So-called bucket list destinations have high expectations – and often crowds too.
While overtourism can ruin many a vacation destination, it’s not the only reason vacations miss the mark. Here, travel writers contributing to The Washington City Times’s Global Traveler share the worst disappointments of their professional careers.
“While I may have had my passport taken for saying this as an Englishman, I certainly found Stonehenge disappointing.
‘It didn’t help that I worked as a tour guide as a university student at the time, so [I] had to convince 45 Americans on our bus that they were about to undergo a life-changing experience: getting up close and personal with a 4,500-year-old testament to man’s ceaseless creativity, genius, and spirituality.
Travel writer Chris Dwyer.
Credit to Chris Dwyer
“What emerged from the rain was a somewhat desolate collection of large gray stones, about 30 meters away – as close as we could get. A broken down truck on a busy road passing the site did not really help the mystical revelation . “
—Chris Dwyer, United Kingdom
Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
“The karst-strewn seascape in North Vietnam is one of the undisputed visual highlights of the country, but the reality of a visit isn’t always that appealing. I’ve been there several times – first as a tourist, then on assignment – and struggled to see the destination’s charm despite its obvious beauty.
Floating communities fetching “tasteless” souvenirs and similarly constructed “identikit” boats are two of the criticisms that travel writer Duncan Forgan has of Vietnam’s famous Ha Long Bay.
Linh Pham | Getty images
“From the identikit junk boats blocking the water to daunting excursions to nondescript caves and floating communities selling tacky souvenirs, it’s a tourist experience that requires an upgrade.”
—Duncan Forgan, United Kingdom
Curious and fascinated by the stories of the “Land of the Thunder Dragon,” I went [to Bhutan] to discover culture and country and to photograph the Paro Tshechu festival. These religious dance festivals started in the 17th century and are well worth checking out. The festivities are held every year in monasteries across the country and last for five days. Buddhist monks perform 1,300-year-old dance rituals in beautifully embroidered costumes and colorful masks.
While Bhutan performs well in its own internal “Gross National Happiness” index (a measure created in Bhutan in the 1970s), the country ranked 95 out of 156 countries in the United Nations World Happiness Report 2019, a discrepancy which according to Bhutanese media is because of differences in research criteria and methodology.
Thanks to Petra Loho
“As Bhutan bans independent travel, a local guide and driver accompanied me on my journey across the country. Chats with them revealed the lack of prospects for Bhutan’s young generation – restrictions on education, no jobs, no money.
“I knew that roaming freely between cities and ad hoc changing of the itinerary was not allowed. My two escorts even tried to stop me from wandering off the main streets of the city. I ignored their protests and pushed through the side roads exposed the sobering truth of an image carefully crafted for the outside world. Instead of happiness, alcoholism, poverty and violence determine the fate of many Bhutanese residents. “
—Petra Loho, Austria
Machu Picchu, Peru
‘It was a place I had always dreamed of: a lost city, high in the Andes, hidden from the rest of the world.
“I knew there was no road connecting this Inca kingdom to the outside world, and to get there you had to take the train and then the bus or hike the rugged Inca Trail for 10 days. the train from Cuzco The locals selling overpriced trinkets in the aisles may have signaled me to adjust my expectations.
Tourists visit the Machu Picchu complex on April 24, 2019.
PABLO PORCIUNCULA BRUNE | AFP | Getty images
“The buses were full of people who looked exactly like me. They could barely maneuver around each other and meandered around hairpin bends – choked in exhaust fumes from other vehicles – to the top of the mountain. A crowd of salesmen surrounded the gateway to Machu Picchu.
“For a moment a breathtaking view of splendor unfolded as if I had just woken up from a dream – until a long line of people led by a red flag-waving guide descended the rocky staircase where I was standing, almost knocking me aside.
“Wherever I walked, wherever I looked, there were people in crowds, squeezing together, waiting to squeeze into a gate or hallway to take the perfect selfie. The shaking of people was slow and laborious, and all I wanted to do was jump off the narrow path we all had to follow.
“I managed to slip away from the crowd to stare at the remarkable sights and vistas for just a few minutes at a time before others passed by, trying to do the same. It was exhausting and demoralizing. When I finally got back on the train sat down, I felt relieved to be away from the crowd, but sadly dissatisfied with the fact that I had barely experienced the sacred ‘Lost City of the Incas’ – and not even seen it all. ”
—Kevin Cox, United States
“The unique poignancy of the atmospheric canals, medieval bridges and iconic crumbling palazzos of this floating city puts Venice firmly on many a bucket list. Once disembarked in the sweltering August heat – nostrils stormed by the suffocating stench of old canals – and reality began.
Increasing tourist numbers in Venice prompted the local government to control ticket sales for the city’s famous “vaporetto” or water buses.
Marco Secchi | Getty Images News | Getty images
Long lines of hot and sweaty tourists waited for expensive gondolas and vaporettos manned by irritable tourists from the tourist industry (no Venetians even – hardly anyone lives in Venice). It was a blessed reminder that I had broken a cardinal rule of European travel : Do not visit the big cities in the summer! Choose April, May or even June. Or wait until it cools down in September or October. “
—Verne Maree, South Africa
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, Kyoto, Japan
Arashiyama’s bamboo groves have been weighed down by their Insta-worthy fame. Because anyone aiming for that perfect moment on social media waits for the groups to evacuate before taking photos there, the crowd never scatters along the green areas.
Another reason to go to Arashiyama Bamboo Grove – the area around Gioji Temple.
Credit to Morgan Awyong
“To be honest, I’ve seen similar stretches of bamboo in Vietnam and China. But those looking for a dose of tranquility in Arashiyama can find it at the end of a path: Gioji Temple has a moss garden, maple trees and undisturbed bamboo. . “
—Morgan Awyong, Singapore
“We were in Peru, a land of extraordinary treasures. Even Machu Picchu, so hyped that you’d think it could never live up to expectations, was nothing short of astonishing. Our last adventure was a hike to Choquequirao, another ancient Inca site.
“When we told the locals where we were going, they greeted the news with disbelief. Little did we know this is a tough journey. [It’s] all uphill to get there, although normally the mountains would be covered with clouds. Not this time. It was hot; the sun was bright. The rays bounced off the shale on the hairpins that burned our eyes. And it only got hotter. Plus, there was no time to linger because we were on a short timeline.
This is the “only surviving image” of writer Carrie Hutchinson’s journey to Choquequirao after her computer “died” on her return from Peru, she said.
Credit to Carrie Hutchinson
“At sunset, after two extremely challenging days, we reached Santa Rosa. In the distance we could see the gates. Then the guide told us we would not have time to go to the ruins. It was another two hours walk. there, and he had to have us back in Cusco in less than 48 hours.
Disappointed? Oh, just a little bit. It would be great to come back one day, but this time I would make sure there was plenty of time to enjoy it. ‘
—Carrie Hutchinson, Australia