kotor, which is one of the real highlights of this Balkans travel itinerary. If you end up in Sarajevo, check out the War Hostel, which lets you experience a night or two in a city under siege (which Sarajevo was during the Bosnian conflict for almost four years) complete with bomb sounds!


MONTENEGRO

Time Needed – 10 days

Backpacking route for Montenegro

Kotor

(2-3 days)

Certainly one of the highlights of the trip and the jewel in Montenegro’s crown. The ancient walled city of Kotor is a nice place to spend a day and an evening but you’ll need another day or two to explore the stunning bay which is dotted around with friendly little villages that are worth a visit. You could opt to spend one night staying in the town and then perhaps another couple somewhere further along the bay where you can really appreciate its beauty.

Budva

(2-3 days)

If you’re travelling in one of the cooler months you can skip Budva but in the summer it comes alive as one of the most raucous party-towns in the Balkans. The beaches are nothing to get carried away about in truth and there are more chilled out places further down the coast towards Albania, but Budva is Montenegro’s shameless party capital and attracts visitors from around the region so it’s a good place to let your hair down.

Durmitor National Park

(2-3 days)

This mountainous area is another major stop on any Montenegro backpacking route and nature lovers won’t want to miss it. Hiking is a popular activity while it contains the deepest canyon in all of Europe, which is great for rafting.

Biogradska Gora National Park

(2-3 days)

This is the smallest of Montenegro’s four national parks but arguably the most beautiful and is hugely diverse. It contains one of only 3 remaining rainforests in Europe as well as mountain ridges and glacial lakes.


KOSOVO

Time Needed – 1 week

Backpacking route for Kosovo

Peja

(2-3 days)

For a small city, there is quite a lot to see and do in and around Peja, which is of Ottoman and Serbian Orthodox heritage. The monastery known as the Patriarchate of Peć is its most famous site and there’s also a lot of natural beauty around with caves, waterfalls and natural springs in the surrounding countryside. Hiking, rock-climbing, caving and skiing are popular activities and at bargain prices compared to other parts of Europe.

Mitrovica

(1 day)

For those of you interested in the complex politics and ethnic divisions in the Balkans and particularly Kosovo, Mitrovica is one place you definitely should visit. It perhaps sums up the Kosovan conflict better than any other city as the town is divided between Serbs, who live North of the river and Albanians, who live on the South. There’s not a great deal to see in truth but it’s just an interesting place to spend a day in although be wary of the current political climate as trouble does sometimes flare up given the divided nature of the city.

Pristina

(1-2 days)

The capital of Kosovo, Europe’s newest and poorest state is changing at quite a rate. It’s small enough that you can visit everywhere that’s really worth visiting in a day and as of December 2016 many of the museums are still being renovated/worked on. It has some unusual sights such as a curiously shaped library and a statue of Bill Clinton, which is not far from the bus station. There are certainly more beautiful cities in the Balkans but Pristina is not without its charms and English is widely spoken which makes it easier to get a feel for the place. People in Kosovo are generally more welcoming to foreigners than other parts of the former Yugoslavia.

Prizren

(1 day)

Prizren is much more attractive than Pristina and a must-visit for anyone backpacking in Kosovo. It is much smaller though and it’d be hard to justify much more than a day here. The main thing to do is walk up to the crumbling fortress which towers over the town and provides a stunning view of Prizren, its charming riverside centre the dozens of mosques, which really give it a unique identity and feel.


ALBANIA

Time Needed – 1 week to 10 days

Backpacking route for Albania

Tirana

(2 days)

You’re now outside of what was Yugoslavia for the first time and Tirana is the best place to learn about Albanian culture and history. There are lots of interesting museums and sights but most are in or near to the giant Skanderbeg Square, which is the best location to base yourself. You could easily spend several hours in the extensive National Historic Museum, which offers a real insight into a country that has gone through some really dark times.

For more insight into Tirana – Check out this guest post on Europe’s least visited capital!

Berat

(1-2 days)

Albania is a really quirky country in many ways and decades of isolation have given it a unique feel that is distinct from even its neighbouring countries. Berat is a good example of that and it is known as the ‘town of a thousand windows’. It’s certainly one of the most beautiful in Albania but you’ll only really need an afternoon to see the town itself although a day trip out to Corovode and the Osumi Gorge is well worth doing.

Gjirokastër

(1-2 days)

This is another historic Ottoman city and one of the 3 UNESCO World Heritage sites in the country along with Berat and the Butrint National Park, which form some of the main stops for anyone backpacking in Albania. It’s known as the city of stone with an expertly preserved old town and castle the highlights. There is also the old bazaar which still acts as the social and commercial hub of the town.

Sarandë

(2-3 days)

Albania’s best coastal destination is a great place to hang around in the summer. It has a few lively hostels and a bit of a backpacker vibe with the Mediterranean climate, sandy beaches and warm waters the main draw not to mention prices that are far lower than you get almost anywhere else in the Med. The best beaches are further along the coast but this is the most logical place to base yourself and it’s even possible to hop across the water on a ferry to the Greek island of Corfu which takes only about 2 hours.


Possible Extension – Greece

Sarandë is very close to the Greek border & the island of Corfu so it’s easy to visit Greece from here. The trip from Sarandë to Ohrid is a long one too so it could even be quicker to dip into Greece and head to Macedonia that way as the roads are better South of the border. The lakeside Greek town of Ioannina would be a possible stop.


MACEDONIA

Time Needed – 1 week

Macedonia Backpacking Route

Ohrid

(2-3 days)

Ohrid is the real travel highlight of Macedonia, which is a country that might just surprise you. The town looks out onto the giant lake of the same name and it’s a place of both historical significance and natural beauty. It is supposedly one of the oldest human settlements in all of Europe and you can certainly spend a few days here exploring the town and surrounding area.

Bitola

(1-2 days)

Bitola is Macedonia’s Second City but it still has a population of under 100,000 so it’s not an enormous place. It’s known for its European vibe with colourful streets and monuments, as well as the most beautiful old bazaar in Macedonia. It’s also famed for its lively nightlife and is a good place to party and meet some locals.

Skopje

(2-3 days)

Skopje is a real surprise and in parts it feels more like London or Paris than a formerly provincial city nestled deep in the Balkans. Like London, it has a river that runs right through its heart with several stylish bridges that connect the two sides of town. It boasts an enormous number of statues and monuments and the Macedonian capital seems to be on an all-out mission to have the largest statues in the world. The one presumed to be of Alexander the Great in the central Macedonia Square is quite a sight and towers over the others. There is really quite a lot to see and do in Skopje, which is one of the biggest cities on this Balkans backpacking route so at least 2 days and perhaps more are needed.


SERBIA

Time Needed – 10 days

Backpacking Route for Serbia

image via Exit Festival under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Niš

(1-2 days)

Serbia is now a landlocked country followed Montenegro’s marginal vote in favour of splitting from Serbia in 2006. Visitor numbers are low compared to neighbouring Croatia but it has some great cities to visit and Niš is one of them. It has always been an important strategic location and has a long and varied history. It is perhaps best known as the birthplace of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great and is full of old fortresses and churches. It is also the site of one of the few Nazi concentration camps that remain intact and that makes for a harrowing visit.

Užice & Around

(3-4 days)

Užice is a relatively small city nestled between hills on the river Đetinja. You won’t need more than a day to check out the town but there are several of Serbia’s best travel destinations nearby so it’s a good place to base yourself for a few days. Highlights include the Tara National Park, which is home to plenty of species including brown bears and is a good place to go hiking or rafting. Around Užice there also are a few monasteries that make for an interesting visit, caves and several mountains where you can ski. The Bosnian town of Višegrad is also very nearby and worth checking out not least for its iconic bridge across the Drina River.

Belgrade

(2-3 days)

As the biggest city on the Balkans backpacker trail, Belgrade will take a bit more time to explore than most cities on this route which are easily explored on foot in a day. The enormous Kalemegdan – Belgrade Fortress is its main attraction but its a cosmopolitan city with a large number of museums and cultural sights. The nightlife here is also famous while it’s a good shopping destination with everything from major shopping malls to independent stores selling original products as well as a dirt cheap Chinese market with imported goods from China of questionable quality.


MFT RECOMMENDS – Belgrade Modern Hostel 

This ticks all the boxes when it comes to being a good hostel. Central location, cheap beds and excellent staff.


Novi Sad

(2 days)

Novi Sad is only 80km from Belgrade and is the country’s Second City. Like the capital, it has an imposing fortress, which has never been taken by any enemy. It now holds the Novi Sad City Museum and the town also has many art galleries and a student vibe which contributes to its lively nightlife scene. During July, it hosts EXIT Festival, the biggest music festival in the Balkans. If you’re ending your trip here, it’s probably easiest to head back to Belgrade to catch a flight as the city doesn’t have its own airport.


Getting from Novi Sad back to Zagreb

As we said at the start, this route is designed as a loop so you can start and end at any point or just do a small section of it, if you’re pushed for time. To get from Novi Sad back to Zagreb, our first destination you have various options, with a 5-6 hour train which can be taken from the nearby town of Sremska Mitrovica one possibility. You could though break up the trip by stopping over-night or just for an afternoon in the Croatian city of Slavonski Brod, which is roughly half way between the two. From there you have fast train and bus connections to Zagreb.



Budget Accommodation in the Balkans

There isn’t a massive backpacker vibe in this part of the world but most towns on this route have at least one or two hostels where you can meet other travellers and generally they are really good value. Croatia is noticeably more expensive than the other countries but does have more choice in terms of accommodation with many hostels in some of the cities. Booking online in advance is a good idea during the busier summer months. At other times of year they can be very empty so you don’t really need to. That said many of the hostels are small so it’s not a bad idea to let them know you’re coming to ensure there’ll be someone there to check you in on arrival.

Eastern Europe enthusiasts may also want to check out our Backpacking Route for the Baltic States.


Crossing Borders in the Balkans

Apart from Albania, this was all one country just 25 years ago so getting from one country to another is still pretty straight-forward and bus connections are quite regular although there are now border checks to contend with which slows things down a bit. In most cases at the border, you won’t need to get off the bus at all. The driver may collect everyone’s passports and they will be checked by the border guards, although most likely not that thoroughly. During busy times there can be pretty big traffic queues at the borders though so it can add some time to your journey although rarely more than 30 minutes to an hour.


IMPORTANT – Rules for going from Kosovo to Serbia

The one thing that every traveller in the Balkans should be aware of, regardless of where they are from involves Kosovo and more specifically travelling to Serbia from Kosovo. Since Serbia along with many other countries, doesn’t officially recognise Kosovo as an independent state, there are a few complications at the borders between the two.

You CAN enter Kosovo via any of the four countries it borders (Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia or Serbia) and will have no issues. You CAN also leave Kosovo for Montenegro, Albania or Macedonia with no problems. However if you want to travel directly from Kosovo to Serbia, this will only be possible, if you initially entered Kosovo from Serbia.

For example if you travel from Albania to Kosovo and then try to enter to Serbia you WILL NOT be allowed in. However if you are in Serbia, take a trip to Kosovo and then return to Serbia, it’s fine. So this is really important to be aware of when planning your trip and we’ve taken it into account with our route above.

If you are Serbian, Kosovar, Bosnian, Macedonian, Montenegrin, Swiss or from the EU and have a national ID card, there is a way around the rule by showing your ID card rather than passport at the border.

This is all true as of November 2016. If you’re reading this in the future and have new information on changes then please use the comments section below to let us and other travellers know or contact us and we’ll update it.


This article was published in December 2016.


China Backpacking Budget

backpacking budget China

(Map of China from wikitravel, can be re-used under CC BY-SA 3.0)


Daily Travel Costs in China on a Shoestring Budget

US$30 | 200 Chinese Yuan Renminbi

China may have risen to the status of global super power over the past 15 years thanks to enormous economic growth but the country is still on the whole very good value and prices haven’t risen as much as you might think. There is a great deal of regional variation of course with Shanghai for example considerably more expensive than the predominantly rural West of the country but even the big cities are still really quite affordable if you steer clear of the bars and restaurants that are clearly geared towards the wealthy.

A one-way ticket on the Beijing subway will set you back just 4 Yuan for example (the equivalent of US$0.60). More local geared restaurants are also great value but menus aren’t all that easy to read and English isn’t widely spoken even in the big cities. Street stalls and BBQs offer a good alternative and are found all over the country. It’s much easier to know what you are getting with them and you can often stack up on tasty snacks that won’t set you back much cash. Going out can also be good value and if you know where to go you can find amazingly cheap bars and clubs which sometimes have ‘all you can drink’ deals for under $20.

The cost of travelling between destinations can add up though if you are looking to see large areas of the country in a relatively short space of time. In that case $30 might be an unrealistic budget but if you are spending a lot of time in more rural areas you can certainly get by on that sort of amount and do a large amount of travelling around.

Our China backpacking budget of $30/day isn’t impossible on a day-to-day basis in Beijing but might be a bit tougher to stick to in Shanghai where accommodation tends to be a bit more expensive. In general though you should probably allow a bit more if you are sticking to the Eastern route between Shanghai and Beijing with perhaps a couple of other stops. Even that would be dependent on you not taking any internal flights and settling for the slower but cheaper trains rather than the fancy high-speed ones.

See where China ranks on our World Budget Travel Table.


More Comfortable China Backpacker Budget

US$45 | 300 Chinese Yuan Renminbi

Coming up with a general budget for China in an article like this is pretty tough as it really does depend quite a lot on what part of the country you are in and how you choose to travel. By upping your budget to $45/day you won’t need to stress out as much and might be able to afford the odd high speed train or flight if you are in the country for more than a couple of weeks. It should also be enough to cover your daily expenses in any city in mainland China or even Hong Kong.


Sample Prices in China

Flight from Shanghai to Kunming (3 hours 25 mins) – 450¥  ($70)

Beijing to Shanghai by High-Speed train in 2nd class (5-6 hours) – 450-555¥ ($70-85)

Cheapest berth on Beijing to Shanghai slow sleeper train (15 hours) – 327¥ ($50)

 Meal at an inexpensive restaurant – 25¥ ($4)

Large local beer in a bar or restaurant – 5¥ ($0.75)

Dorm bed in Beijing – from 35¥/night ($5)

Budget private double or twin room – 75-150¥/night (large amount of variation between cities) ($11-22)

Entrance to the Forbidden City, Beijing – 40-60¥ ($6-9)

Compare this with the cost of travel in Japan.


Money

Currency – Chinese Yuan Renminbi

£1 = 9.46 CNY

€1 = 7.45 CNY

US$1 =  6.56 CNY

(All exchange rates are correct as of June 2016)


MFT Recommends

We suggest staying at Beijing Sunrise Youth Hostel Beihai Branch on your visit to the capital. The Forbidden city is within walking distance and it boasts some of the best value beds in town.


street art in China

street art in Shanghai, China (via Marc GarnautCC BY-NC 2.0)


Share your Travel Costs!

If you’ve been to China recently, please let everyone know your typical daily costs by commenting below 😉


This article was published in June 2016.


Indonesia Backpacking Budget

backpacking budget Indonesia

(Map of Indonesia from wikitravel, can be re-used under CC BY-SA 3.0)


Daily Travel Costs in Indonesia on a Shoestring Budget

US$25 | 330,000 Rupiah

Like many large countries, there is a fair bit of regional variation in prices in Indonesia that you should consider so how much you spend will largely depend on where you go. We have received comments from many travellers suggesting we always place Indonesia too high in our budget travel table and that it is in fact as cheap or cheaper than most of mainland Southeast Asia. However we suspect they have spent a lot of time away from the islands of Bali and Java, which are a bit pricier. The other islands are considerably cheaper places to visit.

It is true that typical costs are cheap almost everywhere but getting from one island to another although relatively inexpensive can still quickly eat into your budget if you are moving around and entrance fees to major sites of interest can be high so we believe US$25 is a realistic overall Indonesia backpacking budget. If you try to pack a lot in and are moving around every couple of days including visits to multiple islands in a relatively short space of time, you might want to allow for a bit more. If you stick predominantly to one of the cheaper islands such as Sumatra, then it’s possible you can get by on US$20 or less.

See where Indonesia ranks on our World Budget Travel Table.

Backpacking costs in all Southeast Asian countries


More Comfortable Indonesia Backpacker Budget

US$35 | 470,000 Rupiah

Adding an extra US$10 to your daily travel budget in Indonesia will allow you to do quite a bit more no matter what kind of trip you want to have. If you are planning to spend a lot of time in Bali then it will allow you to really get into the party culture whilst perhaps doing the odd daytime activity like surfing. In Java it will allow you to take a few more organised trips up volcanoes and suchlike which are difficult to do independently. While on the cheaper islands you can probably fork out on some pretty good accommodation on this budget that would fall closer into the realm of luxury travel than budget.


Sample Prices in Indonesia

Flight from Jakarta to Bali (1 hour 45 mins) when booked 1-2 weeks in advance – 530,000 Rp (US$40) + baggage

Public ferry from Padang Bai, Bali to Lembar, Lombok (4-5 hours) – 40,000 Rp (US$3)

Meal at an inexpensive restaurant – 20,000-30,000 Rp (around US$2)

Large local beer in a bar or restaurant – 25,000 Rp (US$2)

Dorm Bed at Kuta, Bali – from 75,000 Rp (US$5.50)

Private Double or Twin room in Bali – from 120,000 Rp (US$9)

Private room in Sumatra – from 50,000 Rp (US$4)

Entrance fee for Borobudur Temple Complex near Yogyakarta – 280,000 Rp (US$21)

Compare Indonesian prices with the cost of travel in the Philippines.


Money

Currency – Indonesian Rupiah

£1 = 19266 Rupiah

€1 = 15180 Rupiah

US$1 = 13376 Rupiah

(All exchange rates are correct as of June 2016)


MFT Recommends

If you head to Bali, which most travellers do then we suggest staying at CX Hostel Kuta Raya at Kuta Beach. It’s well located close to the beach and nightlife and is of a much higher standard than most of the budget accommodation in Kuta.


street art in Indonesia

street art in Yogyakarta, Indonesia (via pwbakerCC BY-NC 2.0)


Share your Travel Costs!

If you’ve been to Indonesia recently, please let everyone know your typical daily costs by commenting below 😉


This article was published in June 2016

Get our Backpackers Guide to Southeast Asia 2017-2018 for an overview of budget travel in the region.


Canada Backpacking Budget

Canada Backpacking Budget

(Map of Canada regions from wikitravel, can be re-used under CC BY-SA 2.5)


Daily Travel Costs in Canada on a Shoestring Budget

US$60 | 80 Canadian Dollars

Canada is one of the hardest places to give an accurate budget for mostly because it is enormous. Our other budgets are generally based on trying to visit all the main destinations in the country and a few things in-between but in Canada that will either involve covering in excess of 5,000km by land or taking a domestic flight that is as long and expensive as a cross-continental one. Montreal is roughly the same distance away from Vancouver as it is from London for example.

So our Canada backpacking budget of 80 Canadian Dollars is primarily based on picking one area of the country (for example Southern Ontario & Quebec) and sticking too it. If you want to visit another part of the country, treat the cost of a flight as extra. In terms of daily expenses Canada is not cheap by any means and is pretty much in line with what you might expect in Western Europe although you should find it slightly cheaper than the UK or France.

Although it is so big, there isn’t a huge amount of regional variation in terms of prices although Vancouver is generally considered to be slightly more expensive than the cities in the East such as Montreal or Toronto.

See where Canada ranks on our World Budget Travel Table.


More Comfortable Canada Backpacker Budget

US$75 | 100 Canadian Dollars

Again it’s tough to give an accurate figure as people tend to come to Canada for specific reasons rather than just to travel around and take each day as it comes. If you are planning on doing a lot of winter sports then you can certainly expect to spend considerably more than this but there do tend to be quite a lot of ways to work in Canada that will help fund all that. If you want to spend a long time in the country but don’t have enormous funds, consider applying for a job at one of the ski resorts during the ski-season and using it as a base to travel.


Sample Prices in Canada

Toronto to Montreal bus (7 hours) – from 35 CAD

Vancouver to Toronto flight (4 hours 30 mins) – 300+ CAD

Dorm bed in Vancouver – from 25 CAD/night

Dorm bed in Montreal – from 20 CAD/night

Budget private double/twin room in Montreal or Toronto – from 45 CAD/night

Meal in a cheap restaurant – 15 CAD

Large local beer in bar/restaurant – 6 CAD

Entrance to Canadian Museum of History – 15 CAD (11 for students)

Compare Canada prices with the cost of travel in USA.


Money

Currency – Canadian Dollars

£1 = 1.91 CAD

€1 = 1.45 CAD

US$1 = 1.30 CAD

(All exchange rates are correct as of June 2016)


MFT Recommends

Go to Montreal and stay at the Auberge Saint Paul. Excellent hostel with best value beds in town.


street art in Montreal

street art in Montreal, Quebec (via AV DezignCC BY-NC-ND 2.0)


Share your Travel Costs!

If you’ve been to Canada recently, please let everyone know your typical daily costs by commenting below 😉


This article was published in June 2016.


Australia Backpacking Budget

Australia Backpacking Budget

(Map of Australia from wikitravel, can be re-used under CC BY-SA 3.0)


Daily Travel Costs in Australia on a Shoestring Budget

US$70 | 100 Australian Dollars

Although a very popular destination with young budget travellers, Australia is certainly not a budget travel destination. It’s at least as expensive and perhaps more costly than almost all of Europe and North America and our suggested Australia backpacking budget of 100 Dollars per day certainly reflects that. Certainly if you intend to cover large distances, which you will have to do if you want to see a large portion of the country, then transport costs are going to be high while food, drink and accommodation is in line with what you’d expect in any expensive developed country.

However Oz does have a few saving graces as far as the budget traveller is concerned. For one the relative ease of getting a short-term work visa and abundance of seasonal or short-term jobs makes it one of the few places where travellers can easily and legally make some money to support their travels. There are also a lot of places where you can get student/youth discounts and there are plenty of special deals on bus travel designed to help out those exploring the country but it’s still overall an expensive place to visit.

By staying in one place or one part of the country for a longer period of time and perhaps doing a bit of couchsurfing, whilst not going wild on the partying or activities then you can maybe get by on closer to US$50/day but it won’t be easy as there is a lot of cool stuff to do that will eat into your budget.

See where Australia ranks on our World Budget Travel Table.


More Comfortable Australia Backpacker Budget

US$90 | 125 Australian Dollars

125 Australian Dollars is quite a lot of money to be spending every single day but if you want to really take advantage of the extreme sports and adventures that Australia has in store whilst also doing a far bit of socialising then it’s not an unrealistic budget particularly if you are doing a lot travelling around. If that’s you then consider ride-sharing to get from A to B by either using an app or checking noticeboards in hostels. It can often work out much cheaper than public transport.

Compare this to the cost of travel in New Zealand!


Sample Prices in Australia

Melbourne to Cairns (Hop-on Hop-off bus pass) – 550 Australian Dollars

Flight from Melbourne to Sydney (1 hour 20 mins) – 50 AUD with Jetstar + 35AUD for backpack

Dorm bed in basic hostel in Melbourne/Sydney – 20 AUD/night

Dorm bed at Byron Bay – 30 AUD/night

Cheap private twin/double room in a city  – 50 AUD/night

Meal in a relatively cheap restaurant – 18 AUD

Large local beer in a bar/restauarant – 7 AUD

Surfing lesson – around 60 AUD


Money

Currency – Australian Dollars

£1 = 2.03 AUD

€1 = 1.55 AUD

US$1 = 1.39 AUD

(All exchange rates are correct as of June 2016)


MFT Recommends

Long-term travel in Australia is very difficult unless you have huge savings so consider getting a working holiday visa and doing some work whilst you are there to help fund your travels.


street art in australia

street art in Melbourne, Victoria (via Fernando de SousaCC BY-SA 2.0)


Share your Travel Costs!

If you’ve been to Australia recently, please let everyone know your typical daily costs by commenting below 😉


This article was published in June 2016.


India Backpacking Budget

India backpacking budget

(Map of India from wikitravel, can be re-used under CC BY-SA 3.0)


Daily Travel Costs in India on a Shoestring Budget

US$20 | 1350 Rupees

India is undeniably a cheap country to travel in and if you are really prepared to rough it out on the lower classes of trains and eat questionable food then $15 might be a more realistic shoestring budget. It’s worth baring in mind that many Indians live on just a few dollars a day but in the bigger cities, there are also plenty of things that cater for the burgeoning middle class, who have plenty of Rupees to spend.

$20 might be a more realistic India backpacking budget and will allow you to travel in one of the better classes on the country’s extensive rail network and eat in pretty good restaurants each night. Accommodation is very good value as a rule so there’s not much danger of you going over that budget if you’re sensible.

That said one or two of the major attractions can be relatively pricey, with foreigners charged as much as 20 times more than Indians in some cases so the costs can add up a little.

See where India ranks on our World Budget Travel Table.


More Comfortable India Backpacker Budget

US$30 | 2000 Rupees

On $30 per day you can travel very comfortably indeed and if you have some cash saved up, you are likely to have a much more enjoyable trip on this kind of budget. You would find yourself suddenly able to stay in decent 2 or 3 star hotels, eat all your meals in good restaurants and be able to afford the odd flight to save time on the longer journeys.

You won’t have to worry so much about the cost of entering temples or forts eating into your budget and the fact you are eating in better places, should increase your chances of avoiding the dreaded Delhi belly but don’t count on it!


Sample Prices in India

Flight from Mumbai to Goa (1 hour) – $40

Train from Delhi to Agra (2 hours) – 412 Rupees in AC chair (roughly $6)

Train from Delhi to Mumbai (16 hours) – 2227 Rupees in AC 1st class ($33), 1537 Rupees in AC 2nd class ($23)

Meal in a budget restaurant – $2

3 course meal in a decent restaurant (mid-range) – $5

Large local beer in a bar/restaurant – $1.50

Dorm bed – from $2.50

Cheap private double or twin room – from $5

Admission to the Taj Mahal for foreigners – 1000 Rupees ($15)

Compare prices with some of India’s neighbours by checking out the cost of travel in Sri Lanka and the cost of travel in Nepal.


Money

Currency – Indian Rupee

£1 = 98 Rupees

€1 = 75 Rupees

US$1 = 67 Rupees

(All exchange rates are correct as of June 2016)


MFT Recommends

Kick back at the funky and very cheap Bonfire Hostel in Agra, home of the Taj Mahal.


street art in Delhi

street art in Delhi, India (via Meena KadriCC BY-NC-ND 2.0)


Share your Travel Costs!

If you’ve been to India recently, please let everyone know your typical daily costs by commenting below 😉


This article was published in June 2016.