In Travel

Four Unfortunate Truths of Travel and Tourism

Puente Sixaola 03 - JoeBaur

Seeing more of a country than someone who lives there

One of my earliest interactions with a Costa Rican has stuck with me and is more or less the inspiration for this post. In chatting, I shared some of the places I was planning on visiting during my time in Costa Rica. It quickly became clear that she had hardly seen a fraction of her own country. I’ve since heard other stories of taxi drivers who shuttle tourists to Manuel Antonio, only to share that they’ve never been able to afford to go themselves because the hotels are priced for North American tourists. In Peru, I was greeted with shock when I announced that I would not be visiting Machu Picchu during that trip, only to have this person admit that she had never been herself. A friend in El Salvador shared that I would be seeing more of her country in a week than she has in her entire life. The list goes on and on.

You’re making tourist destinations worse

You know how you try to avoid touristy places? Well, you’re probably going to end up there anyway. Even if you’re just flying into Cancun, promising yourself that you’ll leave immediately to go see some of the more untouched corners of Mexico, you still flew into the airport and probably grabbed something to eat on your way out. Cancun is now justified.* Or perhaps you’re visiting a popular tourist spot on purpose. After all, not every tourist destination is an awful cesspool of corporate greed. Some places are touristy because they truly are incredible. Venice, Italy comes to mind. But then in Venice, you hear the locals lament how the tourism industry has changed the town. You empathize, but only to an extent because you’re definitely going to tell your friends that they should visit Venice.**

You’re making authentic destinations touristy

Not initially, mind you. But by going to XYZ, taking pictures, tweeting about it, snapchatting or whatever, you’re planting the seed that people should go check this hypothetical place out for themselves. It doesn’t take long for people with money to notice, and that’s when the gaudy hotels and isolating security gates come in. Worst case scenario, the tourism becomes a bunker away from the local population who have lost the land in the name of making the white people with money feel safe. Looking at you, Sandals!

People suffer along your travels

Bocas Del Toro, Panama, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, and Antigua, Guatemala are some of the most popular destinations in Central America. In order to get to the archipelago of Bocas Del Toro, without flying like Mr. and Mrs. Money Bags, you have to get to coastal Almirante to hire a boat. Almirante, to put it kindly, is clearly not seeing any of the tourism money going into nearby Bocas Del Toro. Hell, Bocas Town itself is full of dilapidated housing and shabby infrastructure once you get a few blocks off the main street where all the tourists frolic. The same goes for the space between Antigua and Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, a common combination for tourists. This 76-kilometer stretch of road is littered with vehicles puffing out the darkest clouds of exhaust I have ever seen as pedestrians walk alongside the road (no sidewalks, of course) breathing God knows how much poisonous air on a daily basis. Even better, most were carrying something heavy, thus necessitating more breathing, and even more poisonous air could seep into their innocent lungs. I hated knowing that the shuttle I was in was contributing ever-so-slightly to their suffering.

But hey! Antigua’s great.

*This is actually on my to-do list. Fly to Cancun, head to Mérida and maybe down to Belize.

**I’ve actually never been to Venice, but have heard on numerous occasions some iteration of this story. It’s also on my list.

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