When you visit a tourist attraction you’ve got a certain level of expectation. You’ve seen a flyer, heard a story or got a recommendation from a relative. The first disappointment comes when you’re queueing up to buy a ticket: the people around you look like they’ve just crawled from under their rocks for the first time.
When it’s time for the first glance, the moment suprême, the make or break point which will define your experience, the grin on your face quickly disappears. Is that pile of rubble the temple which was so broadly advertised? Is this what the fuss is all about, you may ask yourself. To prevent such disappointments I’ve created a list of the ten tourist traps to avoid.
My guest-blogger for this article is Petteri Kyrklund from Finland, who has traveled 394 countries and has seen many of the world’s worst tourist traps. He will write the first 6 overrated experiences of this list, and Victor will handle the other 4.
We will rate the attractions as follows:
Worth a visit if you really have nothing better to do.
Not worth a visit, unless you enjoy wasting your time.
1. Giza Pyramids
These pyramids are the 7th Wonder of the World, the only one still standing from the ancient times. For some it’s the absolute #1 thing to see in their lifetime, others have it somewhere lower on their bucket list. It’s time for the truth: what a sell-out!
Don’t get me wrong. The history of the place is amazing, the architecture of it is wonderful, the mystery around how it has been build is mesmerizing, but when you arrive there the first time you’ll see it’s just a circus of dozens of tourist buses, millions of retirees and thousands of hawkers who will not leave you alone. And why on earth did they have to build huge tarmac roads around the pyramids so that those cursed tour buses can park within 10 meters of them? Surely even the laziest, fattest and oldest tourists could walk (or be carried) the 100 meters from the main road to the pyramids.
To decrease your disappointment I would recommend you to visit some of the older, more authentic and remote pyramids around Cairo. In Snofru’s Red Pyramid for instance you will feel like Indiana Jones. You will be practically alone in the middle of the desert visiting this amazing pyramid, which you are also able to climb into. It’s so cool and just like it should be! Visiting the Giza pyramids after that will feel like visiting Disneyland.
2. Niagara Falls
If you have never seen a waterfall, this one will be amazing. If you live next door to these falls, it’s worth the walk. But if you have been to Victoria Falls, Iguazu falls, any of the falls in Iceland or pretty much any waterfall which is not between big roads, ugly buildings and some random casinos, then skip this one. If you decide to visit it anyway take your own barrel and jump in the river to make it a bit more interesting and to wash away your disappointment.
3. Petronas Twin Towers
Basically everyone who visits Kuala Lumpur the first time wants to visit the Twin Towers. If you have friends going there you might say: “Oh, you are going to KL, you should visit the Twin Towers”. What a bunch of crap! Yes, the twin towers look nice, but you can see them from about anywhere in the city. Why on earth would you want to visit the towers itself? You will have to wake up early to be able to get into the lobby, just to queue hours to get a ticket to visit the bridge. The bridge is not even that high, and the view from it is pretty lame. And yes, you are not allowed to visit the top floor or any other places in the towers. Just save your time and go to the KL tower. From there you can see everything in Kuala Lumpur. Including the Petronas Twin Towers.
4. The Little Mermaid in Copenhagen
Could anyone really be excited about this one? If you have seen any picture of it you simply can’t have high expectations (or any at all) when you decide to go see it. But, for some totally incomprehensible reason, this is one of Copenhagen’s main icons and a major tourist attraction since 1913. Why on earth? It does not make any sense. It is small, lame and ordinary. It is something that you could expect to find in some grandmother’s backyard. It is so boring and uninspiring that I lost my interest to write anything more about it. So just don’t go see it. This one fits into the rare category that even google-ing it is too much.
5. Costa Rica Cloud Forests
Costa Rica, the ultimate nature destination. If you have done a safari before (any safari) or seen any amazing rain-forests or mountains, then prepare to be underwhelmed by this one, big time. The cloud forests are called cloud forests for a reason. You are basically in a cloud. And what do you see in a cloud? I rest my case. If you think you will see animals, then you’d better choose a hotel room that has the National Geographic channel. If you decide to do the night walk you might get a glimpse of a spider, but I assure you that you will see more spiders near your hostel room’s bed. On the day walk you might hear some bird chirping until you realize it is your guide making the noises to attract the birds from out of the forest. So, when in Costa Rica, you might want to consider choosing any other forest, river, mountain, volcano, street, city or pub than the “famous” cloud forests of Monteverde.
6. Mud Volcanoes of Azerbaijan
How, you might wonder, can this be on the list when nobody has heard of it? Well, if you have been to Azerbaijan or have ever planned a trip there this one has undoubtedly been on your itinerary. Why? First off, it might sound kind of intriguing. Mud volcanoes. Then again, which one sounds more interesting: fire or mud? And if the tourism bureaus and marketing teams would have been left out of the naming process these mud “volcanoes” would have been called mud puddles. So, you might still feel a little bit excited to see these mud puddles (which are a several hours drive away). You might think: why not?. Sometimes the ride itself makes it worth it. Trust me, it does not, there’s absolutely nothing to see in terms of scenery. But hey! En route there is a Unesco world heritage site called Gobustan. Well, let’s not start on Gobustan. It is so boring that it could even top this list in it’s dullness.
7. China’s Terracotta Warriors
Oh, was I excited. I was going to see the Terracotta Warriors I’ve heard so much about. 20 Minutes in all I could think of was: “is this really it?”. I tried looking for other buildings, hangars, anything that would reveal the thousands of statues I was promised. Nada. Later I understood that they weren’t actually finished excavating all the statues, in fact, they weren’t even close. I could see that I wasn’t the only disappointed person too; the hordes of (mostly Chinese) tourists pushing their way through three layers of people to get a good view all had the same expression on their face after getting their camera ready: “where are the statues?”. The massive hangar (which was perhaps the most impressive attraction that day) contains 90% of abandoned sand; it didn’t even look like anybody qualified to excavate has been here recently. Taking in account the hassle it takes to get there I would recommend you not to go there at all. Or, if you really want to, downgrade your expectations considerably.
8. Tubing in Vang Vieng (Laos)
Ever wanted to seen a bunch of British tourists drunk and high on mushrooms cramped up on a structure made of match sticks? Well, the tubing “craze” in Vang Vieng will definitely satisfy that craving. This form of primitive redneck entertainment would not even be that bad if it wasn’t for the stupidity of the other visitors. I’ve seen people jump from 8 meter high wooden planks, only to land on top of some hallucinating couple on their first holiday. It’s funny how sneaky the bartenders try to act when it comes to the drugs. When you want to order a fruit shake they quickly scan the environment and whisper “psst, look down”. In their hands is a cardboards sign with the words “Mushroom Shake” on it, and a price so low it would make any Dutchman consider buying it just because it’s such a bargain. If you’re not appalled with the scenario I just depicted then be my guest and have an “out of this world” experience.
9. World’s highest/longest/largest anything.
Have you ever paid 30 euro to be able to access the top floor of a skyscraper? Did you feel that you got your money’s worth after? Didn’t think so. There’s something about these attractions that keeps drawing people in. I guess it’s man’s natural urge to be the on top of the world, to see the biggest things, climb the highest mountains, to ride the world’s longest escalator. I know, because I’m one of them. I’d like to warn you though, around 70% of these over-marketed attractions aren’t worth it. Take the collection of “biggest this / highest that” abnormalities spread out all over Australia. They take hours to drive to and once you get there you’ll feel stupid taking a picture in front of them while doing a silly pose. I mean, who can honestly say he/she is proud to have a picture with the world’s biggest prawn? Most of these statues are built nearby a restaurant or shop, for the sole purpose of drawing customers.
Another example are the world’s longest escalators in Hong Kong. Sure, it beats climbing the steep streets of this city, but the escalators themselves are anything but impressive. It’s not even technically true that it’s the longest escalator; it’s a sequence of several short escalators which only link to each other with foot paths. If you want long escalators, go to St. Petersburg or Moscow and take the subway. Now there’s an attraction worth visiting!
10. Ushuaia in Argentina: “The end of the world”
Never knew the end of the world could be so boring.. The city of Ushuaia lies in southern Argentina and is mainly used as a hub for people traveling to Antarctica. Although the local government tries to market the city as the “fin del mundo”, don’t believe the hype. There’s literarily nothing to do here. You could potentially sit in a cafe and watch people in Gore-Tex suits and Nordic Walking sticks walk up and down the main road, but that’s only fun for an hour or so. The hikes around the city aren’t anything special either, considering how much else Patagonia has to offer. Take El Calafate and El Chaltén for instance, 500 kilometer to the north west. Now those are hikes! Back to Ushuaia. In conclusion, unless you are planning a trip to Antarctica (which is totally worth visiting) there isn’t anything in Ushuaia that will excite you.
About the author: Petteri Kyrklund
Travel junkie, experience hunter, food taster, temple runner, urban hiker and country collector from Finland, who has lived in Thailand, Vietnam and currently living in China.
Some of my best travel experiences include, but are not limited to:
- Watching the sunset over Bagan with Mandalay beer, a good friend and nobody else
- Visiting the incredible historical silk road sites around Uzbekistan
- Seeing lion cubs playing on a safari in Botswana
- Admiring the out of the earth type of scenery in Iceland
- Savoring the vibe and the food in one of my favorite cities: Beirut
- Enjoying the uniqueness, peculiarity and remarkableness of Japan
- Losing luggage, having the most amazing evening with the most hospitable people in Syria (and then getting the luggage back the next day)
- Adoring the small cities, the old cities and the architecture around Europe
- Swimming in the devil’s armchair in Victoria Falls
- Experiencing the eeriness and weirdness of hermit kingdoms like North Korea (plus the incredible Arirang Mass Games)
- Meeting some awesome couchsurfers (mención especial para Argentina, jeje)
- Being amazed about how much some not so recognized tourist destinations have to offer, example Georgia
- Enjoy everything, anywhere, anytime in Mexico
- Finding the unexpected things in unforeseen places
- Running into the astonishing out of the blue friendliness
- Tasting the weirdest and most delicious local foods around the world
OMG we always visit the prawn! It’s so big!
I’ve been to a number of the things on this list and I’d have to disagree. I enjoyed them, though these attractions won’t be for everyone. It’d be a pretty boring world if we all liked the same things.
I have been to the cloud forrest in Costa Rica and I thought it was anything but boring or over rated! I thought it was stunning!
Amazing article written by the most experienced traveler I’ve ever meet.
I completely agree with most of the points mentioned, but I have to disagree with the Ushuaia boredom, It’s not just getting bored, I know a real history about a young man who turned 18 in ushuaia and after spending 3 days there, he looked like 45 and he never recovered from the depression.
Oh, and thanks for the mención especial (yeah, this is the first time I read a full article in my lfe).