Hands up who’s already mentally spent their Christmas money on next year’s adventures? We know you’re all as totally travel obsessed as we are, which is why we’ve put together this hand-picked list of the best backpacking destinations for 2020, based on the biggest growth in bookings in the last twelve months. No travel clichés here friends – from paradise islands to underrated African cities, laid-back surfing towns to isolated mountain retreats, it’s time to start planning where in the world we’re heading next year. Spoiler alert: it’s far from the beaten track.
Introducing you to the 20 best backpacking destinations for 2020!
20. Sendai – Japan
Travellers will head to Japan in 2020 for the Tokyo Olympics, but if you’re not one to follow the crowds then Sendai is a great alternative. It’s made the list as one of next year’s best backpacking destinations. The best time to explore this modern city is in August, when the streets come alive for Tanabata Matsuri on the 6th-8th. This lively festival is held on the days when the stars Altair and Vega cross paths, and features live music, traditional dance, street food, fireworks, and most famously, thousands of colourful streamers decorating the city. If you can’t manage to time your visit to coincide with this, Sendai is still well worth a visit. It’s got bustling markets, wonderfully random nightlife options and a long list of impressive temples and shrines to check out.
Combining two of our favourite things, Orit Hostel & Café Bar Lounge has an on-site coffee shop with a welcoming atmosphere. It’s perfect for solo travellers on the hunt for new travel buddies, or digital nomads needing a quiet space to chill with their laptops. The facilities are super modern, and there’s a terrace to enjoy your morning coffee overlooking the city.
19. Portland (Maine) – USA
Trendy Portland Oregon has been on the traveller radar for ages, but we bet you haven’t added this small, East Coast city to your USA wishlist yet! Sure, the likes of NYC and LA are always gonna have us hooked, but can you really say you’ve experienced the US until you’ve ventured away from the big cities? Travellers to Portland are rewarded with a local, community feel and zero crowds. The Old Port’s cobbled streets and colourful mismatch of boutique shops and restaurants are a quirky surprise, and you might not expect the city to have such a vibrant arts scene that includes the oldest public art museum in the US. Throw in a famed farmers’ market and local craft breweries, and it’s hard to believe that more people aren’t shouting about Portland’s cool credentials!
Wondering where to stay? Look no further than the outrageously funky Black Elephant Hostel. Much like the city itself, it’s equal parts cosy and cool, with a warm, family feel and colourfully mismatched interiors. It’s right next to the Old Port so exploring couldn’t be easier, and when you’re done you can snuggle up in front of the fireplace in the communal lounge.
18. Raglan – New Zealand
The North Island town of Raglan is surrounded by incredible natural beauty and epic surf breaks. It’s best known for its unusual black sand coastline, but venture a little outside of town and discover peaceful walking trails through the Wainui nature reserve, cycling routes over an ancient volcano and the glistening green waters of the Bridal Veil Falls. Most backpackers come here to surf though, as there’s a spot for every ability. Ngarunui Beach is the place for those who’ve never picked up a board, as the waves are calm and there are several surf schools to choose from. If this isn’t your first rodeo, Manu Bay and Whale Bay offer some of the best waves in the world, set against breathtaking scenery.
To best enjoy all that Mother Nature has on offer in Raglan, base yourself at the eco-friendly Raglan Backpackers. You can hang out in a hammock or the hot tub in the garden, take part in an outdoor yoga class or venture out with a kayak or surfboard, both of which are available to rent from the hostel. With a killer location right on the water, you can wake up in your bunk to the sounds of waves crashing.
17. Pisac – Peru
For a rural alternative to the nearby city of Cusco, many travellers to Peru are choosing to explore the Sacred Valley of the Incas by basing themselves in Pisac, a small village with a strong sense of spirituality. This is thanks to the unreal landscapes and mysterious history of the surrounding valley, the bohemian vibe and slow pace of life in the Old Town, and the range of wellness activities practiced here. It doesn’t get much more relaxing than yoga with these views, and you’re likely to feel like you’re floating on clouds after a few days in Pisac! Aside from achieving total zen, other things to do in Pisac include browsing for local crafts at the Sunday market, wandering the colonial streets of the Old Town and climbing the crowd-free Pisac ruins.
Wolf Totem Guesthouse embodies the spirit of Pisac. This beautifully boho hostel has eco-friendly features, a bright communal space overlooking the valley and outdoor hammocks with some of the best views in South America. There’s an on-site café, outdoor yoga space and even a sauna to relax in after a day’s trekking.
16. Trapani – Italy
If you’re travelling to Italy in 2020, don’t skip over sun-kissed Sicily. The gorgeous Mediterranean island is home to sparkling beaches, smoking volcanoes and attractive cities like Trapani, one of next year’s best backpacking destinations. Take a stroll through the narrow streets of the Old Town and check out its churches and basilicas, before feasting on hearty Sicilian classics like arancini and cannoli. For the best vistas around, visit the clifftop medieval village of Erice. At 750m above sea level, you’ll get unbeatable views of Trapani’s sand-hued architecture and the surrounding Med. Trapani is also a perfect spot to base yourself for day trips around Sicily. The stunning Aegadian Islands are only 30 minutes away by boat, so you can spend a day of pure bliss exploring coves and snorkelling around white sand beaches.
For a budget-friendly stay in the city centre, Hostelleria is the top choice. It’s got a minimalistic design but has everything you’ll need, with dorms and private rooms, a shared kitchen and a lively bar next door.
15. Liège – Belgium
It may have shied away from the spotlight in the past, but Belgium’s fourth largest city is barging the likes of Bruges and Brussels out of the way to get the backpacker appreciation it deserves. Despite being packed full of incredible architecture, cultural gems and amazing food, it manages to keep hold of a laid-back, small town vibe that makes you feel instantly at home. Grab a Liège waffle (which are famous for the exploding sugar grains inside!) and take a picturesque walk along the Meuse River, before exploring the medieval buildings of the main square. The best spot for a local tipple is Place du Marché, an assortment of traditional bars and pubs that come alive in the evening.
For a lively place to stay in Liège you can’t beat Liège Youth Hostel. Not only is it stylish and chic, it’s full of amazing social spaces, like an on-site bar with pool tables and foosball, outdoor space with ping pong tables and a colourful café to enjoy your free breakfast. It couldn’t be easier to meet new friends here – plus it’s just 5 minutes from Liège’s best nightlife when you’re ready to hit the town with them!
14. Buenaventura – Colombia
Colombia has transformed the world’s perception of it in recent years, nowhere less so than Buenaventura. Only a few years ago this Pacific Coast city was regarded as the most dangerous in the country, but now it’s an increasingly popular spot that’s set to be one of the best backpacking destinations of 2020. Though Buenaventura is packed full of lively salsa bars, Afro-Colombian seafood restaurants and waterfront entertainment, the city itself isn’t actually the main attraction – we’re most interested in the unspoilt beaches, tropical jungle and natural pools that surround it! Compared to the rest of the country, this area is still relatively under the radar, so you can enjoy surfing and beachfront cocktails minus the crowds of Colombia’s more famous destinations. Don’t miss a night-time cave swim with fluorescent plankton – an experience you’ll never forget.
For the ultimate peaceful stay, choose Pacifico Hostel. It’s surrounded by virgin jungle and has its own private beach(!!), overlooked by a funky open-air bar. They choose sustainable options like growing their own veg and running their bathrooms with rain water, and they’ll lend you a kayak to explore the nearby mangroves. We’re starting to think city life is overrated…
13. Hà Giang – Vietnam
Hà Giang is Vietnam’s most northern province, which despite being one of the most jaw-droppingly stunning areas of the country, is often overlooked by backpackers as it’s far away from the usual hotspots. This means no one spoiling your scenery shots – bonus! It’s easily (and cheaply) reached via overnight bus, and travellers who make the long journey will reap the rewards. Start your adventure in the provincial capital of the same name, and make like the other intrepid backpackers who rent a motorbike and journey through the region’s picturesque winding roads. You’ll encounter rural communities, small towns and ancient traditions, all set against the rolling green mountains that make Hà Giang so unforgettable.
NoMadders Hostel is the perfect base on the outskirts of the city to soak in that fresh, mountain air. Their gorgeous dorms cost as little as £4 a night, and you can treat yourself to a private hut from £20. There’s an outdoor pool and patio surrounded by jungle, a bar and a hot tub for living your best backpacker life!
12. Maputo – Mozambique
Mozambique’s charming capital city has seen a recent resurgence, with travellers enjoying the pastel-hued streets of Downtown and their cute cafes, colonial architecture and fascinating museums and galleries. It’s best explored on foot, and even better with an expert guide, so taking a walking tour is the best way to learn about Maputo’s tumultuous history and to discover insider secrets. For a local feast, head to the fish market, where you can pick your catch and have it cooked with chips or rice at one of the surrounding restaurants! And when city life all gets a bit too much, you can hop on a bus for 90 minutes to reach the quiet white sand beaches of Ponto do Ouro.
Maputo is only just emerging as a backpacker destination so there aren’t heaps of hostels, which means you should take full advantage of The Base. A small hostel with a homely feel, you can cook up a feast on the BBQ and enjoy it on the terrace overlooking Maputo Bay! It’s within walking distance of the city’s best attractions, as well as plenty of bars and restaurants.
11. Nassau – Bahamas
You might not think of budget travellers when you picture the Bahamas, but then again you probably don’t think of cities either. Well that’s all about to change, because the Bahamas’ capital (and only) city is one of the best backpacking destinations for 2020 – especially if you’re the type of traveller who swerves the resorts and seeks out authentic experiences (i.e. all of us!) The city oozes Caribbean culture, nowhere more so than in the vibrant ‘Fish Fry’ neighbourhood, where colourful jerk joints, bars and street food vendors line the streets, the energy is electric and the soundtrack is provided by DJs and reggae bands. Other highlights include sipping rum at a local distillery, diving with sharks at Stuart’s Cove and shopping for crafts at the Straw Market. It’s better in the Bahamas!
Hostels in the Bahamas – say what?! BahaSea Backpackers gives you paradise on a budget, with two pools overlooking the sparkling turquoise ocean. They’ve got two rescued pigs who love to take a dip too! It’s in a quiet beachfront neighbourhood with easy public transport links to downtown, and has a mixture of private rooms, mixed and female-only dorms.
10. Gijón – Spain
Once a sleepy fishing port, the city of Gijón in Spain’s northern Asturias region is turning into a hotspot for surfing, eating and partying. Solo travellers will feel right at home here, as the atmosphere is always buzzing and social, thanks to al fresco drinking and dining in the Centro district (and of course, the hostels). Asturias is famous for its cider, and there are plenty of bars in the city where you can watch your order being poured from a great height – the traditional way to serve it! But before you have too much of that, you need to hit the soft golden sand of Playa de San Lorenzo for some beach yoga and surfing. Trust us, you won’t be able to resist the easy-going vibe!
If you want to make the most of the waves, Gijón Surf Hostel will help you out with cheap board rental, lessons and a convenient location close to the beach. It’s set in a massive house where you’ll meet heaps of other backpackers over beers in the garden or the free buffet breakfast. There’s even free yoga every night, so you’re sure to be channelling the chilled spirit of Gijón by the time you leave.
9. Siargao Island – The Philippines
Another surfer’s paradise, Siargao is the wave-riding capital of The Philippines that’s low-key one of the most beautiful islands on earth. Full of treasures like waterfalls, lagoons, caves, jungle and of course, those beaches, it’s one of the best backpacking destinations for nature lovers. As with any South East Asian backpacker spot, you can expect awesome nightlife in the form of casual bars and cocktail buckets – the Jungle Party on Friday nights isn’t to be missed! Our top insider tip is to head out to the pier on Cloud 9 beach with a few beers one evening and watch the sun set over the ocean, as the last few surfers drift in. Totally magical!
Mad Monkey hostels are the stuff of backpacking legend, and Mad Monkey Siargao is no exception. It’s got a huge social space set around the swimming pool, with a tiki bar and restaurant, beer pong and foosball tables. They’re known for their wild events and bar crawls, and every night after their bar closes the staff lead their tribe of travellers to the best parties on the island.
8. Nosara – Costa Rica
It doesn’t get more chilled than Nosara, a gorgeous Costa Rican beach town with a free-loving hippy spirit. The adorable cafes, surfers and boutique shops give it a California feel, and when you stumble upon the graffiti-covered skate park in the centre of town you might actually forget what country you’re in. It’s a popular spot for yogis too, with plenty of studios all over town and pristine beaches to roll out a mat if you prefer to do your downward dog under the sun. When you’ve recharged your zen, it’s time to head out on safari in a riverboat (eco-friendly of course, this is Costa Rica!) Get ready to spot mammoth crocs, iguanas, monkeys and exotic birds.
Pick your jaws up off the floor – Selina Nosara is a hostel, and you can stay there for less than £10 a night! It’s got two pools, a bar (with regular live music) a cinema room, co-working space and way, way more, all set within incredible eco surroundings. Get your wellness fix with a yoga class, followed by a healthy vegan meal cooked at the on-site restaurant!
7. Isfahan – Iran
Iran needs to be on your backpacking itinerary for 2020 and the city of Isfahan is our top pick – there’s a reason the old Persian proverb calls it ‘half the world’! Pictures of unbelievable Iranian architecture have probably already sparked your wanderlust, and you’ll find Isfahan’s Naqsh-e Jahan Square to be a treasure trove. With the iconic blue-tiled Imam Mosque, the dazzling Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque and the royal Ali Qapu Palace all in one place, your eyeballs (and camera lens) will be spoilt for choice. If you can handle being blown away even more, the 1,000-year-old Grand Bazaar totally lives up to its name, with intricately tiled ceilings, lantern-lit passageways and colourful courtyards. Stop for a cup of Persian chai and just take it all in!
Iranian hospitality is world-famous, and Rag Rug Hostel has it in shedloads. They offer free daily walking tours, where your hosts will teach you about the city’s history, plus free Iranian breakfasts. The hostel is decorated in Persian tiles, and it has a beautiful leafy garden and a rooftop terrace with views over the city streets.
6. Kodaikanal – India
The town of Kodaikanal in India’s scorching Tamil Nadu region offers a refreshing break from the heat, with a misty hillside location 2,000 metres above sea level. The town’s main attraction is the star-shaped lake in its centre, where you can take out a rowing boat and explore the eerily peaceful scenes. The area is home to serene waterfalls and breathtaking valleys, so it’s the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle for a few days (as you probably know, India can be intense!) To really unplug, why not embark on the two-day trek to Munnar? You’ll be rewarded with out-of-this-world views over the Western Ghats and you might even spot some elephants along the way!
If you want to take your natural retreat to the next level, Zostel Kodaikanal will make you feel a million miles from it all. With rustic common spaces, outdoor terraces overlooking the hills and gorgeous dorms, it doesn’t get much cosier. You can hang out with other travellers around the garden bonfire, or hike around the hostel grounds with the resident pups!
5. Trondheim – Norway
Scandinavia is as cool as it gets, but if you want to score serious hipster points then don’t just visit the big hitters like Oslo and Copenhagen. Vibrant Trondheim is one of the best backpacking destinations for 2020. A creative student city, it has a massive craft beer and local food scene, which you can sample at the many cafes and restaurants in the pedestrianised city centre. It’s full of prime Insta content, like the classic Scandi-style colourful buildings along the waterfront… just save some space in your camera roll for the towering gothic cathedral! As the first capital of Norway, this city is packed full of history for you to discover. You can even tick off a bucket list experience by seeing the Northern Lights here between September to March. So, what are you waiting for?
To save some bucks in this pricey city (that’s Scandinavia for you), Trondheim Vandrerhjem is the best budget accommodation option. It’s minimalistic but has everything you need, with comfy beds, a fully equipped kitchen and a communal TV area to mingle with other guests. It’s about a 15-minute walk from the centre of Trondheim, with a quiet location up a hill and great views of the city!
4. Hossegor – France
Hawaii meets Europe in the adorable seaside town of Hossegor in south-western France. It’s another spot on our list that’s famous for surfing (it sounds like you lot will be spending a lot of time in the water in 2020!), and the atmosphere is insane during October when it hosts professional championships like the Quiksilver and Roxy Pros. The rest of the year is much more chilled, with a massive community of nomads passing through to enjoy its peaceful beaches, pedestrian and cyclist-friendly town centre, and café culture in the many French bakeries. We challenge you to not eat your bodyweight in pain au chocolat!
Hossegor’s hostel game is strong, with the highly Instagrammable JO&JOE offering quirky accommodation that fits right in with the town’s free spirit. It’s got its own sandy garden area for hanging out in the sun, massive comfy beds and a partnership with legendary surfing brands Quiksilver and Roxy, which means discounted surfing lessons for guests!
3. Maribor – Slovenia
While iconic Lake Bled and pretty capital Ljubljana have secured Slovenia a place on most traveller’s Interrailing itineraries, we’re exploring more of the country in 2020. Second city Maribor is the perfect place to start – a charming spot filled with medieval buildings, winding streets and cosy wine cafes. If you didn’t know, Slovenia is famous for its incredible (and ridiculously cheap) local wine, and Maribor is one of the best places to sample it. It’s surrounded by wine-growing hills and even has a wine museum that offers tastings! For such a small city Maribor packs a punch, with a strong line-up of summer festivals, a lively student vibe and a picturesque Old Town that rivals Europe’s biggest and best.
Stay right in the heart of the city at colourful Uni Youth Hostel. This highly-rated hostel has common areas with pool tables and cosy couches, plus an on-site bar for even more of that Slovenian wine – we’re sure it counts as a cultural activity! Just make sure you’re up in time for the breakfast buffet full of local treats.
2. Surat Thani – Thailand
You might be surprised that Surat Thani is one of our top backpacking destinations, because in the past it’s been known mostly as a jumping-off point for the eastern Thai islands. Well, that’s all about to change, as backpackers are wising up to the fact that Surat Thani offers an authentic Thai experience away from the tourists. Start your day exploring the crowd-free temples in the city centre, like the majestic Surat Thani Pillar Shrine, before hanging out with the locals with a few Chang beers on the laid-back Ban Don Pier. From here you can hire a longtail boat and be guided through the canals that surround the city, observing rural life and maybe even spotting a whopping monitor lizard. If nothing else, visit Surat Thani for some of the best Thai food you’ll ever find – classics like spicy papaya salad, pad Thai and crispy pork are on offer at the buzzing night market.
Just two minutes’ walk from the market is Boundary Hostel and Cafe, a rustic, family-run spot that’s full of local charm. Expect unrivalled hospitality, free breakfast and cosy dorms. The staff are happy to recommend amazing local experiences, and when you’re ready to move on they can help you arrange transport to the nearby islands.
1. Nusa Penida – Indonesia
Move over Bali, this new kid on the block is our top backpacking destination for 2020! Nusa Penida is an Indonesian island southeast of the famous backpacker haven, most known for the curved cliffs and unspoilt bay of gorgeous Kelingking Beach. This awe-inspiring sight is Nusa Penida’s star attraction, but there’s no end of magical experiences to be had on this incredible island. From attending prayer service in a sacred cave halfway up a mountain, to hiking to an abandoned treehouse turned insane lookout point and then swimming with playful giant manta rays, every moment is an adventure on Nusa Penida. Throw in those legendary Indonesian sunsets and plenty of ‘warungs’ serving delicious local food for pennies, and it’ll soon become obvious why it’s our number one backpacker hotspot for 2020.
An island paradise calls for a hostel of the same calibre, and Nuansa Penida Hostel doesn’t disappoint. It’s a boutique hostel with gorgeous bungalows, a beautiful Bali-esque pool and outdoor social spaces where you can enjoy your free daily breakfast. When you’re ready to explore the island, rent a moped from the hostel and do it in style!
These are our top 20 places to visit in 2020 – if you need us, we’ll be deciding which one we’re going to first! If you’ve visited any of next year’s top backpacker destinations already, please share your experiences with us. Or perhaps you’re planning a trip now? Let us know in the comments! Here’s to another year of meeting the world.