Overrated Tourist Attractions

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When I sat down one idle Saturday to watch Primer, I wasn’t expecting anything. I remember reading someone on Twitter going on about it, but I didn’t put much stock in his opinion cause, you know, Twitter.

90 minutes later and I was crying great tears of joy at having experienced something of such staggering beauty. I’m not often moved to tears by art (the last film I cried at was I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry), but this one movied me in a way that I hadn’t been movied in a long time.

Erin hates Science Fiction. When she found my secret collection of Battlestar Galactica episodes, she started throwing plates at me. Screams of “How could you?” and “You’re such a typical bastard male!” accompanied a shower of porcelain shards as I cowered apologetically in the corner.

But after watching Primer she actually said that she liked the film. Voluntarily. With no cajoling.

This independent, unknown, ultra-low budget time travel movie had managed to get Erin to enjoy Science Fiction.

(Stupidly, I then tried to build on this positive step forward by taking her to see Transformers. Thanks to Michael Bay, I’ve now lost her forever.)

A Title To Draw You In While You’re Scanning: This Section Is About Cheese

If movies were cheese, Primer would be a perfect portion of light, creamy goats cheese served with sweet yellow cherry tomatoes and a splash of fine balsamic vinegar. Titanic, on the other hand, would be a hulking man-size block of Tesco mild cheddar served with one stale cracker.

<Aside> I once heard from a reliable source that to make Tesco mild cheddar, the company just hooks up a hose to the waste pipe of a tyre-factory and adds some Riboflavin-5′-Phosphate. </Aside>

Titanic was, at the time, the highest grossing film in history, and remained so for 12 years until it was surpassed by another Cameron ‘masterpiece’, the superior but still oh-Gods-where-is-the-story Avatar.

People just gushed and gushed about it for what seemed like years (but was probably only a weekend). Everywhere I went, it was “Oh Leo!”, “Oh Kate!”.

Oh good grief. Superlatives became so pedestrian that they had to invent new ones. I read one review that said.

“This flamboyotic mastermovie is an emotiondizing work of artisticulate wonderfulendipity! See it now!”

I think that one might have been from the Daily Mail: they like to make stuff up.

Truth be told, I didn’t actually mind watching Titanic. Some of the effects were nice, but it wasn’t as great as everyone was making it out to be. I don’t think it filled a particular hole in my soul nor was my life massively enriched from the experience.

I certainly wouldn’t have paid 10 times the usual movie theater price just because it was really, really famous. I also don’t believe that dressing up like Jack Dawson and queuing for 10 hours in the rain to be the first to see it would have made the experience any more memborable/spirtual/enriching.

I’d much rather be blindsided by an unexpected and unknown masterpiece like Primer than disappointed by an overrated, hyperbolic blockbuster like Titanic.

Controversial Ending

Wow, these metaphors are like a cheap and nasty cocktail: Very badly mixed.

So let me clarify: I’m talking about Machu Picchu.

Let the flaming begin! Give me your worst (I promise I won't take this post down if you start hurting my feelings).

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38 thoughts on Overrated Tourist Attractions

  1. Hmm. My son did the Salkantay Trek with Llama Path and enjoyed it. We were thinking of doing the same. Who did you use? I think with this new age in traveling the world, everything that was once pristine gets too commercial. I always wanted to visit Bali, but after Eat, Whine and Love, it has gone a bit over the top.

  2. Pingback: Highlights of 1 Year in South America

  3. If you don’t fancy the tourist throngs at Machu Picchu, head north to Chachapoyas and the hilltop fortress of Kuelap. It’s an awesome place. I went there about six months ago – I saw maybe five tourists during the whole day. Apparently, Peru is going to promote the north more in the next year or so – so get to Kuelap quickly before everyone else starts going there!

    • I have heard Kuelap is amazing – it’s a shame we didn’t make it to northern Peru as I really liked the sound of it.

  4. Its funny reading your post on MP. This has always been my biggest apprehension about it, over touristed. Hence when it comes to travelling in SA, we decide for any other country besides PERU! Although we have a good Peruvian friend who insists we shd go,but am waiting for him to recommend som non-touristy places to see or off the beaten track.

    I also totally agree on the Iguazu falls in Argentina – loved them but I also loved the Perito Moreno glacier. Both overly touristed but cant describe the joy seeing these natural wonders !

    • It sounds like there are some great places to visit in Northern Peru that not many tourists get to. You could always visit them as well as MP. Enjoy!

  5. Happiness = Reality / Expectations.

    That being said, I actually loved Machu Picchu. My biggest “reality can’t live up to expectations” moment was in Dubrovnik. A few days later we left to Korcula (about which no one had ever uttered a word to me) and I fell in love.

  6. I must say that I agree with Machu Picchu being a bit overrated. I went in 2009 and I enjoyed it, but it definitely did not blow me away. Sometimes I forget that when I look at my photos because the place was so photogenic. I think feeling like certain places are overrated also has a lot to do with the experience you have when you’re there and what you’ve seen prior to it. For me, I will always compare everything to the temples of Angkor, which are by far the best ruins/world wonder (even though it didn’t make the cut) I’ve seen up to this point. Also, it was sunny the whole time I was at Machu Picchu. Some people say that it’s more amazing if you see it covered in fog and then watch as lifts and the ruins are revealed… I’m not convinced though. No matter how much I think or know I’ll be underimpressed, I still typically visit the touristy places, but try to keep my expectations low about the attractions because my main travel goal is to soak up culture!

    • I agree – what you have seen before really does affect your reaction. It’s a shame really but we’ve got a bit harder to please having been to so many amazing places.

  7. ah, i’m sorry to hear that you didn’t enjoy machu pichu. for me, the inca trail and machu pichu was one of the highlights of my trip to peru (despite the crowds!). i still remember the sense of wonder i felt when i first saw machu pichu from the sun gate (amongst other emotions such as relief and exhaustion – the altitude really gets to you!). maybe next time?

    as another commenter said above – the most overrated tourist attraction i’ve been to so far is definitely the uffizi. thank goodness i bought my ticket in advance and didn’t line up for the 3 hours the queue was the day i went.

    • I actually enjoyed the Uffizi and went there twice! That was nearly 10 years ago though so I’m not sure how I’d feel these days.

      Glad you enjoyed your MP experience.

  8. We found a lot of the same pressure travelling in Vietnam – ‘Have you been to the Chu Chi tunnels?’ nearly everyone was pushing for us to go. In the end we just lied and said yes we had been so they would stop hassling us. And after three trips to Bangkok still haven’t seen the palace or Golden Temple. And my partner in crime famously passed on a trip to Victoria Falls, preferring to stay back and drink beer.

    Sometimes you just have to be in the mood to battle the crowds and the overinflated tourist prices just to make a tick off a list.

    • I can so understand just lying and pretending you went! It’s ridiculous though, isn’t it? I agree it all depends on your mood – if you are excited about going then great, but if you are going because you feel you have to, the experience is unlikely to be good.

  9. Dude, I’m *so* with you. We were lucky, actually. We chose to do the 5-day Salkantay trek over the pass, so we were fit as a fiddle to do the final hike up to the ruins in the pouring rain (http://www.flickr.com/photos/annette_oneil/5149877933/). The thousands of vinyl-sheathed tourists waited until the downpour was over to come out of their overpriced cafes, so we had about ten minutes of peace. It was nice.

    I think I did MP more for “the folks back home” than myself. Is it weird that I’d find it hard to explain why I didn’t end up visiting MP after living in Cusco for months, and that’s essentially why I went? Our first abortive trip to MP, on a self-guided motorcycle tour that ended when our 250’s died in the snow at Abra Malaga, was way-the-heck more interesting, but that’s hard to explain to mom. 😉

    Also — I’m no Cheapo McChintzypants, but the prices in Aguas Calientes (for the crappiest food in Peru) filled my eyes with bitter tears. I mean. Really.

    • I can understand the difficulty in explaining to family back home why you didn’t go to some major site. Your motorbike trip sounds awesome!

      Glad we are not the only ones who were shocked by the price of the food. It would have been expensive in England.

  10. I haven’t been to Machu Picchu yet so I can’t comment. But no number of bad or disappointed comments could stop me from visiting.

    Overrated tourist attraction for me: Robben Island in South Africa. I was so looking forward to visiting the place that Nelson Mandela spent so long imprisoned in, but we were only given a cursory glance into the place. Disappointing.

  11. I’ve been to Peru twice and I have never been to Machu Picchu. Can you believe it!? I’ve had people tell me about 100 times. Why didn’t you go? Don’t you feel like you missed out? Well, one day I will go and gaze at the amazing mountaintop ruins, but if I had gone there straight away I feel that I would have missed much of the culture, surfing and other amazing experiences that I was able to be apart of during my time there.

    • I am impressed! You resisted the peer pressure. We didn’t go to the Taj Mahal in India and people can never understand it, but there’s so much more to the country! Like you said, we might go one day.

  12. Yes but the hike is amazing – I highly recommend at least a 4 day hike. We had such a great time on it that by the time we got to MP we were a bit underwhelmed (or maybe just crazy exhausted). It really would’ve seemed like a letdown without the amazing 4 days of walking to get there. I can see your point of view, but for people who haven’t been yet I say spend the money and do a 4 day trek to get there. Then MP is just icing on the cake. It’s the best money we’ve ever spent on a tour.

    • I have heard the hike is great. You have to book the Inca Trail too far in advance but we were tempted by the Salkantay alternative route. In the end we were put off by the expense and because we felt too tired at that point in our travels.

  13. Really?! We had to skip Machu Picchu due to the mudslides. Every time I see photos that other people have taken of it, I wish we had gone.

    We did a post about how the pyramids in Cairo were a bit of a letdown and took some shit for it.

    Have you seen Karl Pilkington’s ‘An Idiot Abroad’ – I think you would enjoy it… every tourist attraction is a bother to him, but he makes some good points. You should download it when you have the chance!

    • That sounds interesting, we’ll have to check it out.

      I can’t really see how the pyramids could live up to expectations really, but people do get upset about these things.

    • I have heard good things about the hike up so that may be a great experience in its own right. The train felt so sanitised, touristy and overpriced that it added to our annoyance with the whole thing. Some people do love MP, so I would keep an open mind and judge for yourself. Plus it’s the rainy season now so it’ll probably be a lot quieter.

      • I did a 4 day Machu Picchu hike and the hike itself was the experience that I remember fondly. I found Machu Picchu to be more of an anti-climax than anything once we got there, having seen other similar but smaller ruins along the way. For a truer experience and to appreciate its context more fully I think you need to do the hike.

    • If you’re going to go to Machu Picchu I can’t recommend doing the Salkantay trek enough – nor the guide we went with. It was one of the most demanding but worthwhile things either of us have ever done. Machu Picchu was alright but walking over a mountain is better.

      • We did plan to do it but unfortunately didn’t get a reply from the guide you recommended. We couldn’t face trawling though the tour agencies to find a reliable one and realised we were a bit too exhausted for it at that point in our trip. Sounds wonderful though.

  14. Could not agree more. I spent most of my time in Macchu Picchu devising escapes from the innumerable tourist traps. I fell in only one – after refusing to take the bus from the town in either direction and a couple of hours exploring, I was out of water and paid something like $10USD for a bottle of water at the snack stand. (maybe it wasn’t that much but I remember it feeling like a ridiculous amount at the time) That said…am also glad I can say “Didn’t like Macchu Picchu too much” because I have seen it with my own eyes.
    Such a treat when Simon jumps in with a post – always so funny!

    • That happened to us too! We did take snacks but after getting up up at 4am and climbing Waynu Picchu we were starving by 10am, and out of water so had to pay the ridiculous prices for a slice of pizza and a drink.

  15. I mean some attraction can be overcharged or overrated but if I see it with my eyes or visit the place. I might have a different feeling toward a place. but you’re right though.

  16. No flaming here – we wholeheartedly agree, Machu Pichu was the biggest letdown of our two RTW trips…we loved Ollantaytambo and the rest of the sacred valley though.

    • Ollayntaytambo is a cute place. We wanted to explore the Sacred Valley a bit more but Simon came down with a cold straight after MP so we just headed back to Cusco.

  17. After having seen pics of Machu Picchu for about, oh, I dunno, hundreds of times, I’m afraid that it has lost its element of excitement. But we’ll probably still see it coz we never learn our lesson and have seen every other overrated movies out there :p

    Our most overrated tourist attraction so far: the Uffizi. Eh…

    • I can understand the temptation to go and see it anyway. We don’t regret going but we just don’t feel like it was a highlight of our trip. It’s difficult to know which big tourist attractions will live up to expectations – for us Iguazú Falls did despite the crowds.

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