Beautiful beaches, rich oceans, delicious food and cosmopolitan cities - this is the stuff holiday dreams are made of. What happens though, when the beaches are littered with plastic waste and the cities’ veins choked with people? More than just an annoyance, the strain that over-tourism is placing on some of the world’s most beautiful places is becoming a real problem. From site closures to the killing of wildlife, it’s worth bearing in mind what the cost of going to an over-crowded destination will be (often just to get an Instagram picture). Before booking your next break, take a look at our suggestions of alternative travel spots to rival their more famous counterparts.
- Phi Phi Islands, Thailand
The ultimate paradise destination, Ko Phi Phi Leh island is a prime example of why we need to change the way we travel. After being used as the filming location for cult film, The Beach, up to 5,000 tourists per day visited the beautiful Maya Bay, wearing down the natural infrastructure and ultimately forcing officials to close the island to tourism in 2018. With more than 80% of the area’s coral reef thought to have been destroyed by over-tourism (pollutants like suncream easily seep into the ocean, killing marine life), filtering tourists to sustainable island alternatives is now a must.
The island of Palawan in the Philippines has everything on a beach paradise bucket list: pristine beaches, deep blue waters and plenty of beautiful coves for intrepid sailors to explore. While still attracting healthy numbers of sun-worshippers and adventurers this island has so far managed to avoid the hordes that have plagued neighbouring Boracay (which recently also had to close for a six month clean up). Spend days unwinding on the golden sands, exploring the Puerta Princesa Underground river reserve and sampling local beers at Palawan’s very own microbrewery.
- Machu Picchu, Peru
The mysterious Machu Picchu is undoubtedly on everyone’s must-see list. The ancient Incan city sits high up in Peru’s sacred valley near the historic towns of Cusco and Aguas Calientes. It’s estimated that up to 1.3 million visitors per year scale the region’s mighty hills to visit this sacred spot, understandably putting strain on a ruin that was never meant to host the masses. In 2018, local authorities introduced a permit system, effectively curtailing the number of daily visitors in an attempt to reduce the numbers to a more sustainable level. If Machu Picchu is still on the to-do list, booking up to a year in advance is necessary to secure the right permits to access the site.
Alternative: Kuelap, Peru
If a quieter hiking experience sounds more on your level, Kuelap in Peru should be at the top of your list. Sitting high in the hills in the lesser visited region of northern Peru, Kuelap is an ancient site built in circles by the ancient Peruvian ‘cloud people’. On excavating the site, archeologists found the remains of blonde mummies, sparking rumours that Kuelap might once have been home to Vikings. Thanks to its remote accessibility, this northern enclave is still relatively undiscovered, so you can explore these grand ruins all by yourself.
- Barcelona, Spain
Tell anyone that you’re visiting Barcelona and you’ll likely hear a chorus of ‘be careful - you’ll get your wallet stolen’. As pickpocket capital of Europe, Barcelona certainly doesn’t have the best reputation in terms of public safety, yet one of the reasons why theft has become such a commonplace occurrence here is simple due to the vast numbers of tourists (32 million to be precise), that walk down La Rambla every year. Few visitors to Barcelona leave the city’s main strip due to its popularity as a weekend destination, making the city centre a congestion nightmare for locals and tourists alike. With tensions rising between tourists and Catalans who are quickly being priced out of their own city, Barcelona could soon become a victim of its own success.
Alternative: Parma, Italy
Despite often being hailed as the gastronomic capital of Italy (despite some pretty fierce competition), Parma has enjoyed a relatively quiet flow of tourism. Famous for its Parma ham Parmesan cheese and tortellini pasta, this beautiful Medieval city has more to offer than pretty cobbled streets. Filled to the brim with quirky boutiques, historical sites and cultural events, Parma can rival even Barcelona’s buzzing nightlife. With only 332,000 visitors arriving into city annually, your own slice of the Italian dolce vita needn't be shared with anyone else.
- Santorini, Greece
Perhaps the most pressing of all the European destinations is the over-tourism issue we see in Santorini, Greece. Often cited as the boiling point for the tourism crisis in Greece, where Santorini was once known for whitewashed houses and beautiful sunsets, now selfie-stick wielding tourists and packed streets reign supreme. Tourist numbers have more than doubled in the last few years, with over 32 millions visitors jostling for space annually on this tiny mediterranean island. The small villages and communities that make Santorini such a special place to visit simply cannot cope with the growing influx of global tourists, putting a strain on local amenities and surging the prices up to unsustainable levels for locals and visitors alike.
Alternative: Frigiliana, Spain
Nestled in the jewel that is Andalucia, the southern Spanish town of Frigiliana wouldn’t look out of place on a Greek island. Whitewashed stone walls and narrow cliff-facing streets wind up the hills that lead from the sea to the Moorish centre. Unlike Greece, however, the little-known town of Frigiliana offers both beaches and hiking opportunities, with mountains, forests and even underground cave networks to explore right on its doorstep. Enjoy fresh seafood, locally-made honey and sweet wines at little tavernas overlooking the Med and count your blessings that no one will be blocking your view of the sunset.