Warning: Your Tour Guide May Be Spouting Bulls*%t

tour guide

“Remember that scene in Pirates of the Caribbean where there’s a ship battle in the bay and then later you see Jack jump off a cliff into the water? That was all shot here in this area.”

The enthusiastic tour guide telling me all this while my companions nodded and exclaimed, “Oh really?” might have heard that from someone else who heard it from someone else. He probably even believes it. But this was Honduras, near Tela, far from where any scene in any Pirates of the Caribbean movie was filmed. (When it comes to the Caribbean, that would be St. Vincent in the first movie, St. Vincent, Dominica, and the Bahamas in the sequels.) The only thing in Honduras having to do with that movie is that once upon a time real pirates plied these waters and probably hid for real behind the peninsula we were hiking on. Apparently that story is not exciting enough.

As a travel writer I’m used to sniffing out the b.s. or at least writing “confirm this” next to my notes before repeating anything some tour guide has told me. I still get articles from freelance writers all the time though where I have to send a note back asking, “Have you researched this?” Often they’ll sheepishly reply back that they just did at my prompting and it turns out that nice tour guide didn’t know what he was talking about.

If these travel writers have been so easily duped, imagine how bad it is for the general public.

Here are a few big travel myths you’ll hear over and over again that are just plain false. They’re whoppers that people keep perpetuating even though they’ve been debunked over and over. Use them as a springboard for your own buzzkill moments next time you’re on a guided tour.

But remember, the worse the crowd, the more garbage you’re likely to hear. Get a guide drunk and they’ll gleefully tell you they make up stories to get back at annoying clients, especially the Professor Pauls who think they know more than the local tour guide or the Chatty Cathys who keep asking questions just covered in the explanation.

“The Great Wall of China is the only man-made structure you can see from space.” Or worse “…from the moon.” Or worse yet, “…from the moon with the naked eye.”

No it isn’t. You can’t even see it from space, first of all, because it is made of stone that blends into the landscape. But you can see a lot of other buildings and highways. Not from the moon though–they’re all too small for that.

great wall from space myth

“____ is the most biodiverse place/country/forest on the planet.”

Sorry, but it’s probably not.

Nature guides love this one. They swell up with pride and say it with great gravitas, like you are in some sacred location you should bow down to and adore. The problem is, I’ve heard this more than a dozen times, in at least six different countries.

Biodiversity is a hard thing to measure, with standards that not every scientist counting creatures will agree upon. Plus it’s a moving target that never has enough funding to properly evaluate. Then you’ve got the problem that there are trees and plants and bugs and animals to count and then sub-categories within all of those classifications that can each be debated.

There are some experts who say the overall winner for both flora and fauna is part of the Yasuni National Park in the Amazon Basin of Ecuador. That’s near where one of the guides who spouted this claim to me was leading a nature walk so he gets the prize for at least having the most ammo to support the claim. Considering we passed oil platforms on the Napo River on the way to where he told me this though, and the government has approved oil drilling in the park itself, I’m still a bit skeptical.

Something tells me the most biodiverse place on the planet is one still missing the most destructive species: homo sapiens.

The Atacama Desert in Chile is “The driest place on Earth.”

Almost every damn travel story about the Atacama repeats this myth and tour guides keep claiming it. What makes this so galling is those floods in 2012. And the snow in 2013. And the floods again this past year that carried entire houses and cars away in this video (which you’ll note has “driest” in the title. Grrrr…)

Water in a sink or toilet will drain in the opposite direction in Australia. (Or in different directions on each side of the equator.)

bart-toiletNo it won’t.

The White House didn’t get its name until being repainted after getting burned in a British attack during the War of 1812.

I heard this one on a school field trip when I was a young boy. Guides are probably still saying it today. But it’s not true. It was already called The White House before that. It’s not exactly a unique name, after all…

Every (insert big number) years, three planets line up over the three Great Pyramids in Egypt.

Sorry, not really.

Nero played the violin (or “fiddled”) while Rome Burned

No he didn’t. The instrument wasn’t even invented at that point.

And all those stories about the mating habits of weird animals? Some are true, but many are legends spread by people who aren’t naturalists. Look it up before you pass it on.

Got one of your own? Leave it in the comments!


  1. Rob 01/22/2016
    • Justin 01/25/2016
  2. Lewis 01/24/2016
  3. Luminita 01/25/2016
  4. Simon Caron 03/03/2016
  5. Lauren Kahn 03/10/2016
  6. Alexandra Copos 01/04/2020

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