So-called bucket list destinations come with big expectations — and often big crowds too.
While overtourism can ruin many a holiday destination, it's not the only reason vacations miss the mark. Here, travel writers who contribute to CNBC's Global Traveler share the worst disappointments of their professional careers.
"Although I may have my passport taken away for saying this as an Englishman, I found Stonehenge decidedly underwhelming.
"It didn't help that at the time I was a university student working as a tour guide, so [I] had to convince 45 Americans on our bus that they were about to undergo a life-changing experience: seeing up close a 4,500-year-old testament to man's ceaseless creativity, brilliance and spiritualism.
"What emerged through the rain was a slightly forlorn collection of large gray stones, about 30 yards away — as close as we could get. A broken-down truck on a busy road running alongside the site didn't exactly help the mystic revelation."
—Chris Dwyer, United Kingdom
Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
"The karst-studded seascape in northern Vietnam is one of the country's undisputed visual highlights, but the reality of visiting is not always so alluring. I've been there several times — first as a tourist and then on assignment — and I've struggled to see the charm of the destination despite its obvious beauty.
"From the identikit junk boats that gridlock the water to dispiriting excursions to unremarkable caves and floating communities selling tacky souvenirs, it's a tourism experience that requires an upgrade."
—Duncan Forgan, United Kingdom
"Curious and fascinated by the tales about the "Land of the Thunder Dragon," I went [to Bhutan] to explore culture and country and to photograph the Paro Tshechu festival. These religious dance festivals started in the 17th century and are indeed worth seeing. The festivities are held in monasteries across the country every year and go on for five days. Buddhist monks perform 1,300-year-old dance rites wearing exquisitely embroidered costumes and colorful masks.
"As Bhutan bans independent travel, a local tour guide and a driver accompanied me on my journey through the country. Chats with them revealed the lack of prospects Bhutan's young generation faces — limitations on education, no jobs, no money.
"I knew that roaming freely between cities and changing the itinerary ad hoc wasn't allowed. My two chaperones even tried to hold me back from straying off the city's main streets. Ignoring their protests, I pressed ahead into the back roads. Life there exposed the sobering truth of an image carefully crafted for the outside world. Instead of happiness, alcoholism, poverty and violence drive many of Bhutan's residents' destiny."
—Petra Loho, Austria
Machu Picchu, Peru
"It was a place that I had always dreamed about: a lost city, high in the Andes hidden from the rest of the world.
"I knew there was no road linking this Inca kingdom to the outside world, and that to get there one had to take a train then bus, or hike the rugged Inca Trail for up to 10 days. Lacking such time, I opted for the train from Cuzco. The locals selling overpriced trinkets up and down the aisles might have been a signal for me to adjust my expectations.
"The buses were crowded with people who looked just like me. Barely able to maneuver around one another, they inched around hairpin turns — choked in exhaust from other vehicles — to the top of the mountain. A crowd of vendors surrounded the entry gate to Machu Picchu.
"For a moment, a breathtaking view of magnificence unfolded before me as if I had just awoken from a dream — until a long line of people under the leadership of a red flag-toting tour guide descended the rocky stairway where I was standing, almost knocking me aside.