It’s fashionable to mock places and experiences that are “touristic,” a word I am loathe to believe is real. You’ll often hear travelers in the same line you’re in deriding a place as touristic. It’s undoubtedly true that there are unfortunate excesses in many tourist locales: trinkets and faux authenticity among the worst offenders, but there are undoubtedly places and and experiences that are less authentic than others.
At first blush, Lagos in the Algarve seems ideally suited for such mockery. When my train arrived, I walked by dozens of stands offering every imaginable aquatic experience, from shark fishing for 70 Euros to renting what looked like a rowboat suited for a pond back home for not much less. The city center was filled with dudes in bro tanks looking for another spot to drink cheap beer and play “Battle Shots.” Tourist hell to some, a chance to learn what Battle Shots are to others.
But I absolutely loved Lagos. From my ridiculously generous host at my guest house, who not only told me where to eat, but how to order the fish in each place, to the delightful bars and restaurants that served some of the best food I’ve ever eaten, Lagos was an exceptional experience. While I did experience some of the night life, Lagos seemed like the kind of tourist town calibrated to the needs of all kinds of travelers. During the day and evening, it was a place for eating great meals, watching street performers in the central square, and wandering the streets looking for street art. At night, a different, more boisterous, and seemingly very pale and British revelry came to the fore.
And the mornings and early afternoons are built for exploring. One morning was devoted to a 15 mile hike along the beaches and cliffs above them, the kind of magnificent hike that makes you want to retrace your steps rather than take the shortcut through town home, and the kind of hike that involves randomly wandering down a stone staircase only to find a 15 Euro boat trip available at the bottom. Hard to argue with that price for a man pointing out cave formations that look like King Kong and an elephant while navigating his boat through narrow entrances barely wider than the craft.
The next morning was my first experience on a kayak, retracing the steps I had taken on the shore the day before in the calm, crystal blue and green waters. Sure, I was in a kayak with a group of 15 other people and we were dragged back home at the end of the trip, but it was an irreplaceable experience in a place of almost unimaginable beauty.
I couldn’t help but think about the way we sometimes mock tourists in Montana when they visit Glacier and Yellowstone. It’s easier, I suppose to mock the “tourons” for driving through Yellowstone when it’s incredibly crowded in July than it is to remember the smile on our faces every time we visit one of those places in our backyard, no matter how crowded they are.
Sure, Lagos is a touristic experience and town, but it’s an incredible one. While we would certainly be better off avoiding the excesses of tourism, dismissing places and experiences merely because they are loved and popular is a sure way to miss out on some of the incredible experiences the world has to offer.