2016 was another year full of adventures. I quit my job at the end of 2015 to travel. But this time I wanted it to be open-end without any commitments. The only thing I knew, was that I would be flying to Rio de Janeiro on January 2nd 2016 and travel for 3 weeks with my sister. I didn’t know if I would return back home after that or continue traveling by myself.
Of course I didn’t go home after three weeks and what followed was the time of my life: I visited Brazil, Peru and Bolivia and returned to Central America for the 3rd time to travel in Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua.
It was such a liberating experience to not have any obligations and just live day by day. I spent most of my time at different beaches all over Latin America, learning how to surf. When I was bored with beach life and needed a change, I went to the mountains to hike or did a tour in breathtaking nature. Although I don’t particularly like cities, I visited some of the major ones too, if they were on my way.
Sometimes I stayed for a day and sometimes for two months.
Sometimes I was looking for adventure and sometimes for everyday life.
The only thing I was concerned about was the moment and my guts told me, if I should stay longer or if it was time to move on.
And after 10 months I had enough. I never imagined that my desire to travel would end before I run out of money, but that was the case. I reached Nicaragua and knew that it was time to go home. The signs were clear: I didn’t enjoy moving around anymore, couldn’t stand another night in a dorm, and preferred to drink sunset-beers by myself on the terrace while a party was going on downstairs. It was time to go home. And then I booked a flight and returned to Switzerland.
Many people have asked me, what my favorite experience was or which place I liked the most during my journey. It is hard to choose from such a huge range of different impressions but I did my best to narrow it down for you.
Here is the countdown of my three favorite destinations of 2016:
3rd place: Paraty, Brazil
Set amid jutting peninsulas and secluded beaches, with a backdrop of steep, jungled mountains plunging into an island-studded bay, Paraty is one of Brazil’s most appealing destinations” (Lonley Planet).
Paraty is located in between Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo in Brazil’s Costa Verde. It is a small colonial town with 17th and 18th century buildings and cobblestone streets, closed to motor vehicles. It is set just slightly below sea level and the tide comes and goes. Some parts get flooded over knee high and it is possible that you will have to travel in a horse drawn carriage to move around.
Paraty is clearly a tourist destination, but a charming one. The little restaurants and cafes are decorated in a retro chic style and artists from all over the world who have settled there have opened shops and galleries.
Although Paraty is a lovely town, it wouldn’t have come in 3rd place of my three favorite destinations of 2016 without the right hostel. As a backpacker, the hostel is a very important part of your experience. Factors such as the location, infrastructure, people and price are decisive and can either make you love or hate a place. And sometimes the hostel itself is the attraction and the reason people go somewhere.
I didn’t do any research before going to Paraty and just decided to stay at the same hostel as some friends I had met in Ilha Grande. On our way there, we realized that we booked a hostel which is located around 15 minutes away from Paraty and could only be reached my boat. That’s not what we had in mind but we decided to go anyway and check it out.
Little did we know when we got in the boat that we would be driving straight to heaven.
Happy Hammock Eco Guesthouse Paraty
The Happy Hammock Eco Guesthouse has its own pier and it is located directly on the waterfront with green tropical hills behind it. Besides a few houses, it is surrounded only by nature and water. It has a huge terrace with hammocks and a table where everyone eats together. There is a big open living room when you enter the house and you can choose between private rooms and dorms. Due to its remote location, the guesthouse offers three meals a day. They are cooked by the hostel managers themselves, who are by the way Swiss. They set great value upon spoiling their guests with their food and cook delicious meals from all over the world. Especially people who have been traveling for a while, really appreciate their cuisine because it is not just rice and beans. I was stoked to eat some Swiss food for a change and yes, I was happy when they shared their Swiss cheese with me.
After dinner, everyone goes down to the pier to swim with illuminating plankton. It is beautiful to see the water around you light up while swimming through the ocean. At the same time I felt strange to be swimming in the dark without seeing anything that goes on around you in the water.
Things to do:
This is not a place where you need to do anything. It is home away from home and the perfect place to relax for a few days and recover from the strains of backpacking. There is a boat that takes you to Paraty and back if you want to scroll around town. If you prefer to stay near the hostel for a few days here is a list of three things you could do:
1. Walk to the nearby beach Praia Vermelha
The islands and coast around Paraty are full with little secluded beaches, some of them are privately owned and some are public.
The guesthouse it located around 25 minutes walking distance of a public beach with crystal-clear water and light brown soft sand. Different boats with tourists from Paraty stop there. If you want to have it to yourself, you can go there in the morning or the late afternoon. You should definitely check it out. It doesn’t get much better than this.
2. Go stand up paddling
When I was there, the hostel had its own stand up paddle, which the guests were free to use. I had never done it before and decided to give it a go. The first few minutes were shaky but once I got used to it, it was a fun way to explore the area. I turned it into my morning ritual to start the day. And did I mention that there are dolphins and turtles? And now imagine seeing this while gliding over the ocean on a stand up paddle.
3. Take a boat trip to Pão Açucar and enjoy the view
Ok, I admit it was hard but as always, it is so worth it to walk up a mountain for the view. This walk takes around an hour and it is straight up-hill in a tropical climate. But what you get in the end is extremely rewarding and quickly makes you forget all the torture you just went through to get there. Ocean wrapped around green hills no matter where you look. I really enjoyed this short tour and was glad to see this stunning landscape from the top.
Lodging at the Happy Hammock Eco Guesthouse in Paraty was a unique experience for me and I ended up staying there for ten days. The managers were extremely welcoming and kind and it felt like being part of a big family for a while. I enjoyed the fact that they are Swiss and the guesthouse is run according to Swiss quality standards.
The combination between the homely accommodation and the heavenly environment make it my 3rd favorite destination in 2016.
And there is only one thing that keeps me from packing my bags, leaving everything behind and starting a life there: The ocean is flat as a Swiss lake and any waves you see, were produced by boats. This means no surf. Oh well, I was so close to finding my paradise.
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