5 things I love about staying in Hostels

I love traveling, I always did and from the moment I was able to make my own decisions on travel plans, I never booked into a normal hotel or a club again. I mean, don’t get me wrong, for a few occasions, let’s say , a honeymoon or a romantic weekend getaway, I would really love spending a few days in a luxurious hotel room with a bathtub, room service and most of all PRIVACY. But for the rest of my travels, I would always prefer staying in hostels.

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Picture taken in Minka, Colombia.

For those of you who haven’t stayed in hostels yet , this might come shocking ,  because hostels are usually associated with noisy, drunk bunk neighbors and tiny, packed and often unhygienic bathrooms , also for a lot of people, it’s just the LAST option (in case of lack of money) they’d take when traveling.

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Casa Loma, Minca, Colombia.

But for those of you who have some hostel experiences already, you might understand me. Because, there is no way you could ever meet so many open minded and fun people in a hotel. Not only because, there is no way so many people would spend time in a hotel lobby instead of their cozy, awesome and pricey hotel rooms.
This is different in a hostel. In the evening, hardly anybody stays in their room ( or being more accurate) in their bunk.  Everybody is eager to be somewhere nicer and also, hearing all the guitar sounds, singing and chatting from the common room , hardly anybody would want to stay alone all night.

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Paradiso Hostel in Nelson, New Zealand.

I’ve been staying in quite a lot of hostels by now and I have to admit, not all of those nights I love to look back at. There was some pretty nasty things happening sometimes and there was a lot of awkward moments as well.  But for me, that’s part of traveling, because in the end you’ll def. have more stories to tell and learn more about yourself and also your fellow travelers  when staying in a hostel, rather than a hotel.

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Dinner at the Paradiso, New Zealand.

 

So here are my top 5 things I love about hostels:

  1. When you travel solo for a while, there will be times when you feel lonely and sometimes even kind of lost. So, when staying in a hostel, you can be sure, that there is always going to be somebody who is up for cooking together, drinking (cheap) alcohol with you or at least there will be somebody who plays the guitar all day long.
  2. You always find out new things about the place you’ve been traveling to when talking to fellow travelers in hostels. There is always the obligatory long-term backpacker , who already knows all the tricks to get the most out of everything at the lowest cost. Then there is usually somebody who read all the travel guides there is, so you can ask that person anything. There is at least one who made friends with a bunch of locals already, who of course know the best and most beautiful things to do and see anyway. And best of all, there is a lot of other travelers who are as eager to explore as you are.
  3. There is always somebody who bakes bread or brownies for everybody to share. ( but you know… beware of the brownies)
  4. Hostels are by faaaar cheaper than hotels and the times where there are only shappy and disgusting hostels to choose from are OVER. With a little research you’ll be able to find gorgeous hostels all over the world, which come with all the benefits listed above and even comfort.
  5. If you are up for party, you don’t need to go far. Almost all the hostels I’ve stayed in did have a hostel bar ( or at least they sold alcohol and put on music) So , If you are tired from exploring all day long, but still want to have a few drinks, music and social interaction, check out the hostel bar.
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Gorgeous Hostel in Cancun, Mexico.

Posted by Lisa

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Hold me fast, cause I’m a hopeless wanderer

Since I remember , I ‚ve got a serious case of wanderlust . Especially during the winter month, when it’s cold and ugly in Austria (yes I know… a lot of people actually like winters…. I DON’T ;P ), I always long for going places and seeing more of the world. Preferable the warmer parts of it, although…I probably wouldn’t say NO to going on a trip up north either.  So , the last few weeks, I was thinking a lot about my future travel plans and the places I always wanted to see and the things I’m already longing to do for such a long time.

So when sifting through my laptop, I found my Bucket list from three years ago. I loved reading it, especially because I was able to do some of those things in the meanwhile ! 🙂

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The famous Maid of the Mist

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Approaching the Niagara falls

But now my wanderlust is even worse! 😉 I guess I have to start booking flights soon.

So here it is… ❤

  • Go to Oia,  Santorini and ride up the hills on a donkey
  • Walk the Chinese wall
  • See the Jesus Statue in Rio de Janeiro
  • Machu Picchu (walking the full Inka trail)
  • See the Pyramids of Giza
  • See the Taj Mahal
  • Drink a Guinness in a pub in Ireland 
  • Paris, gaze at the Eiffel Tower while eating Macarons
  • London ( I can’t believe I still haven’t been to London! :O )
  • Australia – Ayers Rock, Great Barrier Reef
  • Learn how to surf
  • Carnival in Venice
  • Go on safari in Africa
  • Bath in a hot pool in Iceland
  • See the northern lights
  • Kiss in a summer rain
  • Swim with dolphins
  • Cycle across the Golden Gate Bridge
  • See the Grand Canyon
  • Walk the “walk of fame”
  • Kayaking in the Abel Tasman National park
  • NEW ZEALAND ❤
  • Spend Queens Day/Kings day in Amsterdam
  • Barcelona – Sagrada Familia, Parc Güell, Camp Nou
  • Niagara Falls
  • Party in Las Vegas
  • Miami Beach
  • New York – watch a Broadway show, party, visit Central Park, etc.
  • Chichén Itzá in Mexico
  • Swim in the Caribbean sea
  • Eat a real Sacher Cake
  • Go on a road trip on Route 66
  • Ride a horse on the beach
  • Whale watching
  • Tibet
  • Sky dive
  • Travel for at least a year around the world
  • Get backstage at a rock concert
  • Get fluent in speaking Spanish
  • Take a photography class
  • Learn how to dance salsa
  • See the forbidden city in Beijing
  • Spend a year without winter
  • Take part in the carnival celebrations in Brazil
  • Work for a wildlife project
  • Walk the Golden Gate bridge
  • Write an article for a well-known magazine
  • Go to Mumbai
  • See Stonehenge
  • Travel along the Nil
  • Climb a volcano
  • Hawaii
  • Ride an Elephant
  • Sit on a cliff in Ireland while reading a classic novel
  • Go to Sweden and find Michels house
  • volunteer abroad
  • Fly a plane
  • Swim in the Dead Sea
  • travel alone
  • Scuba Dive
  • Watch the sunset while being on a hot air balloon ride in Kapadokya
  • Ride one of the fastest roller coasters on earth
  • Costa Rica
  • Spend a week in the wild, just living off nature
  • Own a house at the beach
  • Go to Disney world
  • Be in a movie
  • buy spices at a market in Morocco 
  • Spend St. Patricks Day in Ireland
  • Take  a shower in a waterfall
  • Go sand boarding
  • Eat Sushi in Japan
  • Spend New Year’s Eve in New York City

 

To be continued….

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Cliffs of Moher, Ireland
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Queensday (Now Kingsday) in Amsterdam
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Obligatory walk-of-fame picture! 😉
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Golden Gate Bridge

Posted by Lisa

Awesome day trips starting from Cartagena

During my stay in Colombia, I spent a lot of time in and around Cartagena. Since I had to work during the week, I was really happy to find out, that there is plenty of day trip-opportunities around Cartagena.

So here are my two favorites 🙂

  1. Volcàn de Lodo el Totumo

This one was by far my favorite. I mean… how often do you get the chance to bath in a mud volcano?

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floating ❤

To get there you simply book a tour , which you can do around every corner in the city center of old town Cartagena and in the area of Bocagrande. The busrides there and back cost between 15.000 to 20.000 COP, included is the entrance fee to the volcano area, you will also stop at a beach on the way back and the trip even includes lunch. Warning for vegetarians and vegans … you might be on the safer side if you bring your own snacks to those kind of organized tours in Colombia. Chances are that you will be offered „pollo“ ( chicken) as a vegetarian option.

The drive to the volcano takes about 30 minutes. The bus stops right in front of the volcano, where lots of locals already wait for you, offering you services like mud massages, taking pictures for you while you are in the volcano and the post-mud-volcano-wash. NOT taking the last one is almost no option, as I figured out after my mud volcano experience. There is no showers or anything that comes close to a shower in the area, so after your volcano bath , the only option to get the sticky (but really healthy) mud off you is to wash yourself in the nearby river. Doing that without the help of local women proved itself much more difficult than I imagined. So my advice is, pay the extra 3.000 COP. 🙂

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You can also take mud massages while in the volcano.

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The mud volcano experience itself is simply surreal. You climb down a steep ladder and then let yourself float into the suspicious looking and weirdly bubbling mud. The funniest thing about being in there is, that you feel kind of weightless and since the mud is really dense, you don’t sink, quite the contrary,  it’s almost impossible to keep your limbs under the surface.
I spent about 20 minutes in the warm mud, which is about the time they give you anyway. There is always a line waiting to get into the mud, so you better stick to the „normal“ mud bathing time.

After washing off in the river, the bus will take you to either back to Cartagena, or, when you booked the  all day long tour, to a beach on the way back , where you’ll be having lunch and the chance to wash of the last bits of mud.

2. Playa Blanca , Isla Baru

A trip to Isla Baru is a must do when in Cartagena. Since the beaches in Cartagena itself aren’t that special, you should at least once get to see the gorgeous ones on the islands close to Cartagena.  Isla Baru is probably the most known and most popular of those islands.

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There are boats going to Playa Blanca, Isla Baru every day, official ones and then, not so official ones , where silent men take you there on their tiny , crammed boats. Of course these boat-rides come with a bit more of „adventure“ than the big cruises! 😉 You can buy the tickets at the Port of Cartagena, which is located about 15 minutes of walking from the city gate of ciudad vieja. When taking the cruises, they will offer you a round trip with a meal included. I wouldn’t recommend buying these tickets to anybody. You’ll arrive at the Beach around noon, waste time eating your lunch ( which definitely isn’t the best food you can buy at Playa Blanca), and then you’ve only got about 2 hours of beach-time left, because the cruises leave at 3 pm.

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Typical plate at Playa Blanca

I went to Isla Baru twice, the first time I took one of the more adventurous boats to the island and I also booked a tour that took me on a detour to Islas del Rosario as well… which is basically a bunch of tiny Island (very touristy) , where you can go snorkeling for about an hour…  It’s not really worth booking that tour, even though ALL the vendors will tell you , that this package deal is the best you can get! 😛 Having two hours more to spend at Playa Blanca is waaay better.

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Waking up to THIS in the morning… priceless!

Arriving at Playa Blanca is breathtaking. In the morning, before the big cruises arrive , the beach looks like a scene straight out of a cheesy Hollywood movie. Little huts along the beach, most of them you can rent for the night, some are places where you can buy food and drinks, countless palm trees and the color of the ocean is so turquoise it looks fake.

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Staying the night ❤

I slept in one of the huts , on an actual mattress, even thought the thought of sleeping in a hammock on the beach was also tempting.
All day long locals walk around selling fruit bowls , coconut drinks or smoothies , there is also women who offer massages on the beach and occasionally there will be a vendor coming by, with beautiful handmade jewelry on his/her portable stand.

 

If you aren’t the hammock or hut type of traveler, there is also a bunch of hostels and a hotel on the Island.

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surreal sunsets

 

Tips for your day-trip to Playa Blanca

  1. Spend the night, because then you’ll be able to enjoy the gorgeous beach outside of the day tourist hours (12 -3 pm).
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This is how the beach looks like between 12-3pm

 

2. As mentioned above, there is various ways to get to Playa Blanca, boat rides, cruises and probably the best way of all, driving there with a car.  This way you won’t be part of the tourist masses and you can stay as long as you want ( the only way to leave Playa Blanca without a car, is the cruise that takes off at 3 pm).

3. Head to the end of the beach. Although there won’t be as many ( or let’s say… hardly any) stands to buy food or drinks, the beach gets more beautiful the further away you get from the cruise landing stage.

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Me and friends , exploring the „end of the beach“

Posted by Lisa

How to make the most out of your trip to the Tayrona Nationalpark in Colombia

Planning a trip to Tayrona Naitonal park?
10 things I learned from going there unprepared!

A weekend trip to parque Tayrona was one of the first things I did during my stay in Colombia. Up to then, I had only seen Cartagena with it’s beautiful old town and the Barrio I was living and working in, San Jose de los campanos, which was about the complete opposite of the gorgeous colonial style ciudad vieja!

So you can imagine, that I was really excited about seeing some more of Colombia and also, finally getting to see Colombia outside of cities. When I decided to do an internship in Colombia, I didn’t know a lot about it, neither did my family or most of my friends. Things like: Escobar, cartels, cocaine, murder, kidnapping and so on were on most of our minds, but besides of that, Colombia was a big mystery to us. With one exception, everybody I was talking to knew, that Colombias landscape had the reputation to be phenomenal. So, as you can imagine… I couldn’t wait to see it’s jungles, mountains, beaches, volcanos and rivers.

Me and a bunch of other interns started our trip to parque tayrona in the early morning, we took a bus from the bus terminal in Cartagena, since we didn’t have lots of money, we took one of those buses, the locals take when going from Cartagena to Santa Marta. The prices for these buses are far lower than the typical touristy ones (who would have thought so? ;P). By then, we all had some experiences with Colombian bus drivers and bus rides, so we weren’t surprised that the bus stopped every half an hour to let in vendors , who tried to sell their chicles ( gum), crackers, dried meat on sticks or even wall clocks ( no kidding) . Santa Marta which is the closest city to parque Tayrona, is about 220 kilometers away from Cartagena and it took us about four hours to get there. Arriving in Santa Marta around noon, we checked into our hostel and went to explore town. More about Santa Marta in another post.
The following morning, we had to get up really early,  we took a bus from the Mercado the Santa Marta ( which at first sight, doesn’t look like there would be tourist buses stopping at all). The market is quite confusing and getting lost there pretty likely, but thankfully, Colombian bus drivers aren’t as quiet as Austrian ones, so you’ll hear them from afar, yelling “Tayrona, Tayrona, Tayrona” until the bus is full.

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So we got dropped of at the entrance of the national park, which didn’t look like anything at all… just a hiking trail in the middle of the jungle. We weren’t quite sure if we were right, since we couldn’t spot the part of our crew who went on a second bus, but since we thought we end up meeting them at our destination anyway, we started walking. None of us had real hiking gear with them, one of us, a friend from Peru, even went in Flip Flops, so I guess you could say we were a bit naïve. The hike took us forever, we had to climb huge rocks and jump abysses, we walked through wild rivers and came across some were suspicious looking plantations. Since we thought the hike would be about 3 to four hours, we got kind of nervous when we, although hiking pretty fast, still didn’t see anything but wild jungle after more than 5 hours.

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climbing huge rocks

But no matter what, turning around was no option, so we kept going, came across an ancient little village, named pueblito and since at least one of us was smart enough to bring a map, we at least knew now , that we were still on a track. Not the one we were supposed to be on, but well…
We realized that we got dropped off at the wrong starting point, we didn’t walk the nice, coastline route, but the hardcore, rock climbing, jungle route. No wonder it took us far longer than we expected…

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After about 7 hours of hiking we ended up at Cabo San Juan,  the campsite we were supposed to get to a couple of hours ago. It was already late in the afternoon and there were no tents, hamacas (hammocks) or mats left for us. But at least we found the rest of our group; they were already at the beach for hours and had a nice, picturesque walk along the coast. We ended up enjoying the beach for a few hours, but soon realized, that we probably should look for a place to sleep before the sun went down, none of us had flashlights and walking through a pitch black jungle isn’t the best idea. After another hour of walking we came across a second camp site, we were lucky enough to get hold of a couple of tents and fell asleep pretty fast.

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Our campsite

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The next morning started pretty early again, we continued our hike through the national park, came across wild (!!) crocodiles, beautiful lonesome bays and white sand beaches. We stayed there for a couple of hours, drinking fresh smoothies and then, around noon, decided to start our way back out of the park. This time, we took the less straining route. After about 3 hours we reached the end of parque tayrona. Happy, tired and hungry, we entered the bus back to Santa Marta and even though we all had a beautiful time in the jungle, we were definitely looking forward to a real mattress and a shower in our hostel.

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hiking trail along empty beaches ❤
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Yes, wild crocodiles… just sitting next to you on the beach! 😛
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Paradise

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Thinking back to this adventurous weekend in parque tayrona, I am really proud of myself that I endured this massive hike (even more, because I wasn’t used to hiking at all) , I am so happy that I had the chance to see those beautiful beaches and all the wildlife, but I also know , that if I ever get back there, I will do some things different.

My tips for an awesome weekend-trip to parque tayrona:

  1. Make sure you know which route you are on. The one that looks shorter on the map, actually takes far more time, since you constantly walk up and down and climb rocks and so on.
  2. Bring enough water and bug spray
  3. Bring a flashlight
  4. Wear proper shoes
  5. Start really early. You should be at the campsite (Cabo San Juan del Guia – which is located at the best beach, or Arrecifes beach – the campsite we ended up at) before 3 pm. The sun sets pretty early in Colombia and you don’t want to walk through the jungle in the dark. Also… the campsites get booked out quickly and after hours of hiking you definitely want to sleep SOMEWHERE.
  6. Bring your own mats.
  7. Bring a lot of food and water – there are restaurants at every campsite, but the prices there are horrendous and the quality isn’t that good. (Smoothies are the exception! <3)
  8. If you are a student, definitely bring an international student card, you will save about half the price on the park entrance fee.
  9. Don’t bother bringing alcohol, you will have to hand it to the guards at the entrance.
  10. If you have a lot of things to carry, don’t hesitate and rent a horse or donkey (you’ll get the chance to do so at the entrance and also at the campsites) , walking without all of your camping gear, water and food is far more pleasant and you can actually enjoy the scenery.
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The crew 🙂

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Posted by Lisa