It’s every traveler’s fear: After all the planning, preparation, and time and money spent, your trip turns out to be a total bust. But for travel writer Catherine Price, ending up at a bad place isn’t necessarily a bad thing – at the very least, you’ll be bringing back a good story.
In her new book, “101 Places Not To See Before You Die,” Price has compiled a lighthearted list of horrible destinations, attractions and events from around the world that intrepid travelers should avoid at all costs. Here are top 24 places not to visit before you die.
A museum display comprised of the exhumed bodies of mostly anonymous Mexicans whose relatives couldn’t afford a “grave tax,” the Mummies make for a macabre attraction in the town of Guanajuato, Mexico. Some visitors says that maybe a traveling mummy show is not the most respectful way to deal with the remains of indigent Mexicans, but otheres disagree: the mummies are so popular that in the fall of 2009, they were taken to the United States for a seven-city tour.
2. Winchester Mystery House
This bizarre 1880s mansion in San Jose, Calif. (above), has 160 rooms and countless staircases and passageways that lead to nowhere – thanks to its eccentric owner, an heiress to the Winchester rifle company. On the advice of a psychic, Sarah Winchester had construction crews work round-the-clock for almost 40 years to appease the angry spirits of those killed by Winchester guns. “The effect of all this – the gift shop, the mile-long tour through endless empty rooms … leaves you feeling surprisingly empty.”
3. Corbet’s Couloir in Jackson Hole, Wyoming
This double-black diamond ski slope on Rendezvous Mountain is one of the most dangerous in the world, thanks to a 30-ft. free fall onto a 55-degree slope surrounded by jagged rocks. “A must-miss spot for anyone who would prefer not to meet their doom on skis,”
4. Four Corners monument
There’ nothing to do at the only point where four states intersect – New Mexico, Utah, Arizona and Colorado – except engage in “geographic Twister.” “The main tourist activity,” says Price, “is getting down on all fours so you can take a picture of yourself in each state.” Another reason not to bother? Price writes that the Four Corners monument is actually 1,807 feet of where it should be.
5. Euro Disney
Called a “cultural Chernobyl” by snooty French folks after it opened near Paris in 1992, Euro Disney – now known as Disneyland Paris – was an initial flop thanks to several tactical errors, says Price. It debuted during a European recession, offended would-be workers by requiring “appropriate undergarments,” and didn’t take into account France’s cold winter season. Even worse, says Price, is that the park turned off its European guests by banning alcohol in park restaurants.
6. The Seattle Gum Wall
For many, it’s a kitschy, colorful work of art – a brick wall in an alley next to the Market Theater in Seattle that’s covered almost completely in chewing gum put there by thousands of visitors over the past 15 or so years. For Price, the Gum Wall is simply “disgusting.” “Under no circumstances should you be allowed to take (a) moist, warm wad out of your mouth, stick it on a public wall, and call it art.”
7. The top of Mt. Washington in a snowstorm
Though only 6,300 feet high, this New Hampshire mountain is one of the most dangerous peaks in the world. Located at the convergence of several storm tracks, Mt. Washington gets snowstorms and 200 mph, hurricane-force winds year-round. “If you’re unfortunate enough to find yourself on Mt. Washington during a winter storm and can’t find shelter, you’re probably going to die,” says Price. “But at least you’ll have something pretty to look at: rime ice, a feathery frosting that’s beloved by nature photographers.”
8. The Blarney Stone
The huge rock, set into the battlements of Blarney Castle near the Irish town of Cork in the 1300s, is said to bless those who kiss it with the gift of eloquence. “The stone’s actual powers are debatable,” says Price, “but one thing’s for sure – the Blarney Stone is a germaphobe’s nightmare. Kissed by more than 400,000 people per year, it’s covered with trace bits of spit left behind with every pucker.”
9. Kingman Reef
Although the water around this small Pacific Ocean reef 1,000 miles south of Hawaii is teeming with marine life and corals, a visit is hardly worth the trouble, says Price. “Kingman Reef is an uninhabited spit of smashed coral and shells, decorated by occasional pieces of human-made flotsam: plastic bottles, broken bits of Styrofoam, and a large number of widowed flip-flops.”
10. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
Located in Arizona on the U.S.-Mexico border, Organ Pipe Cactus is a national park known for more than its desert wildlife and distinctive cacti – its an infamous border crossing for drug traffickers and illegal immigrants. “This doesn’t deter visitors,” says Price of the more than 1,000 guests per night. “Granted, most of those visitors have entered the United States illegally. But if they’re willing to deal with the desert’s 116-degree summer heat, venomous snakes … and, of course, drug traffickers, perhaps it’s only fair to let them spend the night.”
Built in stages between 3,000 and 1,600 B.C., Stonehenge is a mysterious, supposedly mystical site in England that attracts thousands of New Agey-visitors and neo-pagans, especially during the summer solstice.
Unfortunately, ancient mysticism has given way to modern-day commercialism. Stonehenge, writes Price, “is cut off from surrounding fields by a chain-link fence. A large parking lot sits nearby with a gift shop, ice cream vendors, Port-O-Potties, and a subterranean visitors’ center. An entrance fee of more than $10 only allows you to walk around the periphery of the circle, kept at a safe distance by a wire guardrail.”
12. The top of Mount Everest
“Unless you love frostbite, hypoxia, blinding snow, and high-altitude games of Russian roulette,” says Price, “do Nepal a favor and stay home.”
13. Juarez, Mexico
Drug wars and alleged abuse of citizens by the Mexican army and the Cuidad Juarez police force have turned this bustling border city across from El Paso, Tex., into a highly dangerous place to visit. More than 1,800 people were killed in Juarez between January 2008 and early 2009, according to Price. “The border is indeed exhilarating – but unfortunately for anyone trying to live or visit Cuidad Juarez, not in a good way.”
14. Times Square on New Year’s Eve
Being stuck in a massive crowd on a freezing night with no bathrooms available – and no liquor allowed – does not a New Year’s party make. “If you value your sanity, your extremities, and your bladder, you should find a different place to celebrate the new year,” says Price.
15. BART – Bay Area Rapid Transit
Smelly, excessively loud and with no trains running from midnight to 4 a.m., San Francisco’s public transportation system is a mess, says Price. It’s also vulnerable to earthquakes, she claims. “One can only hope that if and when the big one comes, it does so between the hours of midnight and 4 a.m.”
16. Pamplona, from the perspective of a bull
Considering that right after the annual running of the bulls festivities in Pamplona they end up drugged, diced and dead at the hands of a matador, “This is officially the worst day ever” if you happen to be a bull.
17. Mid-January in Whittier, Alaska
One of the most secluded towns in Alaska, Whittier was built as a secret military base in WWII and has a population hovering near 200, writes Price. It’s also extremely difficult to reach – a one-lane tunnel than can only accommodate one direction of traffic at a time is still the only land route into town. Making matters worse, a massive rockslide in 2009 (above) blocked the road leading to the tunnel, stranding most Whittier residents for more than a month.
18. Action Park, N.J.
Known for “treacherous rides, untrained employees and copious beer stands,” says Price, “Action Park – also known as Traction Park, Class Action Park and Death Park – was an amusement park in Vernon Township, New Jersey. Responsible for at least six deaths and countless accidents, it inspired so many personal injury lawsuits that in 1996, it was forced to shut down.”
19. Black Rock City during the Burning Man festival
The annual anything-goes art festival in the Nevada desert that culminates in the immolation of a giant wooden sculpture – aka “Burning Man” – it can be a “life-changing experience, a chance to break free of societal norms and spend a week indulging in so-called ‘radical self-expression,’ ” says Price. “But if you don’t enjoy being surrounded by drugs and naked people coated in glitter, you probably should not attend.”
20. Mount Rushmore
“While Mount Rushmore is an impressive achievement, it’s not really that interesting,” says Price. “It was built specifically to draw visitors to South Dakota’s Black Hills. “Take into account the fact that the sculptures were carved into hills considered sacred to the Lakota Sioux, and it starts to seem less like a testament to the American spirit and more like an example of us looking like jerks.”
21. An overnight stay at a Korean temple
Price once joined a travel program that allowed guests to experience life as a Buddhist monk by staying at a Korean temple. “It sounded like such a nice idea – 24 hours of living as a monk – but that’s before I had to trade in my clothes for a scratchy wool suit, spend an afternoon sorting through potatoes in 90-degree heat, sleep on the floor (in the scratchy wool suit), and get up at 3:30 a.m. – after falling asleep at 1 a.m. – to meditate in the dark,” says Price. “I spent most of the time killing mosquitoes and then feeling guilty about the karmic implications.”
22. A Buzkashi Match
“An Afghan tradition, buzkashi is an animal-rights advocate’s nightmare: a sport in which three teams of horsemen compete to score goals with the body of a dead, headless goat,” says Price. The prize for the winning team: Barbecuing the goat.
23. Gloucester Cheese Rolling Competition
“A yearly festival in which scores of people gather at Cooper’s Hill near Gloucester, England, for the chance to chase a piece of cheese off a cliff,” says Price. “Bones are broken. Joints are dislocated. Contestants are carried off the field on stretchers. Runners are risking life and limb for the glory of winning a 7-lb. round of Double Gloucester cheese.”
24. Centralia, Penn.
Though not one of Price’s choices, no list of places NOT to visit would be complete without mention of Centralia, a former Pennsylvania mining town under which an underground coal fire has been burning for almost 50 years. In the photo above, the heat from the eternal blaze has cracked the highway leading into town. Once home to about 1,000 people, the town’s population now numbers less than a dozen.