You can keep your fancy cocktail bars. For me, there's no excitement, no sense of discovery or joy in an expensive, beautifully designed drinking establishment.
These are the places on the top floors of skyscraper hotels, or strategically placed near famous landmarks. You have to dress up if you hope to get in the door. You have to spend north of $20 for a drink poured by a "mixologist". You have to sit bolt upright in designer chairs and constantly worry that you're doing the wrong thing.
That's not enjoyable for me. That's not comfortable. That's not exciting.
I love a bar in a great location, but I want the venue itself to be a total dive. I want the drinks to be cheap. I want the crowd to be friendly. I want people there in shorts and thongs. I want music and dancing when the sun goes down.
Some of the best times I've ever had on my travels have been spent at divey backpacker bars in spectacular locations. Places like these.
San Sebastian, Spain
Polborino should be expensive. It should be like Icebergs in Bondi, such is the view it enjoys over beautiful Playa de la Concha in San Sebastian, over the water and the sand, over the town and the green hills beyond. But instead, this hilltop bar set in the ramparts of an old fort is a cheap-and-cheerful dive run by some Basque guys who look kind of like pirates. Beers cost a bit over €2. My idea of heaven.
South-east Asia is absolutely strewn with bars like this, open-air, no-frills joints where the beer is cheap and the views are amazing. I can't include them all, but shout-outs should go to Sunset Point in Uluwatu, a legendary place to end the day in Bali, and Blue Corner Bar in nearby Nusa Lembongan, a laidback, beachside joint that's also perfect for sunset.
Tropical Bar fits a similar mould to its south-east Asian cousins, a relatively cheap drinking hole that commands amazing views of the setting sun. This time that orb is dipping below the horizon in Santorini, where you'd expect the drinks to cost a whole lot more than they do at Tropical Bar. Special mention, too, to Buza Bar, which clings to the city walls in Dubrovnik, Croatia, and offers a similar experience.
Stone Town, Zanzibar
Admittedly, Africa House is one of Zanzibar's more expensive establishments, but it's still cheap and pretty laidback by most travellers' standards. Africa House is the place to go for a sunset drink on this spectacular island, and every evening you'll find it filled with a friendly crowd up for a good time.
Berlin has more great dive bars than you could ever hope to visit in one stay, but it's worth making time to seek out Klunkerkranich, a drinking hole hidden at the top of a parking garage in the Neukolln area. Klunkerkranich is laidback and fun, as you'd expect in Berlin, and it also commands one of the best views of the city you'll find.
Nile River Explorers Bar
After a massive day of rafting the Nile River, there's pretty much nothing better in the world than a cold beer, and the guys at Nile River Explorers have you covered. The rafting company's base doubles as a pub, one with terrace seating that overlooks that famous river. There's accommodation on site, too.
La Baita Bierhaus
This place feels like a transplant from south-east Asia, a laidback beer garden in the hills above Verona where drinkers lounge around on swinging couches, play cards, eat cheap food and drink cheap craft beers. The views are stunning and the atmosphere is friendly. What more could you want?
Dong Sen Thap Muoi
Mekong Delta, Vietnam
This is backpacker paradise – only without the backpackers. Deep in the Mekong Delta, on a lake filled with lily pads and flowers, Dong Sen Thap Muoi is a series of boardwalks connecting private pagodas, where you can sit cross-legged on the floor, order a few bottles of beer and some snacks, and just while away the day. The only way to get here is by scooter or private car, which helps explain its lack of tourists.
Apichada View Point Bar
Koh Phangan, Thailand
Here's another shout-out for a laidback south-east Asian establishment, though this one is up the top of a mountain rather than by a beach. Apichada commands one spectacular view of the Gulf of Thailand and the surrounding islands, and it attracts a solid crowd of pre- or post-Full Moon Party-goers looking for something a bit more chill.
Estrelas da Babilonia
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
A Rio favela might not sound like the ideal place to go for a cheap drink, but Estrelas da Babilonia, set in a "pacified" slum above Copacabana, is something else, a modern, friendly bar and restaurant that has views all the way across that famous beach. To find it, follow the stars painted on the stairs as you climb up into Babilonia favela.
This, admittedly, is a bit of a stretch. The waterhole at Okaukuejo, a campsite in the middle of Etosha National Park in Namibia, isn't really a bar: it's just a few banks of seats that overlook a floodlit pond, where the park's animals come each night to drink. However, it's pretty easy to grab a few cans of Windhoek beer and some biltong from the camp shop, and then settle in to watch one of Africa's greatest shows.
Raices Beach Club
Isla Holbox, Mexico
In the words of one of my fellow travel writers, Julie Miller: "Hard to go wrong with a thatched palapa, swing seats, $3 margaritas, and bartenders who salute the sunset with conch shells." Fair call.
Inca Trail, Peru
I'm including this as a footnote, because the bar at Winay Wayna, the campsite on the final night of the Inca Trail trek, is now sadly closed. Apparently we can't have nice things: the backpacker crowd was getting too rowdy, fights were breaking out, drugs were being sold. So the bar with the absolutely stunning view of the Peruvian Andes is no more. Shame.
What's your favourite backpacker bar in the world? Which one is set in the most stunning location? Are these places better than the fancy cocktail bars of the world?
See also: Six of the world's best beach clubs
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