Backpacking through Latin America - Part 3

Backpacking through Latin America - Part 3

One of the things that will likely be a big part of any backpacking trip is the people you meet along the way. When you, like us, spend most of your nights in various shared dorms in hostels of varying quality, go on day trips in groups, or take free walking tours in the cities, you can't help but strike up conversations with all sorts of different people. It's incredibly inspiring to meet other travelers, and there are just as many ways to travel and reasons to do so as there are backpackers. Some we hit it off with, others not so much—but from each person we meet, we gain inspiration for ways of living, places to travel, or useful tips and tricks for life on the road. It's hugely rewarding, and even though it takes energy to be "on" all the time, it's also what makes backpacker life so special.

After spending some relaxing days in northern Colombia, we said goodbye to some of our travel acquaintances as our paths diverged. We were now excited to experience a new country on our own, and we arrived in Mexico City a little before midnight with high expectations, especially for the food. After a couple of nights in various hotels and hostels, we really got a taste of the big metropolis.

We just have to say: Mexico is fantastic. That was also our expectation beforehand, but damn, did it live up to it. In Mexico City, we went on a taco tour with a local guide and ate the most amazing food from street vendors. Generally, food makes a big difference in our impression of a country or city. While Peru has some great local dishes, we were not as impressed with Colombian cuisine and often had to resort to "Western" restaurants. That's why Mexico was right up our alley. On our second night in the city, we were approached by two local students at a bar who wanted to hear about our travels, etc. It ended with us drinking mezcal and beer until midnight and hearing about their daily lives, Mexico's challenges and opportunities. A fantastic start to a new country, and we immediately felt welcome.

Our route for the last 6 weeks of travel took us from Mexico City to Oaxaca City, down to the coastal towns of Puerto Escondido and Mazunte, one night in San Cristobal, before taking the 14-15 hour journey to Guatemala's second largest city, Antigua. Then to Flores in northern Guatemala, and finally, we ended with two to three weeks on the Yucatán Peninsula in eastern Mexico. And in this post, we will share the highlights with you.

For us Danes, Mexico means tequila and tacos when we focus on the gastronomic side. But there was far more waiting for us when we first dug into the buffet. For one, tacos are an art form and very different in Mexico than the classic large flat pancake with filling we know. We had all sorts of versions of the small round pancake, where especially the hard, toasted tostada, the slightly larger tlayuda (Oaxaca dish), and the fried salbutes and panuchos (best at Restaurant La Selva in Valladolid) were among our favorites. We had the classic regional dish in the Oaxaca region, mole, which blew us away. In Oaxaca City, we were most adventurous in the food world because we ate at street vendors every day, and we went to the big food market, 20 de Noviembre, several times, which has a wild meat and grill section, among other things. We ate plenty of churros from various food stalls, and also came across several mezcal producers where we got a taste for the Mexican alcohol - we even made room for a couple of bottles in our backpacks. Interestingly, tequila is actually a type of mezcal that was commercialized in the 70s and 80s and spread to the rest of the world. And now, for the biggest revelation in Mexico: micheladas. Wow, what a drink. Tomato juice, lime, beer, and chili salt on the rim of the glass, plus maybe a little Tabasco, HP sauce, and celery depending on the mood of the place where it's served.

In Mexico City, we got to know the historic part of the country. We visited the Basilica of Guadalupe, which is a giant church with room for 10,000 people, and where millions of Catholic pilgrims flock every year on December 12. We saw the Teotihuacán "pyramids" - which are actually temples - outside the city, where the Aztecs, among others, have resided. And in Oaxaca we saw the Zapotec ruins of Monte Alban, which were wildly impressive. In the final part of the journey, we of course also visited the Chichen Itza temple city, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It was mandatory to visit - but you share the experience with incredibly many other tourists, so we were actually more excited about the Tikal temple city in Guatemala's northern jungle region close to the city of Flores. Reportedly, it is the largest of the Mayan cities, and it was an incredible sight to walk through the forest jungle and see the largest temples towering above the treetops.

The third and final part of our journey offered a lot of changes along the way as we prioritized making a short trip into Guatemala to see Tikal, among other things, but the big goal was to climb the Acatenango volcano. After a lot of nature experiences in Peru and Colombia, we took a break from that and enjoyed cities and beaches in Mexico, but we felt that we were missing one last big nature experience. We got that in Guatemala. From the city of Antigua, we set off early in the morning towards the foot of the inactive volcano. Here, we faced four to five hours of ascent to an altitude of 3,756 meters, where we set up camp and enjoyed one of the most beautiful sunsets of our lives. From here, we had an unobstructed view of the frequently active Fuego volcano. Approximately every ten minutes, we could clearly see it spewing fire and lava out of the crater with impressive force. A completely incomprehensible sight that will stay with us for the rest of our lives. After spending the night in temperatures ranging from 5°C to -10°C, we set off at 4:30 am towards the top of Acatenango to enjoy the sunrise over the landscape.

Other highlights include the surfer town of Puerto Escondido, which we really liked. Although the waves were a bit too big for swimming, the surfing was fantastic, and Nikolaj even got to play golf on a three-hole course in the backyard of an American former surfer who has settled in the town. In Puerto, we also had the opportunity to release baby sea turtles after hatching - a huge experience!

We enjoyed the hippie vibe in the coastal town of Mazunte, visited the islands of Isla Mujeres where we celebrated Christmas, and Cozumel where we celebrated New Year's Eve in Playa del Carmen together with thousands of others, and we enjoyed life in the smaller town of Valladolid. From here, we could cycle around and visit the many cenotes in the area, jump from various cliffs and piers, and swim in them. The freshwater holes were all different but also completely magical to experience. Also, a clear highlight of the trip.

If you have been following our journey here on the website, you know that our backpacks and what we put in them take up a good amount of space. And here, after two-thirds of the journey, it is important to emphasize that you will probably manage even if there are a few extra kilos or it's more crowded than you had dreamed of back home. Because even though we pack it every second or third day, haul it to the bus station, in and out of the bus, and to a new hostel, every time it works out and we get there and move on. Nevertheless, you can still feel envious when we meet a 25-year-old Englishman who simply travels around with a school bag with a skateboard strapped on the outside. Again, there is plenty of inspiration for lifestyles and forms of travel out in the world.

We have now landed in Denmark in the rain and cold, but we have renewed energy for everyday life, and we will always remember this fantastic journey. Thank you so much for following along on the journey, and we hope there will be many more of them in the future.