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Top 10 of the worst tourist traps in the world

Top 10 of the worst tourist traps in the world

“This is it?” It’s a horrible feeling, right? You spend hundreds, maybe even thousands of dollars to get there and when you finally do… Nothing. Just a few tourist shops hawking trashy souvenirs and other tourists wearing that same look of surprise and frustration as you. Believe me, I’ve been there. In this post, I reveal my personal Top 10 of the worst tourist traps in the world and where to go instead…

1. Hollywood, California

Hollywood main street Los Angeles

Maybe Hollywood was a big deal seventy years ago… but now it’s nothing but a sordid collection of seedy characters, overpriced parking and sub-standard “performers” peddling their latest CD (most of which are so bad they should pay you to take them). But what about the “Walk of Fame”? Surely that’s worth it, right? Sadly, no. All that’s there is a sidewalk with a few stars and a long strip of ordinary shops.

Where to go instead: Disneyland. Yes, it’s expensive, but the rides are still worth it.

2. The Grand Canyon, Arizona

Grand Canyon Travel blog

Yes, it is grand (and yes this is a very controversial one)… but after driving three hours through nothing, you’d expect a little more than just a big hole in the ground. Don’t get me wrong: the view of the Grand Canyon is incredible. But unless you spend a few days hiking into the canyon (and God help you if it’s summertime), it’s a just a view. And views wear off fast.

Where to go instead: Bryce Canyon or Zion National Park, both in neighboring Utah, offer more activities with less crowds.

3. Mui Ne, Vietnam

Mui Ne Vietnam - tourist trap

I still remember the pitch for Mui Ne: “beautiful stretches of beaches, fresh fish and giant red sand dunes which you can ski down.” Um, right. The beach is polluted (trash washes ashore) and the “dunes” are more like sandboxes. Seriously, five year-olds could build bigger piles of sand than those in Mui Ne. OK, I’m exaggerating. But when your on a bus along coastal Vietnam, just keep on going.

Where to go instead: Hoi An and/or Nha Trang.

4. Roswell, New Mexico

Roswell, New Mexico

This may be the biggest rip-off of them all. You know the story about aliens landing in New Mexico, then taken to a secret holdout called “Area 51”? Well, Roswell is where it supposedly went down. And now unwitting tourists come here for its “alien museum” and… um… well, that’s about it.

Where to go instead: just keep driving to Carlsbad Caverns, which is definitely worth the trip.

5. Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls Canada

Like the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls is impressive. And taking a boat tour – which leads you up to the falls – is pretty cool. But also like the Grand Canyon, the novelty quickly wears off. The US side is pretty dull at night (cross the border to Canada for more options) and by the next day most people are ready to move on. One other thing: Niagara is a powerful waterfall, but it’s by no means large when compared to the world’s biggest waterfalls.

Where to go instead: The Finger Lakes region in New York is great for hiking and wine tasting. For waterfalls in the U.S., the tallest and I personally think the most impressive is Yosemite Falls in California.

6. Udaipur, India

Most travel photos make Udaipur look majestic, with a fairy-tale castle surrounded by water and enough lights to brighten the darkest mood. In reality, Udaipur is dry, dusty, dirty and doesn’t have much to do. Granted, I visited there during a drought, so this may have changed… but the town itself wouldn’t have left an impression even in the best weather.

Where to go instead: head north to Leh, a small town snuggled into the Himalaya. That’s right, I said “snuggled.” Leh is that comfy.

7. Phnom Penh, Cambodia

During the 1970s, Phnom Penh was completely evacuated. Anyone left behind was sent to its concentration camp where they were brutally tortured and murdered. You can visit the concentration camp, a somber experience that’s as emotionally devastating as it is worthwhile. Sadly, the only worthwhile parts of Phnom Penh are monuments to its dark past. The rest is pollution, seedy backpacker ghettos and overpriced waterfront restaurants where children wander in and beg for money.

Where to go instead: Siem Reap offers a great downtown, excellent street food and easy access to Angkor Wat, arguably the most incredible ruins in the world.

8. San Antonio, Texas

San Antonio Texas

Sure, the Texan battle cry may be “Remember the Alamo” but most tourists hardly remember San Antonio. You can tour the Alamo (free) which – unless you have a military background – isn’t terribly interesting. Then there’s the “River Walk” which is like walking through an inside strip mall, lined with nothing but fast-food chains meant to look authentic.

Where to go instead: Austin is a short drive away and offers great BBQ and some of the best live music in the world.

9. San Francisco, California

cool San Francisco

I’m originally from the Bay Area, so perhaps I’m jaded. San Francisco looks gorgeous – it’s easily got one of the best skylines in the U.S. But look closer and you see a ragtag collection of bums, freaks and panhandlers. Head out to the wharf and it’s nothing but cookie-cutter tourist attractions, the likes of which can be seen in many cities around the world.

Where to go instead: Head north to Sausalito. It’s along the water and – while touristy – has a distinct local flavor.

10. Kuta, Bali

Kuta Bali - tourist trap

“Whatever do you,” warned my Australian friend, “don’t go to Bali. It’s where all the bad Australians go.” Now I didn’t meet a “bad” Australian – not sure I ever have – but the main tourist town Kuta was like one never-ending procession lackluster experiences and bad traveler clichés. The beaches? Meh. The food? So-so. And the people? While people were friendly, I couldn’t help but feel like a walking ATM machine. Everywhere we went people asked “Do you need transport?” Everywhere. The worst was when I was standing on the beach, staring off into the ocean, when a guy approached and asked “Do you need transport?” Really?

Where to go instead: Head out to Tulamben where there are several excellent dive spots, including wreck and reef dives.

Written by our guest blogger Adam Costa.

23 Comments

  • Avatar

    vanessa

    12 January, 2015 at 10:54 am

    “look closer and you’ll see a ragtag of bums, freaks, and panhandlers”
    you also describe poor children begging for money with a sour flavor as though they are annoying and unpleasant bugs as opposed to sad little human beings who are stratified in social struggles you will never have to undertake or understand

    this article is a strange reflection upon the character of the traveler…

    Reply
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    19 April, 2013 at 7:21 pm

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    Bill

    2 March, 2013 at 8:48 pm

    I love it – I love the Grand Canyon, but you are so right. It’s a great view but if you are not a naturalist who likes hiking and camping it is much better as a detour destination. That’s usually the way I have seen it, when going east west, it’s not that far off of 40. Places like Myrtle Beach is a great place to go because there are so many activities and the Myrtle Beach resorts are as good as any. Branson is another town that is great, and both Branson and Myrtle Beach have a lot more available than most people would think!

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    Ellecie

    16 June, 2012 at 7:55 pm

    I love traveling. I’ve been to many of the places you have mentioned. I think that if you have unreasonable expectations, you will always be dissapointed. Let’s take Hollywood blvd for instance, did you expect to see movie stars all glammed up walking around? Seriously, what do you expect — it’s part of our modern popular culture history. I wouldn’t spend all day there, but it’s one of the places to see and then move on. If you aren’t impressed with nature, then don’t go see them. If the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls do not impress you (because there’s bigger somewhere else) then you are either spoiled or jaded. Frisco is a cool town. There are many things to do and see. It is unique, touristy for sure, but tourist do enjoy doing touristy things like visiting Alcatraz, or just walking up Lombard and seeing the grapefruit trees (a novelty if you come from colder climes). Asia is Asia I’m afraid. Most of these “paradise” are poor. Sad but true. Anyways, all I’m saying is it’s like a hyped up movie, you will always be disappointed if you expect too much. Oh… And don’t be a snob and a grump.

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    Donna

    5 June, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    I was surprised Central Florida didn’t make your list of place’s. We have a few tourist traps here that are over priced. International Drive & 192 area has all the outlet malls. I guess tourist don’t shop at home.

    Reply

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