In order to get the best view of each small town nestled into each hill, you need to take the winding and steep hiking trail. I stayed in Monterosso, but hiking to the next town proved to be no walk in the park. The trails going to Vernazza incline quickly on what appears as a stair-master hike; the sideways logs that compose the stairs stay distanced in height from each other. I had to stop and take breaks at least six times to catch my breath. Getting to the first few cities takes a determined and in shape hiker – luckily I had been already been walking numerous miles a day from being a backpacker.
During one of my first stops to catch my breath from the hike on the way to Vernazza, I met a couple who were originally from Hawaii. We ended up hiking all the way through to Riomaggiore together – the end of the five cities. Through talking with them, I found many clear differences between a tourist and a backpacking traveler.
First of all, they hadn’t brought any water bottles with them on the hike; as a backpacker, I always had a liter of water on hand.
Second, they brought a thick travel book wanting to locate the highest starred restaurants along the journey; that sounded like a travel cheat sheet. I thought bringing a book telling you where to go was hilarious because the whole fun of travelling is the thrill of discovering places on your own. And I hadn’t even as much used a map by this point. Also, there would be no way I would carry a chunky book around taking up valuable space in my pack and adding all that extra weight to lift around.
The third difference involved how much a tourist chooses to pay and how they look for accommodations versus what a backpacker does. This couple researched all the hotels in Monterosso and found the “cheapest” one for a little over two hundred a night. I walked into town, talked to a local, whose uncle owned a little hotel/hostel and bam: cheap place to stay for about $40 a night. When I told the tourist couple this, they basically went into shock that I could stay there for that price.
Clearly, backpackers save more money, pack a bit more efficiently, and tend to be more prepared even though we don’t always plan for an advance.