When I travel to a new city, there are usually a number of different tourist sites that I want to visit. And, as a solo traveller, I am also always on the lookout for other like-minded travellers to hang out with. The best way that I have found to combine both of these things is by embarking on a walking tour.
The brilliant thing about city walking tours is that many of the larger hostels will offer their own, often daily. This means that backpackers like me don’t have to go further than the hostel lobby to find a group of travellers and knowledgeable guides who can make a city feel like home.
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Why are City Walking Tours Great?
So, why do I love walking tours so much? It’s pretty simple. They are the best way to see a new city. The guides are usually locals who not only take you to all of the major tourist attractions but also provide local insights into the destination. Whether they’re recommending a cool bar or a great street vendor, these local tips are worth their weight in gold.
Some of the best meals that I have had while travelling has been in restaurants that walking tour guides have suggested. In fact, my personal favourite was at a brilliant taco restaurant on Avenida 5 de Mayo in Mexico City. I went back every single day to try as many of the combinations as possible!
In my experience, the guides on walking tours are always happy to provide local recommendations, no matter what the request is. That can range from the best way to get to an attraction, right through to the best places to party in the city. These people live and breathe the place that you are visiting and want to ensure that you have the best possible time in their hometown.
The tour guides will always recommend a spot that you never would have found by yourself. They also know the local people and culture, which means that they can give you a whole new perspective on a city.
During one walking tour I took in Cuenca, Ecuador, our guide led us away from the colonial old town and down a small back alley. He took us to a tiny little workshop owned by an old man named Fernando. We were told that he was one of the last metalworkers living in the city and he made beautiful decorations right there in his shop. He even gave away one piece to a lucky member of the tour group!
Likewise, on another walking tour in Sucre, Bolivia, we left the city centre and started the day in what can only be described as a dive bar. We very much stood out from the regular clientele but got to taste some Bolivian chicha at 10 in the morning! All of this was not only in places that I would have never found by myself, but more importantly, for the budget-minded traveller, these little experiences are incredibly wallet-friendly too.
Often, these tours are advertised in hostels or online as ‘free’. While this is true in theory, it does work a little differently in practice. Although there is no official requirement to pay for the tour, it is good practice to tip the guide at the end if you enjoyed it. This is how the guides make their money.
I usually tip around $5USD per person for a tour. Bear in mind that the amount you tip should vary depending on where you are, the tour length and how good the experience was. If you were to book a private tour of a new city, you could easily expect to be paying upwards of $30USD so to have such an in-depth tour for just a fraction of the cost is exactly what us backpackers need.
Usually, a tour will be a couple of hours long and sometimes include special activities. For example, a walking tour that I went on in Quito, Ecuador, involved trying local sweets in the market and tasting Ecuadorian chocolate in a variety of flavours. Delicious!
Help You To Get Your Bearings
Every walking tour will contain a range of information about the place that you are visiting. You will learn some history, get an introduction to the main tourist attractions and be given insider tips for the best off the beaten track locations.
Embarking on a walking tour is something that I would recommend doing as soon as you arrive in a new city. A walking tour helps you to place all of the major landmarks in relation to one another. This will really help you to get your bearings.
As a result, your next few days will be made easier as you won’t have to worry too much about getting lost or struggling to find different attractions in the city.
Meet Other Backpackers
On top of all of this, city walking tours are a great way to meet your fellow travellers. In my experience, walking tours, especially when they are run by hostels, attract like-minded backpackers. This is perfect if you are a solo traveller but also handy if you are travelling in a group.
The two hours that you spend walking around the city with a tour guide is the perfect opportunity to strike up a conversation with others on the tour. In my experience, this often leads to spending more time with the people that you’ve met on the tour, whether that be for the rest of the day, or in some instances, many subsequent days.
City Walking Tours: The Verdict
City walking tours are perfect for backpackers. Not only are they a cheap way to get to know a new city through the expertise of a local, but they are also a brilliant way to meet fellow travellers in every new destination that you visit. So, next time you check into a hostel, make sure to ask about the free city walking tours!