10 tourist traps that leave you upset, angry, and ripped-off by guest writer Adam Costa: “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 the ten most overrated tourist traps which left me feeling angry, upset and ripped off.
1. Hollywood, California
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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.