After a few years on the road I usually manage to avoid tourist traps. This time I was completely caught off guard though. A painful mistake that wasted about half of my day.
I was staying in Bali with two of my buddies, Andreas and Vincenzo. We wanted to check out some cool spots on the islands. A friend of Vincenzo had recently visited the island and recommended a taxi driver to us. He had taken him around the island before and he had a great day.
We hadn't done much research about where we wanted to go exactly but we knew the area around Ubud had some interesting sites. Hence, we told the driver to head towards Ubud, a 45-minute drive from our base in Seminyak. The taxi driver recommended that we check out an island called "Turtle Island." "I've always wanted to go to Turtle Island!!!" Andreas responded. "It's supposed to be an amazing, serene island perfect for snorkeling and spotting turtles!"
The driver ensured us that the island was on the way to Ubud so we wouldn't lose much time. We quickly agreed and off we were! The drive took a lot longer than expected, well over an hour, which made me a bit suspicious.
It was not until arriving when the alarm bells really started ringing. The beach was packed with tourists, with countless hawkers competing for their attention. The ocean was covered with jet skies, banana boats and paragliders.
We were let into a house where we were presented with a menu of watersport activities and tours. Not exactly what we were looking for. "We want to go to Turtle Island," we responded.
It turned out we were in luck. The tour guide offered us a boat ride to the island on a glass bottom boat plus a guided tour of the island for a mere $50 a person, down from the normal price of $60! This seemed rather overpriced for essentially a 15-minute boat ride, but according to the tour guide this was justified because it was a special price, we were his friends and gasoline prices had been going up a lot.
We politely passed on the offer. Instead, we walked to the beach to find someone with a boat who could drop us off. After the usual negotiation phase, we settled on $10 a person. As an added bonus, we were taken on the glass boat so we would see lots of awesome fish on the way.
When the island came in sight it became clear it wasn't the serene island that Andreas had in mind. The island was teeming with activity, tourists and boats arriving and taking off. No natural beauty in sight. We hopped off the boat to discover the cheesiest, tackiest and saddest tourist trap I've ever witnessed.
A variety of animals were being held in small, dirty cages. The animals seemed to be drugged and were taken out by the staff for the tourists to take pictures, for a fee of course. The worst thing is, the island is a so-called "Turtle Sanctuary." Supposedly, the purpose of the island was to raise turtles in a safe environment, away from predators, to be released into the wild when old enough.
When we got back to the taxi, we asked to be taken to Ubud. The driver informed us that it would take over two hours to get there. What? It was only 45 minutes from our original location! I checked Google maps. He had taken us in the complete opposite direction!
We had literally been taken for a ride. The driver wanted to take us to this tourist area because he gets a commission for every $ we would spend. He later admitted to us that the tour operators where his "partners."
We basically wasted half of our day. I felt quite silly falling for the taxi driver's tricks. When we got back to our villa we looked up the real Turtle Island. It turned out to be in Fiji and indeed an amazing place.
I took a look at Tripadvisor. Turned out we weren't the first ones to get tricked. Countless reviews warned visitors about the trap. We had learned our lesson.
The area that we had been taken to turned out to be called "Tanjung Benoa." If you go to Bali, make sure to avoid this place, known as Turtle Island Bali! Instead, check out places like Ubud, Uluwatu, Jimbaran, Kintamani and Gunung Agung!
Accommodation tip: One of the most unique hotels in the world is the Hanging Gardens in Ubud. It's not cheap, but it will be an experience you will never forget. The hotel is surrounded by jungle and features multiple elevated infinity pools (see picture here). You can book here.
Taxi service tip On my latest trip to Bali I used a company called Bali Cab. Their service was excellent, highly recommended!
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