22 Beautiful Destinations Threatened By Overtourism — and Where to Go Instead

Crowd Control


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Crowd Control

Crowd Control

Overtourism has become an increasingly serious problem in recent years and months, leaving iconic destinations throughout Europe and Asia struggling to respond and implement regulations to help manage a rising tide of visitors. The challenge facing such popular destinations is to not only help return some normalcy for locals, but also to maintain the very character and charm that has made these legendary cities so appealing in the first place. Responsible Travel, a company that has been outspoken on this issue, has conducted research and produced a brief documentary on overtourism and found that 98 destinations in 63 countries are suffering under the strains of what it calls a global, spreading crisis. 

What Exactly Is Overtourism?

What Exactly Is Overtourism?

"Overtourism" was one of the Oxford English Dictionary's Words of the Year in 2018. The concept is simple, says Responsible Travel CEO Justin Francis. It's when there are too many visitors in a single destination, to the detriment of local communities, infrastructure, and the natural environment, which results in a poor experience for the visitors themselves. 

When overtourism is discussed, people tend to think of cities, because the problems there are more obvious. But fragile national parks, ancient monuments, and islands are just as vulnerable, Francis says. "When you visit somewhere less touristy, everyone wins," Francis added. "You'll be putting money into local communities that often get overlooked, and you'll be easing the burden on overcrowded sites. What's more, you'll get a more rewarding experience from your holiday. That's the win-win of responsible tourism."

Here are 22 beautiful destinations that Responsible Travel has identified for Cheapism as being plagued by overtourism and 22 options to consider instead for your next vacation.

Related: 33 Things You're Doing Wrong When Planning a Vacation

Yosemite National Park, California

Avoid: Yosemite National Park, California

It's America's sixth most-visited national park, with three-hour queues just to enter in high-season during the summer and there are 4 million visitors a year, Responsible Travel says. "There is even a Starbucks in the middle of Yosemite, just a short walk from Sentinel Rock," Francis says. Bear-tourist encounters are frequent, thanks to a successful rehabilitation program for the bears, but at least one bear has gotten hit by cars this year, and they are also known to break into vehicles looking for food.  

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Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

Where to Go Instead: Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

Lassen Volcanic National Park in California gets far fewer visitors, Responsible Travel says. Perhaps its active volcanoes scare them off. "You can climb Lassen Peak and admire the restlessness of the landscape, all bubbling mud pots, fumaroles, and putrid sulfur," Francis says.

Related: Explore the Best National Parks in Every State

Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Avoid: Amsterdam

A historic city famous for being home to the Anne Frank house and a picturesque network of canals and bridges, Amsterdam is often referred to as the "Venice of the North." Amsterdam residents, however, are increasingly alienated by the hordes of visitors, many on short, boozy weekends, according to Responsible Travel. The city has scaled back on advertising and self-promotion in an effort to manage rather than increase tourism, and it also launched a new campaign called "Enjoy and Respect," aimed at curbing unwanted tourist behavior. 

Related: Tourists Behaving Badly Around the World

Leiden, South Holland

Where to Go Instead: Leiden, South Holland

If charming canals are your thing, you can also find them in the South Holland city of Leiden. Like Amsterdam, Leiden is made up of moats and canals (there are 17 miles of them), and in many places Leiden's canals are punctuated by picturesque bridges. There's also plenty of historic buildings in this university town, including churches and a citadel. Also noteworthy for visitors, Leiden is Rembrandt's birthplace.

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Avoid: Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Angkor Wat seems to get more press than the entirety of Cambodia; crowds shuttle there directly from Phnom Penh, then straight on out to Vietnam, says Responsible Travel. "Siem Reap, the little town outside the ancient temple complex, has a water crisis — pumping groundwater from under Angkor Wat to satisfy the demands of resorts and hotels," Francis explained. "This process might end up ruinous for these ruins, potentially cracking and even sinking them." 

Angkor Thom, Cambodia

Where to Go Instead: Beyond Angkor Wat

When it comes to an alternative for Angkor Wat, Responsible Travel doesn't suggest avoiding the country entirely. Instead, it recommends spending more time in greater Cambodia and exploring the sights beyond Angkor. "It's hard to turn away visitors to Cambodia's greatest sight, but for a less crowded experience, go to Angkor Thom," Francis says. "It's in the same archaeological park as Angkor Wat and shares the same UNESCO-list status." And while you're in the area, stay in a smaller hotel that takes water conservation seriously. 

New Orleans

Avoid: New Orleans

More people are employed in the tourism industry than any other in New Orleans, a city overrun by visitors, especially since 2018, its tri-centennial year, Responsible Travel says. "Its historic French Quarter crams tourist attractions and cheap bars behind its fragile facades," Francis says. Sadly, the Big Easy is also well-known for its crime rates, which typically top national lists.  

Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee
Sean Pavone/istockphoto

Where to Go Instead: Natchez, Clarksdale, Tupelo, or Memphis

For a more comprehensive survey of the blues roots and music of the Deep South, Responsible Travel suggests visiting secondary cities throughout the region such as Natchez, Clarksdale, and Tupelo in Mississippi, and Memphis, Tennessee. Natchez is known for its antebellum mansions, while Memphis is a legendary place to take in the blues, soul, and rock 'n' roll, not to mention being the home of Elvis, whose Graceland home is now a popular attraction.

Related: 34 Bucket-List Destinations for Music Lovers

Agra, India

Avoid: Agra, India

The city of Agra is the gateway to the iconic Taj Mahal as well as Agra Fort. But while the Taj Mahal has a pollution-free perimeter zone, undergoes vital restoration work, and has timed entry for visitors, Agra isn't provided with these same protections from the damaging effects of tourist crowds and is best avoided, Responsible Travel says.

Related: 25 Destinations Where Your Dollar Will Go Far

Shekhawati, India

Where to Go Instead: Delhi and Shekhawati, India

Delhi is larger and better equipped to absorb tourists than Agra, says Responsible Travel. Or better yet, spend time in Shekhawati, in the northern region of Rajasthan. "It's far less visited, yet its havelis, or ornately decorated houses, have turned the region into an open-air gallery," Francis says. While the havelis with their intricate painted frescoes are the main attraction in Shekhawati, the community dates back to the 18th century when it was part of a caravan trade route.

Banff, Alberta

Avoid: Banff, Alberta

Canada is enjoying a tourism boom, but at the expense of some of its most beautiful scenery, according to Responsible Travel. "Visitor numbers in Banff National Park soar during high summer, and the park gets millions of visitors a year, causing stress to local wildlife," Francis says. Canada's parks agency revealed no plans to limit the number of visitors, despite sold-out campsites, and people camping illegally beside Moraine Lake, he added.

Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Where to Go Instead: Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Also, in the Rockies, Yoho National Park mostly gets overlooked in favor of Banff and Jasper, says Responsible Travel. "If people come, it's often just as a day trip — though the park has 400 kilometers of trails," Francis says. Summer access to Lake O'Hara in Yoho is deliberately limited to protect it. Coveted spaces on the shuttle bus sell out in minutes every spring.

Related: 15 of the Best Road Trips in Canada

Barcelona, Spain

Avoid: Barcelona, Spain

Las Ramblas, a famously picturesque tree-lined promenade in the heart of Barcelona that attracts countless tourists, is now so busy that walking it is less of a ramble and more like crowd-surfing, Responsible Travel says. "Barcelona has a population of 1.6 million, yet gets around 32 million annual visitors," Francis says. Unhappy Catalan residents began taking to the streets to complain in 2017. The city's is currently taking bold measures to curb tourism, such as limiting the number of permitted hotel beds and banning construction of new hotels in the historic city center.  

Valencia, Spain

Where to Go Instead: Valencia, Spain

Not everywhere in Spain is bursting at the seams, according to Responsible Travel. Valencia, four hours down the coast from Barcelona, remains strangely under-visited, despite having similar architectural credentials. "Instead of Gaudi, Valencia has a whole city within the city designed by Calatrava," Francis says. Valencia converted a former riverbed into a striking green ribbon of parklands that snakes through the city. It is on this notable greenspace that the futuristic buildings of the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (City of Arts and Sciences) were created by the noted architect Santiago Calatrava. The city is also home to world-class museums and plenty of beachfront.

Bali, Indonesia

Avoid: Bali, Indonesia

It's cheap and it's beautiful, and that has been its downfall. Word has gotten out that Bali makes a great beach pit-stop on the way to and from Australia, but many people come with scant regard for local culture, Responsible Travel says. "Boatloads of tourists mob dolphins off the coast of Lovina, Denpasar's beaches are scattered with plastic waste, and on August 2019 two misbehaving tourists got in trouble for frolicking in holy water in Ubud," Francis says. The island has imposed a tourist tax to manage the crowds, but there's much more work to be done to improve conditions.


Where to Go Instead: Flores, Sumatra and Sulawesi

Look beyond Bali, Responsible Travel says. "There are some 17,500 islands in Indonesia," Francis says. "Flores, Sumatra and Sulawesi are just three, and they're thankfully off the Eat, Pray, Love trail." The remote archipelago of Raja Ampat doesn't have many sun loungers on its beaches at all. There are more than 1,500 islands in the archipelago, and many offer jungles, fine white-sand beaches, and hidden lagoons to explore. 

Yellowstone National Park, Montana

Avoid: Yellowstone National Park

Visitor numbers have grown dramatically since 2008, and there were 3.67 million visitors to Yellowstone last year. "With Yellowstone's rising visitor numbers come rising problems — an increasing number of people think it's a good idea to stray from the marked trails, and there are more incidents involving wildlife," Francis says. "Bison have been known to stampede tourists, while tourists themselves carve their names into rocks and throw litter into vent holes. There's also worsening traffic as cars stop to see the animals, and very little parking in high summer." Last month, a grizzly attack left one woman dead. 

Denali National Park, Alaska

Where to Go Instead: Denali National Park, Alaska

Visitors can see grizzly bears and wolves in Denali National Park, as well as moose, caribou, and long-horned Dall sheep, Responsible Travel notes. "The park covers nearly 20,000 square kilometers, but sees only around 700,000 visitors a year ... plenty of wide-open space to enjoy," Francis says.

Related: 19 Money-Saving Tips for Visiting National Parks

Wide Angle View of the Village Riomaggiore in Cinque Terre National Park, Liguria Italy

Avoid: Cinque Terre, Italy

Italy's Tuscan Riviera coastline is only a few miles long, comprising five famous villages and the surrounding park, all of which are UNESCO-listed, according to Responsible Travel. "Day trippers from La Spezia swell the crowds, and it's thought there are an estimated 2.5 million visitors a year, wearing down the narrow hiking trails between the villages," Francis says. "Authorities want to cut numbers by a million, but how they will is unclear."  

Cilento, Italy

Where to Go Instead: Cilento, Italy

Consider the Cilento Coast, (two hours north of Naples), which is often described as the country's best kept secret. Yes, it's near another busy pocket of Italy, the Amalfi Coast, but if you opt for traveling by bike, it will provide an opportunity to avoid car congestion and visit quieter places, like the abandoned village at San Severino and Cilento National Park, Responsible Travel says.

Caño Cristales, Colombia
Jose carlos Zapata flores/istockphoto

Avoid: Caño Cristales, Colombia

For many people, Colombia feels like an unexplored corner of South America, reserved for the intrepid. But since the 2016 peace agreement, tourists have converged on Caño Cristales, Responsible Travel says. "Known as the 'River of Five Colors,' a waving undercurrent of aquatic plants turn the water yellow, pink, and even red," Francis explained. Around 16,000 people visit annually, but even this small number is enough to threaten the delicate environment, Francis says. In December 2018, the river was closed to allow it some recovery time. It reopened in July 2019.

Ladrilleros, Colombia

Where to Go Instead: Colombia's Pacific Coast

The Pacific coast region of Colombia barely gets a passing glance, but it's chock-a-block with Chocó rainforest, says Responsible Travel. "The water might not be pink, but that doesn't stop the whales from visiting," Francis noted. "From July to November, you might also spot humpbacks from the beach."

Related: 14 Under-the-Radar Destinations in Latin America

Boracay, Philippines

Avoid: Boracay, Philippines

Widely regarded as one of the world's best beach destinations, in April 2018 Boracay in the Philippines was shut down for a six-month rehabilitation period. Inspectors found more than 800 environmental violations on the island, including raw sewage flowing into the sea. In 2017, the infamous LaBoracay party left more than 11 tons of rubbish on the island. "Yet there are some who think six months off wasn't enough and that the coral, the mangrove and the beaches still need to recover," Francis says. 

Coron Island, Palawan, Philippines

Where to Go Instead: Palawan, Cebu and Beyond

There are more than 7,500 other islands to choose from in the Philippines, says Responsible Travel. "Palawan and Cebu haven't been given the hug of death by tourist hordes just yet," says Francis. "Go search for camera-shy dugongs off the coast of Palawan, the most sparsely populated region in the country."

Copenhagen, Denmark

Avoid: Copenhagen, Denmark

Between 2008 and 2018, tourism to Copenhagen grew by 74%, and cruise visitors are ever-increasing, Responsible Travel says. Wonderful Copenhagen, the tourism agency that advertises the city, expects visitor numbers to double by 2030. "Unregulated Airbnb sublets are pricing locals out of city accommodation, so the government has capped nights to 70 per homeowner per year," Francis says. Fleets of high-tech electric rental bikes are on offer to the thronging tourists, to help bring down city traffic.

Aarhus, Denmark

Where to Go Instead: Aarhus, Denmark

Denmark's second city, Aarhus, is sometimes referred to as the Copenhagen of Jutland, Responsible Travel says. "It's got a historic Old Town, a lively student population, and its museums range from the modern to the prehistoric," Francis says.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Avoid: Dubrovnik, Croatia

The city's famous walls have failed to keep away invading hordes of visitors, Responsible Travel says. "Thanks to cheap flights, cruise ships and 'Game of Thrones' fans bent on seeing the living film sets, Dubrovnik's Old Town is drowning," says Francis. "The worst thing is everyone comes here to do the same things such as walking the city walls." In fact, 10,000 tickets to do just this were sold in one day in August 2016, according to Responsible Travel. As visitor numbers rise, the local population dwindles. There were 5,000 residents of the Old Town in 1991, now there are under 2,000.  

Zadar, Croatia

Where to Go Instead: Zadar, Croatia

Try heading away from the busy southern part of the Dalmatian Coast – up to Zadar, a city built among Roman ruins, says Responsible Travel. Or travel even further to the Istrian Peninsula, where attractive seaside towns have the same kind of hemmed-in marbled streets as Dubrovnik, and you can bicycle between them at a leisurely pace. "Even fewer people make it across the border to Bosnia and Herzegovina," added Francis.

Related: 26 Stunning 'Game of Thrones' Filming Locations Worth Visiting

Everest Base Camp

Avoid: Everest Base Camp

The disturbing image of climbers queueing to ascend the final ridge from Everest's southern side shook the world, as did the news of more deaths: 11 climbers died in spring 2019, making it one of the deadliest seasons in the mountain's recent history, Responsible Travel notes. "Too many people are climbing — and too many people are dying on — the slopes of Everest," Francis says. Nepali officials have proposed issuing permits that would only be granted if the climber had already summited another peak in Nepal of over 6,500 meters — a move that will simultaneously cut accidents and crowds. But Base Camp is still booming: Some 6 tons of waste accumulate here every year.

Manaslu Trek, Nepal

Where to Go Instead: Manaslu Trek, Nepal

There are seven other mountains over 8,000 meters in Nepal, all of which get far fewer climbers, Responsible Travel says. "If you're looking for an alternative to Everest Base Camp, try the Manaslu trek, which takes a similar time, but takes you around the very high altitude base of Mount Manaslu, eighth-highest mountain in the world," says Francis. 

Goa, India

Avoid: Goa, India

South India's ultimate beach destination has a rubbish problem, according to Responsible Travel. "Five million visit India's smallest state every year, including many domestic tourists, to enjoy the stunning beaches," Francis says. "Baga, Calangute, Anjuna and Candolim Beach heave with tourists and have problems with litter, while waterfront construction has led to high erosion."

Sri Lanka

Where to Go Instead: Sri Lanka

Southern India is a short hop from Sri Lanka, Responsible Travel notes. "Try Talalla Beach near leopard-filled Yala National Park, or stay at Ahungalla and combine a beach holiday and tour," Francis suggests. Talalla is considered by many to be one of Sri Lanka's most beautiful beaches and it's barely been touched by tourism. Yala National Park is known for its huge areas of forest, grassland and lagoons.

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Avoid: Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

The beauty of Ha Long Bay in Vietnam is fading fast, a result of too many visitors, too many boats and too much rubbish, says Responsible Travel. "Day trippers tear up the bay on jet skis, but the plastic they leave behind is here to stay," Francis says. According to one World Bank report, Vietnam may have to spend as much as 3.5% of its GDP addressing pollution in the future

Con Dao Archipelago

Where to Go Instead: Con Dao Archipelago

The Con Dao archipelago doesn't have the tall limestone islands that make Ha Long Bay so iconic and dramatic, but it does have thriving reefs and rainforests, and nesting sea turtles, Responsible Travel says. The largest of this island chain is Con Son, where visitors will find picturesque beaches, coral reefs, and scenic bays. The island also features the remains of a partially covered tropical rainforest. Still more options include hiking, diving, and wildlife-watching.

Isle of Skye, Scotland

Avoid: Isle of Skye, Scotland

It seemed that this diminutive Inner Hebrides jewel reached capacity in August 2017, when police warned tourists not to visit the Scottish island if they didn't have accommodation, Responsible Travel says. "Camper vans and coaches hog the narrow roads and deliver a deluge of visitors to tiny villages," Francis says. "Overland travelers are one problem, but cruise ships bring even bigger crowds, sometimes carrying up to 2,000 passengers each." 

Knoydart Peninsula, Scotland

Where to Go Instead: Knoydart Peninsula, Scotland

A rugged landscape dominated by mountains and sea lochs, the Knoydart Peninsula is accessible only by boat from Mallaig, Responsible Travel says. (It is the only sizeable area in Britain that remains inaccessible to cars, according to Lonely Planet.) "It has the remotest pub on the British Isles mainland, while the mountains soar behind the village, and you can see Skye from their summits," Francis says.

Lofoten Islands, Norway

Avoid: Lofoten Islands, Norway

With their scenic seascapes and jagged landscapes, the Lofoten Islands are an arctic wonder, Responsible Travel says. "Word has got out about their beauty, they became Norway's 40th national park in 2018, and now the little fishing communities are forced to think about crowd control," Francis says. "The road to Nusjford was barely built to accommodate cars, let alone coachloads, and Norway's 'Right to Roam' act has seen tourists camping where they're not wanted and clogging beaches."

Vesteralen Islands, Norway

Where to Go Instead: Vesteralen Islands, Norway

Just north of the Lofoten Islands, the Vesteralen Islands are far less-visited, though they're similarly dramatic, with picturesque beaches and plenty of opportunities for wildlife watching, says Responsible Travel says. Some of the most popular activities here include whale watching and driving along the lovely island coastlines.

Related: 21 Places to Safely See Wild Animals Up Close

Machu Picchu, Peru

Avoid: Machu Picchu, Peru

In its busiest month, Machu Picchu gets more than half a million visitors, and in 2001, the BBC reported that the whole site might get subsumed in a landslide, thanks to the unstable earth beneath it, Responsible Travel noted. "To cope with swelling crowds, Machu Picchu now has a ticketing system which allows you into the site for the morning or afternoon only, for a maximum of four hours, and groups of more than 16 people are banned," Francis says. The famous Inca Trail now issues only 500 permits a day.

Ruins of Choquequirao, Peru
Joshua Duke/istockphoto

Where to Go Instead: Alternative Inca Trail and Ruins of Choquequirao

Travelers can have a less crowded experience on one of the alternative and less well-known Inca trails in the region, Responsible Travel says. In addition, the nearby ruins at Choquequirao are similarly high-altitude and high-impact, and the punishing trek to reach them weeds out the crowds. If Machu Picchu is firmly lodged on your bucket list, then consider traveling out of season, Responsible Travel suggests. In February, the Inca Trail is closed, but the site itself is still open.

Nara Park, Japan

Avoid: Nara Park, Japan

Few places have seen such an explosion of tourism in the past few years as Japan, which, according to some stats, has seen visitor numbers grow by 334% between 2010 and 2017, Responsible Travel says. "Some destinations, like Tokyo, are used to crowds. Others suffer," Francis says. "Two million tourists visited Nara Park in 2018 to see its sacred deer, which are trained to bow to receive food. Adorable. Tragically, plastic has been found in their stomachs, symbolic of Japan's wider problem with plastic waste; the country produces more per person than any other country except the U.S.A."

Nachi, Wakayama Prefecture, Japan

Where to Go Instead: Koyasan, Wakayama Prefecture, Japan

An ancient village made up of more than 100 hundred beautiful temples (some of which where it's even possible to spend the night) Koyasan provides a memorable alternative to Nara Park. Though Koyasan is bigger than Nara Park, it received only 70,000 tourists in 2016 compared to 15.5 million in Nara Park, according to Responsible Travel. Added bonus: The train journey to reach this sacred place is stunning too, winding up mountains and through woodlands.

Venice, Italy

Avoid: Venice, Italy

Venetians have long been priced out of Venice, and the city is a shell of its former self, a place where tourists call the shots, brewing coffee on a camp stove in the middle of Rialto Bridge being one outrageous example, Responsible Travel says. "Venice has been fighting back — banning cruise ships from sailing past St. Mark's Square, and blocking plans for new fast food outlets," Francis says. Is it too little too late? The stats are sickening, adds Francis. A staggering 20 million people annually visit a city with a dwindling population of 50,000.

Padua, Italy

Where to Go Instead: Padua, Italy

Padua, in Italy's northern Veneto region, is under-visited but has the same cuisine and Renaissance credentials (Galileo taught at its university) as Venice, says Responsible Travel. "It even has a similar network of waterways. And the landscape between Padua and Venice is lovely, too," Francis says. The city is less than a 30-minute ride on a high-speed train, from Venice.

A Final Word on Overtourism

A Final Word on Overtourism

Overtourism has reached a crisis point, Francis says. "Tourism has, in too many cases, ceased to seek the mutual benefits responsible tourism can bring to both traveler and local, instead it is being allowed to grow unchecked and unmanaged. The problem is now much bigger than just the 'poster child' sites of Venice and Barcelona." And ultimately, we all have a role to play in helping to ease this issue and support alternative destinations.