Entremundos is a non-profit organization based in Quetzaltenango (also called Xela) that connects volunteers to organizations all around Guatemala, with the highest number of projects based in the western highlands. You can access their database of volunteer opportunities for free on their website but if you are already in Xela (as I was, studying at a Spanish school) you can also make an appointment to go and talk to them about volunteer work and get more info. This appointment costs a donation of £2. They helped me contact a small community project where I helped out with agricultural work and some basic teaching for three weeks. I think its a great organization for those who are willing to take the leap and set up volunteer work when they get to Guatemala, and not pay some profit making company a fortune to send you to the same projects Entremundos does. They also have their own projects on the go, like training for local community groups and NGOs and produce a great bilingual magazine about development issues. I used it a lot for my Spanish study. Oh, and they rent rooms out too. So if you are planning to go to Quetzaltenango (and you realy should), check them out. I hope they keep up the great work they are doing!
This is a private resort on the cheap! Some of the buildings need a bit of renovation, but the setting is fantastic - in forest, on a great private beach. I suspect that they'll spend some money refurbishing the place, then up the prices, but at the moment it's great value (but lower service, I'd think) compared to neighbouring resorts. Visit the restaurants at Perdana Quay for some great food - better than the hotel restaurant.
La Maison is a lovely boutique hotel with a real garden feel. It's a bit out from town (although you can get tuk-tuks), but you really feel apart from the crowds around "Pub Street". Food is really good, and a great pool. Would definitely stay here again.
This for me is the best place to sit back and relax, lie in a hammock drinking coconut shakes while looking out at the ocean. Paradise, is set in a idyllic location with a laid back atmosphere, welcoming and friendly staff, great food and cocktails.
When John Milton sat down, pen in hand, ready to put the final touches to Paradise Lost, he clearly hadn't made it here. Pulau Perhentian Kecil might prove a mouthful to pronounce and a mission to get to, but it'll prove worth every bit of effort you put in to find it.
That South East Asia is littered with beautiful islands is unquestionable, but many are well en route to being trashed by the carnage their economy depends upon. However, few that register on the backpacker's radar, remain as untouched and in rude health as this pint-sized paradise, located 50km off the Eastern Coast of northern Malaysia, a stone's through from the Thai border.
Though Malaysia is far from synonymous with beach life, whip out your weary-limbed backpacker's checklist upon arrival and you'll be able to tick off translucent, turquoise waters, white sandy beaches and abundant palm trees. There are shacks aplenty to house you, few of which it is even possible to find evidence of, let alone book, online. These range from the rather basic mattress in a beach hut to the more opulent mattress in a beach hut, with air con, electricity and an en suite bathroom. For an added luxury, the island folk have mastered the art of the flushing toilet, so you won't find yourself staring at your own emissions as you desperately try to sink them with a bucket like you will in Thailand. Prices range from around 20RM (£4) to 80RM (£16) a night making these eminently affordable and worth every penny thanks to the surrounding beauty.
Well-priced and friendly options include Panorama Huts, located centrally on Long Beach, and Moonlight Chalets, tucked away at the periphery, among the palm trees at the beach's edge. Both house their own restaurants, serving up sizeable portions of pan-Asian and western cuisine at great prices and offer a host of options when it comes to entertainment.
Rather unique to Kecil is the complete absence of roads linking the backpackers' paradise of Long Beach with anywhere else on the island. The only way to circumnavigate this drop in the ocean and its various enclaves is by boat or on foot. With some of the best priced and most stunning diving you'll find anywhere in the world ... or so the divers in my midst assured me, you'll be able to plunge to coral-addled depths, offering twenty-metre visibility, for as little as 60RM. For the uninitiated, the snorkelling trips offered around the island also prove mind-blowing in themselves. The prevalence of incredibly vibrant coral, makes for a psychedelic underwater experience for all, without the need to team up, tank up and drop to new depths. With sea turtles, sharks and sting-ray among the marine life promised to the average day tripper, these certainly prove a rewarding experience. But it doesn't end there. If you haven't heard one of more considered and more erudite of your party yelling “awww, look it's Nemo” before the end of the day, then your trip will not have been complete.
Kecil, as stated, means small, thus it should come as little surprise that the island is also rather quiet. Those seeking the kind of intensity of nightlife a full moon party can serve up need not apply. Neon pink body paint, glow sticks, Samsong buckets and hoards of beered up geezers grappling you in sweaty hugs couldn't be further your mind as you negotiate Long Beach's four bars, none of which ever seem to fill up. If a dancefloor does emerge, it invariably boasts little more than a few bar tenders busting a groove, a barely cognisant European guy or two with far more confidence than their ape-being-elecricuted-esque dance moves deserve and a couple of ladies who defences will inevitably be broken down by either/or before the night is out. For most, however, candlelight and a shisha become the order of the evening, accompanied by the odd slug on a bottle of the local rum. With relaxation the ambient vibe, it isn't long before most of the island's visitors slip away for a relatively early night in order to make the most of the next day on one of the continent's most stunning destinations. And whether they'll be found soaking up the sun, lost in a book, kicking a ball over a net with some uber-flexible locals or several metres under the ocean chasing a shark around a wreck, there can be little doubt they'll be having the time of their life. Perhentian Kecil is a mission to get to, it was even harder to get away from, but I for one will definitely be heading back.
Check out: www.perhentian.com.my
Go to: Putra bus station, Kuala Lumpur a short walk from the Putra World Trade Centre stop on Kuala Lumpur's efficient LRT network.
Here you can book a ticket to Kuala Besut, for a paltry sum.
The final leg: book yourself onto a speedboat at Kuala Best jetty for 70RM, open return.
Do go: between March and September.
Don't go: between October and February, when you'll find little other than some tropical storms, monsoon rain and the tiny collection of locals that brave them during the off-season.
Google map: tinyurl.com/355hvlk
Who says that a beach needs to be by the sea? The beaches on the mystical Olkhon Island in Lake Baikal provided me with some of the most beautiful views and enjoyable moments of any backpacking trips I have taken.
Staying at Nikita's Homestead I met many other backpackers railing their way across Russia, as well as groups of schoolchildren on their summer vacations; ate large quantities of Baikal's native fish 'omul' and spent many hours on the beaches attempting to brave the lake's freezing waters or watching the sunset with a few beers. As a result of the hectic journey every traveller must endure to reach the island, six hours from the nearest train station, an oasis of relaxation and calm is created.
The owners are incredibly welcoming and have almost single-handedly created the tourist industry on the island. To any backpacker travelling across Russia I thoroughly recommend a visit to the island.
Nikita's Homestead www.olkhon.info/en/
Nearest rail station is Irkutsk (80 hours from Moscow) and from there take a six-hour marshrutka taxi and a ferry from Khuzir to reach the island (almost inaccessible during months when the ice is melting or forming).
Google map: tinyurl.com/348wldl
From the slightly too image concerned surfer hangout town, San Juan Del Sur on the South West coast of Nicaragua, you can catch a shuttle bus (an enormous zebra-striped all terrain shuttle bus at that) over some pretty bumpy roads and tracks to one of the best waves in Nicaragua at Playa Maderas. Don’t stop here - if you walk about half a mile north over beautiful sands and a rocky outcrop you come to the beach dubbed Playa Matilda, after the fantastic beachside accommodation. You can choose simple but comfortable cabanas or the ‘dog kennels’ that just fit in a mattress and your bag or even set up a tent (or just a hammock) in their camping area at the back – all right on one of the most beautiful and unspoilt beaches in Central America. There are kitchen facilities but better is to go to Maria’s shack tucked around the back where you can mix and match different seafood, fish and meat with her three different sauces, all served of course with gallo pinto (rice and beans). That is of course if you’re not barbequing the fish caught by one of the eclectic mix of travelers that tend to stay a while here. A backpacker hangout that attracts a slightly more mature crowd – expect nights round the fire sippinging the delicious but cheap Flor de Cana rum and keeping an eye out for turtles crawling up the beach to lay their eggs. Swimming, surfing, rock pool discovering and a lovely vibe will ensure your two-day stay could turn into weeks.
Nearest town - San Juan del Sur. Get shuttle bus from one of the big backpackers to Playa Maderas - then walk! Or get a taxi all the way there.
Google map: tinyurl.com/2u5znwc
Calling Smile Bungalows a basic beach resort doesn't even begin to do it justice. The bungalows are rustic, with each having a bed, bathroom, balcony and fan, but the resort sits in beautiful lush gardens on Bottle Beach, which can only be reached by boat.
It lies on a beautiful secluded beach, which has great swimming and is perfect for gazing at the stars at night. However the place is really made by the incredibly friendly and helpful staff, and the relaxed bar/ restaurant which sserves a wide range of amazing food and drinks. And at 400 Thai Baht a night (approx £8) you can't get much better than that.
Clove Hall feels less like a hotel and more like the private home of a fabulously wealthy and cultured friend. It’s a place in which it is impossible not to relax. Everything about it is laid-back and beautiful, and no detail too small to have been given thought. Carefully chosen antiques and sepia photographs against light white walls give an impression of understated luxury and are perfectly fitting with the building’s history.
Despite Penang’s UNESCO protection, too many of the old buildings outside the central area are falling derelict, so it was a pleasure to see one which had been so lovingly restored. The owner has a history of renovating old buildings to their former splendour, another of his projects being the celebrated Galle Fort Hotel in Sri Lanka.
Clove Hall is still newly opened and feels like a bit of a secret, but I don’t think it will be long before the travel and design magazine editors take note and its popularity grows - go now!
Beautiful Riad and Kasbah about 15km outside of Marrakech that is the perfect place to get away from it all for a few days once you have explored the city. The service is impeccable, the rooms are pure luxury and the food is very good (although not the best we had on our trip). The thing that makes this place stand out is the peace and quiet and it gives you the opportunity to just really chill out after the madness of they city itself.
Aqua is quite possibly the best backpacker-style beach haunt I have ever come across. It is located on a small island in the group called Bocas del Toro on the Caribbean coast of Panama. Easily accessible from the mainland by small taxi boat, the hostel/bar has been built above the water with a swimming pool area cut out of the decking. The vibe is chilled out Caribbean with a characterful collection of international staff. Key attractions: cheap accommodation ($10 a night), amazing surfing and snorkelling opportunities accessible by boat, swimming literally off the decking, hammocks to relax in by day, a sea trampoline, AMAZING parties twice a week and easy access to the main island (a $1 taxi or 15 minute swim!) where there are cheap club nights every night. Also, on ladies' night, girls drink for free!
Cinsta is a small town stop along the coastal route of South Africa heading towards Durban. This place, and the warm and friendly people at the Bucanneers Backpackers, was a true highlight of a stay a few years ago. Wide expansive views of the beach from the room at Bucanneers, many kilometres of unspoit white sandy shoreline and the most serene and idylic sunrise and sunsets are just some of the reasons why this place is a must see. Away from the hustle, noise and bustle of the more urban beachfront attractions, like Jeffrey's Bay, or other stops on the Garden Route. A place that is genuinely off the beaten track, as many I think would drive on towards Durban or the Drakensberg. If you are looking for a place to hang out, chill, walk, hike, read, swim, surf, but without the tourist commercial bubble, then this is it. Some amazing beach photgraphy to be done, and breathtaking early and late horizon gazing. Happy Memories.
PO Box 13092, Vincent, 5217, East London, Cintsa
To be found two hours on from East London in the Eastern Cape by car. If you are a newbie traveller and taking the Baz Bus, the bus will stop there!
+27 (0)43 734 3012
Google map: tinyurl.com/2uynhe3
It’s got to be Bottle Beach on Koh Phangan in Thailand. It's got all the qualities – isolated (access to the beach is only possible by boat), superb beaches, good food, jungle to explore, very hospitable hosts, great swimming and snorkelling opportunities. Enough said.
Backpackers have been going to Dahab on the Sinai for years and although the town has grown now it is still a great place to meet people and really chill out by the sea.
Diver's House is a really friendly pension that is in the southern part of the town which is far quieter than the northern end which is starting to get "touristy". You can get a double room, but many are triples or sleep four people. The acommodation is basic but you're not there to spend time in your room as you can just walk out onto their sun terrace or that of the Jasmine Restaurant (and Pension) which is opposite. Both have stunning views of the Gulf of Acqaba and the staff there will get your drinks and keep the tab going all day without hassling you to buy more or move on. The bedouine cushion seating there makes it very easy to stay all day!
If you do manage to prise yourself from this laid back cafe the diving instructors and guides with Diver's House are well qualified and friendly. You can though just rent a mask, snorkle and some fins cheaply from any of the stalls along the road and snorkle on the coral reef which runs directly infront of the cafe.
Mashraba Street - Dahab - South Sinai
+20 69 3640885
Google map: tinyurl.com/2wbo993
Mashraba St.- Dahab - South Sinai- Egypt
+20 69 3640 852
From Sharm El Sheik or Cairo there is an East Delta Bus Service that runs regularly during the day and overnight (Cairo to Dahab is 50LE per person).
Enjoy bathing in the hot springs, although sadly pumped in and a bit too sanitised for those who'd rather bathe in the open. Or even better use it as a base for signposted walks in the area, avoiding many of the risks of walking in the woods in Alaska, of which getting lost is only one (albeit a pretty serious one).
Great holiday bungalow. Lots of character. Rented out exclusively by private owners to guests from all over the world. Fantastic, friendly staff who go the extra mile to make your holiday extra special.
A real retreat.
We arrived at Alberto's via his friend around the corner, who's guests had opted to extend their stay. Alberto arrived on his little scooter and we followed behind in our car to his lovely home.
He gave us directions to a fab little restaurant slighlty out of town, and also to the main square.
He suggested that we opt for secure parking, and again we followed the little scooter to an overnight facility. The rate was clearly signposted, and next morning we returned to pick up our car. I didn't get the impression that car theft is a huge problem but it was nice not to have to think about ( and cost very little).
Amneris was away when we there, but I would have been surprised if she could have prepared a better breakfast. After a good night's sleep, lovely breakfast and directions to Che's old stomping ground we headed off.
Before we hit the road for Havana we popped back to Alberto's to use the loo, which he was happy for us to do. Both rooms were already prepared for the next lucky guests.
Comfy beds - yes
Hot water - yes
En suite - yes
Spotless accommodation - yes
Excellent breakfast - yes
English speaking - no
Calle (EP Morales) Sindico # 60, between Villuadas and Juan Bruno Zayas
Tel - 53 (42) 203 270
I loved this casa particular. We were only there for two nights but it was clean, comfy and incredibly welcoming. My Spanish is not great, and my friend's was not existent. It didn't matter, Clara and Roberto were by far and away the most accomodating hosts I came across in Cuba.
Comfy beds - yes
Hot water - yes
En suite - yes
Spotless accommodation - yes
Really good food - yes
English Speaking - no (but the neighbours daughter and son-in-law do)
Joaquín Pérez 23, Viñales, Pinar del Rio
Google map: tinyurl.com/35jk722
Tel - 53 (48) 696 787
The boat that took us over from Arisaig to Kinloch (Rhum) was as much a wildlife cruise as it was a ferry service, with seals lounging on the rocks and minke whales, their black dorsal fin dramatic against the still water. On the island we heard seabirds (Manx shearwaters) in their burrows, high up on Hallival, an impressive mountain of 2,300 feet, and with its lower slopes littered with boulders the size of caravans. There are also lots of low level walks on good paths, such as the one across the island to Kilmory where the red deer were filmed for BBC’s Autumnwatch.
The only place to stay on this traffic-free island is Kinloch Castle, where the servants’ quarters make very comfortable hostel accommodation, but with superior rooms also available. A wholesome three course meal is served in the dining room for £15, and the cosy and convivial bar is the home of local musicians.
The wildlife, and views of neighbours large (Skye) and small (Muck and Eigg), the solitude of mountain paths and shorelines, the stunning sunsets. ‘Will ye no come back again?’
War lover attached to my name is our room name in the hotel as rooms are identified by names rather than numbers. The location of the hotel is ideal. The room sizes are not standard - request the bigger size -it is much more comfortable. The breakfast was simple but very good and the staff are very good starting from Adnan, the manager, who is very proud of his hotel and whose vast knowledge was very useful in helping us. Oufoq (horizon in Turkish) is exceptionally nice, honest and helpful. Twice he made bookings for us and ensured the best seats by personally calling the functions managers.
Send your feedback or queries to email@example.com