The 29 Tourist Traps You Must Avoid
Now remember folks, these are based on personal experience, so don’t shoot the messenger…
Includes entries from the USA, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand, Ireland, the UK, Russia, Canada, Spain, Morocco, the Caribbean, Hotel Websites, Airlines and Taxis…
1. Fairmont Hotels
Worst tourist trap? Fairmont Hotels! Santa Monica and Chicago, too. Premium rates for crowded little rooms where nothing they advertise as amenities is actually available without paying extra, and at premium rates, too. The only reason to stay there, or in similarly managed hotels, is if location is the only consideration and simply vital. Otherwise, get yourself to the nearest Marriott Suites and ask in advance what is included in the rate.
2. Old Faithful
Featured in National Geographic! That’s what the printed promotion information said that we picked up at our hotel. Never having seen a real, live geyser we hyped our selves up for the event and off we went.
This is the come-on on the web page: “Visitors of Calistoga’s Old Faithful Geyser are calling it “utterly amazing”. The Geyser is one of only three Old Faithfuls in the world, designated as such because of its constant and predictable eruptions. This spectacle is a true rarity, and there’s no better place to see it than here!
The Geyser is an all-natural phenomenon which tosses a scalding curtain of water anywhere from 20 to upwards of 75 feet into the air. Currently, Old Faithful is erupting approximately every 20-30 minutes, ensuring a minimal waiting period for an exciting and educational experience the whole family is sure to love.”
With a stretch of the imagination this description is true. But the actual anticlimactically event is about as interesting as the a popped-off sprinkler head on any lawn in American. In between the “eruptions” you can walk over to feed some animals after buying feed by the less-than-handful from a small vending machine that looks very suspiciously like a ball-gum machine. Cost for the few minutes of being awed by this natural phenomena: $8. Cheap enough to hook me into buying a ticket and disappointing enough to make me wish I hadn’t.
Maybe I’m jaded because in today’s age of theme park exaggerations this puny little stream of heated water lacks an “awe” factor plus I can’t appreciate the natural wonders at work that make this a marvel.
3. Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota
My first and only visit to the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota was years ago when my family and I were driving from Minneapolis on the way to Mount Rushmore. The route takes you through The Badlands which has unique and fascinating terrain. Beyond the Badlands lies the Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD. Wikipedia tells me that this is actually the third Corn Palace, with the first one dating back to 1892. Today’s Corn Palace is a large building which is decorated with corn products on an annual basis. Wikipedia tells me that there are half a million visitors each year to this funky tourist attraction. I guess it’s partially the result of the many billboards for miles around, citing the wonders of the Corn Palace. I call it a tourist trap, but at least they don’t charge admission. They even have a webcam if you want to see it for yourself! (www.cornpalace.org)
Schroon Lake, NY
4. The Four Seasons, Houston
While staying at the 4-Seasons in Houston, Texas, on behalf of a client, their cheapest room was $300, PLUS US$10.95 per day for internet access. My colleague down the street at the Hampton Suites paid US$99 for his room, with free internet. What’s wrong with that picture? Once installed, incremental access to the internet is virtually zero added unit cost.
5. “South Of The Border Experience”, Carolina
Michael, There is a place just below the North Carolina, USA state line called “South of the Border”. It is supposed to be a recreation of some great tourist attraction in Mexico. The flashy advertising billboards start from almost 200 miles away. The signs build up so much anxiety, you feel that this just has to be the eighth wonder of the world. They advertise everything from authentic Mexican food to hand made Mexican pottery.
Of course, I had to stop and see this Mecca myself. By the time I got there, it was dark outside. The bright lights could be seen from 20 miles away. I can’t remember when or where I had seen that many flashing lights. Being hungry, the first order of business was to pick out a restaurant. Tough choice as there were several. I asked a few people which one was the best and settled on the one with the most lights. Long story short..one of the worst meals I have ever had. Microwave Mexican from the supermarket would have been an improvement.
I then went to the “authentic” Mexican stores to look at real Mexican blankets and other “home made” products. After looking for almost an hour, I decided to buy anything, I repeat, anything, that was actually made in Mexico. I could not find one thing! Almost everything was made in China.
The only really memorable part of the trip started the next morning. I was sick for almost three days.
6. Daytona Beach, Florida during Speed Week
That’s generally in February for the running of the Daytona 500 NASCAR race. All prices are inflated and traffic is grid locked.
Eldon A. Buddy Gee
Not only was Elvis a bad decorator (interesting place though), by tourist trap: how can they charge that much money – and EVERY part is “a la carte”?
How can someone dead make that much money???
Thanks for asking.
8. Orgainized Tour, Kauai Hawaii
The worst tourist trap I have experienced was on the island of Kauai in Hawaii. I usually prefer finding my own way to places, but this tour sounded good. It explained that we would boat up a beautiful river where we would see beautiful tropical flora. This was indeed true; however, they didn’t tell us that a bad Hawaiian band would play awful Hawaiian music to which all passengers not only had to listen, but were encouraged by lovely young women to dance the hula. This went on for the entire boat ride which ended up in the beautiful Fern Grotto where the boat passengers were lined up and the band played and sang the Hawaiian Wedding Song. E-e-ew! At tour’s end we were shuffled on to a bus to return to home base. This was enough saccharine to last a lifetime!
9. A Luau in Hawaii
Was expecting a evening on the beach…sitting on logs…with tiki torches and great food and up close dancing…and it was like a cheap wedding…
Big ole tables in a parking lot and a stage miles away with the entertainment…So sad…but a great joke…
In June of this year, the choral group with which I sing went on tour in Italy. It was all wonderful with the notable exception of Pisa. The route from the tourist bus stop to the cathedral close was lined, to the point of blocking our way, with street vendors and pickpockets. Pisa was the only location in which anyone lost items to thieves. The tower and town are unremarkable. If it weren’t for the engineering problems that cause the tower to lean, it wouldn’t be on the tourist routes. If one has limited time, avoid Pisa and buy a postcard instead.
11. Murano Glass Factory in Venice
Murano glass factory is to be avoided. My wife and I were approached by a man offering free round-trip tickets to ride a power boat to visit the Murano glass factory. Once there, a special tour was given us. We were isolated from other visitors while a salesman took us from room to room in an effort to get us to purchase something. The prices were astonishing; US$600 for a set of six cocktail glasses, etc. The pressure on us to buy was hard-core. When we declined to purchase anything, we were rudely shown out a side door, unsure about how to get back to Venice (the boat ride, it turned out, was one way). After asking about, we discovered the location of a ferry dock on the island, and returned to Venice, very annoyed, but significantly wiser.
Rocky River, Ohio
12. Hop On Hop Off Rides, Rome
The worst tourist trap I’ve encountered so far are the Hop On Hop Off bus rides in Rome. Rome is so compact, so walkable, and the city busses are so plentiful that taking a tourist bus is almost ridiculous. When you arrive in Rome, at termini station and many other kiosks there are well marked city bus route maps. Also, less than $20 US you can get a weeklong transportation pass good for busses, trains, and trams. It’s almost impossible to get lost.
13. Shoe Shine, Mexico City
My trap was in Mexico City when I was offered a shoeshine at the Zocallo. I should have asked quanto valle ( how much) but did not. I was charged almost the cost of a new pair of shoes. Where is the guadia when you need them.
14. Free Taxi Offers In Puerto Vallata
While exiting the baggage claim area at the airport in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, my wife and myself (luggage in tow) were approached by what appeared to be a young, attractive, neatly dressed and English speaking school girl asking if we needed help with our luggage.
During which, we said yes, thinking she could hail us a cab, we walked over to her counter to arrange for transportation. At that time she stated the free cab ride was just outside the side doorway not 50 feet away. She began to ask us if we were from America and how long we’d be staying. We talked for a few minutes and she asked if we’d be interested in some free sightseeing coupons and showed us a rather long list of things we had planned on doing while we were there so we listened further.
She called the cab driver and he came to get our luggage. She said she got paid by talking to tourists about local tourism related activities and she also would appreciate it if we could tour the local resort. We told her we did not want to tour the local resort and she said that was fine but we needed to sign a document just to show that she had talked to us and had arranged the free taxi ride. She appeared harmless enough and knowing we were in a country where the locals probably do not earn as much money as their counterparts in the US, we complied.
The cab driver had already taken our luggage to the cab and she proceeded to show us out. Then she got in the cab with us telling us she wanted to make sure we got to our booked resort intact. While in the cab she proceeded to make small talk telling us about how wonderful it was to have such nice tourists as ourselves visiting her city. Talking all about the things to do and places to see, where not to go, what types of people to avoid and such. When we arrived at our booked resort, she jumped out of the cab to make sure we got checked in ok and even tipped the cab driver. Now I am getting suspicious.
She walked us in and called for a hotel luggage clerk. Then proceeded to ask us what day we wanted to view the new resort she had spoken of so that we could receive our coupons. We told her that we never agreed to view the resort and just keep the coupons. Then she proceeded to tell us that we would have to view the resort for her to get paid and besides we had been given a free cab ride. I guess that was the hook because we said ok. These young school girls are hard to get by. She assured us we did not have to buy anything and that the tour would only last about 30 minutes. So we went ahead and scheduled a time for the next day at 9:30am.
At 9:00am the next morning our room phone rang. It was the school girl telling us she was down stairs waiting to take us to view the resort at our prearranged time. I was hoping we could get by her some how because we were actually fixing to leave the resort and go eat breakfast in town. As we exited the elevator there she was all bubbly and happy, neatly dressed and a car waiting.
So we went. She dropped us at the resort for our 30 minute tour.
Three hours, and three different salesmen later we were exhausted and just wanted to get away. We had done what we promised and so we felt like we deserved our coupons. So we waited another half hour to get the coupons. While we were there they asked if they could prearranged the appointment with the vendor we wanted to go horseback riding with. We had actually planned on going the next day so we said sure.
The girl in the coupon office dialed the phone and appeared to be asking for the person in charge at the riding stable we were going to be riding with. She gave us the coupon, told us to meet our ride at 9:00am the next morning outside the hotel at a particular curb.
The next morning, coupon in hand, we arrived about 10 minutes early and waited. And waited. No cab showed, so by 9:30 we just hailed a cab and found the place ourselves. When we arrived no one was there. There were horses and it did appear to be a riding stable so we walked around the place till we actually found someone that spoke English. The person we found was actually a local veterinarian only there to check on the horses.
We told him our story. He appeared surprised that we had been taken and called to speak with the operator of the riding stable. The conversation was in Spanish but after he got off the phone, the veterinarian rounded up and guide and a couple of horses and we got our horseback ride for free, less the tip we gave the guide. The horseback ride was wonderful and so was the guide. The veterinarian had told us not to worry cause the operator had said that the we be glad to bill the resort tour company for our costs.
We learned two lessons on that trip. 1. Do not talk to or accept anything free from anyone inside the airport looking to help you. 2. There are still good people in the world (the veterinarian, the stable operator, and the horseback guide).
15. Overcrowded Snorkling, Yucatan Peninsular
I have a pretty good nose for smelling tourist traps and can think of few. I can’t remember the name, but on the Yucatan coast, an hour south of Cancun, there’s a snorkeling venue recommended in guide books – that’s how we found it. It’s an inlet guarded by food stands and snorkeling gear shops. We’re not there ten minutes when three buses off a cruise boat stop in, everybody eating their box lunches at 10 AM. The fish disappeared. We left and found another great snorkeling inlet simple by following a dirt road. No buses, no crowds, lost of fish.
16. Milford Sound, New Zealand
We were visiting Queenstown New Zealand and wanted to experience a glacier. “Milford Sound” was suppossed to be this amazing totally worth it full day trip and the closest to the face of a glacier you could get in a one day trip from Queenstown. When I mean full day…it takes 5 hours to get there by coach bus for a 90 minute BORING cruise and 5 hour return by bus. We were smart enough to avoid the long bus ride and instead we paid the $500 to helicopter there and return by 5 passenger plane. The cruise was so boring and there is absolutely nothing there…not even a real gift shop or real place to eat. You can buy the buffet on the cruise…but a complete waste of time and money. So disappointing. We saw a sprinkle of a very unimpressive waterfall and some seals. My trips to Alaska with all the bountiful wildelife have been 1000 times more interesting. The heli flight was great…but i would have enjoyed a simple helicopter flight around the area and back just as well which probably would have saved at least half of what we spent. Save your time and money…don’t bother!!!!!
17. South Island, New Zealand
However, for pure trapping of tourists, you have to admire the people of the South Island of New Zealand. The sights are wonderful and well worth seeing, but the locals figure (correctly) since most people have traveled so far to see those sights, they’ll pay an arm and a leg to see them. When we visited in 2002, the US dollar was very strong relative to the Kiwi dollar, yet the prices to visit the fiords and activities around Queenstown were painful. I can only imagine what they feel like now! PS – if you are not an experienced hiker, never ask a Kiwi to rate the difficulty of a hike!
18. Blarney Castle
A second or third rate castle ruins with a few mediocre exhibits and a long line to kiss a rock, thereby sharing germs with a million or so other tourists. And, oh yes, a huge gift shop complex.
D M Fryer
19. Blarney Castle again
Can’t say I’ve seem them all, but the one that sticks out in my mind is the Blarney Castle. Sure, it has tradition going for it, but geez, what a bunch of hype just to bend upside down to get germs from some old stone.
Ireland is so very lovely that when the traditional tourist go there they may get a wrong impression. Alwee Cave up in the Burren is wonderful. Rather go there than Blarney Castle.
20. Stonehendge in England, biggest disappointment.
The photographs lie about its size, making it look a lot taller and massive than it is. It is located in the middle of a traffic intersection of at least two major highways, with high-speed traffic zooming by within feet of Stonehenge. To get to it you need to go through a tunnel under one of the highways.
21. Russia Bus Drivers
Russia, several years ago. Bus Driver commits some minor traffic infraction to help out day guide-gets ticketed-tourleader explains massive fine, everyone chips in, sympathetic to plight.
2 years later-different driver & day guide-same scheme, this time license suspended for short period, can’t feed family, same sympathy ploy. Local resident laughs and explains all of them will split the donations with the cop later. Sometimes it’s a phone call, drivers child hospitalized, he loses job if he calls for a sub driver instead of taking group back to ship. Also said it doesn’t work with French or Netherland tour groups, only sometimes with Aussies, but Americans are always a good haul.
22. Niagara Falls Boat Trips
Now for the best tourist trap. We were in Niagara Falls ON and saw two kinds of boats going to the falls. One was a large boat packed with people – the other was a much smaller boat with just a few people on the rail. After watching for awhile, we realized that the big crowded boats were from the Canadian side, while the small boats came from Niagara Falls NY. So we walked across the bridge to the US (probably much more difficult now after 9/11) and had a great trip, standing in the bow of this little boat that went right up to the falls. But do it from the US side. otherwise it is a rip off.
23. Entrance to Sagrada Familia, Barcelona
I would have to say paying to enter the grounds of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona ranks right up there, as you really appreciate the architecture better from a distance, and the tour is overpriced, plus they make you make a significant deposit (credit card or passport or 50 euros) to rent a 3.50 euro headset – as if I would want to lug that around the rest of my time in Barcelona.
24. Arts And Craft School, Tangiers
My tourist trap experience was visiting a “famous school of arts and crafts” in Tangiers, Morocco. My husband and I were traveling through Spain, and decided to take the ferry across from Algeciras to Tangiers for a few days. We had been warned that as soon as we got off the boat, we’d be assailed by people wanted to act as our guides, and it was best just to pick someone so as not to be harassed for the rest of the trip. That part turned out to be true, and our guide took us through the souk and the Casbah and we had some interesting experiences. That is, until he took us to Tangiers most famous school of arts and crafts, AKA a carpet factory!
Once inside, we were trapped, and spent three hours trying to convince someone that no, we really didn’t need to haul three rugs back to NYC with us! Finally we purchased one small rug and we were able to escape.
25. High pressure selling, Jamaica
While stopping in Jamaica on a cruise; my husband and I went on a guided tour. The tour included a stop at a shopping ‘area’. We were not allowed to shop where we wanted, we were guided to the back (supposedly to share the wealth with those vendors). My husband and I were immediately separated from each other by the vendors, I was blocked in a shop prevented from leaving; after buying something I was then ‘encouraged’ to have a braid put in my hair and I did, but they didn’t stop at one. Two more females stepped up and promptly had my whole head braided in 5 minutes flat and wanted to charge me $50! They said we had agreed on this! I agreed to pay $5! So I offered them $20 and ‘escaped’ quickly! Next, a man asked my husband his name as well as his wife’s name- I wasn’t there; remember we were separated? He then immediately carved our names on 2 salt shaker size carved pieces of wood and trapped my husband into paying $40 for these!! We didn’t have enough cash so they basically held my husband hostage as I RAN all the way back to the ship to withdraw some more cash and RAN back to pay them!!! Never again!!!!!!!!
Diane Pankratz, RN, BSN, MLC
26. Caribbean Hotels
No specific hotel, but having just returned from the Caribbean island of St Kitts, the Marriott Resort – like any other with a captive audience — charging unconsionably high prices for food, wine, laundry, etc. — and the ONLY alternatives within walking distance know that, so they charge virtually the same.
27. Hotel Booking Websites
I think the biggest tourist trap is to book hotel rooms online … select an upscale room … then arrive at hotel and get some lame excuse why the room is not available (the people in the room decided to stay over 3 extr days is usually what you hear). To get the room you paid for, you have to get mad, demand to see the manager, and threaten to report the hotel to the internet site you used for booking.
ALWAYS carry a paper copy of your reservation.. do not let the hotel touch it… because it will disappear..
28. British Airways
I used an on line booking agency to make my reservations through British Airway and they did not make the connecting flight arrangements correctly. I called British Airways directly and an agent walked me through fixing the problem by having me book another connecting flight ticket to correct the first mistake. I did not mind paying the additional money if it made the trip correct. Then after the fact I was told by British Airway that I could not use that ticket or it would make the rest of my itinerary invalid. And they removed my name from the roster of the corrected flight so I could not go on that flight – but they did not refund the money. So British Airways wins as my biggest tourist mistake. When I got home I wrote a letter and received a 53 cent refund for $700 in tickets.
29. European Taxi Drivers
Biggest tourist trap we ran into was taxi’s that went way out of their way to get you to your hotel. They charge outrages prices for anyone with two suitcases – you need a van for that or two taxi’s. But we did notice after a day they went the long way to get you back to the hotel. We even commented on it so the driver took the next left (we were two blocks away). It cost us twice as much since he took the scenic route.