The number one question people tend to ask when they find out what I do is easy enough to guess—What’s your favorite country?—but much harder to answer. I’ve been to—well, who really knows at this point?—but likely between 70 and 80 countries, and how do you even go about picking a favorite? Well, I guess it depends on your determining factors. Culture? Morocco. Off-the-beaten-path-ness? Romania. I could live there for the rest of my days? Portugal. Adventure sports, adrenaline opportunities? New Zealand. Will someone bring me another boat drink while I bask in this most perfect paradise? The Maldives, Cook Islands, the Great Barrier Reef, *insert one of a dozen tropical destinations I love and to which I can’t wait to return.*
But the other day I got a much easier, more interesting question posed to me via cyberspace: What are your least favorite countries? Now, this is a question I can get behind. It’s probably going to make me unpopular with a handful of tourism boards—not to mention many of you who either hold these places near and dear to your heart or, much worse, live in them—but here are a few places I have no plans to revisit anytime soon.
- Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. I’m sorry, but I absolutely hated the stretch of country that I saw. I was on the Punta Cana side for a story for Real Simple, and it was so sad to me how there was a littering of resorts on the east side of the country, totally walled off from the actual towns and their people, completely separated from reality. The dichotomy of the rich travelers in the resorts and the poor villagers was too much to bear. The handful of resorts I did visit lacked both hospitality and basic services like electricity (apparently, it’s perfectly normal for the power to go out multiple times a day…forget maintaining a normal hygiene routine). I went scuba diving and the coral was bleached and the marine life non-existent. I also didn’t dig the people at the resort saying it wasn’t wise to actually get out and see a little of the DR, for safety reasons. Why would I even want to visit a country and not see any of it, but just stay in my own little hotel box? If that were the case, I would have remained in the States and gone to Florida. And had I known I was going to be hotel-bound the duration of my trip, I likely would have opted for elsewhere in the Caribbean (Dominica, Montserrat, Bonaire, wherever). Overall, my worst trip to date. The good things? Pretty sunsets and I learned to trapeze.
- Helsinki, Finland. It could be that whole cab debacle that tainted my experience, but having lived in Denmark and spent some time in Sweden and Norway, as well, I found Helsinki to be a bit drab and nowhere near as enticing as Scandinavia’s other big players. Lapland, however, I will give a shot…one day.
- Guatemala. I wanted to LOVE Guatemala, I really wanted to, but I just…didn’t. Neither did SVV. Lago Atitlan was beautiful (unfortunately, we started our trip here and everything else was downhill after that), but Antigua was a major disappointment. I’d heard so much hype from friends who had been there before, but we just found it Little America. Everyone was an American expat and spoke English. Chichicastenango did not live up to the hype, not even close: It’s played up as “the best market in Central America,” but as a global market shopper with a discerning, I came away with an outfit for my nephew and a purse for my niece and that’s it. Guatemala City was just dirty and rundown (as we knew it would be, but we had to fly in and out of there after all). Also, it rained our entire two weeks there, and there’s not a whole lot to do indoors. Aaaaand we got bed bugs in Monterrico. Awesome. I won’t say I’d never go back to Guatemala, but if I do, it will be a side trip to Tikal (Star Wars rebel base!) when next I’m in Belize.
- Brussels, Belgium. I’ve been to Belgium a handful of times. The first was on Spring Break in college, and then on other occasions while living in Holland. I love Antwerp and Bruges with every ounce of my soul. And Brussels was where Scott and I first drunkenly made out while at a conference at the European Parliament. Nevertheless, I find the city too industrial for my liking.
- Fes, Morocco. I could have stayed a month in Marrakesh. I had the time of my life in the Sahara. I thought Essaouria was stunning in its coastal beauty. Chefchaouen, its center painted entirely in blue, was a marvel. But Fes? I don’t get the appeal. I constantly felt as if I were going to get pickpocketed, and the tight medina with its multitude of hustlers chasing us for blocks did not really a pleasant experience make. I tasted my first pigeon here, so at least there’s that.
- Cuba. I won’t say Andi and I didn’t have a great time—we did. And I won’t say we didn’t experience our share of travel trauma—we did that, as well. But I was honestly expecting so much more from this forbidden fruit than what I saw. Likewise, the food was terrible until we finally wised up our last night and ate at our casa particular, after which her husband gave us salsa lessons (the best part of the visit, by far). Perhaps had our pleas to rent a car been granted and we had made it down to Trinidad, as well as out to la Isla de la Juventud (we had tickets well in advance, but alas, the plane never left the ground), my Cuban memories would have been a bit fonder. As it stands, Havana has some impressive colonial architecture and Playas del Este was beautiful (yet locals weren’t allowed on the same stretch of sand as tourists), but I have no immediate plans to return.
- Singapore. Singapore was clean and green and the food was good and the people were nice, and it’s not that I in any way found it non-charming or unlikable. It’s just that it’s so teensy-tiny, I feel like I saw what I need to see and, thus, should spend my time exploring new territory. End of story. Haters, go ahead and hate.
- Roatan, Honduras. On the same trip as Guatemala, so maybe I’m not given it a fair shake due to our terrible luck with weather. The diving was fine (I’ve experienced better), and our dive resort Anthony’s Key was nice enough (though the food was so terrible it’s as if the place was implying I needed to be on a diet), but honestly, we circled the whole island and I saw very little that made me in a hurry to book a ticket back.
Oh what a great post! I find these answers so much more interesting than what people liked about a place. I’m not surprised about the DR or Cuba, or even Brussels. Antwerp and Bruges are beautiful, but Brussels seems way too business-like to enjoy a proper vacation. I’ve heard similar things about Guatemala from other travelers as well, so it’s really not on my list of places to go. I would have thought that Singapore and Fes would be amazing, so it’s interesting that they were on your list. By the way, congrats on your Bloggie, I voted for you! Your blog is, by far, my favourite read on the internet. Thanks for writing such quality posts!
If you are adventurous at all, I encourage you to visit the Dominican Republic. Punta Cana is not the DR and the DR is not Punta Cana. Punta is a resort area built by the Trumps and Middle Eastern money as an Aspen of the Caribbean resort area to relieve tourists of the obligation of local interaction. I flew into PC my first trip to the country,and hitchiked out the next day. I wound up on a bus full of Austrian tourists headed to the resort areas to the West practicing my miserable high school German, and talking baseball in Spanglish with my suicidal driver and his buddy, one of the best intros to a new place I’ve had.
The beaches of Samana to the north and Barahona to the west are as nice as anywhere in the world and favored by the locals. The west has mountains rising close to 10,000 ft with the rushing rivers and mountain climate one would expect of the American West. Santiago is a cool colonial city, and the plains of the east central part of the country could easily pass for the lowlands of Thailand.
I spend most of my time in Santo Domingo, which is I believe, the oldest European city in the western hemisphere. I am not a fan of large urban areas, but S.D. is pretty cool, sprawling, busy, diverse, old, and new. Change the faces and signage and you could be in any decent sized Thai city. The traffic is Asian, the streets Byzantine, the feel a mix of cosmo Europe and new world Latin.
The oldest part of the city is La Zona Colonial, dating to the 1500’s. It’s an compact mix of culture, history, and city living. Beautiful stonework, streets built originally for pedestrians, excellent restaurants, boutique hotels, and the feel of old commercial wealth.
I keep a shared apartment in the Naco / Piantini / University area for the time I spend there. It has the University city vibe I like about Missoula, MT, Eugene, OR, Tempe, AZ, or the west side of Chiang Mai, Thailand with little of the chain store homogenization that plagues the U.S. Trendy eateries, street food and bars, coffee houses, vibrant night life, large scale urban shopping, hole in the wall boutiques, I can walk to anything I want.
My area is great, but there are of course places in the city one need never go, and that is true of any large urban area, especially in the States.
There is a little bar on Ave. Max Enriquez Urena in Piantini, called La Coolvita, with a cozy patio, and a drive through window ( criminally insane in the States and probably here too if you are not accustomed to driving in the D.R.). Yudely, the owner is a hoot. We spent the Saturday night of the full moon last March having dinner on the huge harborside plaza in La Zona with a few thousand others, followed by a walking tour of her favorite watering holes in the area, really nice evening.
I love baseball, and the Dominican rocks the roots of this sport. My place is less than two miles from Quisqueya Stadium, shared by Los Tigres de Licey, and Las Aguilas, two of the turn of the last century old school powerhouses of Caribbean basball. The atmosphere can be Brazilian soccer in a 20,000 seat baseball stadium
For 20-50 USD per night there are couples and singles who will open their homes to you as a boarder, take them up on it.
The people of the Dominican are pretty nice, an exotic blend of Indios, European, and African black, the food Caribbean, European and everything else.
Yes there is poverty in much of the country and away from the resorts and cities, English is less common, but that is true of many of the most beautiful places on this planet. Smile, dress local, leave your pretense and attitude at home, and give a taste to something different.
Hey, thanks for all of this information–with such a glowing review, how can I NOT give the DR another go? =)
Just to point out that I specified I was not impressed with Punta Cana individually, as I know you can never base your entire opinion of a country on one small touristy area. I’ve heard Santo Domingo is really neat and that Samana and Cap Cana are nice, as well. And funny you should reference Missoula–I was just there a couple days ago and absolutely loved it.
Thanks for stopping by!
I found this immensely helpful for a wannabe traveler!
I want to go to Bruges so it’s nice to hear you like it. 🙂
Also good that I can cross Punta Cana off of my list.
I loved Brussels. Maybe it’s because I had just had a not so great time in Amsterdam and it was better by comparison. Either way, I liked the architecture, the chocolate and the euro beers in my friendly hostel. Also, I have never been to the Dominican Republic, but I don’t have plans to for the reasons you mentioned. The sight of poverty juxtaposed with wealth makes me sick. I am actually reluctantly going to my first resort in Mexico for a close friend’s destination wedding in July (I’m not reluctant to see her get married, just about the resort). I am planning the trip so that I get out of the resort walls as much as possible.
“Further up and further in,” I say. On to new adventures! Although, I would think you might give Guatemala and Honduras a shot when it’s not the rainy season 🙂 And since you already like it, I should mention Romania is lovely in the summer, too! I will also concur that anywhere you don’t get to see the country & meet the people definitely puts a damper on the whole experience. (That said, I had plenty an opportunity to converse with Cubans while I was there, and they are too fun!)
I was going to refute your opinion of Fes but then I realized I couldn’t really remember anything distinct about the city. And you are right that Essouria is the best bet there. I’d go back in a second. I haven’t been to Roaton, but I did spend a week roadtripping around the rest of Honduras country with friends. Give La Cieba a chance if you go back. Great post by the way.
From the countries on your list I’ve only ever been to Belgium (which is funny considering I traveled to about 60 countries…) but I totally agree on Brussels. My husband keeps saying we should move there, but there’s just nothing about it I like.
A country I found totally overrated was Malawi. I had just spent time in Kenya and Tanzania and all the travels I met kept saying Malawi was so much better – the people were supposed to be super-friendly and the nature amazing and the lake, oh the lake… I found it more of a watered-down version of the countries around it, nature-wise, the cities were boring like Brussels, and I was constantly advised not to swim in the lake because of the danger of bilharzia. Not exactly what I had been told it would be!
(Sorry, I meant to write ‘all the travellers I met…’)
For me, I was unhappy with Dublin, Ireland. I thought it was overrated for sure. Did the whole place in a weekend and all I said at the end was “that’s it?” Lame castle. Nice people. Didn’t feel the safest at night. A lot of graffiti, sketchy people….and there’s really nothing except drinking. Maybe that’s the appeal but the food was awful too.
It’s interesting to see how several of your least favorite places are in Central America. No surprise really since it’s an impoverished region.
I hope you’ll like HCMC ;o It’s a very industrialized city (unlike Hanoi which is all culture). Thanks for the post. Love your blog!
During our honeymoon we went to Roatan (on our cruise) and had a similar experience as you described in the DR. A little area of space that we were “supposed” to stay in for safety and was surrounded by barbed wire!
I 100% agree about the Dominican Republic. We booked five nights in a resort, but left after only two days. We knew we had to leave when another guest at the resort told us to never go anywhere we could not use the American Dollar. Yikes. It was after those two days that we really had a great time. We took a bus into Santo Domingo and saw great architecture, ate good food (the food at the resort was horrendous), and experienced a much more local flavor. We also went into the “interior”–Jarabacoa–and hired some of the locals to drive us around on their mini-scooters. We saw waterfalls and had a blast. I definitely recommend that as opposed to the usual resort treatment.
I would have to disagree with Guatemala. Every part of the country in amazingly beautiful. As you said, the northern part is something you should go back for. I was awestruck in Tikal, staying overnight in the town of Flores is a treat, plus one of the most beauiful places I have seen is Semuc Champey, it’s hard to get to but worth it. From here, going on to Rio Dulce, and taking a boat up to Livingston, a coastal Garifuna town is a must. You can take a boat from Livingston back to Belize too. I have to think the rainy season has something to do with you disliking this country, try it again in the dry season and see what you think.
Ooh, I love! hearing about overrated places, both in the U.S. and abroad.
I’ve been super fortunate on all of my international trips and have loved 99.9% of them. Granted, I haven’t taken as many as you have (When is your globe-trotting book coming out? The whole world needs access to your savvy travel experience!), but: Russia was amazing (I want to go back!), and I still keep in touch with my translator seven years later; I’ve had multiple great Canadian trips; and my time in Beijing and the northeast coast of South Korea (as well as Seoul!) was unforgettable, and featured some of the best moments I’ve had while traveling to-date.
But…Mexico. I went years ago to do community service (building houses and volunteering at an orphanage) in and around Rosarito, and I have to say, while there were surely worthwhile experiences to be found while I was there, Mexico the country doesn’t interest me as a tourist destination, and I was appalled at the extreme poverty resting just behind the white walls of the resort area of Rosarito, which was completely walled off (similar to your description of the Dominican Republic above). I have plenty of friends who swear by Mexico as a vacation spot, but I’ll be honest in admitting I just don’t get it. I would be curious to hear your thoughts on Mexico, if you have some (and if I haven’t missed a huge post you did on it already)?
Places I never need to visit again:
Las Vegas. I’m not much of a gambler, and I’d much rather go to Paris or Venice than go to hotels themed after them. Felt like an adult version of a theme park, but minus the rollercoasters (which are the best part)
Croatia. Oddly. Most people love it. It was pretty, and the people were nice, and the coastline was gorgeous, but I just wasn’t a huge fan. Not really sure why except that everything was about a 7 out of 10, and why go back for that?
Places that were surprisingly fantastic:
Granada, Spain. Poor planning led to us spending an extra day and a half there. It was a fantastic city to sit and relax in. Enough to do, but not too much, and the people were nice.
Krakow, Poland. Went for about 36 hours so we could go to Auschwitz, and I had a fever the entire time. Despite that, I loved it. Absolutely loved the city of Krakow. A great town square, truly the nicest people I’ve met, and fun tours to do. Can’t put my finger on it, but the city just had a great vibe.
I loved this post! I loved how you tried to give places a chance and what your reasons were for placing them on this list!
My comment is pretty much the same as Kerri Anne’s… While I haven’t been to nearly as many places as you… I’ve been fortunate enough to have enjoyed most of the countries I’ve visited: China … but living there may have helped that along… Cambodia and Thailand (probably the closest country to potentially make it to this list, but then again, I find it’s faults somewhat endearing!). I can say that I did not enjoy Cancun! Minus one restaurant, La Habichuela, the food was horrible! We did manage to enjoy ourselves a bit more after renting a car and driving ourselves to Chichen Itza and making a few pit stops at random places along the way. Still .. Cancun itself (especially the Hotel Zone, of course) felt as if I were in The States… with giant strip malls and chain restaurants from the U.S. It’s also been the only place to ever give me diarrhea! Seriously. And I lived in China… eating at the sketchiest of restaurants and from street vendors in small towns who’d make Bourdain gag.
This is all very good to know since a) I have the travel bug after finally leaving the country and falling in LOVE with Israel and b) I trust your opinion.
Great post, lady!
I completely agree with your Dominican Republic opinion! That was probably the worst trip I’ve ever been on, although parts of it are just becoming funny to me now. Being chased around and harrassed by hotel staff was not fun at all and definitely gave me a bad impression of the place. The “excursions” were pretty boring and I feel I could have seen more interesting things at home. Most of all the situation, like you say, about the resorts completely wall-ing you off from the actual country was depressing to me.
I love this travel post, no one really mentions the places they didn’t enjoy!
ha!! What a great idea for a post! Lurve it!
Great post! When talking about this subject it seems there’s always someone who gets offended, which I don’t really get. I love hearing about other people’s travels, and hearing why they loved a place or why they thought it wasn’t all that. Agreeing is optional.
I’m from Finland myself, and completely agree with you on Helsinki. I haven’t lived in Finland for 7 years now, and these days it’s actually one of my favourite destinations, but simply because my roots are there and my family is there. Plus the whole nostalgia factor. But if I was a traveller in Helsinki with no one to show me around, after a while I just wouldn’t know what to do there. Finland is a great, safe country with superb living quality, education etc. but as for visiting, it’s a tad bit… well, boring comes to mind. It’s also expensive, and doesn’t quite make up for being expensive.
Personally I was surprised to find that I didn’t fall in love with Australia. And you wouldn’t believe how many people have taken offence on that! The worst beach holiday destination: Nha Trang, Vietnam. (Although I loved Vietnam as a whole.) Some European cities that I think are overrated are Madrid and Dublin. Also – dare I even say this – while I love Italy with a passion, I can’t help the fact that I was a tiny bit disappointed with Rome. And no, I’m not expecting anyone to agree with me on that one 😉
Thank you! I was not overly impressed with Australia either. Usually I try to explain it off with all kinds of excuses (tired of travelling, broke, cyclone) but honestly, I just don’t think it was that great. It seems to be a bit of an “epic trip dream” with my friends, and I feel bad, but I was not a fan!
Everyone’s entitled to his or her own opinion, and it cracks me up that people get so offended that someone doesn’t love a place as much as they do. I personally like Australia a lot—though I found Hamilton Island such a tourist trap and devastatingly overrated–but can understand it’s not for everyone, and there are so many places, in addition to the ones I noted above, that other travelers “love, love, love!” that I just. don’t. get.
Great post (and initial question)! I have to disagree on Brussels. I loved the architecture, the food, the beer, the vibe of the whole thing. One of my top three cities in Europe. I was disappointed in Rome. Similar to your experiences in Fes (minus the chasing for blocks, thank goodness :)) but I felt like I had to constantly be on guard, was nervous the whole time, didn’t find the food that great, couldn’t get over how dirty. All around let down. Nearly every other city in Italy though (am rather meh about Milan) – so, so great.
I haven’t been to any of the places you listed here…but I’m still in shock that you said in another post how much you hate Vegas!
Thank god, someone who agrees with me about Helsinki! Drab! Exactly! And I too, spent time in Denmark, Norway and Sweden before heading to Finland. The best part of my time in Helsinki was a day trip to Tallinn, Estonia. Although the food was some of the most consistently good of any European country I visited, but I certainly won’t be rushing back there!
I’m a new reader and I am thoroughly enjoying my time in your head and suitcase!
ooh ooh I forgot to include the place I found highly over rated, drum roll please: MEXICO
The food was not unique or very yummy-the best eatery we found was a sushi joint-why we decided to eat sushi in mexico is beyond me. And there wasn’t a whole lot to do other than laying by the pool, which is awesome but can get old quickly! And when we went to go explore the surroundings we were bombarded by poverty which really made me really upset, I just couldn’t ignore the fact that a lot of people were suffering. Broke my heart.
I enjoy reading your blog, but this is my first time posting a comment because I completely disagree about Guatemala! Readers — don’t let this post scare you away!
I spent a month there last year, and it is probably my favorite country in Latin America. Yes, Guatemala City is dirty and dangerous, and Antigua is filled with tourists — but the architecture is beautiful, and there was plenty to do outside of town — a volcano hike to see lava, biking to a coffee plantation. You could spend a week just at Lake Atitlan, jumping from town to town by boat and renting kayaks or doing yoga. I spent the majority of my time at a language school in Quetzaltenango (aka Xela), a more authentic city with great day trips to hot springs, farms with the biggest carrots you’ve ever seen and really intense volcano hikes. The ruins at Tikal were spectacular and so was the jungle setting. The country also has such a rich, heartbreaking history you can discover from people who live there and from books by authors like Rigoberta Menchu. I was there during the dry season (Nov. to April) when it was sunny every day.
I lived in Cairo for a year, and will probably be back for two more years, and even though I look forward to living overseas again, I have to say it is one of my least favorite place I’ve ever been. Also Bucharest, Romania. I don’t think I gave it a fair shot because in about 3 hours I decided I wanted to get out immediately, and proceeded to find a train to that effect, but I would never go back. The rest of Romania was beautiful.
Ohhh man I’d have to disagree with Guatemala. That is my most favorite country to go to! And yes it can be very dangerous and dirty in parts but there is so much more to that country. The people are just amazing and the whole country is beautiful. I’d say totally visit when it’s not the rainy season, I can see how the rain will completely ruin a trip there. But I also suggest getting close with the people next time. You’ll see a whole new side. Promise. 🙂
I agree with your impression of the Dominican Republic. I was there over 10 years ago on a missions trip so we spent all of our time in the impoverished areas. We landed in Santo Domingo and the first thing I noticed was the stark difference between the resort areas and the rest of the island. The beach side of the road was covered in resorts that were “protected” with barbed wired fences and the inland side of the road was covered in shacks. The island was beautiful for what it was – a Caribbean island. However the stark differences between the resort areas and the rest of the island were saddening.
The only place on your list that I have been to is Brussells, and I actually liked it. However, I was only there for one night. I might have felt differently if I had to entertain myself for several days. We found this little alleyway that was filled with tiny little restaurants (like 6 tables in each). There were musicians lining the alley and the wine was flowing. It was a lot of fun!
I did not like Mexico and I would probably never go there again. I went with my husband and we spent pretty much the whole trip at the hotel. We ventured out once, but we kept getting propositioned by drug dealers.
Hi, by the way. I’m kind of a sporadic blog reader but I like checking in here once in a while to read about your travels!
Okay, you knew that I was gonna defend Guatemala and ESPECIALLY Cuba, right????????? Haha, in all seriousness I do believe that we all have the right to our opinions, so…all I’m gonna say is to each their own. But, I really did LOVE my time in Guatemala and Cuba is 1 of the top 5 places I’ve ever been. 😉
Ok, I don’t blame you for not liking Helsinki after suffering through jet lag, crappy weather AND getting hit by a cab, but great weather can change everything! I thought the Art Nouveau architecture was fabulous and the ambiance during the Night of the Arts was fabulous. lWe was there for 3 days in early September 2009, after spending a month in Finland, starting in Lapland and working our way down. Oulanka National Park and the sights along the Via Karelia are really worth a visit. I say give Helsinki another chance during the summer….
I’ve been an avid reader of your blog for a while now and when I saw your this post, I was a little shocked to say the least. I’m from the Dominican Republic and to be honest, I am quite surprised to see the impression that was left by one very small area of our country. Seeing how so many people in the comments agree with your point of view, I can’t help the need to address. And perhaps entice you to visit us one more time. What you saw is NOT the Dominican Republic. Not even close.
Yes, people here live in one of two extremes: poverty or wealth. It’s our situation as a developing country, a category we are certainly not alone in. To give you a mental picture, 30% of the citizens live below the poverty line. It’s the sad reality of our country, something we are struggling to change. Because we are a developing country, we experience power outages with great frequency. Most houses (and resorts I’m guessing) are equipped with ‘plantas’ (power plants) or ‘inversores’ (generators). Life doesn’t stop here if the power goes out, which is kind of awesome in it’s own way.
The worse thing anyone can do is go to all-inclusive resorts. It’s very well known in the local scene that the food, the accommodations and the staff are borderline terrible. Regardless of what they say, get out of the hotel. You’ll encounter jovial people, fantastic food, gorgeous beaches and breathtaking mountains.
My recommendation? Follow the locals. The locals hardly go to Punta Cana when it comes to ‘playita’ (beach) time. We go to Barahona (located in the far west) to the beach called Bahia de las Aguilas. It part of the Jaragua National Park, and it is considered by us as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. If you liked our sunsets in Punta Cana, they are nothing compared to Bahia de las Aguilas. It’s completely isolated and most of the people that go either camp in the beach or stay in the nearest hotels. I recommend Casa Bonita (http://www.casabonitadr.com). It’s small (12 rooms) and it has great views. It also has good eco tours (http://www.casabonitadr.com/ecotours.html) which satisfies mountain and beach needs.
We also go to the North, to the Samana Peninsula to Las Terrenas. It’s little fishing village on the North Coast of the Samana Peninsula that now bustles with tourism and a very active nightlife. There are many activities to do here from snorkeling to windsurfing. Also, from January 15th to March 20th, humpback whales flock to the Peninsula of Samana to mate. There are boats that take you to where they are so you can snap some pictures and experience a once in a lifetime event. Pizza Playa, La Terrace and Cayuco are the best restaurants in the area. For accommodations, The Alisei Hotel (http://www.aliseihotel.com/) is located just outside the village of Las Terrenas is one of the favorites.
Last but not least, if you want to experience a more metropolitan perspective of the Dominican Republic, visit the capital: Santo Domingo. You will not be disappointed. It’s rich with cultural aspects such as the Zona Colonial, which was the first settlement made by Christopher Columbus. It harbors the first cathedral in America. We also have tons of museums, restaurants with all kinds of food (traditional and international), parks, malls, nightclubs and more.
If by any chance this perhaps made you reconsider a second visit and you’d like more recommendations on where to go or anything else, I’d be more than glad to help you out with that. 🙂
I’ve been living between Los Angeles, Miami, London and Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic) for the past 10 years and I’m afraid the only reason the DR ended up making such a bad impression on you was the place you stayed in, not at all a reflection of what it’s like to vacation in the DR. I see also that a lot of people who have gone there agree with your impression of the island, so I’m afraid that despite my having a great opinion of the place, it’s probably DR’s own fault for not having better resources devoted to its beauty or a better staff at its hotels. I think this is a major flaw in almost every island in the Caribbean, but more so in islands like Cuba, Hispaniola (Haiti / Dominican Republic), Jamaica and Puerto Rico where they create that “wall” between tourists and locals.
I get it that the Caribbean is the place for “warm beach vibes” but these larger islands are remnants of Colonial settlements, the first Churches of America, the first schools and universities, big military fortresses and a ton of rare minerals that were discovered there. I think if their governments stopped selling them as “beach spots” and instead focused on their rich culture they’d have a better time of it. In the DR, Santo Domingo, the nation’s capital, was named “Cultural Capital of the Americas of 2010”. If you went to Punta Cana… that’s like the worst place you could go to hands down. Punta Cana is the “go-to” spot of retiring old ladies. Unless you’re there for golfing, a wedding or I dunno, meeting Oscar De La Renta, Punta Cana is just boring, boring, boring.
Here’s a couple of way better things to do: Go to the highest point in the Caribbean (Pico Duarte) and then the lowest point (Enriquillo Lake) to pet some crocodiles, go eat strawberries in the FREEZING mountains of Constanza and then 4-wheel through the desert Dunes of Bani. Go watch whales off the coast of Samana and kite surf in Cabarete (or get to a beach rave, they usually have local fare, native music and David Guetta mixed in, very Ibiza meets Pocahontas), eat fried Coral fish and Yaniqueques in the beaches of Juan Dolio (and learn bachata, it’s like tango and lambada, only better), and… and… well this isn’t very PC but… go get “Drive-Through Cocktails”. Seriously, get some beer, champagne, whiskey, vodka cranberry, pina colada, what-have-you in the same fashion you’d get a happy meal. Because the DR has that, drive through bars. Order the “Cool Vita” and try to guess what’s in there while you run from the “Diablo Cojuelo” during Mardi Gras in La Vega.
Give the DR a second shot, but with the right plan… and the right guide 😉
Seeing as the countries on my resume equal three, and none of them are on your list, (in fact, I doubt they even count,) I can’t really judge. I *can* say, however, that this is one of my favorite articles that you’ve ever written. I think it’s interesting to hear not only so I can make a mental note not to place them at the top of my wish list, but more so because it’s interesting to hear exactly what defines a bad experience in your eyes. Very enlightening.
I’ll agree with you on some of those places! Others can grow on you over many visits spread over many years. Singapore is one that did grow on me a little, at first I found it way too sterile even though I was given a great introduction to it. Helsinki I have always loved, if you find a rare sunny day it’s nice at the craft market to sun bathe and enjoy fresh strawberries and salmon. I love the drab aspect of it as well. There is something about the architecture there that is so compelling. Sometimes it takes a while to find your favourite places. For me, if I find a favourite eating spot then it’s all good.
Guatemala is a great place to visit and live. However if you come in with expectations then you may be let down because of high expectations rather than anything wrong with the country. There’s no reason to keep a score card either. Just live for the moment and enjoy the best you can with whatever is thrown at you.
Regarding Antigua, GT, most of the English speaking people you see are not only Americans but from all over the world. A lot of students are there to learn Spanish. So it may appear touristy but really isn’t. I found that there was a strong and dominant local presence especially on weekdays. If you you are looking for raw Guatemalan culture then Antigua is not for you. But that does not mean it is a bad place to visit or live. It’s just not what you were looking for on your trip.
I love Antigua because of all the restaurants and nightlife mixed with native culture. It’s a diverse mix and interesting to people watch. Antigua is better for people who want to live there rather than just pass through. So to each his own.
Oh my goodness!! I wasn’t as impressed with Fes as I was by the rest of the places I went in Morocco (except for Casa … nothing exciting there). It is the city where I was sooo hounded by “guides” I finally gave in and someone who swore he wasn’t a guide (“no money, no money”). He was nice enough, but took me to all of the places where he would get a kick back. We did hike up to an overlook way above Fes, which was cool, but even then it wasn’t spectacular because the medina blends in with the stark landscape and bland color beyond. Its also where I went to my first hamam, was scrubbed until I had scrapes on my body, and then proceeded to get super sick. Perhaps had I not gotten so sick, I would have liked it more.
I agree Singapore is overrated. Perhaps its just good for expats to live as it’s a good launch pad to the rest of SEA…
I was just in Paris and reckon THAT city is overrated!
Interesting list…. I found the most overrated many places in France, Italy and Spain.
Spain itself is very overrated, everything is tourist oriented and filled with tourists as well.
France, many beautiful cities but I always feel old french inner cities are beautiful, but if you leave the tourist area and explore, the cities become sort of dull, depressing, not pretty, very bad architecture.
italy, what can I say? beautiful but VERY OVERRATED.
the most UNDERRATED destinations I found, were:
Colombia: everyone claims is so dangerous, in fact the danger is more of a cliche perpetuated by hollywood, the real colombia is an unknown amazing country that due to the low number of tourists, still retains a lot of that originality many countries have lost, mountains, desert, beaches, jungles, authentic people, good food, I truly truly liked it and recommended it to everyone, I have yet to meet someone who didn’t like the real colombia, as in the actual country and not the drug las farc hollywoodesque one.
Thanks for your input, Andy! I’ve actually had so many friends go to Colombia in the last year or two and am quite eager to get there myself, so I’m glad it comes highly recommended!
I went to Cartagena and Bogota last September with a friend who was too scared to go alone to visit his girlfriend whose family lives in Columbia (she is a medical resident here in the stated. After hearing all the doom and gloom, I have to say that both were amazing, very underrated. Cartagena is hands down the secret jem of South America. Bogota is a bigger city with so much to see and do I’d love to go back.
I wanted to add a comment or 2 about Roatan and the rest of Honduras…What a bummer the weather was bad when you were there. I had the same thing happen during a trip to Belize. Made it hard to enjoy the country.
However, there is a lot more to Roatan than the area around Anthony’s Key — I highly recommend staying in West End at one of the non-resort properties. I got my open water Scuba certification there in 2008 and went back in 2011 after now advancing to Rescue Diver. We stayed at Seagrape Plantation away from the hustle of town but still a short walk in and it was lovely. Duplex-style bungalows right on the water with fantastic views and sunsets, super quiet and a good dive shop too.
Also, if you have time, I’d recommend going over to mainland Honduras to check out the ruins at Copan and then spend a few days in the little town of Copan Ruinas. We were going to stay only one night but ended up staying 4! Charming, colonial, cool and fun dive bars, a highlight of our time in Honduras!
Funny, I was just back in Roatan last month (coverage to come sometime in the next few weeks). I’m still not entirely sold on the destination–there are just so many other Caribbean isles that I think have more to offer–but we did some really good diving (in the pouring rain…go figure) at Barefoot Cay.
I also disagree on Guatemala. Best time to go is during the dry season as a few have mentioned. I do agree with what you say of the Chichi market. I thought it was gonna be a lot cooler. I have been in Guatemala many times and I always fall in love with it. 🙂
You might find this interesting but I found the United States to be BY FAR the most overrated country I have ever seen in my entire life, and I’ve visited about 83 countries.
from the self proclaimed capital of the world new york city, where everyone is rude, loud, agressive and everything smells like sewage….. to the self proclaimed capital of the cinema LA, where I found Hollywood was dirty, full of prostitutes and drug addicts…. I have yet to see an American city that lives up to the hype the american media and films give it.
Other painfully overrated place was Austin texas…. God where do they get this idea that they’re the live music capital of the world? having a little street in the downtown area with 5 or 6 bars that have live bands, some of them mediocre, doesnt make a city the live music capital of the planet…. that’s stretching it way too far!!!
I am not an anti american or anything, but like most people I know, the US just doesnt live up to expectations.
I agree with most the places you mentioned, at least the destinations to which I have also been. Gotta say I agree mostly about Singapore. On the surface its all good, but really its a soulless, fake place. Feels like I am in the Trueman show.
I do disagree also with the Maldives. You like it and I hated it. I thought it was overpriced, too resort oriented and also very repressed due to religion.
I think the Maldives probably depends on where you go. With 1,200 islands, it varies so much from atoll to atoll. I was in the far northern atoll, in a very non-touristy place and got to spend some time on local islands. But I know what you mean about places that are too resort-y; many of the Caribbean isles (like the Dominican Republic) turn me off for that very reason.
I thought Cape Town and Table Mountain were grossly overrated and have no plans to ever visit South Africa again. OK the lions, elephants etc were good but once you’ve seen one lion you’ve seen them all.
Table mountain is in fact a fairly unattractive large flat rock and the view is not as spectacular as South Africans would have you believe. San Francisco is more spectacular and as for Rio de Janeiro well Cape Town isn’t even in its league.
Cape Town airport was so basic and shabby when I compare it to USA airports.
There are no nice beaches in Cape Town and it is often foggy anyway. Visit Hobart Tasmania for a truly awe inspiring place.
There is a casino called Sun City which would be lost in Las Vegas. But as someone said to me, when you haven’t got anything spectacular in your country, then you tend to make alot out of anything which you think is impressive.
Truly Sun City is one little resort in the middle of nowehere and just cannot compete with the hotels and casinos in Vegas.
There was one good thing; the departure lounge at Jo’burgh airport. !
At last someone who doesn’t rate South Africa. It is not a beautiful country although it does have some nice parts. In between there are miles and miles of uninteresting bush and scrubland.
Pretoria is quite nice but there is so much crime that people should think twice before visiting. Have to agree that I stood on top of Table Mountain and then thought about my visit to Rio de Janeiro and there is no comparison. Truly Rio has a fabulous setting with many interesting shaped rocks jutting out in the sea.
Table Mountain is just a high up place where you can stare down at some buildings and the sea. So what. I have seen better vistas from vantage points in the English Lake District.
Noticed that Cape Town hasn’t made it into the top 10 of some lists of most scenic cities. Well that speaks volumes.
Mmm, I don’t know about that. You probably had some bad weather or something. Whilst I agree that Table Mountain, Robben Island and all of the touristy places are a little over-rated. It is best to know that Table Mountain is interesting and is actually not flat at all. It pretty much takes up the whole peninsula. Kirstenbosch and Cecelia Forest on the Southern Suburbs side. (Both very beautiful lush places.) and the 12 Apostles on the Atlantic Seaboard side.
There is plenty to do in Cape Town and the Western Cape. There are many beautiful hikes, lovely beaches, fantastic nightlife, an assortment of gorgeous restaurants and coffee bars, a fantastic and diverse culture, beautiful historical vineyards, museums, state of the art shopping complexes, lush vegetation, sparse vegetation, superb accommodation, friendly and willing service.
Even though the scenery might not be “breath-taking”, Cape Town offers exceptional value for money. (Due to the exchange rate)
I love Cape Town (and South Africa as a whole)—it’s one of my favorite international cities for a bevy of reasons—so I’m in your camp, Melanie =)
Why is there so much talk when travelling about cities . Cities and tourist spots are only a very small part of most countries , and the real culture and citizens are to be found elsewhere .
Very disappointed by most web postings
Well I am going to diss South Africa in general.
Once you’ve seen the lions, elephants, giraffes etc what is there to do?
Aside from the fact that it is crime ridden everything evolves around Cape Town and Cape of Good Hope. I have been to Lands End in England and the most western point in Portugal and believe me they are all pretty much the same. I can’t add much to the comments about Cape Town and Table Mountain except that the location and setting are not uniquely beautiful. Take a look at Hobart Tasmania and Grand Mesa Colorado, both higher and more impressive than the flat unattractive boulder called Table Mountain.
The vineyards of Napa Valley and parts of France and Portugal are equally a pretty as Stellenbosch.
I didn’t see President Obama gushing about how beautiful it was. No doubt he felt it was overhyped too. He’s got more spectacular scenery in his own backyard so to speak.
Singapore is probably the most underrated travel destination in the world. People come, see Orchard road, do some shopping, eat chicken rice and dismiss it as a smaller Hong Kong. What people don’t realize is it has plenty of culture and nature to offer. Singapore is an amalgamation of Indian culture, Malay culture, Chinese culture and Peranakan culture. You can go from one neighborhood to another and feel like you’re in a different country. It also has the best nature tourism in Asia. Want to see animals? Go to Singapore Zoo and River Safari. Want to see plants? Go to Botanic Garden and Gardens by the Bay. It is also the third best place in the world for theater after Broadway and West End. For art, there is the ArtScience Museum in Marina Bay Sands and the newly open Singapore Art Museum.
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This made me laugh quite a bit…definitely an interesting idea for a post! I was specifically looking for reasons NOT to visit Trinidad when I go to Cuba next week (yeah, I’m a bit late on planning) and your post came up in Google. I’ve been a little worried because compared to the places I usually travel, Cuba is really touristy combined with this unwavering belief from the people who go there that they’re discovering some off-the-beaten-track place (not only Americans have this attitude). It’s weird. I’m only going because ticket prices dropped so dramatically and I happen to have time now.
Having JUST been to Morocco, I can understand your feelings about Fes, but there are very few places (including Marrakech) that I would want to spend much time anyway. The men were truly awful in the cities (and even in some small towns), and I’ve traveled in many, many conservative countries, received loads of sexual harassment, without being genuinely afraid and spiritually-broken as I was in Morocco. I definitely gave Fes specifically a fair shake, too–was there for 8 days! Stunning place, as a photographer I definitely rate it higher than Marrakech, but wow, the men’s behavior was relentlessly disgusting.
Funny to read reactions to this so many years later, Nancy! I think it’s smart to get to Cuba now when it’s still relatively untouched. I’ll be interested to hear what you think! I’m not opposed to going back, but I think so many Americans (at least now) have this glamorized notion of Cuban travel but it’s still very much a developing nation with a lot of roadblocks travelers run into. My driving force of wanting to return is that my passion for photography has flourished in the 10 years since I’ve been so I’d love to go back and spend a chunk of time doing a series on all those old cars!
I’ve been back to Morocco three times since writing this post, but still no return to Fes (nor a desire to). A lot of people I’ve talked to have shared your thoughts about Marrakech. Personally, I’ve traveled there once with a girlfriend and once with my husband and had a good experience both times, but it’s definitely a tough place to travel! Again, as you noted photography-wise, maybe worth it to revisit…at some point. Though I’m more interested in Chefchaouen these days with my DSLR kit—when I first went 11 years ago, I was too afraid to take anything more than a P&S!
I think not going solo makes a huge difference in Morocco. Because of using Airbnbs instead of hostels, I wasn’t really meeting tourists in Fes until after I was already pretty beaten. After more than a week–including time completely alone in Fes, Azrou, Zaouia d’Ifrane and then meeting some of the sweetest tourists ever in Bhalil– I met a very chipper gal in Fes. The two nights that we hung out together were much less hassle-y. And she said she’d found some guys in her hostel to walk with in the daytime, and then the hassle became zero. I did make some good friends there, particularly in the far east near Algeria and in Skoura, but it is REALLY difficult to say I would ever return to Morocco. That sentiment, plus my feeling that I only had fun about 80% of the time, is quite unusual for me.
Most of the blogs I’ve read about Cuba are a few years older and thus not as many are written by Americans, so I think Canadians/etc have a glamorized view as well, haha. I see things described as being “crazy, but part of the adventure” that would be considered “totally normal” even in places like Morocco. I certainly don’t crave hardship while traveling nor require places devoid of other tourists by any means, haha. But I often think when I read Cuba blogs that rave about how it’s like nowhere else on earth that they are written by people who haven’t been out of western Europe too much…
And I understand how photography makes you want to return to a place! Although I’ve always loved photography, I used to be more intimidated about photographing people. These days I focus (heh) primarily on that, and shoot a lot of documentary projects. So I would love to return to the Middle East as a re-do. (well, I’d prefer to go back in time, that trip was in 2005 and things were quite peaceful then…)
I think you’re so right about Cuba! A lot of Europeans fly there directly and stay in Varadero the whole time, surrounded by a lot of other Europeans. It felt like a very different world from Havana, which was gritty and charming but also quite rough around the edges.
And you’re brave to tackle Morocco solo! Can’t wait to hear what you think of Cuba.
I also thought Roatan was over-rated, expensive and not especially great. I also felt unsafe there as a women- would def not walk around alone at night.