Every travel destination has its fair share of tourist traps. Some are more worthwhile than others. For instance, if you ever make it to Beijing, you’ll probably want to see the Great Wall of China. And when you decide to go to New York City for the first time, you just have to visit the Statue of Liberty. Except you’re probably better off looking at Lady Liberty from a boat rather than trying to survive the overcrowded island itself.
Now, I can only speak from my own personal experience. Your preferences may vary. And while I’ve seen some of the world, there’s certainly a lot more for me to explore. With that in mind, here are five “tourist traps” I’ve visited over the years that I think are totally worth it.
Snorkeling in Molokini, Hawaii
Maui is gorgeous. From the sunrise (or sunset) atop Haleakala to the breathtaking Road to Hana, there is breathtaking beauty at every turn. Including under the water. It’s true that you can go snorkeling just off the shore of many beaches. However, you’ll get to see a lot more if you go on a snorkeling tour in Molokini.
I don’t know how to swim and I did it anyway. What’s unique about Molokini is that you are actually snorkeling in the crater of an underwater volcano. You get to gaze into an entirely different ecosystem, one with crystal clear waters and an abundance of ocean life. Truly spectacular. Snorkeling off the shore is fine, but the water can be muddled with sand and other debris.
Jiufen Village, Taiwan
The vast majority of village is pedestrian only. You’ll find a lot of staircases along its narrow winding maze of pathways. Give yourself the time and space to get lost, if you can, exploring the nooks and crannies, inspecting the myriad of shops lining its streets. It’s best if you can get here early, before the stores open (and before the busloads of tourists show up), as there is a quiet serenity that permeates its walkways. And the local cats are friendly.
As far as tourist traps go, this one can get crowded, but you’ll never feel overwhelmed by vendors hawking their wares. I do encourage you to try as much of the local delicacies as possible, like Taiwanese sausage and bawan dumplings. You could just hit up Shilin Night Market back in Taipei proper for that too, but it’s not the same.
Ride the Ducks, Seattle
You might remember when I featured the Ducks of Seattle in our Seattle vlog a couple years ago. It’s a super touristy thing to do, and it’s filled with cheesy theatrics and animated tour guides (who wear shark heads, apparently). Even so, I very much think it’s worthwhile.
When you ride the Ducks of Seattle, you’re actually riding some retired amphibious landing crafts developed by the US Army during World War II. They were designed to deliver cargo from ships at sea to the shore directly, so they look like boats with wheels on them. The DUKW (D-built in 1942, U-amphibious 2-ton truck, K-front wheel drive, W-rear wheel drive) can be rickety — they are over 70 years old at this point — but it’s a fun ride.
And you get a great land-and-sea tour of Seattle while you’re at it. Just bear in mind that tours book up quickly, so when you arrive in the morning, you might not get on a Duck for a couple hours or more.
Louvre Museum, Paris
One of the big highlights of our Paris trip was our day at the Louvre. And a full day wasn’t enough to see everything. This museum is massive and it gets really, really busy. When you’re in the room trying to get that shot of the Mona Lisa, be sure to turn around and look upon the painting on the opposite wall (shown above). I’d argue it’s way more impressive.
I do have to note, though, that you need to be really mindful about pickpockets, particularly children. When you have your camera held way up in the air with both hands, you leave your pockets completely exposed. Just be careful.
Even if you’re not an art nut (I know nothing about art), the Louvre is well worth your time and money. The Egyptian artifacts were fascinating, as were all the paintings and sculptures and everything else. I recommend getting a Paris Pass or a Paris Museum Pass, and going in through the side entrance to avoid the main crowd.
Alcatraz Island, San Francisco
Whatever happened to predictability? Yes, when you’re in San Francisco, you’ll probably go to Fisherman’s Wharf and to see the Painted Ladies. I also highly recommend taking in a tour of Alcatraz Island. The infamous prison was once home to such notorious criminals as Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, and “Public Enemy #1” Alvin Karpis.
You probably need to book this tour well ahead of time, as there are only so many sailings each day and they fill up quickly. There’s a boat that will take you to the island itself, and from there, you grab the complementary audio tour (which you really need to get the context of everything). From the mess hall to the yard, the guards’ quarters to D-Block, there’s a lot to see and learn.
Did you know that the families of Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary guards lived on the island too, including children? That’s such a strange thing to wrap your head around.
Always More to See and Do
Some tourist traps are exactly that: tourist traps. They’re a waste of time and money, and they ultimately don’t live up to expectations. We strolled through the Red Light District in Amsterdam (we obviously didn’t partake in any services), but found it underwhelming. And when we went to Venice, we skipped over the gondola rides and just walked around instead.
But sometimes, these tourist traps are totally worthwhile, like sitting in a prison cell in the middle of San Francisco Bay. Go figure. Do you have any favorites that you’d like to share?