Once you’ve decided on a particular region of the world to visit, how do you decide where to start? Depending on what you want to see and how much time you have, the answer could truly be anywhere. With the routing maps and highlights of each region listed below, hopefully you’ll be able to narrow down the choices!
Central America: Most backpackers traveling through CA start in Mexico City and head south, or start in Panama City and head north. Since I had already seen much of Mexico on previous trips, I started in Guatemala City. From there I headed south through Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama until taking a boat to Columbia. Straight through it’s about 2700 miles and 60 hours of driving. Depending on where and how long you stop, it takes the average backpacker 6-8 weeks. It took me almost 12 after stopping for 2 weeks in Roatan and Utila for dive courses, and stopping for a month of yoga, metaphysics, and meditation in Lake Atitlan.
- Lake Atitlan, Guatemala: The lake and surroundings are beautiful, but so is the month-long yoga, meditation, and metaphysics course for under $500!
- Antigua, Guatemala: Learning spanish, hiking volcanoes, and the people/food/architecture of the classical spanish town
- The Bay Islands of Honduras: Getting dive certified in Roatan and partying on Utila!
- Leon, Nicaragua: Volcano boarding and architecture
- Granada, Nicaragua: Hanging out in the streets and cafes of this beautiful town
- San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua: Partying and surfing
- Bocas del Toro, Panama: The nightlife, island hopping, and food!
- Panama City: Finally seeing the Panama Canal and walking the streets of Casco Viejo
Northwestern South America: From Cartagena, Columbia through Columbia, Ecuador, and Peru to La Paz, Bolivia. Straight through it’s about 4100 miles and 120 hours of driving. With all the beautiful scenery and fun activities to do, it take the average backpacker about 12-14 weeks.
- Cartagena, Columbia: Walking the beautiful streets to take in the architecture, city life, and food!
- Medellin, Columbia: A fantastic metro system unites the city and includes a gondola to a national park on top of the nearby mountain. The street markets and food were great, and the christmas lights along the river during the holidays are beautiful.
- Manizales, Columbia: Beautiful cathedral and fun nightlife, plus great hiking nearby.
- Salento, Columbia: The middle of Columbia’s coffee growing region is beautiful, and this town makes it feel like you stepped back in time.
- The incredible salsa dancing festival in Cali and the blanco y negro festival in Pasto at the end of December and early January!
- Riobamba/Chimborazo, Ecuador: Mountain biking down this 6700 meter mountain takes all day, and you can tell everyone you’ve been further away from the core of the earth than the top of Mt Everest!
- Cuenca, Ecuador: A beautiful town full of classic spanish architecture and wonderful people!
- Mancora, Peru: The Loki hostel here is one of the best hostels on the planet! Great activities, huge pool, beach location, and cheap drinks. What else could you want as a backpacker??
- Huaraz, Peru: This is some of the best hiking in the world!
- Cuzco/Machu Picchu, Peru: Beautiful old town, fun nightlife, and the stunning Machu Picchu ruins nearby.
- Lima, Peru: The old is full of stunning wood balconies and great architecture, while Miraflores is young, active, modern and stunningly located on cliffs over the Pacific Ocean. The food is great, its cheap to get around, the local music scene is pumping, and the people are nice. Spend a few days here at least and soak it up!
Southeast Asia: From Bali, Indonesia the main trail runs through Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos. You could very easily spend 6 months on this route, but most backpackers can do it in 4. If you have the time and money, the Philippines, Burma/Myanmar and Taiwan are also incredible in their own ways and shouldn’t be missed. After 2.5 months in Thailand and 2 months in the Philippines, I spent more than 8 months in SE Asia and can’t wait to go back!
- Kuta, Bali, Indonesia: One of the craziest nightlife scenes in the world!
- Ubud, Bali: The food, the amazing people, and renting a moped to see the beautiful surroundings. Don’t miss their new year celebration Nyepi!
- Gili Islands between Bali and Lombok, Indonesia: I could live here! The water, weather, sand, and people are all amazing!
- Singapore: Yea it’s a major city, but the cleanliness is almost unbelievable and you walk the town center in a day. Don’t miss Wednesdays on the bridge in the Quay district, or the hawker food markets in little india and little china!
- Patong, Thailand: The interesting nightlife, cheap massages, nearby empty beaches, easy airport access, and cheap street food makes this one of my favorite places in Thailand. If you can, plan to be here around mid April for the Thai new year water festival of Songkran!
- Koh Phi Phi: Crazy beach parties, cheap food, cheap accommodation and fun backpacker scene make this a must see on the backpacker trail.
- Koh Pha Ngan, Thailand: The infamous full moon and half moon parties, and a beautiful beach.
- Bangkok, Thailand: Insane nightlife, beautiful temples, the best market in SE Asia, rooftop bars, great food, cheap flights, etc. It’s easy to see why so many expats move here.
- Chiang Mai: Elephant trekking through the mountains, cuddling with massive tigers, the cheapest hostel in SE Asia, massive sunday market, great food, and even a fun local zoo where you can hand feed just about anything. I loved this town!
- Siem Reap, Cambodia: Angkor Wat and the other stunning temples surrounding this town will send you back in time.
- Phnom Phen, Cambodia: With s-21 and the killing fields, the tourist attractions here are depressing, but the people, food, and nightlife are fantastic!
- Dalat, Vietnam: An escape from the SE Asia heat, this cool mountain town is full of french architecture, good food, and canyoning tours that teach you how to abseil down waterfalls!
- Bohol/Panglao, Philippines: Don’t miss the beautiful sunsets, white sand islands nearby, and scooting around this island to see the chocolate hills, waterfalls, tarsiers, and small town life.
- Boracay, Philippines: Easily some of the nicest people I’ve met in my travels, plus stunning white sand beaches, delicious cheap food, and CHEAP drinks!