Wikitravel is a Wiki travel guide that relies entirely on the
contributions, edits and suggestions of users and readers. The site's creators
claim that their goal is to provide an extensive, user-driven international
travel guide that could rival even the most extensive travel book. It won the
2007 Webby Award for best travel site.
This writeup will consist of two parts: an overview of the site itself and a review of its advantages, disadvantages and quirks.
Wikitravel.org was registered in February of 2003; the site became
operational that July. By November, the site had 100 registered users and
nearly 1,000 articles. As of November of 2006, the site has 10,000 registered
users and more than 10,000 articles. The site was purchased by internet company
Internet Brands in April of 2006, along with another travel wiki called World
66. Despite the fact that the two sites were acquired by Internet Brands at
the same time, they remain reasonably different in terms of interface and even
content. We'll get to that later.
The site is powered by Media Wiki, which also powers Wikipedia. Wikitravel
is not, however, part of the Wikimedia network (which also includes
Wikinews and Wikiquote, among others). It makes regular use (so to speak)
of Wikipedia; Wikitravel articles often link to Wikipedia articles about cities
and landmarks, rather than cluttering up the travel article with historical
Wikitravel is still relatively new, especially compared to Wikipedia. The
site has, to date, only banned a single IP and a single user as of July 2007.
Design-wise, the site appears similar -- practically identical -- to the
interface used by Wikipedia and other Wikimedia sites. This includes navigation
on the left-hand side of the page, including links to articles in other
languages when available. The content is contained inside a large box that
takes up most of the screen and is topped by the familiar Wiki tabs --
"article," "discussion," "edit" and
Again, much like other wikis, Wikitravel's main page features links to a
variety of different articles. The destination of the
month highlights some of the more complete articles that detail interesting
locations, while the "Off the beaten path" section profiles one of
the world's less popular destinations. The main page also offers a list of
destinations by general location (i.e. by continent or basic geographic
region such as the Middle East), a link to
the site's phrasebook section and a constantly changing bullet list of
interesting facts about locations or events around the world.
Another key feature of the main page is the "travel news" section,
which provides news about major airport closures and the like. There is also a
list of "featured" articles.
The articles themselves possess a common structure: each begins with a
general description of the location being described and often provides
socio-cultural, economic and/or historical context for the benefit of
As I'm going to Montreal
in two weeks, let's use that guide as an example. The first few sections give a
basic description of the city and list off its many districts. The "Understand"
section explains its history -- how and when it was settled, historical events
that have shaped the present day, etc. These first sections also provide some
basic facts that no traveler should be without; in this case, Montreal
has the second-largest Francophone population in the world, after Paris, and visitors
should be prepared to read, hear and even speak French.
The rest of the article takes on an almost chronological structure. The
"Get In" section describes major airports, train stations,
bus stations and highways, listing their proximity to the downtown core and/or
popular sights. "Get Around" lists the many ways one can
explore the city -- on foot, by car, bicycle or by using mass transit. This
is just one of the places that a given city's quirks might be listed; for
instance, driving in Montreal
is generally considered to be more difficult than driving in many other urban
In some cases, a Wikitravel article may also provide a simple digitized map
of the most popular tourist destinations.
Subsequent sections describe -- often in great detail -- the things that
actually interest most travelers. The "See" section lists
attractions simply worth seeing (that is, aren't physical activities) such as
museums, historic sights and so on. Each suggestion is often followed by a
short description explaining why the sight is notable, where it is located
(this includes a subway stop or road directions where applicable) and how
much it costs, if anything. The "Do" section involves
attractions that require more effort on the part of the visitor, such as
casinos or amusement parks, skating rinks, beaches, bike paths,
festivals, events and information relating to local sports teams.
While the entire purpose of Wikitravel is to inform and aid people
interested in traveling, some articles also contain a section called
"Work," which provides information regarding work permits and
commonly available jobs for those who are interested in a bit of a longer stay.
The "Buy" section contains information about shops, such as
the locations of any prominent malls as well as information regarding the
area's shop district.
Most Wikitravel articles contain extensive "Eat" sections
detailing a particular area's food scene. These sections often first describe
any local specialties or delicacies before jumping into a list of restaurants,
pubs and bars. Much like the list of sights and attractions, the list of
restaurants contains some basic information about the food served there as well
as its location and, on occasion, directions. The restaurant list is divided
into three categories: "Budget," "Mid-range" and
"Splurge." "Budget" restaurants serve a meal -- including
soft drink -- for a single person for a relatively low price (in this case,
$10 CAD). "Splurge" restaurants will cost quite a bit more -- in this
case, more than $30 CAD -- for a single meal, and the "Mid-range"
places fall somewhere in the middle. All Wikitravel articles use this same
system for restaurants, though the suggested specific amounts differ according
to the local currency.
Some Eat sections may also contain information regarding special
diets, including vegetarian and kosher food.
Many Wikitravel articles also include sections about alcohol and drinking,
aptly named "Drink." This contains information about the
jurisdiction's legal drinking age, how and where alcohol may be purchased and
policies in terms of restaurants and bars. This section often includes a list
of local bars and pubs. Much like the list of attractions and restaurants,
these are often described in some detail and location information is provided.
Most Wikitravel articles contain information about safety in a section
called "Stay Safe." This section's content can range from the
most basic and common sense-esque of safety tips (i.e. "Don't go out alone
after dark") to specific information about which parts of town are more
dangerous than others, whether or not panhandlers or pickpockets are common
and information about crime rates affecting tourists in that particular area.
In areas that may have profound (or even minor) cultural or etiquette differences, some articles include a
"Respect" section that details what the locals might expect from
tourists with regards to language use, body language and what are and aren't considered acceptable topics of conversation (especially given a country's history). This section might also explain what is
expected in a given area -- whether smoking is permitted in public areas,
whether speaking loudly in public is considered rude or an absolute faux-pas,
Finally, the "Get Out" section lists popular attractions in
the areas surrounding the subject of the Wikitravel article.
There are five statuses for Wikitravel articles (from least to most effective): "Stub," "Outline," "Usable," "Guide" and "Star." Stubs are, like their Wikipedia counterparts, articles that need a lot of work but are often regarded as a step in the the right direction. Star articles, on the other hand, are filled with information that is useful and easy to read, contain multiple maps and photos and could be viewed as more or less complete by someone who's extremely familiar with the subject matter. The three middle categories complete the range, containing more information than a stub and quite often being fit for use, but aren't necessarily prize-winning.
The same status categories also apply to Wikitravel's park guides, country guides, phrasebooks, iteneraries and travel topic guides. These are articles that deal with more specific topics than the more conventional guides to individual cities or towns. The itineraries in particular are interesting because they suggest ways to make the most of a given area in a very short timeframe. While this approach to travel has been widely frowned upon, the itineraries may prove useful to people who just don't have weeks and weeks to spend in a given place and want to make the most of their few days there.
The 17 languages in which Wikitravel offers articles are: English, German, French, Italian, Japanese, Dutch, Portuguese, Catalan, Esperanto, Spanish, Finnish, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Polish, Romanian and Swedish.
Wikitravel Shared and Wikitravel Extra
Wikitravel Shared is a portal that allows users to upload their photos of travel destinations (particularly landmarks and the like) for use on the site. Some articles are lacking when it comes to photos, and users and editors can use Wikitravel Shared to request photos from a given area for use on the site.
Wikitravel Extra is a portal that users can use as their personal travel blogs. There is also a forum that can be used to ask questions and give travel advice.
There are obviously many advantages to a site like Wikitravel; a person can easily gain a great deal of knowledge without exerting too much effort or money, as finding a reputable and informative travel book might require both. There is also a great deal of comfort to be taken in knowing that this advice and this guide to the city likely came from the people who live there and whose only motivation for updating these travel guides was seemingly to help others enjoy their corner of the globe.
A good number of the guides are quite thorough, particularly those that deal with the world's most prominent tourist traps. The capitals of Europe and the major cities of the United States and Canada are very well documented, and each article contains a good number of suggested sights other than the ultra-famous landmarks that might attract a tourist to said location in the first place.
One of the most useful parts of any Wikitravel article has to be how it describes the area's food. A bona fide travel book (that you'd have to pay for, mind you) might list off dozens of restaurants and assign them each a star rating, but their descriptions rarely have the added touch of having been written by someone who actually paid money to eat there without the responsibility of writing a mini-restaurant review in mind. As well, the wiki aspect of the site allows travelers to add their own favourite hidden gems that might not make it into the guidebooks.
The entire site is, generally speaking, extremely thorough.
This is a wiki. That is not necessarily a disadvantage in and of itself, of course, but one must remember that these are the collected opinions of the masses. One person might not find anything about a lengthy, Star-rated article interesting, whereas another person might fall in love with a location that only has a stub on Wikitravel. The site's creators say that very paradox should motivate people to add more content to the site, thus voicing their own opinions and creating a more complete picture of the location in question.
Another disadvantage is actually addressed by Wikitravel itself in its guidelines; it is quite feasible that, given the site's growing popularity, businesses in a certain region may wish to edit themselves into an article so as to give themselves more publicity. While Wikitravel says that representatives from such businesses are more than welcome to provide information and/or correct false information that may be present in an article, using Wikitravel for excessive self-promotion or to damage the reputation of the competition is strictly prohibited.
The use of Wikitravel for vandalism purposes is rare, though the previously mentioned sole banned user's handle contained the term "white power," among decidedly more racist terms.
On the whole
Wikitravel is generally useful, though users should be mindful of its structure and how it runs when using it to make decisions regarding travel. Think of it as a combination of a reputable travel guide and travel advice from a complete stranger; the information may well be useful, but should be taken with a grain of salt.