They’re not the worst cities in the world, they’re the best at bugging people. Introducing the places guaranteed to swing your mood southward
Last week we got all loved-up with our ranking of the most loved cities in the world.
This week we’re feeling cranky.
However, the worst thing that could ever be said about a city is not that it merits “top 10 most hated” status.
No, the worst thing that could ever be said about a city is that it’s not even worth discussing.
Say what you like about these 10 places (and lots of people do), they all prompt conversation. OK, plenty of critical conversation according to our findings, but we mean that in the most positive light.
So let’s re-name this one “10 cities travelers most love to hate” — and secretly hope that they remain, if not “awfully beautiful,” at least “beautifully awful” to some degree.
Because who really wants a world full of Vancouvers and Stockholms?
10. Belize City, Belize
Few tropical outposts less than a three-hour flight from Dallas have spawned as many alluring Sunday travel section taglines as Belize — a diving and cruise ship magnet that has been dubbed “Central America Lite,” “the other Caribbean” and “the gateway to the world’s second largest barrier reef.”
With all that warm press and tourist traffic passing through, you’d expect Belize City to have kicked its nagging reputation as the sorriest port o’ call on either edge of the Caribbean.
Crime. Drugs. Dilapidation. Welcoming committees of bored, desperate touts. A vibe that screams avoid-being-out-after-dark-and-wait-for-your-real-itinerary-to-begin. Belize City has it all.
When your own Director of Tourism owns that Belize’s main transport hub is “consistently rated as the worst destination” among cruise passengers, something more than the city’s famous swing bridge may need adjusting.
Until then, it’s full speed to the puddle jumpers and water taxis.
9. Cairo, Egypt
There are other cities coping with even more crippling air pollution, maniacal driving, ridiculous traffic, overpopulation and post-revolution stress — though not too many, and none we can think of that travelers would ever put very high on a sightseeing list.
Cairo, of course, impels us to come anyway — which naturally breeds some resentment.
Home of the world’s last remaining ancient Wonder and an incomparable wealth of history and antiquities that rank high on any serious globetrotter’s bucket list, visitors these days are forced to turn more than just a blind lung to a recent World Health Organization report that equates breathing in this city with smoking a pack a day.
“Avoid the crowds and protests and it should be fine otherwise,” advises one recent visitor on Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree.
“We can’t predict what will happen, but keep your ear to the ground and you should be OK,” hedges another.
It needs to be asked: Was modern Cairo really what Pharaoh Khufu had in mind in his 5,000 Year Plan?
8. New Delhi, India
Travel scams happen everywhere. But few cities fuel as much lengthy discussion and strategizing about them as India’s sprawling capital — arguably the world’s favorite place for travel forum junkies to dish on their favorite travel forum topic:
How to avoid getting fleeced outside the airport, at the train station, at your hotel and everywhere in between.
“There are plenty of cons to be aware of,” blogs TravBuddy in a post entitled “Scam City: Delhi’s Tourist Hustles and How To Avoid Them,” which lists several popular ones by name: The “Government Tourist Office” scam; The “Hotel Commission” scam; The “Fake Train Station” scam; The “Airport Transfer” scam, etc.
Learn these. Commit them to memory. Then go out and freely soak in the opulence of New Delhi, the breathless chaos of Old Delhi — the otherworldly extremeness of it all, knowing that your street savvy is really no match for a place that makes New York look prenatal.
“Avoiding scams and touts in Delhi,” posts travel community site, traveldudes.org, “the chances are really high that you will be scammed anyway.”
7. Jakarta, Indonesia
Jakarta isn’t nicknamed “The Big Durian” (thorny, odorous fruit you might actually enjoy if you give it a chance) for nothing.
“It is a very demanding city from a traveler’s perspective, full of surprises and awaiting difficulties,” notes one TripAdvisor expat who came to love Jakarta after six months. “Once you get to know it, you can’t have enough of it.”
The obvious snag. Indonesia’s 8 million annual tourists arriving at this springboard to Bali, Yogyakarta, Sumatra — anywhere but here — spend on average 7.84 days in Indonesia according to a 2011 study by the country’s Central Bureau for Statistics.
How long will it take most visitors to decide they haven’t enough time to gain an insider’s appreciation about this sprawling city choked with traffic, pollution, poverty and tourist “draws” largely revolving around random street adventures and an epidemic of malls?
About 7.84 seconds.
6. Lima, Peru
Latin America’s fifth-largest metropolis may be marginally cleaner than Mexico City, somewhat safer than Sao Paulo and way more beach-friendly than La Paz, yet Lima continues to quietly suffer from the worst, if well-meaning, curse in travel circles: being constantly described as a place that’s not nearly as dull as everyone else keeps saying it is.
“If you’re prepared to delve into the nooks and crannies of this massive city, then you can find plenty to admire,” blogs one Lima supporter, after delivering the mortal blow that “most people that I’ve spoken to about Peru don’t really rate Lima. It’s ugly, it’s boring, it’s not traditional enough, are the main complaints I’ve heard.”
“Who knew we’d love Lima so much?” opines another blogger. “My Spanish teacher said it was boring. Lonely Planet didn’t make it sound exciting. Others yawned through it — but four times wasn’t enough Lima for me!”
“For much of the year, a smog hangs over Lima. The city looks washed out and monochrome. When you combine this with years of news (and rumors) about Lima being unsafe, shabby or just plain boring,” opines Time Out in its defense of Lima, it’s no wonder people overlook “Latin America’s best-kept secret.”
Blame it on that herd mentality, but until Lima’s staunchest fanbase stops going on about how everyone else mistakenly finds the place insufferable, it’s a one-way ticket to Machu Picchu, please.
5. Los Angeles, United States
To clarify, we’re talking about the one in California. Not Los Angeles, Texas (pop. 20), a little spot near San Antonio that adopted the name in 1923 as an unsuccessful promotional stunt. Nobody you know has anything bad to say about that place.
Not so for this center-less megalopolis sloppily carved into about 90 sub-cities, over 20 ailing freeways, countless area codes and a half-million strip malls with mediocre Thai food.
How did a semi-arid desert without a decent water supply get so huge — and so hugely disliked?
Stealing water didn’t help, but that was a long time ago.
“When you get there, there is no there, there,” says one of many underwhelmed L.A. bashers on quora.com, who adds that tourist traps like Hollywood are a total bummer.
So are earthquakes, race riots, traffic pileups, smog reports, constant sirens and the irksome sense that people who live here are okay with all of that because the weather’s nicer than wherever they moved from.
However it happened, “I hate L.A.” has evolved into a kneejerk not just for obvious rivals like San Francisco but virtually every other American city full of folks who may never have actually been to L.A. but can just imagine.
Not even Randy Newman can sing over a PR mudslide like that.
4. Timbuktu, Mali
A century ago, the world’s most tenacious travelers may have been awarded a brief thrill upon reaching this legendary trans-Saharan trading center hiding in the middle of nowhere.
But even then, Timbuktu was nearly half-a-millennium past its golden years and largely relying on the travel industry’s most dubious selling point: being so ridiculously remote and unspectacular that even the dictionary references you as “any extremely distant place.”
Today, according to a recent British survey, a third of the public doesn’t believe that Timbuktu actually exists.
Among the remaining two-thirds are those romantic, off-the-beaten-path travelers who’ve fought tooth and claw to get all the way out here only to find a stifling, sand-strewn cluster of shabby buildings staving off desertification.
3. Paris, France
Paris inspires a certain love-hate relationship.
Not just for fans of old Renoir or Chevy Chase movies, but for travelers too — who inspired us to feature this singular place twice. Here and in last week’s column: “World’s most loved cities.”
What do people love about Paris? If you don’t already know, click the link to find out.
In the meantime, what do people not love about Paris, aside from the usual rude waiter stereotypes, crazy lines at the Louvre and the city’s knack for rekindling long-kicked smoking habits about 10 minutes after landing?
“I was wondering what was so special about the ‘French Breakfast’ that I saw advertised everywhere we went,” comments a frequent Paris traveler on VirtualTourist, who sat down and ordered one during his first visit to the city. “For 20 euros you get a croissant, butter, three ounces of hot chocolate, three ounces of orange juice and a small baguette. Are you kidding??”
“Don’t be too easily flattered as you approach the Place du Tertre in Montmartre,” another visitor warns about platoons of starving artists bombarding first-timers to have their portrait done. “I’ve now lost count of the number of times we’ve been told that [my husband] has ‘interesting hair.’”
“I just read of someone’s four-hour wait to ascend the Eiffel Tower and recalled the coldest I had ever been — the day I waited atop the platform on the Eiffel Tower, waiting to go to the next level.”
“We made our way to the catacombs hoping to find an extraordinary sight,” says another. “Unfortunately, it was nothing but rooms and rooms and rooms full of bones.”
Every legendary city suffers some degree of overhype. About the food, the views, the charming street scene, the faint possibility of jumping into a car at the stroke of midnight and riding into a more exciting era with Ernest Hemingway & friends, etc.
But the dreamy expectations reserved for Paris — propagated by generations of writers who haven’t been here in awhile — are in their own league.
What first-timer here isn’t going to be a little disillusioned after wandering around for hours with checklists, arrondissement maps and dog-poop-soiled shoes without finding a decent place for a quick bite?
2. Sydney & Melbourne (or Melbourne & Sydney), Australia
Australia’s top two cities would be nowhere near this list if it weren’t for the 177 straight years of utter hatred they’ve reserved for each other.
Since the founding of Melbourne in 1835 (by exactly the kind of pennywise, do-gooder farmboys that Sydney’s felon founders had no patience for), Sydneysiders and Melburnians have been loathingly distinguishing themselves from each other in ways that would make Toronto and Montreal blush.
Still, they may have overlooked the greatest source of antipathy of all, notes Anthony Sharwood in The Punch.
“Sydney and Melbourne have much, much more in common than either of them ever care to admit.” In fact, “Melbourne is the city in the world most similar to Sydney.”
About 4 million multicultural residents spread across a trendy downtown area with sprawling suburbs, high home prices, a vibrant food and arts scene, Australian TV and radio stations, the occasional bushfire and an intense repugnance for a certain unspeakable place 720 kilometers away.
Which city are we talking about here? Either Melbourne or Sydney, perhaps?
But wait. There is a startling difference. Last year, The Economist ranked Melbourne the “World’s Most Livable City” with 97.5 points. Sydney came in sixth in this same survey with 96.1 points.
Do the math. These places are like fire and ice.
1. Tijuana, Mexico
Last year, says BajaInsider.com, Tijuana had a lower murder rate and fewer carjackings than Philadelphia in spite of having a police force a third the size — so why is there a Department of State Travel Warning for TJ and not for Philly?
But never mind all those obvious, glossed-over comparisons between Tijuana and urban Pennsylvania.
The point is that while there are even dicier border towns, cheesier drinking holes, wearier haggling magnets and gloomier border crossings (sorry, folks, drug-screenings take time) than Tijuana, it’s hard to find an undiscriminating tourism hub that’s taken a bigger hit in the public eye lately.
According to a recent Worldfocus report, Tijuana’s annual tourism numbers have plummeted by as much as 90 percent in less than 10 years, and other research estimates that visitor-related revenue has declined by almost as much over a similar period.
Drug cartel violence. The recession. Recent swine flu outbreaks. If any place can rebound from all this, it’s TJ.
But when Southern California marketing firms start shying away from that age-old pitch — “Come to San Diego and be in a foreign country in 20 minutes” — that’s when you have to wonder if all those never again regulars kind of mean it this time.