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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.

26 Comments

  • Tourism translator

    31 May, 2012 at 3:31 pm

    We cannot expect that tourist destinations want to show us their goodies without making a buck!
    It’s a business trying to maximize the profit.

    Reply
  • Cindy

    25 May, 2012 at 7:34 pm

    I’m a Niagara Falls native and I often find myself disapointed that tourists are directed to attractions that are designed to take their money and give them very little. If you want hiking, don’t go to the Finger Lakes stay in Niagara Falls. Go to the The Glen, The Bruce Trail and Devil’s Hole. Far superior! Wine Tasting? Niagara Falls, Ontario is world famous for that. History? Niagara-on-the-Lake!

    Reply
  • JPix Photography

    12 May, 2012 at 5:45 am

    I kind of agree with you about the Grand Canyon – I was there at a slower time of the year so it wasn’t too crowded, but I think having seen it often in pictures and on TV, it wasn’t quite as awe inspiring as I thought it would be.

    Or maybe that was just because it was a miserable day…

    Reply
  • carlo alberto

    7 May, 2012 at 2:18 pm

    You know what?
    Cities are cities, complex, leaving in their own history, and I find difficult to consider them simply as tourist traps.
    But still what is commonly knew about them can be misleading. And I like disagrees (together with wows). So thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  • Leah Travels

    7 May, 2012 at 2:08 pm

    I can see your points on many of these and respect your opinion, but I disagree with San Antonio. Austin is great, but San Antonio is a totally different type of city and culture. Yes, the Riverwalk is a yawn and the Alamo isn’t really impressive unless you know some Texas history, but there is so much more to San Antonio than those two things or Fiesta Texas and Sea World. It’s really a taste of Mexico in the heart of Texas. You just have to know where to look. I’d start with Market Square and the various missions around the city.

    PS: I love San Francisco, too!

    Reply
    • Adam Costa

      7 May, 2012 at 2:33 pm

      Hi Leah… thanks for sharing. I knew this post would stir some controversy and I’m glad to see you’ve shared some other things to do in San Antonio for the readers. Thanks!

      Reply
  • Tim Russell

    7 May, 2012 at 8:14 am

    Your credibility is completely destroyed by describing Mui Ne as a tourist trap, & then recommending that over-developed concrete hellhole Nha Trang as a better alternative. Have you even been to either place?

    Reply
    • Adam Costa

      7 May, 2012 at 2:35 pm

      Yes, I visited all the the destinations on the list… I wouldn’t give my opinion unless I had. Thanks for commenting.

      Reply
  • Evi

    7 May, 2012 at 6:54 am

    Awesome, two of my favorite cities in the world made the list. (San Francisco, Phnom Penh.)

    Hopefully people inclined to give any sort of weight to these types of posts will avoid them and make them even better.

    Reply
  • Ramon

    7 May, 2012 at 6:18 am

    I live in Phnom Penh and would like to know where the seedy backpackers ghettos are. They disappeared at the lakeside as the like has disappeared to due to Chinese constructions.

    Reply
  • Amanda Kendle

    7 May, 2012 at 3:57 am

    Have to agree on Hollywood, but definitely disagree about San Francisco! But I’m from Australia so probably have an entirely different perspective. I’ve never been to Bali and must be the only person from Western Australia who hasn’t, but I certainly can imagine that Kuta is a total tourist trap.

    Reply
  • Jenn

    6 May, 2012 at 8:12 pm

    I guess it depends on what you are trying to find on Hollywood Blvd, but the Walk of Fame and Mann’s Chinese Theatre are both free to view, so you’re only wasting your parking money if you do feel so “ripped off.”

    I agree that Pier 39 is a terrible place, but luckily, it’s salvageable by watching the sea lions. There’s always something new to eat and do in the Wharf and you can’t beat a hot fudge sundae just down the way from Ghirardelli Square. But you’re right, there’s so much more to San Francisco than that tourist trap, which tourists don’t need to go to Sausilito to find out.

    Reply
  • Oliver

    6 May, 2012 at 7:45 pm

    So you found the Grand Canyon in Nevada? That probably explains why you felt ripped off. The Eiffel Tower in Las Vegas is pretty disappointing compared to the original, too. Maybe check out the real Grand Canyon… in Arizona? 😉

    Reply
  • topkat

    6 May, 2012 at 3:28 pm

    I haven’t been to all the places you mentioned, but I highly disagree with San Antonio, Grand Canyon, and Hollywood. Wouldn’t trade those memories for a million bucks.

    Reply

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