World Travellers Sharing Their Stories About Some of The Most Disappointing Travel Destinations They Have Been To. Travel Isn’t Always Pretty. We Just Don’t Talk About It Enough.
Article Updated May 2019
In an era of social media, staged photography and increasingly accessible travel, we have inadvertently romanticised our perception of world exploration. Undoubtedly there is an increase in experiencing disappointing travel destinations as we trawl through magazines, over-hyped Instagram posts and the need to fulfill bucket lists. Overcrowding is becoming a major issue whilst lack of environmental awareness is literally spoiling our natural resources. And in most cases, we don’t even voice our disappointment anymore as we are so caught up in ticking off that list or creating that perception ourselves that it was a trip of a lifetime.
Well, as world travellers, we are happy to tell it like it is. We are not discouraging you to visit these places, but we want to curb your disappointment. As long as you’re prepared, it may just give you a much better experience than some of us on this list have had.
TRAVEL TIPS YOU WILL FIND:
#01 – SAPA, VIETNAM
by Amy Chung @ Family Globetrotters
Sapa is a frontier township in the Lào Cai Province in north-west Vietnam. It is the trekking capital of Vietnam and is renowned for its hiking through the rice terraces. Sapa was to be the highlight of our Vietnamese adventure and we very much looked forward to the rolling hills that dipped into the deep bowels of Muong Hoa Valley.
Upon our arrival in Sapa town itself, I was confronted with a haphazard town of jumbled urban development. In my conflicted state, I understood that we as travellers and tourists, did this. Holiday makers have allowed the town to develop faster than it is regulated, in a bid to grab a slice of the tourism pie. Construction aplenty combined with zero injection of funding in public infrastructure, it wasn’t a pleasant experience. Gone were my initial perceptions of a quaint town filled with low key travellers amidst the local H’mong tribe.
The roads were impossible to navigate and filled with large potholes. This would have been fine if there weren’t bumper to bumper traffic as trucks and vans filled with tourists tried to get the necessary drop off points. The restaurants did their best to rip off the travellers and I’m so scared to really ask what I actually ingested! Oh, and let’s not forget the locals following you endlessly trying to get you to buy useless souvenirs.
The hike with the local tribe however was amazing and once we were trekking through the mountain, we didn’t really see any other trekkers. It would seem the mountain was big enough to accommodate all of us. Our guide never went to school but spoke almost perfect English which she attributes to tourism. She took us to see her home where her husband looked after their 2 children whilst she worked. In comparison to her neighbours, she could be considered wealthy and I understood that despite tourism ruining such a beautiful place, it also gave them a livelihood.
Despite being one of my most disappointing travel destinations, the overall vibe of the place, the main purpose of going trekking there was stunning. But it is a changing township. Should you still go? I say yes but opt for the homestays instead. You can still get an authentic experience, but it will never be what it once was.
Here are 12 Tips to Help Prepare For Your Trekking Adventure in Sapa.
#02 – THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS, ECUADOR
by Carly Heyward @ Flight of the Educator
The Galapagos Islands always held a lot of mystery and uniqueness for me. As a child, I heard about them in conjunction with Charles Darwin, finches, and evolution. I started to learn more about fauna in the form of tortoises, marine iguanas and (for a middle schooler) the hilariously named Blue Footed Boobies. So, when I was finally able to make my way down there, I found myself sadly underwhelmed.
I didn’t know that they were formed because of volcanoes and that no flora or fauna is technically native. I’m not sure what it was that made me think the Galapagos Islands were a rainforest, but it was really closer to a desert. Although I was excited to see the sea lions, tortoises and penguins, I didn’t really see the Finches and Boobies bounding around as I was led to believe. I’m still very happy I went, but it was very different. And the biggest bummer of all was when I found out that Darwin and Eleanor Roosevelt couldn’t wait to leave, and they never wanted to come back.
#03 – EL NIDO, PHILIPPINES
by Megan Johnson @ Red Around the World
“You have to go to El Nido!” “El Nido is the best!” You’re not going to El Nido!? You have to go!” These were all things I heard while I was in the Philippines, and before I left, I read it all over the Internet. Yet, I decided to skip El Nido for North Luzon. However, once I got to Malapascua and made friends, I did what any backpacker would do, and I skipped my flight opting to go to El Nido with my new friend.
After an unnecessarily long journey (our fault) we finally made it to the limestone paradise that everyone says you just can’t miss. Well, I wouldn’t have been horribly upset if I did miss it. Don’t get me wrong, I get why people sing it’s praises and I am glad I went. It’s mind-blowing how clear the water is, how pristine it is. The towering limestone cliffs are incredibly impressive, but it’s just. So. Busy.
And I mean busy. The small town is packed. I’m surprised I didn’t get run over by a tuk tuk. Everyone goes there for island hopping, but there are only four tours that everyone does at the same time, so there are tons of people at every stop and like, 12 boats at every stop to carry all the people. It’s beautiful and worth visiting, but it was just way too busy for me to love it.
#04 – NAPLES, ITALY
by Cydny Voicechovski @ Goal Traveler
One thing we always preach is to try and find the silver lining in any location we go to. We never want to say that nothing came out of it. That is why we practice leaving our expectations at home, because when expectations come into play, you are asking to be disappointed.
One city that we visited that we struggled enjoying was Naples, Italy. It was our honeymoon and we decided to add a pit stop in Naples before our trip down the Amalfi Coast. I had past experiences in various cities in Italy, and this stop would be my husband’s first. Everyone raves about Italy, its architecture, the culture, the food, so I just assumed Naples would be no different.
Turns out Naples, is your quintessential blue-collar city of Italy. Dusty, not well taken care of, and busy. The people were not very fond of outsiders or tourists getting in their way, and I guess I can relate by practically being a New Yorker. It’s one of the only cities we’ve visited through our 32-country journey that we felt uncomfortable and unwelcome. Go figure, that Italy would pose that threat to us. We took one wrong turn, and let’s just say the townies made it known we were not where we were supposed to be.
At the end of the day, Naples did have some exquisite food, so we took our focus in that direction. My advice is to find what you can enjoy and let that guide you through your journey.
#05 – UBUD, INDONESIA
by Amy Dodd @ Oceans to Alpines
Bali has been a place for the tropical and resort getaway. Stay in luxury while enjoying the local and cultural aspects of Bali. You will find pictures of it all over Instagram. Females in flowing dresses visiting the rice fields or sitting on the Bali swings. While Ubud may have been a magical getaway destination it has quickly turned into a tourist trap.
Most of the places that are featured such as the Tegalalang rice Terrace, is actually smaller than expected. The photos make it seem like a large rice field used in the area, but it has transformed into a quick tourist photo stop. Expect an entrance fee, and more fees if you want to visit different parts of the rice field. Additionally, a lot of the famous “Bali Swings” that surround the rice fields charge a price to get that classic “Instagram” photo. Additionally, the Handara gate that has been made popular on Instagram is simply a gate to a golf course.
Overall, Ubud has been made to appear as an integrated nature and resort style of getaway, but the nature aspect has turned into tourist photo ops over the recent years. While I would still recommend visiting Bali, look instead to go off the beaten path and away from Ubud. Head more up to the North and stay in that area. Or visit all the neighbouring islands: Nusa Penida, Lombok, Gili Islands etc. That will give you a real authentic visit and what the Instagram photos are trying to show but are faking. However, if you are interested in a resort style stay then Ubud is perfect for staying at a resort.
#06 – MONT SAINT-MICHEL, FRANCE
by Daniela Koleva @ Ipanema Travels
I have always dreamed of visiting Mont Saint-Michel. I’ve imagined how I approach the island in a fairy-tale like setting. This was before the social media, before Instagram, before Internet. I thought it will be magical, just like on the movies or pictures I’ve seen.
Years later my dream came true, I was heading to Mont Saint-Michel on a day trip. We arrived by car and had to park on the mainland. It was after the bridge was built. Walking towards the island was as beautiful as in my dreams. Mont Saint-Michel looked like a small water globe in the distance and with each step it grew bigger and bigger.
Finally, we arrived there on the island and were immediately engulfed by the crowd. It was impossible to walk, it was impossible even to move around. The crowd was moving us. I thought I will suffocate. We even didn’t make it to the top, or to the Abbey. We turned around and left the anthill.
Overtourism is doing no good to places. Destinations can boast increase of numbers but at what cost? Growth is amazing, but it shouldn’t be left uncontrolled. Proper management in tourism is required to guarantee that attractions and destinations won’t be ruined by tourists. One solution for Mont Saint-Michel could be a daily quota of tourists, or an online booking with time slots, to dose the visitors.
#07 – PHI PHI ISLAND, THAILAND
by Valentini Argyropoulou @ My Shoes Abroad
Phi Phi islands became famous after the movie “The Beach” that was filmed in one of the most spectacular bays of the complex, the Maya Bay. Nowadays Phi Phi Don (the only inhabited island) welcomes approximately 1000 tourists per day. Needless to say, the tiny island suffers a lot from tourism and it is not quite the paradise it used to be.
On my first day, I was so disappointed by the water quality of the main beach that I didn’t even swim! Unfortunately, many business owners do not care for the environment and have no plans of how to deal with the waste that their businesses produce. Combine that with the lack of a proper sewage system, one can only assume where everything goes.
On the other hand, the most secluded beaches tend to be much cleaner, but they are still very crowded. Tourist agents are constantly promoting tours touting ¨Beat the crowds! Maya Bay & surrounding islets¨ that start at 6 am which then makes the surround island just as busy.
Don’t get me wrong, the nature and the landscape are very beautiful – if only the Thai government, the locals and the tourists could try to preserve this slice of paradise. At the moment everything is being sacrificed for the money. Some parts of the islands have already been closed down by authorities for a few months in order to rejuvenate the area. Let’s be positive but let’s start to respect the environment too!
#08 – VENICE, ITALY
by Justine Cross @ Wanderer of the World
I’d heard (and seen) such fantastic things about Venice in Italy. Everyone was raving about a beautiful water-locked city that had no cars disrupting its peace, so I was anticipating stunning views, ancient architecture and plenty of culture.
However, I’m sorry to say that I was vastly disappointed.
In my experience, the photos that have been splashed so lovingly across social media and guidebooks are either photoshopped or taken during off-peak seasons. As travel writers, I think we have a duty to show places for how they really are to prevent other travellers from being disheartened upon visiting.
So, what can I tell you about Venice? It has been fully immersed into the tourist trade. You can be marvelling at the beautiful architecture of Doge’s Palace, only to turn around and find souvenir stands each way you look, selling souvenirs en masse such as fake Venetian masks, t-shirts and gondola hats.
And sadly, despite there being no cars around, this isn’t a peaceful city. Admittedly, I was exploring Venice in the height of summer, but I was surrounded by thousands upon thousands of people; being jostled every which way and getting trapped on Rialto Bridge due to the bottleneck of people that forms here.
I will never be perturbed from trying to visit again, but I do know that I will avoid Venice in the summer like the plague. I’d suggest you do too if it’s the quiet canals and beautiful buildings that you want to take the time to admire.
#09 – COLOMBO, SRI LANKA
by Nadia Crowe @ Nomadic Nerd
Sri Lanka is a great place and I definitely enjoyed myself there, but I was also disappointed. It was my first time in a South Asian country and suffice to say, I had high expectations. Prior to this trip, I had saved countless magical images of Sri Lanka on Instagram. I know, we are supposed to take them with a grain of salt, but I couldn’t help it, I was so excited! Sri Lanka is one of those destinations that’s gaining popularity in the Instagram community and being an avid photographer, I couldn’t wait to explore.
If I’m being honest, I was pretty happy with Galle, but Colombo was a bit of a disappointment. Despite being well versed on scams, my mum and I were swindled off our first tuk tuk ride, which on the first day left a sour taste in my mouth. But still, we tried to keep our spirits high. Here’s what I thought it would be like: quaint, charming, magical. Instead it was: busy, people were somewhat rude and at times it could be pretty scary.
Colombo was a bit confusing, in the lonely planet guide that we bought, we listed down the things we wanted to do. In particular, we wanted to visit the markets and do some shopping. However, what we thought would be a famous market was actually a lonesome shop selling homeware and the other was a vegetable market. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with vegetable markets or homeware shops, but needless to say we were confused. This happened a few times. In fact, the entire three days in Colombo was one big confusing daze.
Nothing was as we expected it to be, people were rude, and money was lost. On our second day we even gave up and went to this outrageously expensive spa because the old Dutch hospital, ‘an attractive shopping district’, was practically empty! Maybe we were doing something wrong, maybe we should’ve gone there without any expectations. It’s not to say I didn’t enjoy myself, it was just different than what I thought and what I had seen online. In a sense, that’s why I was disappointed. I guess there’s a lesson to be learnt here, though. Keep an open mind, and whilst photos are a great way of looking for inspiration, they don’t tell the whole story.
#10 – SAHARA DESERT, MOROCCO
by Steph Edwards @ The Mediterranean Traveller
A trip to the Sahara tops many a traveller’s bucket list. It was at the top of mine, too, and I planned my trip to Morocco around a desert tour. My Instagram feed had been flooded with so many incredible photos of Morocco that I just had to go see it for myself. I pictured myself traversing the sand dunes of the Sahara with a perfectly photogenic caravan of camels at sunset, followed by an evening of good conversation and an incredible night sky at a Bedouin camp.
Here’s what my reality check looked like: it takes two days to drive to the Sahara camp from Marrakech. That’s two days in a really hot minivan with no A/C and a gruff driver, whizzing through various dusty stops which are actually much more interesting than the dunes. I woke up on the second day with food poisoning. But I persevered, determined to experience the magic of the Moroccan desert.
When we arrived at Merzouga, the point at which the camel treks begin, I found myself wondering why on earth I’d been tempted to take part in an experience that involves animals. It’s difficult to overstate how uncomfortable they are to ride – even without food poisoning – and it’s also difficult to judge the adequacy of their welfare. I mounted my camel feeling queasy in more ways than one, particularly as I started to notice all the trash strewn around the dunes.
At the camp, we were joined by several rowdy tour groups for sunset and dinner, surfing down the dunes and taking bum selfies. So much for experiencing the peace and vastness of the desert. I couldn’t wait to get back to Marrakech.
In collating this comprehensive list, it certainly made me feel sad at the state of world travel. Disappointing travel destinations such as the Galapagos Islands and the Sahara Desert literally makes my heart ache. But in a bid to continue to see this earth, are we just contributing to the problem? I for one don’t ever want to stop travelling. I just have to be more responsible.
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I am so sorry to hear that you have had such a terrible experience in Morocco. Merzouga actually is not even the Sahara Desert. The Sahara Desert begins in southern Morocco, in Zagora (but that one is even farther). When I went to Morocco I had this dream too. I documented myself a lot and I knew that no matter how hard it may be, I will stay at least for two nights in the desert. The problem is that you cannot get too far only in one day of camel riding – that’s why you need to plan more days in the desert to have an authentic experience. I would encourage you to keep dreaming because the photos that you saw are real, and it is possible, but you just need to know exactly what you want. here is my travel diary form a 4-day camel trekking in the desert. https://travelingauthentic.com/index.php/camel-desert-trek-zagora-mhammid/
I am Vietnamese, I love traveling and I understand your frustration when coming to Sapa. Sapa has been tourism too much, it is difficult for visitors to feel the beauty of nature in Sapa. Instead, I think you should go to Ha Giang, Northeast Vietnam, I am sure it is a great choice, the nature here is very majestic, very beautiful!
I think ppl should still visit Sapa. The terraces are so beautiful but this was just to highlight some of the disappointments so visitors are more prepared.
There is a lot of Vietnam I have not seen. Thanks for the recommendation! I’ll be sure to remember for when I go back:)
Great list! I like your unconventional post. I recently visited Thailand and thankfully we didn’t go to Phi Phi Island due to unfavourable weather conditions. Later, I got to know from some of my friends that it’s an overrated destination and quite crowded. We enjoyed our time at the secluded Koh Jum Island instead.
Thailand has so many untouched islands to go to. Problem is once they get popular, its just gets crazy and ruined. I think of the problems is uncontrolled tourism. If you only allowed so many visitors a day, then it owuld be a much better scenario. I haven’t heard from Koh Jum Island but I am so going to look it up!
Not that I have been to all the destinations you’ve mentioned here, but I disagree with El Nido, Ubud, and Venice. Yes, I agree, that due to excess marketing, these places are crowded with people and that’s the case everywhere nowadays. But I wasn’t disappointed with these places because apart from the crowds, they really were gorgeous! I mean, Maya Bay (Phi Phi Islands) used to be lovely but then the waters began to get dirty due to all the crowds that came there and that’s why they’ve shut the place down to refurbish and clean up. Just like they did with Boracay. And it’s a pity! I am also disappointed to read that Galapagos made it to your list, I haven’t been there but I’ve heard such wonderful stories about it! I completely agree with Colombo.
Ubud is no longer what it used to be. Known as the cultural centre of Bali, it is geting rather commercialised. Agree that’s still nice if you haven’t been before. We went Venice in the winter and even then it was quite crowded. I’d hate to see it in the summer! Very sad about Maya Bay and Boracay. Boracay only really opened up to major tourism not so long ago. Didn’t take us tourists long to ruin it but that’s because it wasn’t controlled enough.
Great to get some honest chat about these popular destinations! I have not been to any of them. But I am sad to hear The Galapagos would be disappointing! I am so desperate to go there. I’m a scuba diver so I’m sure underwater wouldn’t be too disappointing – if there’s an abundance of marine life then I will be happy! I’ve heard disappointing things about places like El Nido and also Venice – just overrun by tourists. Still, I’d like to visit. But maybe just try and find the off-the-beaten-track areas!
Corect. I think we all need ot see it for ourselves but so much better managing our expectations. If you’re a diver, you should go to Raja Ampat! I hear its just ridiculous there!
Oh wow! This is, indeed, a topic that many travel bloggers prefer to stay away from. I for one always write about the downsides of visiting certain places and I am not ashamed to put down in writing something that I didn’t like on a destination! Good job on putting this together! I recognise some of the destinations, such as Venice, as highly over-rated! I remember when I visited it, I was so disappointed 😕 thanks for voicing something many people don’t 😉
Awww… you welcome! Travel is not always rosy and we do have to be honest with our reviews. I usually am quite tolerant and take everything with a grain of salt but even then I get dissapointed about some experiences. Incredible how many people feel the same way about Venice. that makes me sad!
Oh no! I didn’t expect to see the Galapagos Islands on the list. I have never been but I heard it was amazing. I guess it has to do with what you expect vs the reality. If we can research and learn more about the destination beforehand, that might minimize the disappointment that is to follow.
Exactly. do your research and if you’re prepared it won’t be so bad. I was very well prepared for Sapa in Vietnam. I was still a bit dissapointed but if I hadn’t done my research I reckon I would have been devastated!
It’s interesting to read about this topic. I was surprised to see Sapa on the list, but I understand why it must be a shock for foreigners to see the infrastructure of Vietnam. As I’m Vietnamese and quite used to these… I was really disappointed when I visited Split, Paris, and Bangkok.
I was born in KL so I understand under-development but Sapa town was very different to the rest of Vietnam that we saw. It was simply growing too fast and those roads….. my goodness. what didn’t you like about Split, Paris and Bangkok? I really don’t like Bangkok but love Paris!
I am suprise to read that about The Galapagos Islands.. I was gonna go there earlier this year, but I guess good thing I didn’t. I agree with Ubud. It was an amazing place but I was hoping for something more magical. What I disagree is Phi Phi Island. When I was there water was amazing and I couldn’t wait to jump into the water. And tourist … they always are and always will be … We are one of them as well. For me the biggest disappointing was KL in Malaysia .. it was just so dirty …
Everyone’s experience is different in all places. I’m glad to her you loved Phi Phi:) Give me hope that it iwll be great for me too! We just take everything with a grain of salt. I agree with Ubud so much. No longer tranquil that’s for sure. As for KL….. totally agree!
I don’t know about the other places, but on venice you are completely true. I am italian and I will avoid and suggest to the people to avoid it too. Prefer Napoli instead. Better food, nice people and cheap. http://italiantripabroad.it/Blog/the-best-of-london-how-to-visit-the-city-on-a-budget-and-dont-miss-nothing/
So sad an Italian thinks that of their own but thank you for being truthful. I would have loved to have experienced Venice before it became that way. It would have been so charming. We visited in winter so it was not so bad. And we did love our visit to Burano.
What a great list. I agree that as travel writers we really should let our readers know about the downsides so that they can make the best decision for themselves. The crowds are such a problem that we only travel during off-peak season. For me the disappointing smells of urine and vomit in New Orleans’ French Quarter was a turn off.
I agree and if they were to go, at least be warned and prepared to curb the dissapointment. So sad about New Orleans. And one would think the French Quarter sounds to exotic and pristine. Its like Montmarte in Paris…. so seedy!
For some reason, this is why I always go to places which are not full of tourists and I always get a better experience. Agree with Venice…TOURSIT TRAP CITY!
And we try to do that too but the problem is, we want to see these places at least once in our lifetime though. So stuck between a rock and a hard place. Yeah…. Venice!
Ah, that’s so unfortunate to hear these, but appreciated this nice spin on a round up post. I have only been to Phi Phi islands and Venice of the list but would agree due to all the crowds of tourists. Makes it important to get off the beaten track!
I totally agree! Just got back from Oahu and man…. Waikiki was insane! Hired a car and drove to the quitter parts of the island and that was the best thing we did. Off the beaten track really is the way to go.
This was a very interesting read and quite a surprise at some of the destinations. However, i do agree with Ubud, actually just Bali in general. Over tun by tourism and seriously loosing that local feel.
Oh Bali….. that has really changed over the years and the traffic is now just horrendous. Ubud used to be the place to go in Bali to escape from the insanity but looks like everyone has the same idea now.
This is such an excellent read, and I love each traveller’s honesty too. Sadly, this is the downside of travelling, and it’s only going to get worse. We’re planning a trip to the Philippines, and I’m already worried about El Nido. I’ve heard it’s expensive and overrun with tourists. Such a shame about Mont St Michael too, but I’m not surprised. Being in Italy, Venice and Naples are not surprising in the least! Venice is overpriced and Naples can be dodgy!
Thanks Lisa! Great contributions and I guess I just wanted to showcase the reality of travel as its not always picture perfect. I think it helps to know that El Nido will be overcrowded although even though I knew Waikiki would be insanely busy, I was nevertheless disappointed last week when I was there. Luckily the Philippines have so many other islands you can explore. So sad about Venice and Naples.
I totally agree with atractions above, but I would also add Eifel Tower and Colloseum in Rome
Oh yes, the Eiffel Tower. That queue is nuts. And even when you buy the express past, which helps, that queue is also getting longer! And the Colosseum….. I went to Rome in the winter time and the crowds weren’t so bad. but I have seen photos in the warmer month and OMG…. insanity.
This post is interesting. I’ve been to most of these destinations and agree that all have been slightly trampled by overtourism, but I feel I’ve still managed to the see and experience the best of each of them despite this. I had an amazing Sahara desert experience and just paid fractionally more to have a jeep and a quieter camp
I think you make a really good point. We need to learn to see past the “over tourism” and look for the experiences we want and just take everything with a grain of salt. I’d glad you had such an amazing Sahara experience and I agree that paying a little bit more for a bit of luxury makes a difference!
That’s really surprising to see the Galapagos on the list… but I can understand when your idea of a place is much different than in reality. It’s still a dream destination for me but this is a good reminder to keep my expectations in check
I think most people love the Galapagos but yes, if you had one image in your head only to be confronted by another it can be a sad experience. But now that everyone knows what to expect then it will curb the disappointment.
Thanks for including me! I thought I was upset when I didn’t enjoy Venice, but it’s also so sad to see how so many super popular destinations disappointed other travellers. I think we’ve all got the responsibility to showcase both sides of travel – the good with the bad. So I want to thank you for putting this collaboration together, as much as it might tug at some heartstrings!
You welcome Justine! You’re not the first person to have mentioned to me how disappointed they were with Venice but it would seem that anyone who goes in the summer time feels the same way. Its is simply too busy. But it shouldn’t deter people from going. It wasn’t so bad when I went in the winter time.