Why We Stopped Avoiding Tourist Traps

Tourist traps. The Eiffel Tower, Machu Picchu, Stonehenge, Niagara Falls, the Great Wall of China…and so many more. The list goes on and on. It wasn’t too long ago that the thought of visiting any of these places truly made us cringe. Cities, tourists, crowds, high price tags, you get my drift? We are nomadic family, there must be better places to discover than those.

We are looking for something different, more meaningful, with greater authenticity. There is nothing we love more than to get off the main tourist track, to discover local gems, to bump shoulders with locals. We ultimately want to leave a place after being wowed by something we didn’t know existed.


But, funny things happen when you travel, especially over the long term. The rigid boxes we place around our selves slowly crumble to the floor and dissolve under our very footsteps. Our eyes open a little wider, our brains swell with the knowledge of experience, and our perspectives broaden.

Tourist traps, as they are called, are often so for a very good reason. They offer something of value and interest to a great majority of people. To snub them off as something unimportant is ultimately a mistake. But, the trick for us, has been to go when others don’t go. Or, at least to try. The off-season, the low-season, the school season…anytime when the tourism number are expected to be the lowest possible.

The defining place for our first tourist traps in South Amera was in our first travel country, Ecuador. In this country, we visited the equatorial line on a weekday morning, the Quito historical center and the Basilica during a time of massive construction. We saw Cotopaxi right after the gates were re-opened after being closed for threats of a volcanic eruption, and the Amazon Rainforest in the rainy season. We immensely enjoyed all of them, it would have been a shame to miss any of them for any reason.

Particularly, the Basilica del Vota in Quito, which we figured would be tough with kids. It wasn’t. The kids were welcomed emphatically, and they absolutely loved everything about the Gothic church. The bell towers, the massive archways, the city views, and especially the stunning stained-glass windows. I would definitely go back again.

When we arrived at Cotopaxi National Park, it was essentially a ghostland, if you can call a place that. There was no wait at the gate and there were very few people around. It could hardly be considered one of the tourist traps. We camped alone, right beneath the volcano. We even made the drive to the parking lot beneath the refuge center, we were one of the only cars there. It was a joy to play in the snow, even though we couldn’t see the peak.

During our visit to the Amazon Rainforest, it was very hot, humid, and buggy. It rained A LOT. But, it was the Rainforest after all. We survived with lightweight long sleeves and pants, a gallon of bug spray, and mosquito nets. The bugs and birds were stunning, as well the bamboo hut, the food, and all of the incredible cultural experiences. We stayed with a local family in basic accommodations, very far from the resorts. It far exceeded all of our expectations.

In, Peru, we also visited Machu Picchu and Cusco in the rainy season. Obviously, it is one of the major tourist traps in Peru. Usually.  Only, Machu Picchu wasn’t crowded, hot, or buggy. Quite the opposite actually. We’ll take drizzle over the latter any day, especially since we got the tip that the clouds clear religiously every single day at 9 am. The advice was dead on and Machu Picchu was achieved.

We were in Cusco for Carnival and we had no idea what to expect. It wasn’t a wild, crazy college party. It was a fascinating, wholesome, colorful, local celebration. It is an experience the whole family will never forget.

We also visited Lake Titicaca on the cusp of the season, we went to the Uros Islands against many recommendations to avoid it. We found a local guide (from Tours By Locals) that took us between high-traffic times used by tours. We were the only people visiting at the time, the interaction and experience were incredible.

So, if you are thinking, the way we used to think, that tourist attractions are only for the rookies, the weekend travelers, and the passport stampers…think again. Attitude is everything. Instead of believing that a place isn’t worthy, do a little investigating to find out how to plan a trip that actually does it justice.

For all of these reasons and more, I recently partnered with Skyscanner to write an article shedding light on the 9 Most Visited Tourist Attractions in the World. Check it out, share it, plan it, book it…and comment below to tell us all about your favorite memories at a major tourist attraction!

9 Replies to “Why We Stopped Avoiding Tourist Traps”

  1. I’ve always said that these places are crowded for a reason – it’s because they are worth seeing. We stayed in a lodge deep in the Amazon – no tourists around, just a few fellow explorers. We try to get to the busy places very early in the morning. We were second in line to get into the Blue Mosque in Istanbul and for a few minutes had the place almost to ourselves. It was glorious. Same In Chichen Itza. The trick is to get to places before the tour buses arrive. Hope you guys are all well.

    1. Yes, always before the tours! 🙂 I am sure that must apply to worldwide travel. We are all doing great, Alison. 🙂

  2. This really struck a chord with me! I studied abroad in Ecuador and got to see all of the places you listed during the “off season.” They were beautiful, and not too crowded. Machu Picchu is definitely on my bucket list with the kids. Great article!

    1. Thank you, Emily! I appreciate that. 🙂 Ecuador was so wonderful, still our favorite country in South America so far. You definitely got to make to Machu Picchu one day with your family, in the low season! 🙂

  3. I like how you decided to get around the crush of tourist traps! I spent a year backpacking in Europe which allowed me to visit places off-peak as well and it was worth it 🙂
    Unfortunately for the moment I am constrained to school holidays so I grumble about too many tourists again!

    1. Thanks! It has really worked out for us to see amazing places without all the crowds. You ought to find places to go that are not bogged by american and european tourists…countries that are less impacted by the typical holiday seasons. There must be somewhere that has low tourism during the typically high season.

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